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Starving Artists by peppersweet
Chapter 6: The Benefits of a Flashback
Chapter Six - The Benefits of a Flashback
Life slotted neatly into a routine after that particularly disastrous gig. October and most of November passed without much complaint (aside from the heating in my flat. Or, rather, the lack of heating in my flat, and my landlord’s stubborn habit of being about as useful as a chocolate teapot). I took more photographs, developed them, and pasted them neatly into a little notebook for safekeeping. Gwendolyn/Raven continued her favourite hobby of bothering Scorpius, Scorpius continued his favourite hobby of pretending that Gwendolyn/Raven wasn’t bothering him, and Tarquin took up a new hobby of sitting down and idly watching the bothering take place. Mr Holstone continued to be coated with crumbs in his official position as local sandwich fanatic, and Brooding Nameless Barry continued to brood and be silent. And be called Barry.
There were a few memorable milestones; Obscure Henry turned up at a Screaming Bloodthirsty Disco gig with us and nodded along to the music, looking cool, until someone decided it was best to trip over and shower him with beer. Lettuce didn’t do anything as spectacular as catch fire at another gig, but he did trip off the stage one night and fell, flailing, into the thin crowd, who weren’t exactly prepared or willing to catch him (and, let’s face it, who really would be willing to catch a beansprout in a sequinned catsuit?) So the band was put on hold for a couple of months so Lettuce could rest his broken legs, much to Scorpius’ anguish and delight.
The weather got steadily worse, as weather in Britain is wont to do. Given the lack of heating, it was freezing in my flat. Fluffy jumpers became the loves of my life, seeing as I frequently shared body heat and personal space with several at a time. Dwindling savings and lack of a job didn’t help, and on Bonfire Night my Landlord decided to hate me a little bit more and served me my first warning notice on the rent, after a few paragraphs of calling me a ‘typical student’ and a ‘filthy degenerate’. This, of course, was entirely pleasant and normal business-like behaviour, and definitely encouraged me to pay up on the rent. I think not.
Unwilling to take part in Gwendolyn/Raven’s seemingly weekly exercise regime of hedge-hopping, I often found myself weirdly free at weekends – well, free when I wasn’t following Scorpius around London, laden down with cameras like a blue-haired donkey. Not that he made me do all of the dirty work or anything; mostly, I think, I offered to carry so much stuff because of his determination to trip over a lot and my fear for the expensive cameras.
I actually did find myself feeling quite sorry for Scorpius. Which wasn’t actually hard, to be honest; he was so pathetic that he was a pretty easy target for any spare sympathy. A fear of anything Rose-shaped had extended, seemingly, to anything vaguely-Rose-shaped, up to the point where a simple excursion to the Kensington area resulted in him throwing himself into an alleyway at the sight of a red ponytail bobbing amongst the crowd up ahead.
‘Sorry,’ he told me, flattened against the wall. ‘I thought it was…you know…erm…’
‘Scorpius, that’s a man.’ I said, as the ponytail walked past, not even noticing us. ‘Last time I checked, Rose was definitely a girl. Stop being such a wuss.’
After a few minutes’ gentle coaxing and persuasion, Scorpius finally decided to stop being a wuss, confidently stepped out onto the street, and was promptly run over by a small child on a bicycle.
‘I hate my life.’ he said, miserably, as I offered him a plaster for his bleeding forehead.
A week or so after the rent incident, I abandoned Scorpius for the day and went to visit my parents. Not with the aim of scrounging money off them, you must understand – I think I was actually far too scared of my Dad to admit that I’d fallen behind on rent. Even that beats blue hair.
After a wobbly bit of apparition (I splinched a little bit of my fringe, but who was really going to notice?) I stood on the doorstep of the house in Liverpool and rang the bell. Never one to keep anyone waiting, Dad opened it almost instantly.
‘Good morning, Lucy.’ he said. ‘You’re just in time for soup.’
A couple of months of living in my grotty little flat had made me forget just how neat and tidy the place was. The walls were a pristine off-white (‘white with a hint of cream!’ Mum called them) with a matching carpet…well, a matching carpet that was more white with a hint of ground-in mud once I’d crossed the threshold.
‘Shoes!’ my father yelped.
‘Shoes?’ I asked, quite bemused. He glared at my feet, and after a few moments I took the hint and removed my beaten-up trainers. It took an almighty yank to get the left one off, sending dried mud scattering across the carpet.
‘Erm…whoops. I’ll clean that up.’
I swept my wand through the air in the vague direction of the muddied carpet. Not a lot happened, but a lace doily on a nearby table did a half-hearted sort of wiggle in midair and then collapsed back into lifelessness.
‘Sorry about the mud. And the doily.’ I mumbled.
‘It’s alright. Go on through to the kitchen, we’re just about to have lunch.’
Down to my mismatching socks (which Dad glowered at) I made my way through to the kitchen, where Mum was already sitting at the table.
‘Hello, dear.’ she said. ‘Stilton and courgette today.’
I took a seat as instructed and sunk a spoon into a bowl of what Molly used to call ‘cheese and veg gloop’ – although, to be fair, it was a far cry from my diet of instant noodles and scummy tea.
‘Are you eating well?’ Mum asked, as if reading my thoughts. ‘Getting enough fruit and vegetables?’
‘Definitely,’ I nodded violently. ‘Five a day. Every day. Six on Sundays.’
‘That’s nice.’ she smiled, picking up her spoon as Dad took the seat beside her.
(The five a day thing was partly true, if you could count the fact that cider was made from apples. My only excuse was that it was peer pressure; Tarquin’s seemingly amazing ability to hold his drink only encouraged me further, plus there was the added satisfaction of getting to hear Scorpius veer off on drunken rants about life, the universe, and everything, but mostly Lettuce.)
I took a gulp of the boiling soup, doing my best not to grimace. Cheese and veg gloop had never really been my favourite flavour.
‘Is it too hot?’ Mum simpered. I attempted a jovial nod and blew on the spoon for effect.
‘Art school coming along well?’ Dad asked, just as I took another mouthful of the cheese and veg gloop. The jovial nod made a half-hearted reappearance.
‘Albus was telling us all about your adventures around London taking photographs,’ said Mum, already scraping the last globs of goop from the bottom of her bowl. ‘He says you’re getting on very well.’
‘Ooh, yes, it’s super-duper,’ I told her, keen to abandon my soup. ‘We’ve been going round places like…erm, well we went to Hyde Park to take pictures of trees, and then to Camden to, er, take more pictures, and then we went to Kensington and Scorpius got run over by…by…’
I trailed into silence, realising my mistake.
‘Something wrong, Lucy?’ Dad said.
‘Oh, erm, no, nothing, nothing at all!’ I grinned. ‘Just…erm, just saw a wasp! Distracted me a bit.’
I pretended to look around the room for the ‘wasp’ before Dad casually reminded me that pretty much all of the wasps had died out by November.
‘Anyway, Lucy, you were saying,’ Mum cut across. ‘Scorpius got run over…’
I gave her one of my famous slack-jawed gazes at the abnormally blasé reaction to hearing Scorpius’ name mentioned in the house.
‘Another wasp, Lucy?’ Mum said.
‘No, erm, no, I’m fine,’ I stammered. ‘What, did you know?’
‘That – that, erm, Scorpius is still alive?’
‘You’re not making much sense, darling.’
‘Well,’ I was fidgeting madly, worrying that this would be my one major slip-up that would lead to a very hacked-off Rose and a very murdered Scorpius. ‘Well, erm, he was the one who went out with Rose-’
‘Oh, that Scorpius.’
‘How many Scorpiuses do we know?’ I said.
‘Don’t be flippant,’ Dad said.
‘The one who did a runner on Rose,’ I said. ‘Nobody’s supposed to know he still exists. Rose wants to kill him.’
‘Goodness!’ Mum exclaimed. ‘I can’t think such a nice girl as Rosie would want someone dead. Don’t be silly, Lucy. And honesty is the best policy, you know.’
‘Tea?’ Dad offered, ignoring me. Swooping up the bowls of soup (including my unfinished one) into one arm, he deftly flicked on the kettle with the other and busied himself with finding mugs and teaspoons.
‘Anyway, Lucy, have you been visiting Rose much? She’s near you, isn’t she?’
‘She isn’t really near me. And she’s very busy.’
‘Oh, I expect so, she’s always been a hard worker. Do they give you much work at the art school?’
I almost laughed aloud at the memory of Mr Holstone’s weekly homework task of ‘basically, have an awesome weekend, but please don’t get too hungover and forget to turn up on Monday like Frances does, because, let’s face it, guys, you’re here to study.’ and the resulting ‘pah!’ from the general direction of Tarquin.
‘Oh yes, heaps,’ I lied. The kettle had finished boiling, and my Dad passed me a cup of tea in a fine china mug I had a nasty feeling I was going to break.
‘Shall we move to the sitting room?’ Mum rose from her chair, looking very formal and dainty, clutching her cup of tea with her little finger sticking out. I followed her through, taking care not to upset any more doilies. It was difficult; they seemed to cover every surface in the house, and simply the draught caused by walking past them seemed to send them into such a frenzy that I had to take a sedate snail’s pace through the narrow, furniture-lined corridor to avoid them.
Seated on the pristine sofa in the sitting room, I took a sip of the tea. Admittedly, it was the best I’d had in weeks. It beat Scorpius’ sort of tea anyway, which was a half-hearted cup of tea-flavoured lukewarm water and a heap of what tasted like sugar mixed with gravel. A moment later I went to put my mug on the spindly table next to me, but was stopped by my father, who threw himself across the room in a terrifying prance, slamming another doily down on the varnished surface where, moments later, my mug would have landed.
‘Doily!’ he bellowed. Mum rolled her eyes. I put my tea on the doily, ears ringing slightly.
‘So, anyway, Lucy, what sort of things have you been getting up to at the art school? What sort of classes are you taking? Tell us all about them.’
And that’s when I had a flashback.
Not really – that’s the sort of amateur dramatics I’d reserve for Scorpius – but, in a vain attempt to come up with a class I actually had been to, I’d accidentally remembered the farce that had been life-drawing class and almost spat out my tea in the overwhelming intensity of aforementioned flashback.
Of this life-drawing class, I shall say one thing. Scorpius was wearing a smock.
I’ll repeat that, just for some extra oomph.
Scorpius was wearing a smock.
Sitting on the sofa with my cheeks bulging out like a hamster trying to stop myself spitting tea everywhere in a fit of the giggles, I completely understood my Mum’s alarmed expression.
‘Sorry,’ I said, after gulping down the tea. ‘Erm...just a joke one of my friends told me…came back to me just then…’
Okay, I’ll say a little more about life-drawing class. Mostly, it was just one big, fat dollop of fail on the already soggy sandwich of failure that is the art school. Possibly a soggy sandwich of failure with a filling of Lettuce.
It started on a Monday, as all good failures should. Mr Holstone came barging into the common room with a baguette clutched in one hand, and told us, through a mouth of crumbs, that a life-drawing class had been booked for that Tuesday and under no uncertain terms were we to miss it because it cost him a fair few Galleons and anyway, last year, only one student turned up, and there’s nothing more awkward than that.
‘That was me,’ Scorpius said guiltily. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever felt more awkward in my life.’
‘What is a life-drawing class, even?’ I asked. ‘Is he sending us out into the real world to draw…life?’
Gwendolyn/Raven was overcome by such a fit of the giggles at this point that she had to go outside to calm down.
‘Ah, Lucy,’ Tarquin said, wistfully. ‘To have such innocence, to have such a pure mind-’
‘That’s debatable,’ Scorpius said. ‘Have you heard her jokes?’
‘No worse than mine,’ Tarquin said, airily. ‘Toodle pip.’ He drifted from the room with a smug smile fixed upon his face. I turned to Scorpius.
‘Well?’ I demanded. ‘Do we draw life?’
‘Well, yes, in theory,’ he said. ‘But it’s more a practice of drawing from life.’
‘Okay, yeah, but drawing what? Fruit? Flowers?’
‘Oh. Seems alright-’
‘Naked people.’ Scorpius said bluntly. ‘And that’s why it was so awkward. Believe me, when it’s just you, Mr Holstone, and this shivering guy in his birthday suit all sitting in silence together, it’s awkward.’
He shot a look towards the door, then lowered his voice.
‘Look, just, please, come. I mean, aside from the fact that it’s actually really good artistic practice-’
‘What artistic practice?’
‘Oh, whatever, basically, otherwise, I bet you it’ll just be me, and I’ll look like a total prat all by myself-’
‘But you always look like a total prat,’ Gwendolyn/Raven interjected, appearing seemingly out of nowhere in a cloud of purple smoke. ‘Sorry, what are we talking about?’
‘Lucy and I,’ Scorpius said, pointedly. ‘Were discussing whether to go to life-drawing class or not. And we are.’
‘No I’m not-’
‘So,’ Scorpius raised his voice. ‘I presume you won’t be going, Raven, because it’s too serious for you.’
‘Au contraire, Scorp. I need to work on my drawing skills. We’re not all photographers, you know.’
Scorpius looked very huffy indeed, but didn’t say anything else.
That wasn’t really the amusing thing about life-drawing class; that was more the preamble to the farce. The failure. The shambles. The preamble to the shambles, if you’re a poet like Scorpius and like things to rhyme. The shamble preamble.
‘I’ve been to life drawing class,’ I told my Mum, back in the present again, trying to push the flashback into the dusty depths of my mind to join everything I’d ever learnt at Hogwarts. ‘Which was fun.’
Fun being an understatement.
‘Good,’ Mum said. ‘Of course, you can only improve through practice. When I was a girl…’
I took this as a sign to lose myself in a flashback again; my mum’s anecdotes tended to be a bit on the long side and, besides, I was having a hard time trying to erase the mental image of Scorpius in a smock.
‘So, Lucy, are you going?’ Gwendolyn/Raven asked, casually shoving Scorpius aside and stealing the best seat on the sofa.
‘Erm, sure, if it helps with the…arty farty-ness.’ I told her.
I tried to forget the fact that I couldn’t draw and signed up for the class alongside Scorpius, who assured me that it’d all be alright and bribed me with the promise of a drink afterwards.
I turned up at three o’clock for the class, almost apparating on top of Gwendolyn/Raven, who was sitting twiddling her thumbs in the common room. Tarquin slouched in a moment later, followed closely by Obscure Henry, who surveyed the room with a sigh and then dropped into an armchair.
‘Me and my mate were totally on the lash last night,’ he drawled, head lolling back in his chair. ‘It was a massacre, I tell you. I’m totally not up for this absurd lesson.’
‘I totally am,’ Gwendolyn/Raven said, sitting up a little straighter. ‘It’s a valuable opportunity to view the human body in its natural state.’
At this point, Tarquin made a rude point that went something along the lines of if Gwendolyn/Raven wanted to see the human body in its natural state she could come round his flat any time, but I’m not particularly inclined to repeat it here.
‘You know,’ Obscure Henry said imperiously. ‘What I really love about this art school is the total banter.’
Tarquin looked ready to retort, but then the door was flung open and Scorpius entered.
‘Scorpius,’ Gwendolyn/Raven’s voice was hushed. ‘You’re – you’re wearing a smock!’
Tarquin’s mouth had fallen open so wide that I had the temptation to throw things into it.
‘I’m painting, Raven,’ Scorpius said through gritted teeth. ‘Of course I’m wearing a smock.’
‘You’re wearing a smock!’ she cried.
‘It’s a smock!’
Scorpius chose that moment to beat a hasty backwards retreat through the door again. I followed him, a box of pencils tucked under my arm.
‘Scorpius,’ I said, calmly. ‘You’re my mate and all, but you look ridiculous in that smock.’
‘Don’t want paint to get on my clothes.’ he said stubbornly.
‘Use a spell.’
‘I’m scared of blowing the building up.’
‘You’re not that bad at magic-’
Scorpius nodded frantically. ‘I am. I really am.’
‘At least you didn’t fail muggle studies.’ I muttered. Scorpius had already wandered off in search of an easel and didn’t appear to hear me.
Ten minutes later, I was sitting at an easel next to Scorpius, drawing board propped up in front of me and a fresh piece of paper Spellotaped over the top. Tarquin and Gwendolyn/Raven sat on my left, and, opposite, I could see Eunice and Obscure Henry swapping sticks of charcoal behind their own easels. The Brooding Nameless Barry was brooding in a corner like a human manifestation of a miserably wet January morning.
The door opened suddenly and Mr Holstone walked in, cramming a biscuit into his mouth, with Ellen and Frances hot on his heels. They hurriedly set up their own easels at the side, while Mr Holstone conjured an armchair out of thin air with a flourish. Carefully, he started to unbutton his jacket.
‘Scorpius!’ I hissed. ‘Do we have to draw him?’
Scorpius shook his head, looking horrified. ‘Oh no! No, no!’ he whispered. ‘I think I’d have nightmares.’
‘Alright, gang,’ Mr Holstone said, staring around the room. ‘Model’s going to walk through that door in a moment. We’ll do a ten minute sketch first. Talk and you get cursed.’
Scorpius surveyed his paint palette and brushes for a moment, and then selected a particularly fat, round brush. I shifted my easel strategically so I could only see the top half of the armchair. A moment’s total silence fell over the room, and then the door clicked open. I’ll spare you the details, but I chose that moment to stare at my shoes until the model was safely seated.
‘Scorpius…’ I murmured, peeking over the top of the easel. ‘There’s a guy…and he’s starkers!’
‘Contrary to popular belief, I can see,’ Scorpius frowned, and then started to paint.
I steeled myself and looked back at the model, of whom I could see little more than a pair of shoulders and a heavily bearded face.
‘Think of him as an object,’ Scorpius whispered. ‘Not as a person, that’s too awkward.’
‘Scorpius,’ Gwendolyn/Raven hissed across me. ‘Stop encouraging Lucy to objectify people. It’s rude.’
Scorpius looked a little miffed, but continued painting as if she hadn’t said anything.
I started to draw as best I could, but five minutes later, the wild pencil marks I’d made on the page looked more like a duck than most ducks.
‘Scorp,’ I muttered. ‘My drawing looks like a duck.’
Scorpius ignored me. I nudged him.
‘Hey, Scorp, help me with my drawing-’
Scorpius frantically shushed me, brush still in hand. In his eagerness, he managed to flick paint across his glasses. Rolling his eyes, he pointed at them, looking incredibly hacked off.
‘Sorry about your glasses,’ I said, in an undertone. ‘Come on, help me-’
This time, Scorpius waved his arms about alarmingly, almost spattering me with paint.
Not contented with this lack of help, I started to mime drawing at Scorpius, swooping my pencil through the air, jabbing a finger at my duck drawing in the process. He flapped his arms at me again, looking highly irritated, and the whole fandango continued for another few minutes until Mr Holstone barked ‘Lucy! Scorpius! Stop dancing!’
Annoyed, Scorpius flicked his paint brush at me. My duck grew a vivid green Mohican.
Mr Holstone coughed and started to walk around the room, watching everyone sketch. I outlined my duck in a slightly darker pencil. He finally reached me and stood back from my easel, looking a little perplexed.
‘Lucy, why did you draw a duck?’ he asked, finally.
‘Well, sir,’ I said, thinking fast. ‘It’s…erm, well, it’s a commentary on…on the way that human beings behave like ducks sometimes in modern society, how it’s got to the point where people, erm, people begin to resemble ducks…’ I trailed off into silence.
‘In what way do people act like ducks, Lucy?’ Mr Holstone mused, and, for a moment, I thought I’d got away with it.
‘Er…they eat a lot of bread?’
‘Try again, Lucy.’ he sighed, peeling the paper away from the easel and turning it over to the fresh side. Slightly dejected, I lifted my pencil to draw again, but then Gwendolyn/Raven reached over and stopped me.
‘Can I see your duck, Lucy?’
‘Yeah, I want to see the duck too.’ Tarquin chimed in, poking his head out from underneath Gwendolyn/Raven’s arm.
‘Ooh, nice duck-’
‘Did Lucy draw a duck?’
‘That duck has a nice mohican.’ Ellen scampered over, resting her paintbrush on my shoulder.
‘Ducks as people,’ a voice said, apathetically. ‘How very profound.’
The Brooding Nameless Barry was contemplating my duck drawing with his head dipped to one side, stroking his chin.
‘Er, thanks, Barry.’
‘I don’t have a name,’ he said. ‘I am…nothing.’
‘You’re a duck.’ Frances whispered. ‘We’re all ducks. Maybe that’s the answer – maybe this isn’t real life, maybe we’re just the dreams of ducks floating around in a duck pond…’
‘And any sort of divine presence like a God would be the bread on which the ducks feed-’
‘Oh, and the ripples they make as they swim all affect fate and chance, the destinies of us parasitic humans living inside the dreams of the ducks-’
‘Are there frogs in this belief system?’
‘Is the class finished now?’ the model said, looking a little hurt. He was duly ignored. Mr Holstone seemed too interested in a pack of biscuits to resume order.
‘Perhaps we are not the dreams of the ducks – perhaps we are the ducks.’
‘We use our beaks to speak, but we are mute, like the swan, condemned to silence by the crush of political correctness and politics-’
‘And we float around all day in the pond, waiting for bread-’
‘I don’t want to be a duck.’ Tarquin said, firmly. ‘I’d rather be a frog.’
‘I think I’d make quite a good newt.’ Gwendolyn/Raven mused.
‘I like the idea of being a duck…’
I noticed the life model quietly get up from his chair and leave.
‘Would you be a duck, Lucy?’ Tarquin asked. ‘Choose wisely, this may answer any valuable questions you might have about your identity and meaning in life.’
‘Sure…’ I told him. ‘I’m a duck.’
Half an hour and a lot of philosophy and tea later, I left the art school with Scorpius in tow, still dithering about whether he was a duck or a frog.
‘I mean,’ he said. ‘I understand Frances’ point about the existence of a duck being largely pointless and dull because you basically just float around all day doing naff all and eating bread, and frogs get to jump around and-’
‘Get eaten by the French?’
‘Yeah, I suppose, but people eat duck too, Lucy, it’s not an exclusively frog thing.’
‘Well, I’m a duck. I’d rather have feathers than scales.’
‘I just don’t know!’ Scorpius said, exasperated. ‘I can’t decide-’
I took this as a vital opportunity to push him into a puddle.
‘What was that for?’ he yelped, arms windmilling madly, jeans soaked halfway up his shins.
‘Easy,’ I told him. ‘You’re a duck. You tried to paddle. If you were a frog, you would have made that funny noise that frogs make.’
‘Your test is completely flawed,’ Scorpius accused. ‘About ten times out of ten, I bet you that people would paddle and not croak. What sort of person croaks on instinct? I mean, it’s just silly…’
‘…and anyway, all we had for tea that night was a single digestive biscuit and a small carrot, but it all turned out lovely in the end and we won the trophy anyway. Tea, Lucy?’
Arriving back in the living room and the present with a slight jolt, I shook my head, pointing to my full mug. I went to take a sip, but it was stone cold. Or as cold as Brooding Nameless Barry’s heart.
‘Aunt Hermione’s asked us to a party in June, by the way. Said it was better to give it such long notice because there’s so many of us but, really, if you ask me,’ Mum lowered her voice. ‘The woman’s a complete control freak.’
‘Rose inherited that-’ I started to say, but then Mum interrupted me.
‘Ah, Rose is such a lovely girl. Such good grades. Always very polite.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ I said, and it felt like the sarcasm was actually burning my tongue. ‘Rose is just fan-dabby-do.’
‘Speaking of Rose and Hermione, I’ve bought this wonderful new hair product from Witch Weekly, really marvellous for frizz…’
I sank back into the sofa, willing the clock to tick closer to five.
A/N: 19/08/2011 - new CI
edited again 03/06/2012
I did mention this in my original author's note, but somewhere between a tired mind and a mouse click that got deleted. So I'm typing out my acknowledgments again to Gina, (justonemorefic), simply for shipping Scorpius/Gwendoraven. I feel I want to make it my OTP now, but plot prevents me. Also, on the second edit, I feel I should also thank Celeste for shipping Scorpius/Lettuce. My new OTP for reals.
Au contraire = on the contrary, basically.