A safe space
Updated: Jul 8
“A sharps bin?” said Leonie
“A sharps bin.” said Fenella.
The arts director of Margate’s creative collective Zealous gave a small, plaintive groan, and, needing a moment, turned to gaze out over the windswept landscape. Against the muddy sky and dilapidated splendour of old Victorian townhouses, crumbling shabby into the sea, the comic book natives seemed almost camouflaged. Lumpen, misshapen, grey-faced, hunch-backed, broad of hip and squat of neck, yelling, spitting, breeding, cackling, and now, seemingly, setting fire to sharps bins, right in the doorway of her gallery.
“On opening day, too!” said Fenella, twisting Palestinian olive wood beads around dainty, painty fingers, a nervous gesture which indicated she was coming mightily close to the end of her leash. “How could they?”
“I doubt they even knew it was opening day.”
“Yes, but that’s worse! Why don't they know? There are posters up in all the cafes!”
“They don’t go in cafes.”
“And it’s all over twitter!”
“They don’t go on twitter. And they’re so accustomed to things burning down, I don’t think the prospect of another shabby building buying it bothered them particularly. It was probably ten minutes entertainment, no more, no less.”
Fenella joined her at the window. Fresh from university, thin, brittle, stamped through with angst and inherited wealth. “Sort of like - performance art? Street theatre?”
Leonie frowned at this untimely effort at humour, and Fenella’s guts curdled. She looked out towards the slippy dog-turd, beer-can coated street, wrinkling her nose. All her features were perpetually wrinkling into one another, as if they didn’t have the strength of will or presence of mind to stand alone. Eyebrows into nose, lips into chin, an anxious, melting waxwork.
In her nine month sojournment at Zealous, Fenella had developed a crush on Leonie that had burnt and grown in her shrunken breast and now threatened to spiral out of command and into the self-destructive. Her gaze sought the lean, dreadlocked figure in every bean-bagged brainstorm, to the point where others in the collective were beginning to whisper. The more she tried to control her anxious, plaintive gaze, the more nervous she became; the more she sought the calm, efficient presence of her mentor, a wretched, horny circle. She reached out for Leonie’s hand, which was gripping the windowsill, paint-spattered knuckles still visibly white, gave it an awkward pat, and tried to think of a conciliatory, vaguely political remark.
“It’s - it’s not their fault, though, is it? It’s the chronic underfunding - they think art isn’t for them, it frightens them, makes them feel impotent, ashamed, so they seek to destroy it. In many ways, it’s quite an artistic response. Eventually they’ll learn how art can - console.
Leonie had, of recent months, become uncertain how much of a consolation art could be. A failure in London, a failure in Brighton, she’d imagined Margate, surely, would yet remain in awe of her. For what was Margate but a shabby seaside backdrop for Leonie’s splendour?
Written by MELISSA TODD
Artwork by STEVE LANCASTER