Underpainting 23


Chapter 23 of my novel Underpainting, the previous chapters can be found on the link above or the Categories to the right. This was completed in 2007 and based in the early 1990’s.


Chapter 23

Peter sat in First Class and didn’t feel guilty.

He had a can of beer in front of him.

‘Why have I done something so stupid?’ he kept asking himself

Why hadn’t Marianne told him about America. Perhaps it wasn’t finally sorted, he told himself, but knew what Lorete Krukowska was like from what Marianne had said. Or this could as easily be Lorete trying to get one up on Henry. He and Marianne, they were a couple weren’t they?

Sitting back and watching the countryside flying by Peter kept seeing Constantine in the reflections in the window, and jumped when the uniformed guard asked for his ticket. He tried to clear his mind walking up and down the almost empty carriage.

Sitting back down and dozing off his thoughts went back to when he and Mari first got together, in that flat of hers, sitting in bed wrapped in blankets when they’d run out of money for the meter, 1968 was a cold damp winter. The mouse that each night pushed itself under the door and ran across the room, they could never find where it went or where it came from. How they painted the walls, he throwing and splashing, Mari painting Van Gogh type sunflowers, to cover a previous lodgers’ painting of a black mouth of Hell round the cast iron fireplace, however much paint they put on it reappeared. They never got round to the rest of the room which retained the dirty silky rose wallpaper. They had so many people visiting them, talking all night and getting drunk or stoned.

At the end of their third year there was the frenzy of getting their final shows ready, the stress of which almost split them up. ‘Perhaps it would have been for the best’ he thought.

And suddenly college was all over.

Friends moved away one or two even got jobs.

They moved north.

Peter had been lucky and was offered a part-time teaching job at Knype School of Art, with real money! It seemed a fortune after life on a grant, Marianne went along too. ‘Well’, she’d said, ‘…there isn’t much else to do is there?’

Both thought it would only be a temporary arrangement and as soon they were selling their work and could afford a studio and flat back in London, they’d be gone.

After ten years together he remembered they talked about children, the only time, and decided it wasn’t time, later. They had lots of time.

However, later never came.

He recollected how within just a few years everyone they knew had kids.

So he asked himself, did he regret that? No. Peter liked kids but had no fatherly instincts. Did Marianne regret it? He’d never asked, perhaps he should have.

Did Constantine have children?

He didn’t know.

Was anyone waiting for him, missing him?

Peter didn’t know and didn’t dare even think of finding out.

What was he to do now?

Constantine was to buy five pictures at top price, as he’d said, it gave him the chance to be independent, something he’d always dreamt of. That had gone and this situation was a mess.

And Clare?

She’d told him about how well Constantine paid, both had lost out, and big time. Was their loss drawing them together, certainly their night together was passionate. Could he trust her not to break down and confess?

Their return journey to London in the van seemed never ending, carried out in silence. Then when they’d got back to Clare’s she’d just taken him by the hand, led him upstairs, undressed him, and they made love, not just had sex, she seemed desperate for affection. That morning he hadn’t dared offer her money, but left some behind the clock in the kitchen as he left, just in case.

If the police asked him where he’d been the night before he no alibi. ‘Shit!’ he thought, ‘shit, I never thought of that, shit!’

He dropped off to sleep, and awoke with a start realising he was snoring and his mouth was open as the attendant brought him a coffee.

Looking out of the window he knew it wasn’t far now.

If Marianne did go to the States, should he try and get together with Clare? He must be mad absolutely crazy! Why was he even thinking that? But he hadn’t felt that sort of passion and need for years, which he realised was probably his own fault, and did he even want that from Marianne anymore? However disappointed he was he also still felt pleased for Marianne, her recognition as an artist was far more deserved than his, she had a fluidity about her work that was not there in his. He didn’t want her to go, but her work was important, more important than their relationship? His work was, if it was the other way round he’d go and she’d tell him to, support his decision. But he wasn’t Marianne, however he had no right to stop her.

‘Stop thinking such things!’, he told himself, ‘he and Mari were still together’, but deep down he knew it must be near the end.

Peter took a piece of paper out of his diary and started to plan his Bradford show, he had to get down to some painting, but the studio was a place of fear for him; he wanted to work but couldn’t; at the moment it wasn’t there. Unless of course he showed some of the drawings, he had a loft full of those. Marianne had always urged him to show them, so why not? Henry and Constantine wanted more paintings from him. He stopped himself. There wasn’t a Constantine now, shit. People would like his drawings, yes, so why not?

He would talk things over with Marianne.

He’d have to be careful, no one, not even Mari could know, and could he trust Clare?

That just kept repeating in his mind. Could she keep quiet if the police came around. He remembered how she broke that knee, and felt yes she was strong minded. He worried more about his own reactions. So, if Mari did go they could sell the house, that would help both of them, must be worth loads now. But deep inside his heart he didn’t want them to part, of course he could go over there, why not, what was keeping him here? What could he say? Leave it to her, in her own time, what if she wanted to split? He knew there was nothing to stop them. Should he plead how much he loved her and not to go, that she needed to be there for him?


The phone ringing woke Marianne. She’d dreamt of Colin and the trial, she was standing in front of her mother being questioned, her mother was huge with a judges’ wig on, she was being blamed for his failings.

The thought of the trial made her shudder. The phone was insistent. Probably Peter she thought, but he’d have rung her mobile probably.


“Hello Marianne!”

“Oh hi Lizzie, it’s lovely to hear from you, you still at your Mum’s?”

“No… I went back with Mark, didn’t you know?”

“No, I haven’t talked with Angela for days, I thought you were still at home, looking after Philip?”

“Oh we had a row as soon as she came home, you know after she’d been at your house…”

“Ah…” said Marianne a bit fearfully, “…what about?”

“It was the way she treated Philip. Mark had sorted all sorts of things out in just an hour or so. Philip was to go to Liverpool Road, you know the rehab centre?”

“Yes, I know, where Clare went”

“Clare?” Lizzie asked.

“One of the old students, long time ago, you wouldn’t know her…”

“So when she got back, she was so nasty! She said that she’d deal with it and ‘what the hell was I doing there’, or words to that effect!”

“Well… she seemed OK when she left… quite pleased with herself”

“So I told her she was an ungrateful cow and left with Mark”

“So you’re back at Ryan’s?” she knew she wouldn’t be, but she couldn’t really tell her what she knew, unless…

“No, I stayed at Rachel’s for a couple of days and Mark helped me find a flat, near to Rachel, and Rachel found me a job..”

“Ah good… and the music?” Marianne asked.

“We’re putting some tracks together, Ryan had signed us up, so I thought we may as well use the opportunity and we’ve been in the studio… well why not?”

“Yes why not indeed. Are you and Ryan over?”

“Oh yes, I realize that now, I didn’t want to, though I haven’t seen him, haven’t heard from him…”

“Typical” Marianne said.

“Oh no, he’s not that bad. Anyway, I found that he’d been putting money into an account in my name, I got a cheque book and bank card through the post and it appears there’s ten thousand pounds in there!”

“God…” that’s all Marianne could think to say

“Yes, ten thousand. I couldn’t believe it, I thought I ought to contact him see if it really was mine?”

“No you don’t girl, you’ll need that! You earned that, sorry I didn’t mean… anyway he must want you to have it, or else he wouldn’t have given it you, you keep it and enjoy yourself”

“It appears he’s selling everything up, the house, record company, the ticket agency. He’d arranged for all my things to be left at his office and has gone. They told me it’s all in the hands of his solicitors” Lizzie said.

“Well, well I never”

“Anyway. I thought I’d apply for college”

“Good, you…”

“Not art, sorry Marianne, no, I thought I’d do music. I could do with some help though. I need to apply soon and I’m not sure about everything, you do all those intakes and applications with the Foundation students, I…”

“Course I’ll help, of course Lizzie, whatever you need. What are you going to do?”

“I thought I’d look at composition and perhaps some of the technical things, I’ve enjoyed the recording side much more than the playing”

“That’s great. Look, I have to come to London next week, about the show, we’ll meet”

“Yes, let me know” Lizzie gave her her phone number and address.

“Oh, before you go, how’s Philip?” Marianne asked.

“Oh it’s awful, Queen B.’s chucked him out!”

“What! After all you’ve done, you know he could’ve come round here”

“It appears he started at Liverpool Road and met some dealers there, some rehabilitation eh? He started stealing again…”

“But he’s only fifteen?”

“No, sixteen, it was his birthday last week”

“That’s no excuse, so when did he leave?”

“Yesterday. But he’s disappeared again, don’t know where to, he certainly doesn’t know where I live, if he comes round tell him where I am, it worries me” Lizzie said.

“It does me too, God how could Angela…”

“Well you know what she’s like, if she’s not the centre of things”

“I know, anyway, it’s been lovely to hear from you, if Philip comes round I’ll look after him.”

The phone call was over. Marianne sat down, quite shocked. Lizzie seemed to have lived twice her years, she sounded so calm. She wrote the address in her diary.

The front door slammed.

“Hello Mari!”

She knew she had to tell him.



She knew she had to tell Peter.

“Hi!” a voice she didn’t recoginise said.

“Look who was on the doorstep!” Peter said.

“Graeme! You should have rung!”

Marianne was not pleased to see Graeme, she didn’t try to hide it. But Graeme was one of those people who didn’t notice anyone else, in fact Marianne called him a male Angela.

“I tried ringing, it was always busy. I had a day or two… is it OK?”

“I suppose so, its been ages… you’ve put on weight”

“Yes, well you know what it’s like…” Graeme said.

He was an old college friend of theirs, they’d hardly known him when at college but afterwards he did some work at Knype a couple of terms after Peter started and they got to know each other. Graeme was now a Visual Arts Officer for South Midlands Arts, from what he said his life seemed to be one long committee meeting. Over the last few years they had less and less in common. In the past Graeme would come for a night or weekend and they’d all go for a drink and something to eat. Graeme was lonely, he’d had a number of short- lived relationships and each time they were finished by the partner well before Graeme realised what was wrong. Marianne and Peter looked at each other and silently hoped he was not on the rebound, which could be dreadful. Graeme was now ingratiated in arts politics, who was where and who was getting what, which was interesting for a just a short period, otherwise the time would be spent reminiscing about college days, the pubs, the people, the parties. Graeme’s own painting had ceased many years before, Peter was always fearful he would become Graeme.


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