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SKIN

Skin

FRIDAY FICTION [11]

from Tales of the Unexpected

by Roald Dahl1

That year —1946— winter was a long time going. Although it was April, a freezing wind blew through the streets of the city, and overhead the snow clouds moved across the sky.

The old man who was called Drioli shuffled2 painfully along the sidewalk of the rue de Rivoli. He was cold and miserable, huddled up like a hedgehog3 in a filthy black coat, only his eyes and the top of his head visible above the turned-up collar.

The door of a café opened and the faint whiff4 of roasting chicken brought a pain of yearning to the top of his stomach. He moved on glancing without any interest at the things in the shop windows —perfume, silk ties and shirts, diamonds, porcelain, antique furniture, finely bound books. Then a picture gallery. He had always liked picture galleries. This one had a single canvas on display in the window. He stopped to look at it. He turned to go on. He checked, looked back; and now, suddenly, there came to him a slight uneasiness, a movement of the memory, a distant recollection of something, somewhere, he had seen before. He looked again. It was a landscape, a clump5 of trees leaning madly over to one side as if blown by a tremendous wind, the sky swirling and twisting all around. Attached to the frame there was a little plaque, and on this it said:

CHAIM SOUTINE (1894–1943)

Drioli stared at the picture, wondering vaguely what there was about it that seemed familiar. Crazy painting, he thought. Very strange and crazy —but I like it… Chaim Soutine… Soutine…

«By God!» he cried suddenly. «My little Kalmuck, that’s who it is! My little Kalmuck with a picture in the finest shop in Paris! Just imagine that!»

The old man pressed his face closer to the window. He could remember the boy —yes, quite clearly he could remember him. But when? The rest of it was not so easy to recollect. It was so long ago. How long? Twenty —no, more like thirty years, wasn’t it? Wait a minute. Yes —it was the year before the war, the first war, 1913. That was it. And this Soutine, this ugly little Kalmuck, a sullen6 brooding7 boy whom he had liked —almost loved— for no reason at all that he could think of except that he could paint.

And how he could paint! It was coming back more clearly now —the street, the line of refuse cans along the length of it, the rotten smell, the brown cats walking delicately over the refuse, and then the women, moist8 fat women sitting on the doorsteps with their feet upon the cobblestones of the street. Which street? Where was it the boy had lived?

The Cité Falguière, that was it! The old man nodded his head several times, pleased to have remembered the name. Then there was the studio with the single chair in it, and the filthy red couch that the boy had used for sleeping; the drunken parties, the cheap white wine, the furious quarrels, and always, always the bitter sullen face of the boy brooding over his work.

It was odd, Drioli thought, how easily it all came back to him now, how each single small remembered fact seemed instantly to remind him of another.

There was that nonsense with the tattoo, for instance. Now, that was a mad thing if ever there was one. How had it started? Ah, yes —he had got rich one day, that was it, and he had bought lots of wine. He could see himself now as he entered the studio with the parcel of bottles under his arm —the boy sitting before the easel9, and his (Drioli’s) own wife standing in the centre of the room, posing for her picture.

«Tonight we shall celebrate», he said. «We shall have a little celebration, us three.»

«What is it that we celebrate?» the boy asked, without looking up. «Is it that you have decided to divorce your wife so she can marry me?»

«No», Drioli said. «We celebrate because today I have made a great sum of money with my work.»

«And I have made nothing. We can celebrate that also.»

«If you like.»

Drioli was standing by the table unwrapping the parcel. He felt tired and he wanted to get at the wine. Nine clients in one day was all very nice, but it could play hell with a man’s eyes. He had never done as many as nine before. Nine boozy10 soldiers —and the remarkable thing was that no fewer than seven of them had been able to pay in cash. This had made him extremely rich. But the work was terrible on the eyes. Drioli’s eyes were half closed from fatigue, the whites streaked with little connecting lines of red; and about an inch behind each eyeball there was a small concentration of pain. But it was evening now and he was wealthy as a pig, and in the parcel there were three bottles —one for his wife, one for his friend, and one for him. He had found the corkscrew and was drawing the corks from the bottles, each making a small plop as it came out.

The boy put down his brush.

«Oh, Christ», he said. «How can one work with all this going on?»

The girl came across the room to look at the painting. Drioli came over also, holding a bottle in one hand, a glass in the other.

«No!» the boy shouted, blazing up suddenly. «Please —no!» He snatched the canvas from the easel and stood it against the wall. But Drioli had seen it.

«I like it.»

«It’s terrible.»

«It’s marvellous. Like all the others that you do, it’s marvellous. I love them all.»

«The trouble is», the boy said, scowling11, «that in themselves they are not nourishing. I cannot eat them.»

«But still they are marvellous.» Drioli handed him a tumblerful12 of the pale-yellow wine.

«Drink it», he said. «It will make you happy.»

Never, he thought, had he known a more unhappy person, or one with a gloomier face. He had spotted him in a café some seven months before, drinking alone, and because he had looked like a Russian or some sort of an Asiatic, Drioli had sat down at his table and talked.

«You are a Russian?»

«Yes.»

«Where from?»

«Minsk.»

Drioli had jumped up and embraced him, crying that he too had been born in that city.

«It wasn’t actually Minsk», the boy had said. «But quite near.»

«Where?»

«Smilovichi, about twelve miles away.»

«Smilovichi!» Drioli had shouted, embracing him again. «I walked there several times when I was a boy.» Then he had sat down again, staring affectionately at the other’s face. «You know», he had said, «you don’t look like a western Russian. You’re like a Tartar, or a Kalmuck13. You look exactly like a Kalmuck.»

Now, standing in the studio, Drioli looked again at the boy as he took the glass of wine and tipped it down his throat in one swallow. Yes, he did have a face like a Kalmuck —very broad and high-cheeked, with a wide coarse nose. This broadness of the cheeks was accentuated by the ears which stood out sharply from the head. And then he had the narrow eyes, the black hair, the thick sullen mouth of a Kalmuck, but the hands —the hands were always a surprise, so small and white like a lady’s, with tiny thin fingers.

«Give me some more», the boy said. «If we are to celebrate then let us do it properly.»

Drioli distributed the wine and sat himself on a chair. The boy sat on the old couch with Drioli’s wife. The three bottles were placed on the floor between them.

«Tonight we shall drink as much as we possibly can», Drioli said. «I am exceptionally rich. I think perhaps I should go out now and buy some more bottles. How many shall I get?»

«Six more», the boy said. «Two for each.»

«Good. I shall go now and fetch them.»

«And I will help you.»

In the nearest café Drioli bought six bottles of white wine, and they carried them back to the studio. They placed them on the floor in two rows, and Drioli fetched the corkscrew and pulled the corks, all six of them; then they sat down again and continued to drink.

«It is only the very wealthy», Drioli said, «who can afford to celebrate in this manner.»

«That is true», the boy said. «Isn’t that true, Josie?»

«Of course.»

«How do you feel, Josie?»

«Fine.»

«Will you leave Drioli and marry me?»

«No.»

«Beautiful wine», Drioli said. «It is a privilege to drink it.»

Slowly, methodically, they set about getting themselves drunk. The process was routine, but all the same there was a certain ceremony to be observed, and a gravity to be maintained, and a great number of things to be said, then said again —and the wine must be praised, and the slowness was important too, so that there would be time to savour the three delicious stages of transition, especially (for Drioli) the one when he began to float and his feet did not really belong to him. That was the best period of them all —when he could look down at his feet and they were so far away that he would wonder what crazy person they might belong to and why they were lying around on the floor like that, in the distance.

After a while, he got up to switch on the light. He was surprised to see that the feet came with him when he did this, especially because he couldn’t feel them touching the ground. It gave him a pleasant sensation of walking on air. Then he began wandering around the room, peeking14 slyly15 at the canvases stacked against the walls.

«Listen», he said at length. «I have an idea.» He came across and stood before the couch, swaying16 gently. «Listen, my little Kalmuck.»

«What?»

«I have a tremendous idea. Are you listening?»

«I’m listening to Josie.»

«Listen to me, please. You are my friend —my ugly little Kalmuck from Minsk— and to me you are such an artist that I would like to have a picture, a lovely picture.»

«Have them all. Take all you can find, but do not interrupt me when I am talking with your wife.»

«No, no. Now listen. I mean a picture that I can have with me always… for ever… wherever I go… whatever happens… but always with me… a picture by you.» He reached forward and shook the boy’s knee. «Now listen to me, please.»

«Listen to him», the girl said.

«It is this. I want you to paint a picture on my skin, on my back. Then I want you to tattoo over what you have painted so that it will be there always.»

«You have crazy ideas.»

«I will teach you how to use the tattoo. It is easy. A child could do it.»

«I am not a child.»

«Please…»

«You are quite mad. What is it you want?» The painter looked up into the slow, dark, wine-bright eyes of the other man. «What in heaven’s name is it you want?»

«You could do it easily! You could! You could!»

«You mean with the tattoo?»

«Yes, with the tattoo! I will teach you in two minutes!»

«Impossible!»

«Are you saying I do not know what I am talking about?»

No, the boy could not possibly be saying that because if anyone knew about the tattoo it was he —Drioli. Had he not, only last month, covered a man’s whole belly with the most wonderful and delicate design composed entirely of flowers? What about the client who had had so much hair upon his chest that he had done him a picture of a grizzly bear so designed that the hair on the chest became the furry17 coat of the bear? Could he not draw the likeness of a lady and position it with such subtlety upon a man’s arm that when the muscle of the arm was flexed the lady came to life and performed some astonishing contortions?

«All I am saying», the boy told him, «is that you are drunk and this is a drunken idea.»

«We could have Josie for a model. A study of Josie upon my back. Am I not entitled to a picture of my wife upon my back?»

«Of Josie?»

«Yes.» Drioli knew he only had, to mention his wife and the boy’s thick brown lips would loosen and begin to quiver18.

«No», the girl said.

«Darling Josie, please. Take this bottle and finish it, then you will feel more generous. It is an enormous idea. Never in my life have I had such an idea before.»

«What idea?»

«That he should make a picture of you upon my back. Am I not entitled to that?»

«A picture of me?»

«A nude study», the boy said. «It is an agreeable idea.»

«Not nude», the girl said.

«It is an enormous idea», Drioli said.

«It’s a damn crazy idea», the girl said.

«It is in any event an idea», the boy said. «It is an idea that calls for a celebration.»

They emptied another bottle among them. Then the boy said, «It is no good. I could not possibly manage the tattoo. Instead, I will paint this picture on your back and you will have it with your so long as you do not take a bath and wash it off. If you never take a bath again in your life then you will have it always, as long as you live.»

«No», Drioli said.

«Yes —and on the day that you decide to take a bath I will know that you do not any longer value my picture. It will be a test of your admiration for my art.»

«I do not like the idea», the girl said. «His admiration for your art is so great that he would be unclean for many years. Let us have the tattoo. But not nude.»

«Then just the head», Drioli said.

«I could not manage it.»

«It is immensely simple. I will undertake to teach you in two minutes. You will see. I shall go now and fetch the instruments. The needles and the inks. I have inks of many different colours —as many different colours as you have paints, and far more beautiful…»

«It is impossible.»

«I have many inks. Have I not many different colours of inks, Josie?»

«Yes.»

«You will see», Drioli said. «I will go now and fetch them.» He got up from his chair and walked unsteadily, but with determination, out of the room. In half an hour Drioli was back. «I have brought everything», he cried, waving a brown suitcase.

«All the necessities of the tattooist are here in this bag.»

He placed the bag on the table, opened it, and laid out the electric needles and the small bottles of coloured inks. He plugged in the electric needle, then he took the instrument in his hand and pressed a switch. It made a buzzing sound and the quarter inch of needle that projected from the end of it began to vibrate swiftly19 up and down. He threw off his jacket and rolled up his left sleeve. «Now look. Watch me and I will show you how easy it is. I will make a design on my arm, here.»

His forearm was already covered with blue markings, but he selected a small clear patch of skin upon which to demonstrate.

«First, I choose my ink —let us use ordinary blue— and I dip the point of the needle in the ink… so… and I hold the needle up straight and I run it lightly over the surface of the skin… like this… and with the little motor and the electricity, the needle jumps up and down and punctures the skin and the ink goes in and there you are. See how easy it is… see how I draw a picture of a greyhound20 here upon my arm…»

The boy was intrigued. «Now let me practice a little —on your arm.»

With the buzzing needle he began to draw blue lines upon Drioli’s arm. «It is simple», he said. «It is like drawing with pen and ink. There is no difference except that it is slower.»

«There is nothing to it. Are you ready? Shall we begin?»

«At once.»

«The model!» cried Drioli. «Come on, Josie!» He was in a bustle of enthusiasm now, tottering21 around the room arranging everything, like a child preparing for some exciting game. «Where will you have her? Where shall she stand?»

«Let her be standing there, by my dressing-table. Let her be brushing her hair. I will paint her with her hair down over her shoulders and her brushing it.»

«Tremendous. You are a genius.»

Reluctantly, the girl walked over and stood by the dressing-table, carrying her glass of wine with her.

Drioli pulled off his shirt and stepped out of his trousers. He retained only his underpants and his socks and shoes, and he stood there swaying gently from side to side, his small body firm, white-skinned, almost hairless. «Now», he said, «I am the canvas. Where will you place your canvas?»

«As always, upon the easel.»

«Don’t be crazy. I am the canvas.»

«Then place yourself upon the easel. That is where you belong.»

«How can I?»

«Are you the canvas or are you not the canvas?»

«I am the canvas. Already I begin to feel like a canvas.»

«Then place yourself upon the easel. There should be no difficulty.»

«Truly, it is not possible.»

«Then sit on the chair. Sit back to front, then you can lean your drunken head against the back of it. Hurry now, for I am about to commence.»

«I am ready. I am waiting.»

«First», the boy said, «I shall make an ordinary painting. Then, if it pleases me, I shall tattoo over it.»

With a wide brush he began to paint upon the naked skin of the man’s back.

«Ayee! Ayee!» Drioli screamed. «A monstrous centipede is marching down my spine!»

«Be still now! Be still!» The boy worked rapidly, applying the paint only in a thin blue wash so that it would not afterwards interfere with the process of tattooing. His concentration, as soon as he began to paint, was so great that it appeared somehow to supersede22 his drunkenness. He applied the brush strokes with quick short jabs23 of the arm, holding the wrist stiff, and in less than half an hour it was finished.

«All right. That’s all», he said to the girl, who immediately returned to the couch, lay down, and fell asleep.

Drioli remained awake. He watched the boy take up the needle and dip it in the ink; then he felt the sharp tickling sting as it touched the skin of his back. The pain, which was unpleasant but never extreme, kept him from going to sleep. By following the track of the needle and by watching the different colours of ink that the boy was using, Drioli amused himself trying to visualize what was going on behind him. The boy worked with an astonishing intensity. He appeared to have become completely absorbed in the little machine and in the unusual effects it was able to produce.

Far into the small hours of the morning the machine buzzed and the boy worked. Drioli could remember that when the artist finally stepped back and said, «It is finished», there was daylight outside and the sound of people walking in the street.

«I want to see it», Drioli said. The boy held up a mirror, at an angle, and Drioli craned his neck to look.

«Good God!» he cried. It was a startling sight. The whole of his back, from the top of the shoulders to the base of the spine, was a blaze of colour —gold and green and blue and black and scarlet. The tattoo was applied so heavily it looked almost like an impasto. The boy had followed as closely as possible the original brush strokes, filling them in solid, and it was marvellous the way he had made use of the spine and the protrusion of the shoulder blades so that they became part of the composition. What is more, he had somehow managed to achieve —even with this slow process— a certain spontaneity. The portrait was quite alive; it contained much of that twisted, tortured quality so characteristic of Soutine’s other work. It was not a good likeness. It was a mood rather than a likeness, the model’s face vague and tipsy24, the background swirling around her head in a mass of dark-green curling strokes.

«It’s tremendous!»

«I rather like it myself.» The boy stood back, examining it critically. «You know», he added, «I think it’s good enough for me to sign.» And taking up the buzzer again, he inscribed his name in red ink on the right-hand side, over the place where Drioli’s kidney25 was.

The old man who was called Drioli was standing in a sort of trance, staring at the painting in the window of the picture-dealer’s shop. It had been so long ago, all that —almost as though it had happened in another life.

And the boy? What had become of him? He could remember now that after returning from the war —the first war— he had missed him and had questioned Josie.

«Where is my little Kalmuck?»

«He is gone», she had answered. «I do not know where, but I heard it said that a dealer had taken him up and sent him away to Céret to make more paintings.»

«Perhaps he will return.»

«Perhaps he will. Who knows?»

That was the last time they had mentioned him. Shortly afterwards they had moved to Le Havre where there were more sailors and business was better. The old man smiled as he remembered Le Havre. Those were the pleasant years, the years between the wars, with the small shop near the docks and the comfortable rooms and always enough work, with every day three, four, five sailors coming and wanting pictures on their arms. Those were truly the pleasant years.

Then had come the second war, and Josie being killed, and the Germans arriving, and that was the finish of his business. No one had wanted pictures on their arms any more after that. And by that time he was too old for any other kind of work. In desperation he had made his way back to Paris, hoping vaguely that things would be easier in the big city. But they were not.

And now, after the war was over, he possessed neither the means nor the energy to start up his small business again. It wasn’t very easy for an old man to know what to do, especially when one did not like to beg. Yet how else could he keep alive?

Well, he thought, still staring at the picture. So that is my little Kalmuck. And how quickly the sight of one small object such as this can stir the memory. Up to a few moments ago he had even forgotten that he had a tattoo on his back. It had been ages since he had thought about it. He put his face closer to the window and looked into the gallery. On the walls he could see many other pictures and all seemed to be the work of the same artist. There were a great number of people strolling26 around. Obviously it was a special exhibition.

On a sudden impulse, Drioli turned, pushed open the door of the gallery and went in.

It was a long room with a thick wine-coloured carpet, and by God how beautiful and warm it was! There were all these people strolling about looking at the pictures, well-washed dignified people, each of whom held a catalogue in the hand. Drioli stood just inside the door, nervously glancing around, wondering whether he dared go forward and mingle27 with this crowd. But before he had had time to gather his courage, he heard a voice beside him saying, «What is it you want?»

The speaker wore a black morning coat. He was plump and short and had a very white face. It was a flabby28 face with so much flesh upon it that the cheeks hung down on either side of the mouth in two fleshy collops29, spaniel wise. He came up close to Drioli and said again, «What is it you want?»

Drioli stood still.

«If you please», the man was saying, «take yourself out of my gallery.»

«Am I not permitted to look at the pictures?»

«I have asked you to leave.»

Drioli stood his ground. He felt suddenly, overwhelmingly outraged.

«Let us not have trouble», the man was saying. «Come on now, this way.» He put a fat white paw on Drioli’s arm and began to push him firmly to the door.

That did it. «Take your goddamn hands off me!» Drioli shouted. His voice rang clear down the long gallery and all the heads jerked around as one —all the startled faces stared down the length of the room at the person who had made this noise. A flunkey30 came running over to help, and the two men tried to hustle Drioli through the door. The people stood still, watching the struggle. Their faces expressed only a mild interest, and seemed to be saying, «It’s all right. There’s no danger to us. It’s being taken care of.»

«I, too!» Drioli was shouting. «I, too, have a picture by this painter! He was my friend and I have a picture which he gave me!»

«He’s mad.»

«A lunatic. A raving lunatic.»

«Someone should call the police.»

With a rapid twist of the body Drioli suddenly jumped clear of the two men, and before anyone could stop him he was running down the gallery shouting, «I’ll show you! I’ll show you! I’ll show you!» He flung off his overcoat, then his jacket and shirt, and he turned so that his naked back was towards the people.

«There!» he cried, breathing quickly. «You see? There it is!»

There was a sudden absolute silence in the room, each person arrested in what he was doing, standing motionless in a kind of shocked, uneasy bewilderment31. They were staring at the tattooed picture. It was still there, the colours as bright as ever, but the old man’s back was thinner now, the shoulder blades protruded more sharply, and the effect, though not great, was to give the picture a curiously wrinkled, squashed appearance.

Somebody said, «My God, but it is!»

Then came the excitement and the noise of voices as the people surged forward to crowd around the old man.

«It is unmistakable!»

«His early manner, yes?»

«It is fantastic, fantastic!»

«And look, it is signed!»

«Bend your shoulders forward, my friend, so that the picture stretches out flat.»

«Old one, when was this done?»

«In 1913», Drioli said, without turning around. «In the autumn of 1913.»

«Who taught Soutine to tattoo?»

«I taught him.»

«And the woman?»

«She was my wife.»

The gallery owner was pushing through the crowd towards Drioli. He was calm now, deadly serious, making a smile with his mouth. «Monsieur», he said, «I will buy it.» Drioli could seethe32 loose fat upon the face vibrating as he moved his jaw. «I said I will buy it, Monsieur.»

«How can you buy it?» Drioli asked softly.

«I will give you two hundred thousand francs for it.» The dealer’s eyes were small and dark, the wings of his broad nose-base were beginning to quiver.

«Don’t do it!» someone murmured in the crowd. «It is worth twenty times as much.»

Drioli opened his mouth to speak. No words came, so he shut it; then he opened it again and said slowly, «But how can I sell it?» He lifted his hands, let them drop loosely to his sides. «Monsieur, how can I possibly sell it?» All the sadness in the world was in his voice.

«Yes!» they were saying in the crowd. «How can he sell it? It is part of himself!»

«Listen», the dealer said, coming up close. «I will help you. I will make you rich. Together we shall make some private arrangement over this picture, no?»

Drioli watched him with slow, apprehensive eyes. «But how can you buy it, Monsieur? What will you do with it when you have bought it? Where will you keep it? Where will you keep it tonight? And where tomorrow?»

«Ah, where will I keep it? Yes, where will I keep it? Now, where will I keep it? Well, now…» The dealer stroked the bridge of his nose with a fat white finger. «It would seem», he said, «that if I take the picture, I take you also. That is a disadvantage.» He paused and stroked his nose again. «The picture itself is of no value until you are dead. How old are you, my friend?»

«Sixty-one.»

«But you are perhaps not very robust, no?» The dealer lowered the hand from his nose and looked Drioli up and down, slowly, like a farmer appraising an old horse.

«I do not like this», Drioli said, edging away. «Quite honestly, Monsieur, I do not like it.» He edged straight into the arms of a tall man who put out his hands and caught him gently by the shoulders.

Drioli glanced around and apologized. The man smiled down at him, patting one of the old fellow’s naked shoulders reassuringly33 with a hand encased in a canary-coloured glove.

«Listen, my friend», the stranger said, still smiling. «Do you like to swim and to bask yourself in the sun?»

Drioli looked up at him, rather startled.

«Do you like fine food and red wine from the great châteaux of Bordeaux?» The man was still smiling, showing strong white teeth with a flash of gold among them. He spoke in a soft coaxing34 manner, one gloved hand still resting on Drioli’s shoulder. «Do you like such things?»

«Well —yes», Drioli answered, still greatly perplexed. «Of course.»

«And the company of beautiful women?»

«Why not?»

«And a cupboard full of suits and shirts made to your own personal measurements? It would seem that you are a little lacking for clothes.»

Drioli watched this suave man, waiting for the rest of the proposition.

«Have you ever had a shoe constructed especially for your own foot?»

«No.»

«You would like that?»

«Well…»

«And a man who will shave you in the mornings and trim your hair?»

Drioli simply stood and gaped.

«And a plump attractive girl to manicure the nails of your fingers?»

Someone in the crowd giggled.

«And a bell beside your bed to summon a maid to bring your breakfast in the morning? Would you like these things, my friend? Do they appeal to you?»

Drioli stood still and looked at him.

«You see, I am the owner of the Hotel Bristol in Cannes. I now invite you to come down there and live as my guest for the rest of your life in luxury and comfort.» The man paused, allowing his listener time to savour this cheerful prospect.

«Your only duty —shall I call it your pleasure— will be to spend your time on my beach in bathing trunks, walking among my guests, sunning yourself, swimming, drinking cocktails. You would like that?»

There was no answer.

«Don’t you see —all the guests will thus be able to observe this fascinating picture by Soutine. You will become famous, and men will say, “Look, there is the fellow with ten million francs upon his back.” You like this idea, Monsieur? It pleases you?»

Drioli looked up at the tall man in the canary gloves, still wondering whether this was some sort of a joke. «It is a comical idea», he said slowly. «But do you really mean it?»

«Of course I mean it. Wait», the dealer interrupted. «See here, old one. Here is the answer to our problem. I will buy the picture, and I will arrange with a surgeon to remove the skin from your back, and then you will be able to go off on your own and enjoy the great sum of money I shall give you for it.»

«With no skin on my back?»

«No, no, please! You misunderstand. This surgeon will put a new piece of skin in the place of the old one. It is simple.»

«Could he do that?»

«There is nothing to it.»

«Impossible!» said the man with the canary gloves. «He’s too old for such a major skin-grafting operation. It would kill him. It would kill you, my friend.»

«It would kill me?»

«Naturally. You would never survive. Only the picture would come through.»

«In the name of God!» Drioli cried. He looked around aghast35 at the faces of the people watching him, and in the silence that followed, another man’s voice, speaking quietly from the back of the group, could be heard saying, «Perhaps, if one were to offer this old man enough money, he might consent to kill himself on the spot. Who knows?» A few people sniggered36. The dealer moved his feet uneasily on the carpet.

Then the hand in the canary glove was tapping Drioli again upon the shoulder. «Come on», the man was saying, smiling his broad white smile. «You and I will go and have a good dinner and we can talk about it some more while we eat. How’s that? Are you hungry?»

Drioli watched him, frowning. He didn’t like the man’s long flexible neck, or the way he craned it forward at you when he spoke, like a snake.

«Roast duck and Chambertin37», the man was saying. He put a rich succulent accent on the words, splashing them out with his tongue. «And perhaps a souffle aux marrons38, light and frothy39

Drioli’s eyes turned up towards the ceiling, his lips became loose and wet. One could see the poor old fellow beginning literally to drool40 at the mouth.

«How do you like your duck?» the man went on. «Do you like it very brown and crisp outside, or shall it be…»

«I am coming», Drioli said quickly. Already he had picked up his shirt and was pulling it frantically over his head. «Wait for me, Monsieur. I am coming.» And within a minute he had disappeared out of the gallery with his new patron.

It wasn’t more than a few weeks later that a picture by Soutine, of a woman’s head, painted in an unusual manner, nicely framed and heavily varnished, turned up for sale in Buenos Aires. That —and the fact that there is no hotel in Cannes called Bristol— causes one to wonder a little, and to pray for the old man’s health, and to hope fervently that wherever he may be at this moment, there is a plump attractive girl to manicure the nails of his fingers, and a maid to bring him his breakfast in bed in the mornings.

Roald Dahl 

Roald Dahl was a British novelist, writer of short stories, screen writer and fighter pilot. He was born in Wales in 1916. Before writing he also served in the Air Force and fought in the World War two. Known as one of the greatest storytellers for children, he was in the list of ‘The 50 greatest British writers since 1945’. While he was studying at Repton, the chocolate company ‘Cadbury’ would send boxes of chocolate to there to get tasted. This is where Dahl took inspiration for his most notable work Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which was published in 1963. Taking inspiration from his life incidence and people he met is very common in his writings. Another example of such inspiration is in his book The Witches published in 1983. Dahl’s books involve imagination and fantasy and they were humorous too. His first book for children was The Gremlins. Another famous work is ‘Matilda’ published in 1988 which was made into a movie in 1988. Some other books of Dahl are Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970) and the movie in 2009, The Minpins (1991), The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me (1985). Some short story collections are Roald Book of Ghost Stories (1983), Two Fables (1986), The Roald Dahl Treasury (1997). Roald Dahl died on 23rd November 1990 due to a blood disease in Oxford, England.

 

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