• North London tales

In the Muse's arms

In the Muse’s arms 5,870 words

Maud Waret

7 years. It is enough for a child to reach wisdom. It is the beginning of reason. Not yet a generation although a consequential amount of time. It could have been the time it takes in London to secure a good career. Unless you are one the unsuccessful ones.

The fact is he had been trying his best at pretending to be an adult for the last seven years and he had finally reached the point when he could do nothing but admit he had failed. His friend, Charley, had moved on: first serious girlfriend, first mortgage payment, first long-haul holidays with enough money to spend on a nice hotel, all-inclusive thank you very much. First child born and first pension scheme and payment for a life insurance. He had looked on, from afar.

Slowly and gradually he had lost touch with his richest acquaintances. So he let them go, in the distance, like blurred passers-by seen through the steamy windows of the W7 bus.

He was still taking the bus. At the same bus stop on Park road. He was still walking under the rain; he was still shopping in the off-licence down the road. He still drank the same semi-skimmed Country life carton of milk, eating the cheap white sponge-like bread and the super-value tins of baked beans glammed up with extra-mature cheddar cheese. He was still wearing clothes his gran had bought him when he was a teenager. They still fitted him because his diet of tinned lentils, porridge and bananas was actually very good at keeping his stomach full and his body slim. If only he could get rid of the bitter taste of defeat in his mouth.

Do not be envious, be thankful for your health, be grateful for being in a first world country where you can go to your GP and get a free prescription when you are sick. Yeah right. What was the point of having a healthy body if one was trapped in a small bedsit with nowhere to go that would cost less than the crinkled 10 pound note he had for the rest of the month, safely tucked in the Danish butter cookie jar on top of the fridge?

He had tried in his way, he had been a Jack of all trades: delivery man, telesales operator in the winter, roadie for bands in the festival season, recently a shop assistant at a DIY store on Colney Hatch Lane, topped by the occasional shifts in a local pub where all the customers were middle-aged, red-nosed alcoholics with a constant tear forming on the corner of their eyelid.

He used to be cheerful enough at the beginning because he was young and hope suited his fresh skin and his smooth chin. Then when nothing had changed in his life and he approached his thirties, still the same, insecure in himself and in his finances he had sort of given up. He was not depressed, no. That would be too easy. It was better to just face the pointlessness of existence without indulging oneself in developing a clinical illness. He still enjoyed the simple pleasures of life: A woman’s touch, a smiley face, a morning ablaze with sunshine in spring, the fluttery song of the frail robin standing on the brick wall in the downstairs garden. He had just lost faith in his own future and his own ability to control it.

Yet, he refused to become a cynic. The more the years went on and monotony turned wishes to dust, the more he was drawn to inertia. Sleeping was free, it was peaceful and entertaining: A sort of easy-going oblivion.

Today he had had just about enough.

He decided to walk to the off-licence to see if there was some flatbread on the bakery shelf. The Turkish guy at the till was kind of all right. He always said hi and did not mind if customers answered or not.

In the window, he noticed a little piece of paper. There were a few scribbled sentences that must have been written quickly, on a whim almost. He pressed his face closer to the glass to read:

‘Offering a single room in exchange of help around the house. No references needed. Room available in February. Non smoker and no pet.’

Well he did not smoke, too expensive and destructive, and he did not have a pet. He had a cat but he let it out and one day it never came back. He took a picture of the ad with his phone. There was a phone number underneath. His bedsit cost him more than two thirds of his wages. It was very cold and draughty, and had damp patches near the cubicle where the shower sat. The downstairs neighbour who had recently moved in was friendly enough but he had two husky dogs in a small one bedroom flat and he rarely took them out for a walk. It smelled of beasts and its damp, wet odour made him sick. He felt like he had nothing to lose. He typed the number in his phone and made the call:

‘Hi, I am calling regarding the ad you put in the Park road off-licence.’

‘Oh, yes said the voice, it was hard to tell if it was a man or an old woman. It was rather raucous and croaky.

‘Is the room still available?’

‘Yes it is. Are you in employment?’

‘Yes, I work in a warehouse. Full-time on shifts. I hope that is ok. What sort of help do you need?’

‘It is not much really. It is just a sort of arrangement. You would have to stay home every night to make sure my mother is safe and answer her calls if she is unwell.’

‘I am not a carer really. I have no experience in nursing either. How old is your mother?’

‘There would be no caring involved. It is just a sort of companionship. For she is very anxious on her own.’

‘Right. And you said she was how old?’

‘She is in her seventies but she is very fit. There is no need for shopping or cooking. She has a cleaner. She just needs someone to make her feel that she is safe at home, in case there were a burglar or something.’

‘Oh, that’s fine. Do you need references?’

‘Not really. I just need to meet you and see if you seem a decent person.’

‘Yeah, that’s fair enough. How long would the tenancy be for?’

‘As long as my mother wishes. Likely a couple of years, if you get on well. I work abroad a lot and I need to make sure she is happy and safe when I am away.’

‘I see. Well I am free to meet up with you then. And your mother maybe.’

‘You will only meet with me. My mother is too anxious to meet strangers and she trusts my judgement.’

‘I am free on Friday afternoon.

‘That’s fine. Let’s meet at the Maynard at 5pm.’

He hung up. That seemed like a rather easy gig. On the weirdo scale, maybe a 3 out of 10. He had read way dodgier ads. He would meet the guy, check out the room and see if there was a catch with the old woman. Even if the old hag was a demented witch or a bedridden grumps he would still save more than 900 pounds a month; that was worth it.

On Friday he went into the Maynard pub. He scanned the room briefly ignoring the usual crowd: A few couples, mostly colleagues having a pint after work, a few blokes who discussed football results loudly, the sort of men who always seemed to spend time in pubs rather than at home.

At a table near the bay window he saw a short man in a suit and a young woman dressed in a corporate sort of way with kitten heels straight out of an office in Canary Wharf. The short man had a shy disposition and his eyes did not meet his even after he walked towards them and stood near their table. The woman stood up and shook his hand.

‘Are you the person interested in the room?’

‘Yes I am.’

‘Let me introduce Mr Hoffman. I am Jenny Murray, his PA.’

He thought he had bumped into another world. He hid his surprise well and just sat down next to the shy man in the suit.

‘I am Sam. I am currently renting a studio but I would like to save money to build a deposit. I am single and a free room in exchange of some extra work sounds good to me.’

Jenny ordered Sam a drink then started talking. Hoffman listened hiding behind his glasses. He had a nondescript face, mousy hair and a chin-less profile that made him look like he shared some DNA with poultry.

Jenny explained that Mrs Hoffman was anxious to stay on her own at night and she lived in a big empty house since she was a widow and her children were all grown-ups working abroad. She did not need company per say but just knowing a young man lived in the house would reassure her. Of course Sam was expected not to bring any guests, to keep his room clean and to stay home after nightfall.

‘Can I use the kitchen? Will I get a cupboard to store my food and a shelf in the fridge?

‘You will be fed. There is a cook who comes everyday and she will prepare meals for you and Mrs Hoffman.’

He was dumbfounded. He would save money on food as well. That was all-inclusive then.

For the first time he interrupted the chatty Jenny and addressed her boss: ‘So what is the catch? Why don’t you need references?’

‘There is no catch Mr Evans. You will just be requested to spend every night in the house without any exceptions unless arranged prior. We understand it is a demanding schedule particularly in winter when night falls early. But this is part of the deal.’

‘Can I visit the house before I agree?’

‘Yes of course, we will take you there now.’

Sam quickly finished his drink while Jenny ordered a cab. She went to set the bill and the three of them left the pub. Mr Hoffman was even shorter when they stood up. Sam noticed he kept avoiding his gaze. As if he were pathologically shy or a very bad liar.

‘Will I meet your mother now?’

‘No, it is too early. She will still be at her office.’

Jenny took it upon herself to answer that question as she opened the door of the cab and ushered the two men in.

‘Is she still working? You said she was in her seventies.’

‘Mrs Hoffman owns an art gallery in Islington.’

Sam was even more intrigued. The cab drove them to the top of the hill that saw the limit between Crouch end and Highgate. It stopped in front of an elegant Victorian house. It looked very spacious but not as modern as the previous houses. It seemed that the Hoffman liked conservative architecture _ their house did not sport any extensions or modern elements added to the original structure.

Jenny let them inside the house. Mr Hoffman stepped in first and swiftly disappeared into a room. Through the door Sam caught a glimpse of walls covered in rows of books and a huge mahogany desk. Jenny showed him around the ground floor, then took him to a room on the third floor which must have been a servant’s room or an attic previously. The whole house was dark and richly decorated. Jenny mentioned the term Baroque and he took her word for it. Yet it was clean and dust free.

‘This is your room.’

It was twice as big as his studio. There was a double bed, a desk, an empty bookshelf with a SMEG fridge in a corner. What finally convinced Sam was the four-piece ensuite-bathroom under the eaves.

He tried to stay calm and focus on the issue at stake. This sounded too good to be true, he had to see the lady of the manor before signing anything.

As they returned to the ground floor Sam noticed Jenny did not offer him to visit any rooms on the second floor. They went to the kitchen which was the only room that had been decorated in a modern way, with absolutely no mess in sight. Jenny offered him a very uncomfortable high stool.

‘Before I sign anything I think it would be wise to meet Mrs Hoffman. She may want to meet me too.’

Jenny turned her blond head with impeccable highlights to the door as they heard the clicking sounds of heels on the cold marble floor.

Mrs Hoffman came in. She had a heavy coat perched on her right shoulder. She stood there inspecting the young man in the middle of her kitchen and threw the coat onto the glass table top.

‘Good evening, Jenny. I assume my son is in the library. And is this the young man who answered the ad?’

‘Hi, my name is Sam.’

She did not shake his hand, she was busy opening her black handbag. She was an old woman, with wrinkles and grey hair all right but she was still a beautiful haughty sort of a woman. Dressed in a silk blouse with a salmon cameo brooch on the collar, a very long and soft-looking cashmere cardigan and a pair of black trousers her back was straight, her figure slim and her air severe. Sam stared at her face. She was elegant, self-assured. She had dropping eyelids that made her look more mysterious than tired, her eyes were blue or maybe grey, London sky.

Mrs Hoffman asked him a few questions about his background, his job and his parents. She did not seem to listen to his answers much. Sam felt that she barely looked at him. He noticed that when Jenny put tea in a cup and saucer in front of Mrs Hoffman, she did not drink it. She seemed distracted and suddenly stood up, grabbed a bottle of wine from a wine fridge concealed behind a mirrored panel and she poured herself a large glass.

Jenny presented Sam with two copies of the rental agreement and a pen. Sam took the time to read it.

He took a deep breath and signed. He felt that the size of the house, the easy natural wealth that these people exuded had made him dizzy and pliable. He questioned his judgment. What was the worst that could happen? He could always leave if things turned sour. He would just have to find another bedsit.

Jenny smiled and gave him his copy of the contract.

‘We will expect you to move in on Monday’

‘This Monday! I have a month-notice on my bedsit though.’

‘We can compensate you for this month. You only have to worry about bringing your belongings. Just give me a call and I will send you a cab.’

She handed him her business card and led him out of the kitchen. Sam heard someone playing the piano in the library and Mrs Hoffman’s voice asking for the music to stop.

‘See you on Monday!’ Jenny said while she slammed the door shut.

On the weirdo scale that was a five out of ten. Yet Sam felt excited. That was an emotion he had been missing.

On Monday, Sam finished work at 6pm and went back to his bedsit for the last time. He filled the cab with his belongings which amounted to a suitcase with his clothes, a box of his vinyl records – he was really into 1970’s American funk _ and a plastic bag containing newly bought toiletries. Jenny was outside the house waiting for him under an umbrella. She gave him his own set of keys.

‘These are for the front door and these are for the back door. The alarm code is: 1965. The small square key is for a safe in your bedroom, you can choose your own code as it is set on 0000 at the moment. The cook will leave meals every day and they will be stored in the fridge. The cleaner’s shift starts at 9am. She will do your room too. Don’t forget to check in the house every evening at 6 pm latest.’

He nodded to everything and then she left. Sam went straight up to his room.

He took out his vinyl covers too before lining them up on a shelf. It took him less than an hour to empty his suitcase and fill the wardrobe with his clothes. The wardrobe looked half empty still.

At 7pm he heard the front door open and he decided to go downstairs to say hi. Mrs Hoffman was talking on her mobile phone and she barely looked at him when he came down the stairs. She went straight to the kitchen, threw her coat on the table, a different one from last time, served herself a large glass of white whine and kicked her shoes off. Sam stood there for a while, undecided and then he went to explore the library. He was not into reading, but he was still impressed by the amount of books that was crammed in the spacious room. There was a grand piano in the middle, the walls were painted in dark cherry red and the leather bound books were like little soldiers lined up for morning roll call. There was only one painting here above the fireplace and it represented a nude, prepubescent girl, quite exposed, brushing her hair in front of a mirror. He came closer and checked the name of the painter but he could not decipher the scribbling. It was an unusual posture, half-innocence, half-temptation. He felt shy and guilty looking at her.

Odd he thought. He was no longer staring at the girl when Mrs Hoffman walked in, her wine glass in hand.

‘Welcome Sam. I hope you are not missing anything.’

He turned to face her, his cheeks slightly pink, and shook his head.

‘If you want a glass of wine, please help yourself. There is a meal in the fridge: the green box is for you. I have eaten out already. I am going to retire to my rooms. There is a TV room downstairs, I guess Jenny showed it to you. I will only request that you only eat in the kitchen.’

‘That’s fine. Thank you.’

This first chat set the tone for all their encounters. She was straight, clear, giving simple instructions and not letting anything personal about her seep through.

He slept under her roof and ate the meals from the green boxes. She would come from her gallery every evening, discard her jacket and handbag in the kitchen, drink a glass of wine, salute him and retire to her rooms. Sam often wondered why on earth she needed someone to spend the nights in the house. She had a security alarm and cameras outside in the front and back gardens.

An eccentric British lady all right!

He slowly got used to her quirks and had to acknowledge that he thoroughly enjoyed their arrangement. He had the feeling that he had the house to himself. Even if he regretted not being allowed to bring a girl home, he seemed more cheerful. Having spare money at the end of each month was the best antidepressant ever. He was making plans and wondering if he should start saving or spending his money.

After 6 months he had managed to collate enough information about his hostess to get an idea of who she really was. It happened gradually, he would overhear conversations, he would fall upon opened mail, deliveries would come and he was more and more privy to Mrs Hoffman’s daily life. What he could not find out in the house he would discover online.

She was born wealthy. Her family originated from Austria. They were art dealers since the turn of the XX-th century. She had been married and had had four children. The man Sam had met was the middle one. For some reason they all lived abroad and some not even in Europe. She had become a widow in the eighties and taken the business of the gallery over. She had been very successful. Jenny had mentioned a few times how she had to go to New York and Venice for work. Her business was international. For some reason though Mrs Hoffman had never remarried and she had chosen to stay in her own family home..

Sam had done research on her gallery. It was mostly classical and Renaissance pieces but she had an interest in early XX-th century Russian Expressionists. Jenny had mentioned the painting in the library once. Sam was almost correct to believe it depicted Mrs Hoffman when she was young. It was a portrait of her sister Gertie. Jenny let him understood there was heartache and a bit of a scandal behind the story of the blurry and dreamy canvas. There was no other mention of the sister and Sam discovered an obituary in the Times for a Gertrude Lampert who died aged 13 in Highgate in 1961. There was a mention of her parents and a sister Charlotte who were the last living relatives. He had no more information concerning his hostess until one evening in June. He had some time off work and he was home early.

He was walking up the stairs when he noticed one door on the second room was left ajar. They used to be invariably locked and his curiosity made his stop on the landing. Sam assumed the cleaner had forgotten to lock it. He did not hesitate and went in. It was a bedroom, a young girl’s. Though untouched it still seemed lived in. Sam felt blasphemous and out of place although the bedspread and the antique furniture reminded him of being in a film shoot. There was a music stand and a mandolin on a chair. A mirror sat on a make up dressing table. Sam leant and stared at himself in it. He felt a chill in the air. He shivered. He felt the soft featherweight of a gaze on his shoulders and instinctively turned around. There was nothing different in the room. There was no one else in the house. Yet he noticed a change within himself, he imagined he was not alone anymore and the unexplained presence made him jittery and ill at-ease. An elusive smell developed in the stuffy room. The unused smell of dusty forsaken belongings. Sam would have described it as dusty old rotten petals at the bottom of a vase. It was just a little unpleasant but he decided not to stay in the bedroom any longer. There was a distant almost inaudible laughter resonating in his ears. As if a child was outside playing in the garden, the mocking cries muffled and dampened by the thickness of the walls. He closed the door behind to reassure himself. He just would not have liked knowing that it was left open when he regained his own bedroom. He lay down on his bed and fell asleep which was a relief although his sleep was so heavy he woke up later with drool all over his chin and a heavy migraine not unlike a hangover.

Mrs Hoffman became a little bit more sociable as the months went by. After a year of cohabiting they had both settled. Sam was positively thriving and Mrs Hoffman’s restlessness tempered. One Sunday evening Sam had been out all day in Central London and he was feeling chatty. He found his hostess in her kitchen and he accepted the glass of rosé that she gave him. They both started talking.

Sam described his most recent date with a girl he had met online. Mrs Hoffman listened to him and asked him how he felt about the girl.

‘I am not bothered to be honest. I found her attractive but there was no spark so to speak.’

‘Have you ever been in a serious relationship? She asked with one arched eyebrow.

‘Not really. I am not the type to get really involved. Much. I just like my freedom. Or maybe I am just a little bit of a loner.’ He giggled.

They went on to talk about various things. Sam eventually felt they were relaxed enough in each other’s company to be daring and he stirred the conversation towards Mrs Hoffman’s personal life. He chose to ask her who the girl in the painting was.

She cleared her throat before answering.

‘It is me. When I was a young girl.’

‘Oh, exclaimed Sam, I thought it was someone related to you but not you. The eyes are brown and yours are much lighter.’

‘You are very observant. I guess it was supposed to represent me as I was the sitter but it turned out to look more like my younger sister.’

She swallowed a big mouthful of wine and grimaced as if it had turned too sour.

‘I guess the painter merged us both into one character. You see she was much younger than me and to my knowledge she never sat for him. I did.’

Sam knew he was being too pushy but his curiosity took the better of him:

‘How old were you when you sat for the painter?”

‘I was barely 16. He was a friend of my father. Or I should say he was involved in their circle of artists and business partners. Our house was always buzzing with people, my mother was queen bee and she did not have much time to take care of the both of us.’

Sam poured her another glass of wine as she had already finished hers. She was perched on a high stool. She looked frail, vulnerable and almost uncannily young. She continued:

‘Although our background was conservative, my mother was like a whirlwind, a beautiful woman always going out to the opera or the theatre, entertaining my father’s clients at home and there was chatter and music until dawn. My sister and I were left to our own devices. I was a teenager in the sixties so I was a bit of a rebel: I partied and decided to become a muse for a young, impoverished talented Irish painter. It was ever so romantic; he had fire in his eyes and a gorgeous accent like rolling hills. I felt so liberated and modern!’

She laughed, the way people do when they have but sadness and regrets in their heart but are too exhausted to cry so laughing seems easier. It made Sam uneasy.

‘My mum got me on the pill and then she went on to another party. My father was escaping our noisy and erratic household by going to work. I simply got the attention I craved from this painter. I got my heart broken and left to go to a boarding school in Switzerland.’

‘It is a beautiful painting.’

‘You think so? I can only see the greys, the bleakness and the loneliness in that figure.’

‘Sometimes when I am in the room I feel like I am disturbing the balance in the space. Almost like I am coming into someone’s bedroom uninvited.’

Mrs Hoffman stared at him.

‘Have you ever felt like the girl is turning her head towards you when you look from the corner of your eye?’

‘And then I feel stupid when I look again to check and it is that same profile, sideways…’

They chuckled. The tension lowered. Sam felt compelled to grab her hand that was resting next to the wine glass on the marble counter. Her skin was wrinkly and soft and her bones seemed too delicate.

She let him and went on in a monotone:

‘I was abroad so I did not realise that I had invited his attention and left him with no more toys to play with. Or maybe he had just found what he was looking for. In the end he reported his lust onto my younger sister. Gerty was barely twelve and she still lived at home. He did not use her as a sitter because my mother might have objected but he did much worse. I don’t know all the details. I just pieced all the clues left over the years. I believe he managed to invite her to his studio where there came other men who shared his peculiar taste. She was a very young girl and there was lots of alcohol. My sister was so naïve. She wanted to follow my footsteps and be all grown up.’

Sam squeezed her hand gently to egg her on. She found it difficult to pronounce the dry words without choking with long, unabated, repressed sorrow.

‘He abused her. He destroyed her physically and psychologically. She waited a whole school year, hoping for me to return and help her but when spring turned into summer and before my exams were finished she had had enough already. She stole my mother’s sleeping pills from her bedside table and she swallowed them all. The whole bottle.’

They stood still for a while. There were no tears. The only sounds were the boiler grumbling on low and the reassuring ticking of the clock on the wall above the door. In the end Sam could not help himself any longer and he slowly leant towards her and encircled her slight frame in his arms. She leaned against him and buried her face on his chest. They stood still for a while until she broke their embrace and said:

‘Thank you.’

‘I am sorry for the loss of the young Gerty. What happened to you after?’

‘My mother lost her insouciance overnight. She needed a sense of purpose and started doing charity work. She could never stand still you see. My father bought all the painter’s work and he hid all his canvases in storage. He succeeded in destroying his budding career. The painter drank himself to an early grave.’

‘And you?’

Mrs Hoffman sighed.

‘I got married, had four children in my early twenties. Twenty years later I decided to get the paintings out of storage after my father passed. It felt like a sort of mild exorcism. I started selling them at art fairs. The fact that he had died in tragic and dire circumstances helped consolidate this doomed artist’s image and it turned out to be a financial success. I opened my own gallery in Islington with the proceeds from the sales.’

After a while Sam enquired about the second floor and the locked bedroom.

‘I have seen the bedroom upstairs. Why do you keep it like a shrine, untouched?’

Mrs Hoffman looked him up with uncertainty.

‘Which bedroom? Do you mean my daughter’s former bedroom?’

‘No, I mean Gerty’s bedroom. The one that is always locked. The one with the mandolin.’

‘You must be mistaken Sam. We have three spare bedrooms on the second floor but Gerty’s bedroom was in what is now the library, where the actual painting is. My husband and I did not keep the same layout when I inherited the house from my late mother.’

Sam did not wait for her to finish her sentence, he ran up the stairs, the room was unlocked. He went in and stood still. There was a double bed, a generic guest room with exquisite bedding and a walnut chest of drawers. It could have been a plush room in a city hotel.

Behind him Mrs Hoffman switched the lights on. He turned back, filled with dread and speechless.

‘What did you see?’

With a croaky voice he stammered:

‘I saw, I was in a different room. It was old-fashioned, with purple wallpaper and wooden furniture painted white. There was a mirror on the wall. That same wall.’

He pointed at the wall opposite them where there was an abstract painting in copper hues.

‘There was a music stand and a mandolin.’

‘Sam, do you realise that what you are describing is the background in the painting downstairs. It was an imaginary room. I used to sit in front of a white sheet propped up in the painter’s studio. The fabric was hung on a rope hooked to the furniture.’

Sam rushed downstairs and almost missed a step as his legs were so wobbly.

‘This is impossible.’

He was now in the library staring at the painting of the girl. He thought the room around her appeared more grey than purple. He could not really see the bed after all she was sitting on it. He could not make out if the furniture was made out of wood and painted over. He had to admit that there was indeed a mandolin. Why had he never noticed it before? It was on a chair next to the bed.

‘There is the mandolin.’ Said Mrs Hoffman

Her voice was soft to his ears but it conveyed a power that made Sam flinch. He felt hurt, he felt shaken to the core. This is how it feels, he reflected, when one realises there is a problem with their mind or their understanding.

‘I must be going mad’ he muttered.

‘No you are not Sam. Look at the painting, look at me! For this is me.’

‘Is this what you wanted?

Sam was addressing Mrs Hoffman but his gaze rested on the young girl, who sat with the white of her legs exposed, her skirt ruffled up to her thighs, her eyes half-closed. She looked ecstatic.

‘This is the reason you wanted someone in the house with you. You knew.’

‘We just wanted company, Sam. And you are perfect. You are respectful, tidy, you keep to yourself and you are very much alone. Just like me.’

He knelt to the floor, his knees on the thick Persian rug. His hands ruffled his hair as he rubbed his face trying to dispel the uncomfortable realisation that he had been duped.

‘There will be no one to miss you Sam. Don’t you worry.’

Mrs Hoffman put her right hand on his left shoulder and felt the warmth of his skin through his shirt. Her hand felt heavy on him now and he went limp. Her palm gently stroke his neck then his face and he fell into a heavy sleepless dream.

There is a richly decorated house in this lovely, leafy, wealthy area between Crouch end and Highgate, with gables under its roof and teal blue Victorian tiles under the porch. If one is able to look through the lofty bay window in the front garden there is a painting above the fireplace. A young girl is sitting at the edge of a bed, with her legs exposed and her eyes semi-opened. At her feet a man is kneeling. One cannot see his face, only his back. His hair is ruffled and he remains as if in prayer, intensely adoring the girl, bound to her in ecstasy.

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