The Convent

The Convent by Maureen McCarthy Page A

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Authors: Maureen McCarthy
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does that involve?’
    â€˜The business side.’ Cassie waves at the painting. ‘She got so ripped off at that last exhibition.’
    Det was invited to exhibit with these older, more experienced artists and she was the only one who sold every painting. But she didn’t see enough of the money. Most of it went to the agent and the gallery owner.
    I look around the room at some of the drawings lining the walls. Some are only half finished but still they take my breath away. Her renderings of faces and figures, trees and cityscapes are so realistic that they are almost scary. She uses them as her starting point. I didn’t understand the process or the finished paintings at first. I’d see them at various stages and I couldn’t see why, after all the painstaking detail was completed and the whole image was as perfect as a photograph, she set about subverting it, as if she was wilfully trying to wreck her own work. Once I seriously tried to stop her from scratching in stripes of thick green paint over this amazingly realistic face of a child. ‘Don’t ruin it,’ I protested.
    But she kept scraping on the sick green stripes. I had to walk out of the room because I couldn’t bear to watch. So what is the bloody point? I wanted to yell. What is the point but to be beautiful?
    But when I came back the next week I saw that it wasn’t ruined at all. She’d finished the whole painting, and I saw that it was beautiful in a tougher, more interesting way. The child wasn’t just a lovely child anymore. He was peering out through a curtain of weird foliage at what looked like a totally alien landscape. There was the dark shadow of a man’s profile over half his face, giving the finished image a menacing feel. Someone horrible was threatening the kid. It had the power of a vivid, disturbing dream, and the more I looked at it the more I understood that by scratching on that paint and messing with the perfect sky she’d done something sharper and more remarkable. The initial meticulous paintwork was still there underneath, like perfect machinery. That painting that I’d been so keen for her not to ruin had been the first to sell at the exhibition.
    I join Cassie by the window. The view out into the square court is lovely, the enormous tree growing in the centre is spectacular, and I’m suddenly filled with gladness for Det that she has this wonderful place.
    â€˜This place will be so good for her,’ I say quietly.
    â€˜I know.’ Cassie takes a quick glance back at Det, who is still on the phone. ‘That grant is a life-changer.’
    Det has lived in a number of crumby share houses with other students – her present one is no different – and she has never been able to afford a separate studio to work in.
    I don’t know what it says about me that my two best friends are exact opposites. I’m the lynchpin, I suppose. It’s a weird thing to say, and maybe totally egotistical, but I don’t think they’d be friends it weren’t for me. Det has always been the dreamer; even when she was passing those exams with flying colours you had the feeling that she had her eye on something else. Something bigger, deeper, more … difficult. The practicalities of everyday life are pretty much outside her realm. Which is the opposite of Cassie. Every now and again Det will have a go at the day-to-day stuff, but she can never sustain interest for long, and the truth is she often just makes things worse.
    Det clicks off the phone, throws her head back and gives an almighty groan of frustration. She comes over, puts her arms around our shoulders, and kisses us both hard on the cheek.
    â€˜Did you get the job, Queen Peach?’ she asks.
    â€˜I did.’
    â€˜Good for you!’ We smack palms. ‘Isn’t it so great that we’re all going to be here together! Well … sort of. You pathetic dudes will be slaves downstairs,

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