This is happening to me because I loved a man who was a spider.
When we met I was in art school. I wanted to be a sculptor. I had a studio I slept in near Denfert-Rochereau. Everything I owned or wore or ate off of had clay or plaster smudges. My work was rubbish — overwrought and derivative — I knew it. Still I was ambitious. I worked hard. Through some sleight of hand I had wriggled out of the life I was supposed to have and my greatest fear was having to return to Aveyron, to teach painting in the lycee and eat Sunday dinner with my parents.
One night I went to a gallery opening in the Marais and there I met Chelic. I was wearing a dress that was too pretty for anyone to take me seriously as an artist. It was a dark red vintage dress with a large block print of black poppies. It had a full tulle skirt, wasp waist, and pockets. Inadvertently I had dressed like my mother at a fancy dinner party, but I didn’t care. I loved dresses with pockets.
The exhibition was a series of huge black and white photographs, all close ups of small pointy things: toothpick, needle, broomstraw, pin. I wasn’t sure if I liked it. I went to the bar.
Chelic was standing in the corner, apart. He was tall and thin, very white. He had a shock of red hair and pale blue eyes. He wore a bottle-green velvet suit. He didn’t look like other people. He looked like the crayon drawing of a malevolent child. He was drinking whiskey with great diligence. There were four empty tumblers lined up on the floor by his foot. I walked over and asked him what he thought.
“De quoi?” His French had a funny clicking sound which I assumed at the time was a kind of English accent. I hadn’t yet seen the inside of his mouth.
“Of the show. What do you think?”
I can’t remember what he said. He gave a long, funny answer that ended in an impersonation of a pair of broken chopsticks. I stayed speaking to him for a long time. The friend that brought me came over to say that she was leaving. I stayed. He was clever. He spoke to me as if I was a man. I thought he was interesting company.
That was September. We began to spend almost every day together. We’d meet at three at a bar called Bar Onze on rue Maitre Albert. It was a worker’s bar with one tap, musty, windowless. No one talked to us. We’d sit in the corner drinking beer until closing. He told long, amusing stories about people he knew — acquaintances, never friends. He could skewer someone with an impression.
I had never before drunk with such purpose and commitment, never drunk daily and seriously as if going to work. I liked it. I stopped sculpting. I’d wake up around noon, drink Alka Seltzer and eat tartines until 2, when I’d walk down to meet Chelic at Bar Onze. I did that every day until late November.
At the end of the month Chelic had an exhibition. I knew, of course, he was a sculptor also. We talked obsessively about art when we were drinking but I had never been to his studio or seen any of his work.
When he invited me he said the show was all new pieces and it surprised me that he’d been working so much since we’d met and begun drinking together. He asked if I was planning to wear my red dress with the pockets and the poppies, not in a flirty way, simply as if verifying a detail in which he took an interest.