Sunday 1 December 2013

An Elfin Heart

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2011 - 2013

     Face painting is almost not an art at all considering that, unlike the stereotyped lonely artist in the garret, face painting is almost always done in company. Amongst some of the more progressive young, bohemian intelligentsia of the nineties it was thus also a personal favourite, a mask to reveal all of our secret hopes and horrors. And amongst such of the young bohemians in Surrey Hills, Sydney, glorious Aus, sunny even in winter, one of the most proficient in its art was presently attending another client.
     ‘Twenty-five bucks is a bargain. I’ve seen your work. Dynamite!’
     ‘Yeah, die ‘n’ I might . . . ,’ she replied, Byra with the regularly dyed, dark, elegant dreadlocks and the beauty spot on her left elfin cheek. The beauty spot was by no means natural and she liked to change it from left to right cheek depending on her feyness.
     ‘Do you make a living from it?’ He withstood pain remarkably well and Byra was not willing to push it. Karney H. W. Thymes, the present client, was putting in a Herculean effort and was withstanding quite a large load in fact. He asked again, as Byra appeared lost in the drawing, and to distract his own mind,
     ‘Do you make a living from your face painting?’
     ‘It pays the rent. A minute and you’re done. New work.’
     Karney was hoping the face painting might prove just the right talking point with her. Surely there’d be some sort of obligation on her part?
     Ha! Ha! Ha!  That’s hilarious!  No, Karney, when ‘you’re done’ you too will quite likely curse all men. The mirror is soon to reflect to you all of man’s natural hatred for itself and you will hate yourself for hating yourself. But you’ll just bottle it up, taking it out on your work colleagues, or your family, or your friends, or all of these, never yourself, and it will all be because young, cynical Byra pointed out your inherent horrors.
     ‘Voila!  C’est accompli!
     ‘That’s it?’ asked Karney. There was only the dawn light in the closing club, Chatters, and he assumed no other source of verification or accurate reflection. He didn’t want to try the toilets at the club because of the sheer amount of people that had gone through there throughout last night; its resultant calamity wouldn’t inspire confidence in any healthy, earnest young man.
     ‘I have a mirror.’ She brought it from her purple velvet satchel and handed it to him, reflecting then his secret revelation revealed.
     Karney was speechless.
     ‘Do you like it?’ asked Byra.
     ‘It’s not permanent, is it?’
     ‘It’ll fade after four or five days. Just try to wash your face every day.’ Karney seemed pleased with that. The only thing now was to get up and run away as soon as possible, from what further abominations from this statuesque woman it was best not to imagine. Crazy woman!    
     Karney returned the mirror and asked for some water.
     ‘Here,’ she said, handing him a bottle. ‘You may as well take it home with you.’
     ‘Thanks.’ Karney took a sip of the water, stood up, checked his pockets, took up his jacket again, and very quickly left. He lived around the corner so at least he didn’t have to catch a taxi home.
     Back in the club Byra was putting her mini-stall away. The takings were good, enough for rent for two weeks. Business was picking up. And that Karney!  Ho! Ho! Ho!  Such a babe!  Such a pretty face. Poor bastard.


     Karney confirmed the damage back at his share house. It was worse in the brighter light of the bathroom mirror at home. It always looked so good on the others though that had had it done at the club, their faces apparently wreathed in majesty, albeit a dark majesty. He however would have to get around for the next few days wreathed in his jacket with its hood pulled up. He probably should also wear a scarf as well around his lower face. At least it was cold enough to bear the extra clothing.
     Thymes eventually smiled at his masked reflection; he would just have to live with it for a short while, there was absolutely nothing else he could do. Neither could he seriously imagine Byra, who admittedly he only ever saw at the club, as having performed this abomination willingly. He still believed her elfin features held an elfin heart.
     Thymes, unreasonably, continued reminiscing about Byra, moving to his room. She must also be well liked as well as well-paid because she had been coming to Chatters regularly every Saturday night for two years and was still making pretty good money. Eventually Karney had to sleep though, being in such state as soon as he turned over onto his right side in bed.


     Karney awoke a few minutes after 3 pm. To his utter dismay he was still thinking about Byra. He didn’t know her surname. What made it dismaying is that Byra had probably not awoken thinking of cute, baby-faced Thymes. By the same token, he soon realised, it is not completely impossible that she awoke and did indeed have a brief morning fantasy with her one true love, the Goodman Karney. Anything’s possible.
     It was beyond doubt that Karney would return to Chatters this Saturday and Karney meant to spend the intervening time in deciding how best to make one last pass at her, and a blatantly obvious one at that. He was going to bet everything on one last go. He would like to be more sure though that Byra didn’t hate men out of hand, blemishing them for profit, but was instead simply spreading love with her unique masks.
     One point that Karney had tentatively concluded by the night before returning to see Byra was that for her the whole club scene was centred about the money. Byra had simply found a good way of making money from what she naturally wants to do. She may or may not be intending to denounce all of her male clients with her face paintings, or she may be intending divine praise of those she chose to adorn, but she is definitely motivated by the profits her arts were giving her.


     Byra was at Chatters when Thymes showed up the ensuing Saturday at 10 p.m. He planned to go easy on the drinks for he would have to be at his sharpest to catch his darling elfin damsel.  She was sitting on some cushions, not yet having set up her mini-stall. Karney had resolved to casually engage her in a conversation about investing. He would be telling no lies when he says that he has made modest trading gains on small investments. He would be happy to show her how to do likewise.
     But he couldn’t just walk up to her now, he would have to mingle some first, dance a bit, a bit of drinking (colas), and then Karney can approach without revealing she’s all he thinks about. His plans for an unhurried meeting were waylaid when he saw some guy also take a seat beside her. He was tall, broad-shouldered and with lantern jaw facial features, completely dressed in black, including his long, fine hair. Karney would have to investigate this, instantly.
     ‘G’day, Byra!’ He soon said. He really hoped that he didn’t sound nervous. Byra’s only reply was to make a noise in her throat whilst also pointing to it.
     ‘She can’t talk, man,’ said the guy on her right. He had a very deep voice and very clear skin. ‘She’s got a really bad throat infection.’
     ‘Shouldn’t she be at home then?’
     ‘We would be, man, but it’s warmer here.’ Byra made another throaty groaning. ‘And she’s okay enough to see her friends here.’
     ‘Is she doing her face painting tonight?’
     ‘No, man, don’t want to risk infecting the good customers.’
     ‘Oh well, I guess it doesn’t really matter, just a small business proposition.’ Karney looked over at Byra and smiled. He was still smiling when he saw the bloke take her hand and hold it in her lap. ‘It can just as easily wait until next week or two,’ said Karney.
     ‘Sure thing, man.’

     Karney headed to the bar trying not to think; he was just going to have a lone ale and leave. So he quietly drank his drink, had a look at the dancing women and then left knowing that Byra was defacing men, but occasionally keeping one unsullied specimen by her side for a fundamental contrast, or more properly, a fundamental balance.