FICTION: The Best Blue by T.S.J. Harling

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It takes the edge off, that third glass of Sauvignon, and I’m starting to warm up a little, finally relaxing a bit. Of course it helped when I had that hour at home after:

the gallery wouldn’t open for me until two

the gallery closed between five and seven

the manager turned up late

the guy I rented the van from was a complete wanker

and somehow in the transit the biggest piece was damaged and this hurt my heart a little but I managed to sort it kind of

Because of the break between five and seven I was forced to go home and at home I kicked off my shoes and shed my clothes and flopped into bed. I was sleepy but couldn’t sleep, and started to think about what it would be like if the owner Marcus turned out to not be what everyone thinks he is and thought my work was amazing and took me into his office and kissed me and then touched me and then had sex with me on his desk.

After I came I felt much more energetic again and suddenly felt ready for tonight. I got music on, got dressed, got made up, had a little drink, forced down a snack as I really couldn’t stomach a dinner with all the excitement and, pleased with my reflection, left the house and got there early.

And now here we are and there are lots of people here, more people than I would have thought would come and what’s really made this evening for me so far is that I am seeing people I don’t recognise, people that don’t seem to be affiliated with my friends or family or contacts at my art school or anything. This means they have seen my posters or my name in the local listings and read a description or Marcus has described me to his art friends and they have been interested enough to come. When they look at me they don’t know that these works are mine. It’s like I’m invisible except I’m not invisible at all and what I really want to do is listen to what they are saying about what they are looking at, my work, except people I do know keep coming over and congratulating me on the show. But how do I know what they really think?

Seeing it backwards at first, I notice they’ve painted my name, Ronnie Pryce, on the window along with the title of the exhibition, they didn’t tell me they were going to do that although I should have guessed considering they do it for everyone that exhibits here. This makes me well up and I drink my drink and push down a canapé which is actually very lovely to distract myself from the fact that I have pretty much been working for the past ten years in order to get my name on a window in a small gallery in an SE postcode and I think this may be the proudest moment of my life, even more than the day I got my first or the day I got my A star Art AS level results.

Mum has come over and it doesn’t look like Dad is with her, “Ronnie!” she says and kisses me twice. She looks nice and I can see in her eyes what she’s going to say

“Dad is sorry. He’s promising he will come latest by Saturday but if he can possibly come tonight then he will.”

I don’t comment further on his absence but smile and ask her what she thinks. She tells me she loves it all as I already know and that it’s been truly wonderful watching the work evolve and that she feels honoured to have helped me with the process even if it was just with teas and encouragement and she is so very very proud and she is happy that so many people are here too!

It is busy and the people here talking and laughing and drinking and eating have no idea how happy they are making me. And I wonder if this is what success is or at least what it feels like and I know that I absolutely must have this feeling over and over for many nights to come, that I am addicted to this feeling and I must have more of it.

My friends kiss me in turn and congratulate me

My brothers kiss me in turn and congratulate me

Am caught in a whirl of ‘people I must say hello to’ and then an hour later I excuse myself to go to the ladies and come out and look around and for a moment no-one is looking at me. I go over to a corner near strangers and stand for a moment and try and look at the exhibition and try and imagine being someone else completely different to myself and try to judge the pieces objectively. All I can see are memories, and the ghosts of my ideas, even the ones that I am semi-pleased with are only my best versions of what I wanted to do. This is a collection of my best attempts, and I can only see how there was a section of blue in that particular piece that I didn’t get quite right but gave up on and settled with the best blue I could produce and how I should have gone for it more with this other piece and just made it bigger, why didn’t I make it bigger, it would have worked if it was double in size, maybe even triple

Is that Justin from school? It is Justin from school.


“Ronnie? Hello!”

We kiss twice and he smells just as he always did and pretty much looks the same too. I bet he’s still going out with her.

“I saw your flyer in the South London Gallery and I just had to see if it was you, of course Ronnie Pryce isn’t quite ‘Veronica Pryce-Haussmann’ but I thought it must be you. So I thought I’d come down and check it out. Bought a ticket and everything.”

He even shows me the ticket, as if it’s a badge to compensate for totally fucking me over when I was just sixteen years old and humiliating me in front of the whole school. However I really am over him now and it was nice of him to come.

“I’m touched. How are you? Do you like what I’ve done?”

He tells me that he is very impressed but that he doesn’t know much about art and he doesn’t know what it all means but he does like it, he likes all the artwork and he’s going round having a look at them all again. I see my friends looking over and I know they are thinking how the hell did Justin get here? And then thank God I see Ashley who smiles at me and I smile back and Ashley comes over and interrupts and this I think is something that I have wanted to happen for years, for me to look good and be successful and all in front of Justin and for a handsome man to whisk me away from him. I could give Ash a blowjob just for that moment.

Ashley stays near me and smells expensive, and he keeps putting his hand on my waist and I want him to

Marcus interrupts and introduces me to Alison Henry. I try not to act too star-struck but I still say ‘The Alison Henry, of Alison Henry Art?’ and swallow hard. And – she smiles at me and shakes my hand and of course she is everything you would want Alison Henry to be, perfectly made up with strong accent colours and although she is short and a bit stumpy and not that pretty really you get the feeling that she gets it when she wants it and she’s looking at me like she wants a bit of me, like I am flavour of the month

And she gives me her card and she takes mine and all she says is that she wants to do business with me. She tells me to go away and have fun and that her PA will call on Monday and Marcus looks at me like a proud father.

With my friends from art school I get drawn into a conversation with Chris Tucker about art and the working process and he honestly calls himself an artist. While he keeps talking about the latest retrospective on at the RA I can’t stop thinking about this, how he can happily refer to himself as ‘an artist’ when he has sold nothing, done nothing, he barely remembers to sketch, got a shit grade at uni, and yet still describes himself as an artist!? I am here having slaved to produce this, still living at my parents and barely surviving and walking across London for hours there and back to make it to see the free exhibitions and working every single day to try and get something worthwhile despite having my own show still don’t know if I can call myself an artist seeing as I’m not making a living out of it and Chris, Rich Chris Tucker, claims so easily that he is an artist. Fuck you, Chris.

I grab my dear friend Jemma and take her arm and say ‘Jemma I need you to do something for me. I need you to pretend that we are deep in conversation about something private and hopefully people will leave us alone for a little bit and I want us to walk around and I want to listen to what people are saying about the show.’

She walks with me and we are close together with our heads down as if we are sharing secrets and what she says is ‘Of course but Ronnie you are silly, everyone is really impressed’ and I say ‘I just want to know what they really think. I want some feedback or – something, I don’t know what.’

‘Didn’t Alison Henry say she wants to work with you? Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know?’

‘No, Jem, it doesn’t, who knows what that means, maybe it was just for Marcus’s sake or something I don’t know.’

‘I doubt Alison Henry –’

‘Shh I want to hear.’

Jemma dutifully goes round with me but I hardly catch anything. I hear a middle-aged woman say she loves one of these pieces but then say she loves the whole exhibition which is hardly constructive criticism.

-The whole time I feel like Ashley is watching me and though I have known him for a year now I am really glad he is here and he is watching me –

I hear two men talk about the gallery but say nothing about the work, ‘supporting local artists etc etc’.

I hear a couple talking about Camberwell and Peckham and the art in the area.

I hear a man say that he’s ‘not sure’ about the second to last piece and it’s very frustrating because I’m not sure either, I’m ‘not sure’ about any of the pieces, not sure sure, and I want to know what he means when he says he’s ‘not sure’ about that one and I wonder if this means that he ‘is sure’ about some of the other pieces? Overall tonight is starting to feel like when you’re having sex with someone and you are totally into it and so is the other person and then it goes on for a bit too long and then you realise that you just can’t come and not for any reason, it’s just not happening

Jemma worries what I am going to be like when the reviews come out and tries to remind me to enjoy myself.

She mentions that Ashley seems attentive and that she can’t believe Justin came and while we are talking I notice that people have started to leave and that it is ten pm and I am starting to think afterparty when I see the door open and my tired-looking father step in and look around. I hug him like I am nine years old again and try to sober up a little.

Dad seems happy and also inarticulate so he only apologises for being late and starts looking around. I let him go and join my friends and we start talking about either going back to a house where four of my friends live in Dulwich or over to a bar and Ash says we should go out first because I look too good to be indoors and we should celebrate the night.

I feel totally wired by this point and agree to whatever although I hardly have any money in my bank account, nothing matters because

Ashley wants me

Alison Henry said she wants to do business with me

I had my show

T.S.J. Harling


T.S.J. Harling has a first class BA in English Literature from the University of Liverpool and an MA in Critical and Creative Writing from the University of Sussex.  She is embarking on a Creative Writing PhD at the Royal Holloway too.  Her literary influences include Mary Shelley, the Bronte sisters, Shirley Jackson and Elizabeth Wurtzel. She has been published in The Ham Free Press , Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Dear Damsels and Tales Magazine.

If you enjoyed The Best Blue, leave a comment and let T.S.J. Harling know.


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