The Manchester Review
Chris Killen
The Bird Room (extract)
print view

      ‘How d’you mean?’ she asks.
      ‘I’ll show you.’
      He gets up and starts searching around in a drawer. When he comes back he sits next to her on the sofa, so the three of us are pressed up in a row. There’s almost no space between us now. Only a half-millimetre of nylon and denim separates the flesh of her knee from the flesh of my knee.
      I take a sip of tea. It burns my tongue.
      Will is holding a stack of photographs.
      ‘Okay,’ he says. ‘So I go on holiday the other week to France. I’ve got this friend, Clare, who’s just set up this exhibition space in Paris, and I was invited out for the opening night. There was performances, free wine, all that shit.
      ‘So, everything’s going great. I’m pissed three days straight, and everywhere you look there’s these beautiful French women wanting to talk about art. And it’s good business, too. You know, talk shit to the right people, try and get ’em interested in my stuff . . .’
      I can’t believe how intently she’s listening to him. She’s nodding and uh-huh-ing in all the right places.
      ‘And the weather’s fucking great. You know how it’s been over here – pissing it down. I’d forgotten my digital
camera, so I pick up this cheapie disposable thing from a newsagent.’
      He passes her the first photo. She cranes over it, obscuring my view. Finally she passes it across. A picture of Will stood next to the Arc de Triomphe. He’s wearing shorts and he has his hair tied back and he’s grinning. He passes her another. The view from the top. Will’s head pokes out from the bottom left corner. And another. Will with his arm round some bloke in a foreign football shirt. They’re sat at a patio table, drinking Kronenbourgs, cheers-ing.
      And another.
      In 2007, Will was listed as ‘one of the year’s most promising artists’ by a well-known magazine.
      And another.
      He still thinks Metallica is the best band ever.
      ‘Anyway, once the party’s over, I don’t want to come back home. I decide to extend my ticket, buy one of those rail passes, you know, just sort of bum around France for an extra week and see a bit of the countryside.’
      The next few are views from the train. A run of photos taken in the train’s toilet. One of the toilet bowl. One of himself in the mirror. She spends an extra few seconds on that one. She knows he’s an artist and she wants to impress him, so she says, ‘I really like this part here, how the flash sort of bounces off the mirror. Was that intentional?’
      They are very bad photographs. Will is not a photographer. He’s a painter. His paintings themselves are crude, almost childish in design.