marilyn

Mr Blumfeld is sitting in his favourite armchair watching the horse racing at top volume.
‘Have you got anything on this one?’ I shout.
‘What?’
‘I say – have you… hang on a minute. Do you mind if I turn it down a bit?
‘Do what you like,’ he says, and pulls the crochet blanket further up his lap.
I pick up the remote and the commentary slides into the background.
‘There! That’s better!’
‘I used to own a horse,’ he sniffs. ‘Marilyn. We used to race her at Newmarket.’
‘That’s impressive.’
‘Is it?’ he says. ‘It was a long time ago.’
Behind him on the wall is a large, framed poster of Marilyn Monroe, that shot of her in the white dress standing over the vent.
‘What came first, the horse or the film star?’
‘What d’you mean?’
‘Did you like Marilyn before you got into horse racing?’
‘Yes,’ he says.
‘What was it about her you liked so much?’
As soon as I’ve asked the question I realise how stupid it sounds. It’s one of the most iconographic sexual poses in recent history – so much so, I remember reading about a plan to carve the image into the hill opposite the Cerne Abbas Giant. But if he recognises the naivety of the question, Mr Blumfeld is generous in his reply. He turns his sad eyes up to me, dilute and enormous behind those glasses.
‘She made something of herself despite a tough beginning,’ he says. ‘Just like me.’

*

Later on, after I’ve finished the examination and I’m writing up the ticket, he says: ‘Do you like art?’
‘Yes I do. Very much.’
‘What d’you think of that, then?’
He nods to a picture on the far wall. I guess it’s one of his own, so I put my paperwork down and go over to have a proper look. It’s a broad, elongate mural, thousands of Millefiori beads scattered on a rough sweep of orange and yellow paint, like a shark had swallowed a craft shop and vomited onto a surfboard.
‘It’s – energetic!’ I tell him. ‘Wow.’
‘How much?’ he says.
‘How much what?’
‘How much d’you think it’s worth?’
‘I don’t know. It’s difficult with art, isn’t it? You can think of a crazy number and double it.’marilyn
Secretly I’m thinking ten doubled to twenty, but to be safe I say: ‘Two hundred.’
‘Eight hundred pounds!’ he says. ‘Now turn the TV up before you go. I can’t hear it.’

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