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Chapter One of...

by Alice Thompson


THE STYLE IN WHICH my flat is decorated gives everything away about me. A gift to you, which includes the fact that there is something about me that will never be given away, let alone sold for a price. The inner recesses of my flat's interior, the darkened niches velveted burgundy over, and the paintings with their faces set to the walls hint at an enigmatic character with a taste more perverse than is entirely natural. These rooms are stuffed full of objets d'art but the space in which I live also requires the rigour of interpretation.

Alice Thompson

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     Interior decoration involves, after all (and I mean after all), the black art of manipulation and the casting of spells. The arabesques on the walls run circles round my visitors' preconceptions of me. The sword of perfect taste is brandished with which to chop off their heads. Now, they are too afraid to come in.
     From the day that I was born, beauty surrounded me, embraced me, and picked me up, bloody and screaming, in her arms. She had a face as pale and hard as a pearl and her mouth was congealed from the blood-red drop of a ruby. She took her son home to Blenheim House where I became confused between the symmetry of my mother's form and the arches that carved up the span between the high-ceilinged rooms. This has been my birthright: the indissoluble link between a house and the person who lives in it. To describe my flat to you in detail is to tell you exactly where I stand. It is my way of throwing down the gauntlet.
     The drawing-room is covered in deep blue tapestries that crawl up the walls like the dying waves of the sea. Peacocks of gold strutting down the corridors of a maze are interweaved into its depths. Curtains fall down over the twelve paned windows in impenetrable tresses of green. The thick tangible texture of the room possesses a landscape of its own. It is easy to slip on the mahogany of the wooden floor, which is burnished oxblood. Lilies of the holiest white sprout from a charcoal vase, their sharp green leaves that could cut skin shafting up between the petals. Their decadent scent makes the air heavy, their sweetness sometimes so suffocating it is difficult to breathe.
     Plants grow in the bathroom and honeysuckle reaches her arms in through the window. The iron paws of lions stand at each corner of the huge porcelain bath.
     The library is from where I am now writing to you, writing out the story of Justine. The shadows on the shelves around me are only books. When I hold up their pages to the light, the paper of many of them is so thin that the words of the other side strike backwards, through. From the library, steep oaken stairs lead up to my bedroom.
     The colours of my bedroom, black and gold, have an awful symmetry of their own. It is always evening in here, for the curtains are perpetually drawn. The candlestick on the bedside table is a golden serpent, his head raised as if about to strike, a candle flickering in his wide open mouth. He has holes for eyes. I lie on my bed, my arms outstretched in the shape of a cross, and realize slowly that I know of all the suffering and joy that the world contains. I can grasp the entirety of the globe in my hands. In the darkness my body hardens into ebony and my eyes transform into ingots of steel.
     The meaning of my existence lies within these rooms of mine. My anxieties and ecstasies are framed by their walls. I am protected from the profound nausea and terror that the outer world with its lack of pattern can invoke in me at a touch of its filthy hand. Outside I was so vulnerable, so prone to the malignancy of other people. I needed to screw my courage to the sticking-place to make it to the corner of the square.  

From the book, Justine. © 1999 by Alice Thompson. Reprinted by permission of Counterpoint Press. All rights reserved.

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