Good Reading : May 2017
A small someone wear ing a black dress with a white Holland apron rushed into the café and bumped against Gwen, causing her to crush the portraits between her fingers. The girl announced loudly that her name was Dorothy, and said she’d gone to look in the windows of the Museum of Practical Geology after work, seen the world’s largest man, almost 87 stone, a gorgon, she said. She’d dodged several dustcarts with their refuse masticators that almost decapitated her, stopped to see the collection of monkeys at the Panther ion, sat for several minutes with the flower-sellers under the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus while wiping the smudges of boot blacking off her stockings with her handkerchief, until the line of Jews and Russians stretching from the Alien Registration Office and the protestors trying to push them into the road had obscured her view of the busy street and she’d finished with her stockings anyway, so she’d wandered through the maze of tiny unnamed arcades and back lanes between Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus and then she’d heard the ruckus. Curious, she’d slipped in through the unlocked back door to the Café Royal, a door that Augustus, as usual, had forgotten to close behind him. Gwen rolled her eyes. ‘For goodness sakes,’ she said, smoothing the crushed portraits over her knee. ‘Shut up. There’s something more important in the world than you.’ She gestured towards the crowd in the next room. ‘What’s going on?’ Dorothy whispered, crouching down next to Gwen. There was torchon lace around the edges of her pinafore. A shop girl in uniform, but a shop girl with money. ‘The King is here,’ said Gwen. She pointed out the big man with his silken top hat tucked under his ar m and his drooping moustaches and his belly squeezing out between his buttons, who stood in the centre of the crush. Gwen still hadn’t really looked at the girl beside her. She refused to look. From the sound of the girl’s voice and her incessant chatter, she was probably someone who had climbed out of the dustbins at the Ragged School for Girls in Covent Garden and clawed her way into a secretarial position by sleeping with the manager. Someone well below Gwen. ‘He came to meet Auguste Rodin.’ ‘Who’s that?’ Dorothy stood and leaned on Gwen’s shoulder to see what she was drawing. Gwen covered the portraits of her mother and her with her hand and tucked them away in her pocket again. She held out her sketchpad instead. ‘He’s a very famous French sculptor.’ Gwen’s crayoned women were shrill and elongated and ever so slightly absurd. She turned to brush off this dolt who didn’t even recognise Rodin’s name. Glitter ing black eyes, an extraordinary shade of purple-black, filled with hundreds of shivering candle flames. Skin like an ironed linen tablecloth, richly fragrant: incense, rum, saffron, black cumin, bitter orange, smoked ebony, cedar, cloves, cinnamon, myrrh. Every sound cr isp. A fork, falling to the floor, sounding like the bell in church when wine changes into blood. ‘They’re rather dreadful,’ Gwen muttered, blinking. She felt scorched by the girl’s eyes. ‘Not at all. They’re brilliant. You’re brilliant,’ Dorothy said. ‘You’re absolutely my heroine! A lady artist! What’s your name again?’ ‘Gwendolen Mary John,’ said Gwen, who hadn’t introduced herself, and now had to repeat her name twice because she’d spoken into her hand and Dorothy couldn’t understand the mumbled syllables. A heroine? It was hard enough being a human being. Gwen by Goldie Goldbloom is published by Fremantle Press, rrp $29.99. GOOD READING MAY 2017 23 BOOK BITE 1 HER SKIRT WAS TOO SHORT, AND HER GLOVES FAR TOO MANGLED, AND HER HAIR TOO FULL OF PAINT SPECKLES FOR HER TO BE NOTICED.