Algebra

Tramway

Issue 2

Doing the Girl a Favour

by Nicola White

Nicola White

Bring your glass over here and I’ll tell you a thing.

I seen this lassie walking down Ingram Street earlier. She’s carrying a big shopping bag with dancy letters on it, says ArtstoreThe bag’s bulging with stuff — rolls of colour paper sticking out the top, some long feathery things too. The girl, she’s wearing one of them little mini mouse type dresses, and thick black tights like she thinks her legs are fat and that’ll make them thinner. Ballet shoes, red lipstick, you know the type. Alternative night at the disco kinda thing. But what really gets me is this squiggly wee smile on her mug, like she’s thinking about all the loveliness she’s about to let loose with her clever fingers and her pricey little scraps. Then there’s this shout.

—Hey Artstore! Who the fuck do you think YOU are?

It’s me. I hadn’t even taken the internal vote on it, but I’m yelling across the street at her like a madman. Pure instinct, like. She shoots me a look and shoves her chin up in the air, the smile wiped off, I’m pleased to see. But then she has to go and kinda hug the bag into her side as if I’m going to grab it off of her, as if the world mustn’t be deprived of what she’s got to offer.

— Aye you, lady! Why don’t you cop yourself on!

I realise shoutin’ at women is pretty much out of order, but, honest to god, in my head I was trying to do her a favour. She’s thinking that the future’s bright, the future’s orange — and it never really works out like that, so she might as well stop kidding herself.

Come on, you know I’m right.

Then this pair of torn-face wee women on my side of the street start tutting at me and ruffling up their bazooms. Just the kind to cause trouble and call the cops for nothing, for fuckin’ commentary that’s all.

You know I’m not an ignorant man. I keep informed, I read. I know what’s what when it comes to art. Not like some. Take my sister. She’s got stuff in her house that is a pure embarrassment, and she thinks it’s art. Huge fuckin’ Ikea canvases of pebbles on the shore, fuckin’ temazepam for your eyes. If you like pebbles so much, go to the seaside and pick up a bucketload. Live a life. But worse than that, she’s got this, like, this bogging mural thing in her bathroom of New York city by night — this is the sister that lives in Cambuslang. I said to her, you’ve hardly even been out of the country, why would you fill a wall with that American shite?

— Ach Harry, leave me be, she says, it makes me feel glamorous in ma bath. Like I’m looking out ma penthouse window.

That’s late capitalism for you, right there. I mean where do you start with a woman like that? Pulling the wool over her own eyes.

Anyway, I let the lassie go on her way after that. Still believing that she’ll be wowing them down at the Turbine Hall, when its just so obvious she’s gonny end up as a teacher, and the little bastards will be pissing in her raku-fired vases, and laughing behind her back. But what can you do…

You’ll have another, won’t you? Have a half. Go on.

’Member Ashley? Sure you do. Ashley I used to go out with. Artschool Ashley. She’s a teacher now, married, kids, house on the south side. Heartbreaking, really. She was a bit like that lassie with the bag — hello clouds hello moon — tell me you love me, Harry, go on and say it to me. One day she was at that and I said back to her, There’s three million people unemployed in this country. Cop yourself on. Oh man, the tears.

Aye, I guess it was a long time ago. Right enough.

’Member that place we used to go though, the Third Eye — that café with everything made of lentils, even the cakes, and the gents full of dodgy guys scratching wee peepholes in the cubicle walls? Ashley used to try to get me to go in and see the exhibitions there, but I couldn’t hardly make it through the gallery door — something about all that silence and whiteness and always some student type staring at you from the corner, waiting to press the button on their clicker the second your foot hit the floor. Did my head in.

Ashley used to say that art was the only cultural experience where you could retain your autonomy, you know, that you got to decide how long you looked at something and from what angle and in whatever order. It’s an interesting idea. But you had to meet it halfway, she said, put the effort in.

I don’t know though.

Maybe I just want to see something I’ve never seen before in my life, have the art come and stick its tongue down my throat and make my knees shake. Have the eyes seared out of my head. I WANT A FUCKING TRANSCENDENTAL MOMENT. Is that too much to ask?

Aye, I know you’ve got to go. Sorry. Sorry for going on.

It’s just that — all that fuckin’ trying and falling short. All that effort. It breaks my heart. You can see that, can’t you? That’s what a lassie like that one or Ashley cannae understand. It’s just my standards are very high.

Nicola White

Nicola White worked as a curator at Tramway and CCA, Glasgow before joining the BBC as a radio and television producer of arts programmes. Her short fiction has appeared in various publications, including Mslexia and New Writing Scotland and has been broadcast on Radio Four. She won a Scottish Book Trust New Writer award in 2008. Her audio story Something in the Pause was published by Artlink, Edinburgh in 2009. This year she received a major bursary from Creative Scotland to support the writing of her first novel.