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July 9, 2008

The house was filled with the rich odour of the local power station, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy sulphurous stench of the local chemical plant.

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which she was lying, reading, as was her custom, Dawn could just catch the view of the two filthy cooling towers which, at this angle, offered a lens shaped window of light reminiscent of a gigantic va-


Dawn blinked and looked away from the window.

In the centre of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood a full-length portrait of a young woman’s…part. Dawn’s, in fact, who had been posing for the thing. It was, she’d been told at great length, Artistic. Big A.

And in front of it, some little distance away, was sitting the artist himself, Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of the way more famous ‘pop art’ pioneer Roy Lichtenstein. You know, the Wham! picture, and that. That guy.

As the painter looked at the gracious and comely form he had so skilfully mirrored in his art, a smile of pleasure passed across his face, and seemed about to linger there, smugly. But he suddenly started up, and closing his eyes, placed his fingers upon the lids, as though he sought to imprison within his brain some curious dream from which he feared he might awake.

“It is your best work, Mitchell, the best thing you have ever done,” said Dawn admiringly. “You’ll be a wow on the indie circuit, and there’s even a stab at mainstream, too. What with the trailer. You must certainly send it to the Gérardmer and Sundance festivals. All the arty crowd. The Academy is too large and too vulgar. Whenever I have gone there, there have been either so many people that I have not been able to see the pictures, which was dreadful, or so many pictures that I have not been able to see the people, which was worse.”

“I don’t think I shall send it anywhere,” Mitchell answered, tossing his head back in that odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him. “No, I won’t send it anywhere.”

Dawn looked at him in amazement.

“Not send it anywhere? Er, why? You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. And now, as soon as you may have one, you seem to want to throw it away. It’s, like, totally whack of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being on Entertainment Tonight, and that is not being on Entertainment Tonight. A portrait like this would set you far above all the young men in LA, and make the old men quite jealous, if old men are ever capable of any emotion.”

“I know you will laugh at me,”he replied,”but I really can’t exhibit it. I have put too much of myself into it.”

Dawn stretched herself out on the divan and laughed.

“Too much of yourself in it! Upon my word, Mitchell, it’s a picture of me! More specifically, it’s a picture of my-”

“Yes! I know! But it’s been such an effort. I mean, trying to put myself in the position of an eighteen year old girl with strong views on celibacy and emotional commitment.”

“I can see how a 50 year old man might say that. But I didn’t know you were so vain; but looking at this now, I really can’t see any resemblance between me, with my rose-leaved loveliness and this monstrous image. I mean, yeah, actually, what are you trying to do here, Mitch? Huh? It’s…shit, is what it is. It’s a shitting outrage.”

“Why, my dear Dawn, I thought we were on the same page. This is a primal image of a universal and timeless theme, Man’s fear of the Female. An attack on Man’s thrusting, conquering destructiveness, through which he ultimately brings about his own destruction.”

“It’s a snatch with spikes.”

“No, no, no. Well, yes, it is. But, no. Think of Narcissus, and you- well, of course you have an intellectual expression and all that. But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are!”

“Sits down? Hmm. And eviscerates the sofa, presumably. It’s a toot-toot with gnashers.”

“Dawn, please.”

“You’re turning me into a monster.”

“I’m turning you into a post-Feminist avatar. An avenging angel. A cultural icon of womanhood. A-”

“-vag with fangs?”

“You don’t understand me, Dawn,” answered the artist. “Of course. You shrug your shoulders? I am telling you the truth. There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings. It is better not to be different from one’s fellows.”

Dawn made a face.

Mitchell continued: “The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. Look at all the anti-women blockbusters you’ll get this summer, subjugating women into mere symbols of vapid sexuality while the men do the hard work of heroism. Can you deny that?”

“Of course not.”

“This portrait is a million miles from those images.”

“I get that, of course. I think you’ve opened out a very interesting debate about the fear of burgeoning female sexuality.”

“Thank you.”

“You’ve also opened my legs to show a fanny with dentures.”

“It will make men fear women, Dawn. The power they have, the primal forces they possess.”

“It’ll also make them laugh and lose the whole point.”

Mitchell grimaced and looked away, then stared long and hard at the portrait. He shook his head and tried to smile, but if there was humour intended in the gesture, it died immediately.

“Still,” he said, at length, “it is funny when the Rottweiler eats the Goth’s severed bell-end and then chokes on the Prince Albert.”

“Oh aye,” agreed Dawn. “You’ve got something there. I’d keep that bit in.”

The look at each other for a beat.

“You know what I mean, Mitchell,” she says, rolling her eyes.

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