Chapter Twenty-Seven

When I wake up the next morning, I find myself alone in bed.

He’s gone!

For a split second joy pierces my heart like a silver bullet. Kate, you star! You were right! The Strategy worked! Overjoyed, I spread out starfish wide, relishing the feeling of space, freedom, triumph.

His suitcase. It’s still here. Shit.

Feeling a clunk of dismay, I stare at it resentfully, before peeling back the covers and climbing out of bed. Oh well, like he said, it’s only for a couple of days. It’s not like it’s for ever.

Or so you hope, reminds the voice of doom in my head.

Oh, shut up.

The phone rings, interrupting my thoughts. Reaching over, I pick up. ‘Hello?’

There’s a brief pause and then a female voice says briskly, ‘Oh, I must have been put through to the wrong room. I’m sorry to bother you.’

‘No worries.’ I stifle a yawn. ‘What room do you want?’

‘Um . . .’ I can hear the rustle of papers. ‘I believe it’s the shell room.’

‘No, you’ve got the right room.’

‘Oh . . .’ She sounds confused. ‘I was looking for Nathaniel Kennedy.’

‘You mean Nate? He’s already gone out—’ I suddenly have a thought and break off. ‘Hang on. He might be in the shower . . .’ Putting down the phone, I quickly jump out of bed and try the bathroom door handle to see if it’s locked. It’s not, and the bathroom is empty. ‘No, sorry. Can I take a message?’

There’s silence on the other end of the line.

‘Or you can try him on his cell phone. Do you have his number . . .? Hello?’

She’s hung up. I feel a snap of annoyance. I hate it when people do that. It’s so rude.

I stare at the receiver for a moment, feeling rankled, then determinedly shoving all thoughts of Nate and his rude friends out of my brain, I put it back on the cradle and dash into the bathroom. I have my big meeting with Artsy this morning. I can’t be thinking about anything but that, I remind myself, as I quickly shower and get ready.

Nerves twist in my stomach. According to the article I read on the plane, he’s described as ‘an eccentric recluse’, which, having dealt with lots of artists, is most likely the journalist’s polite way of saying he’s difficult, unfriendly and completely weird.

And I have to make friends and persuade him to show at the gallery, I think, giving up on my hair and rushing outside to my waiting taxi. Considering no one has yet managed to do this, it’s not going to be easy. Perhaps impossible, I brood, thinking about Magda and how she’s pinning all her hopes on this meeting.

The cab pulls out of the driveway, and as it heads along the coastal road towards Aquinnah, the most remote part of the island, at the southwestern tip, I can feel my spirits sinking to my default setting of Mancunian pessimism. My mind runs along ahead to a terrible meeting, unsuccessful outcome and breaking the news to Magda that I’ve failed, it’s all over, she’s out of a home and I’m out of a job.


Screeching the brakes on my negativity, I quickly try to rally. This is no good at all. I can’t turn up with that attitude. I’m supposed to be cheerful, hopeful, positive. Just the fact that Magda managed to get Artsy to agree to a meeting is hugely impressive. After years in the business, she knows a lot of people, and has asked a lot of favours, but apparently what clinched it is that she and Artsy share the same philosophy: art should be free to be enjoyed by everyone. Which is brilliant.

Saying that, his art isn’t free. On the contrary, his pieces run into tens of hundreds of thousands.

Still, no need to split hairs, I tell myself firmly, as we reach a gate swung wide and off its hinges with the sign ‘Keep Out’ scrawled on it and turn down an unmade road. The cab driver seemed to know exactly where he was going when I asked him to go to ‘Artsy’s house’ (the only address I had), and as I bounce around on the back seat, I see a ramshackle farmhouse ahead of me through the windscreen.

‘This is far as I can go,’ declares the cab driver after a couple of minutes.

‘OK, great, thanks.’ Paying him, I climb out, and as the cab reverses down the lane, I look around me.

When the journalist said remote, he wasn’t wrong. Perched up high and hugging the edge of a cliffside, I’m surrounded by tufty hillocks and wild, unkempt farmland. I can’t see anything for miles, apart from the ocean on one side of me and the farmhouse on the other. I walk towards it. Old and weather-beaten, one of the windows appears to be boarded up, and several chickens are running freely around it. Boldly I knock on the door. Nothing. I knock a second time. Again nothing.

I wonder if he’s forgotten I’m coming. I stare uncertainly at the peeling paint on the door for a moment, unsure about what to do. I can’t call him. Artsy has no phone – landline or mobile. Or email him – no Internet or email address either. Apparently Magda had to go through a long and complicated process in order to contact him, ringing various friends of friends on the island who passed secret messages back and forth, like something out of the French Resistance.

I wait a few minutes longer, but it’s now abundantly clear there’s no one in the house. It’s strange for a recluse, but maybe today he’s not feeling that reclusive. Maybe today he’s gone out. Stepping back from the porch, I hesitate for a moment, unsure of what to do next, then decide to have a look around. Well, I’m here now.

Picking my way through the grass in my new sandals, I walk around the side of the ramshackle barns and outbuildings. There’s an abandoned tractor, a rusty bicycle leaning up against a wall, a drum kit . . . A drum kit? What’s a drum kit doing in the middle of a field? Shielding my eyes from the bright sunshine, I stare at it in astonishment, before being distracted by the sight of a man up ahead digging a vegetable patch.

Maybe he can help. I call over to him, ‘Excuse me. Do you know where I can find Artsy?’

Straightening up, he turns round and, seeing me, strides over. Tall and broad-shouldered, he’s wearing a deerstalker hat, plus-fours and argyle socks, and looks a lot like the bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes that’s outside Baker Street Tube Station. It makes for a bizarre sight. Not helped by the fact he’s got a big bushy beard and is smoking a pipe. While wearing flying goggles.

Taking them off, he peers at me. ‘Who’s looking for him?’ he asks, in a gruff southern drawl.

‘My name’s Lucy Hemmingway. I’m from Number Thirty-Eight, a gallery in New York.’ I realise I’m gabbling.

He throws out his hand, which is the size of a dinner plate. ‘Artsy. Pleased to meet you.’

Of course. It had to be him. Who else would wear such an outfit? ‘Oh . . . hi,’ I stammer. Smiling, I shake his hand. He’s not anything like I imagined, though I’m not sure what I did imagine, as he never allows himself to be photographed.

He hands me a shovel. ‘You can help me dig for potatoes.’

Dig for potatoes? I look down at the earth and try not to think about the new sandals that I wore especially for our meeting. ‘Um . . . thanks.’

Luckily it seems Artsy is not just an artist, he’s also a true gentleman.

‘Here, put these on,’ and smiling, he holds out two plastic bags. ‘For your feet, so they don’t get dirty.’

For the next hour I dig for potatoes with plastic bags tied around my feet. Slightly surreal, and not exactly the first impression I wanted to make, but then Artsy is renowned for being eccentric and so it was never going to be me and him chatting over a cappuccino.

During the whole time we don’t talk about art. Instead we talk about composting, organic fertilisers and the benefits of horse manure versus cow manure. Understandably he does most of the talking – my knowledge of cow manure extends to the fact I once trod in a cowpat on a farm near my parents’ – while I listen politely and sneak sideways glances at him. The article didn’t give his date of birth – he’s very secretive about that, as he is about a lot of things – but underneath the beard and goggles, I ascertain he’s probably in his thirties.

And attractive, I decide, noticing his piercing blue eyes and perfect white teeth, hidden underneath his beard and only revealed when he smiles. It’s as if the beard and his wacky outfit are part of his disguise, his desire to remain anonymous, but if he shaved it off and wore a T-shirt and jeans, he’d actually be rather devilishly good-looking, I realise, as he rolls up his sleeves to expose large, tanned forearms.

After a back-breaking hour in the hot sunshine, he finally declares it’s time we break for ice cream.

‘Vanilla or pistachio?’ he demands, as we troop into one of the barns, where a large fridge with the words ‘Eat Me’ is standing. He flings it open to reveal nothing but tubs of ice cream and stacks of cones.

‘Vanilla, please.’ I smile at his eccentricity.

‘Coming right up.’ Grabbing a cone, he scoops out a ball of ice cream and passes it to me, then does one for himself. ‘Delicious, hey?’ He looks to me for approval. ‘I love these cones. They’re made from actual waffles, you know?’

‘Mmm, yummy.’ I nod approvingly.

‘So . . .’ Taking a lick of his ice cream, he studies me.

‘So . . .’ I say, trying to sound all breezy and not really nervous, which is how I am feeling. I can’t put it off any longer. I have to bring up his artwork. I take a deep breath and swallow hard. ‘About your artwork . . .’

‘Wanna see it?’ He flashes me a grin.

Taken aback, I stare at him. Crikey, that was easy. ‘Absolutely.’ I nod, and feeling myself relax, I break into a broad smile. ‘I’d love to.’

His studio is a large barn at the rear of the farm. Sliding back the door, shafts of sunlight flood inside, lighting up the dust particles, which twirl round like glitter in a snow globe. I’m filled with excitement and anticipation. Artsy is a hot new talent, a graffiti artist known for his ironic phrases and subverted images, and I’m entering his inner sanctuary, where he works, where he creates, where the ‘magic’ happens. I feel like an explorer about to discover a whole new world.

What I discover, instead, is a giant washing line. Strung the full length of the barn, it’s hung with dozens of large white sheets, each stencilled with various graphics and slogans. On one is painted a giant heart in all its anatomical detail with the words ‘Life is love’ spray-painted across it. On another a picture of a series of hand-silhouettes that spell out, ‘It’s complicated.’ Another is simply a plain white sheet and right in the middle, in lettering so tiny that you have to go right up to it and squint, is the word ‘Why?’

‘Wow, these are . . .’

‘Different?’ he finishes my sentence.

‘Very.’ I nod. ‘Tell me, why did you choose to use sheets as your medium?’

I’m expecting a long, convoluted answer, but instead he just shrugs. ‘Have you any idea how much canvases that size are?’ He pulls a face. ‘Total rip-off!’

I smile at his honesty. I’m beginning to really like Artsy. Like his art, he’s certainly different.

‘Sheets were perfect, but I used other stuff as well . . .’ He walks further into the barn, past piles of paint cans, brushes and aerosols, to another washing line. This one is strung with shirts, trousers, socks and underwear – all dirty, and all painted with slogans and words.

‘It’s sort of a metaphor for airing your dirty laundry,’ he’s saying. ‘Only I really am airing my dirty laundry.’ He bends down to sniff a sock. ‘Pheugghhh.’

‘And why all the umbrellas?’ I ask, amused, pointing to a whole washing line strung with them, all painted with different graffiti.

‘Well, they make wonderful canvases, plus I thought I’d highlight the plight of the missing umbrellas.’ He shrugs. ‘Everyone’s always losing their umbrellas. They’re left on the subway, in cafes, in bars. But where do they all end up?’ He looks at me beseechingly. ‘Maybe there’s some parallel universe where they’re all propping up a singles bar, meeting other singleton umbrellas, creating mismatched waterproof couples . . .’

‘Maybe.’ I nod. He really is kooky-for-Coco-Pops, and yet there’s something childlike in his imagination and enthusiasm that’s oddly appealing.  Having said that, eccentric people always are appealing, aren’t they? Like your crazy aunt who’s in her eighties and wears feather boas and does the can-can. Actually, no, that’s just my crazy aunt.

‘So, what are you thinking?’

I turn back to see Artsy looking at me, his brow crinkled up, like a child waiting approval.

‘I think the gallery would love to represent you,’ I say, a little nervously. After all, he must have heard this a million times.

If he has, he still looks delighted. ‘Really?’

‘Yes, really.’ I nod.

‘Huh.’ He smiles faintly to himself and seems to be turning the idea over in his head. I think he’s going to say something, anything, but then suddenly he’s sliding his goggles back down and holding out his hand. ‘Well, I must get back to my potatoes.’

Our meeting must be over.

‘Um . . . yes, of course.’ I smile, hiding my disappointment, and shake his hand. ‘It’s been great meeting you, and thank you for taking the time—’

Before I can finish he’s striding out of the barn. I hurry after him before I’m locked in. Trust me, I wouldn’t put it past him.

‘So, any last questions?’ Padlocking the barn door, he turns to me. ‘Speak now or for ever hold your peace.’ Twirling his hand above his head, he does a silly, formal bow.

I don’t move a muscle. There’s nothing Artsy could do or say now to surprise me.

Except . . .

‘Why all the secrecy?’ I blurt, before I can stop myself.

His expression clouds and a large furrow appears down his forehead and runs underneath the glass of his goggles.

Oh shit, me and my big mouth. Immediately I regret my question. What on earth did I go and say that for? And just as it was going so well. Feeling a stab of panic, I try doing what I always do when I regret saying something, and that’s say even more. ‘I mean, no one even knows your real name.’

When really I should just shut the f*** up.

‘Do you ask Sting his real name?’ he demands. ‘Or Madonna?’

‘Actually, Madonna is her real name,’ I can’t help pointing out.

‘It is?’ Surprise flashes across his face, followed by one of his handsome smiles. ‘Well, in that case I’ll let you in on a secret. It’s actually really embarrassing . . .’ And pressing his bushy beard against my face, he whispers it in my ear.

You're the One That I Don't Want