TOO PRETTY FOR A HITMAN
The house was two stories and the small courtyard was the perfect place for a trampoline, which they used frequently until the day Rennie moved it to plant roses and forgot to put it back. So when Ezra stepped into the eternal void, he plunged onto flagstones and broke both his legs. Rennie and Emily ran down the narrow staircase to where Ezra lay crumpled.
“God I’m sorry,” Rennie said. “I wanted to grow roses for you. So it would smell sweet inside.”
“You damned idiot,” Emily screamed. “You stay away from him.”
“I’m not an idiot,” Rennie said, but her voice was wavery and without conviction.
Emily pushed Rennie aside and knelt next to her brother, hugging him like a lover, and when he fainted from the pain she began wailing, apparently thinking he was dead. Rennie stood flatfooted, feeling helpless and miserable. Above her were pale faces in the upstairs windows, all witness to this sad tableau: Ezra with his broken legs and a trampoline not six feet away. Such fakers! Word soon got around and people stopped coming. Still, losing the séance business was a blessing, as it spurred Rennie to expand her horizons. In fact, she became a major influence on the art scene for a time, hosting parties where the artistic lions drank and debated to loud gramophone music, with occasional dancing and nudity. Once she stood on a pedestal wearing only a papier-mâché hat while a smoky crowd of men sketched her and drank her jug wine to an old record of French love songs. When the shellac record began to skip —
J’attendrai toujours —
J’attendrai toujours —
J’attendrai toujours —
— the Dada photographer Man Ray grabbed it from the turntable and snapped it in two, shouting that he preferred live music with his live models. Others heartily agreed and pleaded with Rennie to sing for them.
“A song from America,” Man Ray cried as he pressed the halves of the record to the sides of his head like gigantic ears. “Sing Patsy Cline for us!”
And so she did.
She sang “You Belong to Me” in a voice so country, so Ouachita-sweet, that these sophisticated Europeans applauded and wept at the same time. Or maybe the weeping wasn’t for her singing, maybe they wept for the canvases on the wall behind her. For Rennie had become an artist as well as a model. Abandoning composition and draftsmanship as too restrictive, she wielded an oversized brush with both hands in what became known as the Buttery Style. Colors dripped and seemed to melt, all of it golden yellows and yellow ochers. This became popular in some quarters and was compared favorably to another American who painted with live hamsters. The cultural establishment was more critical, ridiculing her impasto creations as “the fevered creations of an American Goldilocks,” while many unwashed, workaday artists characterized it as merde de bébé, which Ezra informed her meant “baby shit.”
“Baby shit!” Rennie cried. Her lips trembled with anger. The enormous brush in her hands glistened with yellow paint and she barely resisted the idea of whacking Ezra with it. “You saying it’s baby shit?”
“No,” he said, “that’s what they’re saying. I’m just translating.”
Rennie looked up at her canvas, which now looked exactly like poop. She hurled the brush on the floor where it skidded, leaving a splattered trail of chromium pigment. Still more poop. Drips of diarrhea. Loads of crap. Damn Ezra, he was right.
“Well,” she said finally, “you don’t have to sound so happy about it.”
“I’m not happy about it,” he said with lips so rubbery tight they were invisible. “Not at all.”
Yeah, he was the picture of sympathy.
Even with that shitty reception and despite Ezra’s childish desire to see her fail, some of Rennie’s “Butters” found their way into prominent collections, including the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. As Ezra said one night over dinner, swirling his glass of Mouton Rothschild, the Louvre had plenty of shit already, some of the finest shit in the world, so it really was a noteworthy accomplishment, this transmutation of shit into art. Later, Rennie overheard Ezra telling his sister a latrine in the Louvre was being opened as a gallery, just for Rennie. Then he laughed, and Emily laughed too, both hooting like howler monkeys in the zoo. Such assholes they were! Rennie fumed in her studio that night, knowing somehow or other she would show them. And show them she did, for a few weeks later she became a legend. It began the Sunday Pablo Picasso dropped in to see her work and one thing led to another.