If this were a film, we’d watch a van pull up and a single boot step out. We’d hear the back doors open, a heavy crunch of gravel. The camera would change to follow the trail of a large black bag pulled by booted driver. The door would be shut in our faces and we wouldn’t see inside the cottage studio. We wouldn’t see the care taken in lining up, the gloving of hands, the bullets sliding home, the last-minute positioning. We’d only hear the gunshot that this all led up to. Then the screen cuts to black.
It’s black for a long time.
The next scene opens at the London Art Fair. Camera is at ankle-level, surveying red undersides of heels, polished boots. Our protagonist’s own boots stand in the middle of a circle of admirers, marveling at her work and handing over cheques. Slowly, the camera pans up the legs of the crowd until a row of paintings come into view, four in view, each an abstract, each brightly-coloured, each with an explosion of dark brown as their focal point. They are enormous and mesmerising, and you find yourself digging around for your own cheque-book. Those paintings, they really are something.
Cut to printing factory. Neatly-folded stacks of white paper whizz round on conveyor belts. The camera cuts to a chute down which these papers fall, time slows, the words become almost legible – then a flash bulb, the paper slides into a seller’s hand, is pushed into a woman’s bag as she hurries down the street, flutters in the hot breeze at the top of an escalator. And all over it, it’s her, it’s her face, it’s her name. We love her.
You can make bigger jumps when you’re writing prose than if you’re directing a film. In a film, barring special effects, you’re driven by the limitations of what you can film. With words, you can pull off anything. No word costs more than any other. No stunt of wordsmithery costs what it costs to film a motorcyclist in a front-flip over an exploding lorry. I can put a newspaper into your brain without having to have a newspaper. I can turn a killer into a revered artist.
If this were a film, we’d watch the prints being removed from the walls of the gallery. We’d watch one being carted off by a suited man. We’d watch one being hung up in a boardroom. We’d watch one being carried away by gloved men. We’d watch it on the operating table, under bright light, as two men worked over it, peeling away sections and taking them off for testing.
We’d hold our breath as the results came back. Human bodily fluids. Beneath that, a tick in the box next to Blood. We watch a call-out. Armed and dangerous. Has killed, will kill again. We see a woman at complete peace with the world, putting the finishing touches to an abstract canvas. We watch a slow motion approach of cars, a helicopter circling, feet on the gravel. The music playing could easily be Exit Music (For a Film). We watch a calculated calm, a canvas being placed on easel, the bullets sliding home, a quick glance behind, the last-minute repositioning, and, just as the bangs come at the door, we hear the gunshot that this all led up to.
Then the screen cuts to black.
It’s black for a long time.