My first impression is one of brightness; not overwhelming, not completely bright white, more … off white. There is a faint scent of burnt verdigris, a reminder of my time on the white bright beaches of Labrador Sands and the glorious evenings spent by a crackling campfire.
The room is furnished in soft maplewood, a large wooden rectangle fastened to the ceiling from which a mirror is suspended. Each corner of the rectangle hangs a thick piece of cord. Under the wooden rectangle there is an assortment of string fastenings.
The fastenings are draped across an enormous four poster bed with an old white mattress, no sheets but a simple hardwick white bedspread, thick as canvas. A variety of cuffs and chains hang from the canopy, some encased in sable; strong but soft.
In the corner, a large, Dutch white chesterfield faces the bed under a large ecru canopy, shaded white. I smile to myself, the amusement spreading like wholemeal honey, since this was the most ordinary piece of furniture in the room.
Despite the stifling neutrality of the room, I am struck by a nomadic glow of satisfaction, appreciating the dangerous romanticism, like kissing your summer pecan lover when you have a nut allergy.
It was a feeling I knew I shared with Tarlatan; I turn and he’s there, inspecting my reaction. He places his hand on my bare shoulder in a movement reminiscent of a cat’s paw. I bite my lip, hard. His soft almond eyes look into mine. He raises his arm and points to the far corner of the room, where the walls are dotted with bleached lichen. I turn once more to look at where he is indicating.
There stands a large tub of paint and a long, slender pole, a paint roller sitting atop it, seductively dripping the nondescript coloured liquid; drip.drip.drip.
I feel him exhale on the back of my neck, like elephant’s breath.
I knot my fingers together, turning once more to look at this man; my emotions are in turmoil, I feel at any moment he could break me like a matchstick.
“It’s called a beiger,” he says, looking deeply into my eyes and awaiting my reaction, the faint signs of a smile on his face. I feel I’m on stony ground; I
am in shock. The electricity emanating from his body enters mine and I melt like warm, soft montelimar.
I stare back at the long, stiff roller, as the paint makes long, emulsifying trails along the shaft of its rod.
“Say something!” demands Tarlatan Beige, his voice unyielding, like Oxford stone.
“Do you use this colour scheme with other people or do they use it with you?”
His mouth forms a smile, slow and deliberate, like old cream.
“People?” he regards me with a look that is so seductive it would make a caramel blush.
“I do this with women who want me to.”
“If you have willing lady decorators who like this sort of thing, why do you need me?”
“Because I want you to do this too, very much.”
I bite my lip and recreate a reef knot with my fingers. I retrace the archive of my mind, but have no experiences to help me with this situation.
“Why?” I ask, my mind still reeling from the presence of so many sisal products. What he was proposing was akin to a child finding an oak apple; the fruit was appealing but was ultimately bitter.
“You’re a blandist?”
“I’m a Beigeient. As my name suggests.” His eyes are devoid of expression, like that of a dead salmon.
“I want you to submit to my uncontroversial colour schemes in all manner of ways,” he whispers, his voice as fragile as papyrus.
“Why would I want to do that?”
“To make me happy,” he says, his voice still low, deep as basswood.
My fingers become a slipknot and I sink my teeth into my lower lip.
Please him? Please Tarlatan Beige?
“ I simply want you to please me with nondescript colours,” he smiles.
“I know that you, Magnolia, can do this for me. Will do this for me.”
“So, you will get your kicks by exerting me to create a non offensive colour scheme?”
“It’s about gaining your confidence and trust so that I may exert my uniformity over you. The more unassuming your interior design, the greater my joy, my pleasure, like a precious truffle.”
“What do I get from this … arrangement?”
“Me,” he replies, stroking my cheek softly, like a mouse’s back.
“Let’s go downstairs and discuss this,” he suggests, heading towards the landing.
Fawn had said he was dangerous; she was so right, as right as London stone. Since meeting Tarlatan Beige, my mind had been in turmoil; although being an American citizen, I found myself going ‘on holiday’ rather than ‘on vacation’ and told friends to ‘give me a ring’ rather than ‘call me.’
“It won’t hurt, Magnolia, believe me,” he says, leading me to the stairs.
“You must be hungry. Come. Eat.”
We make our way downstairs. In the kitchen, Tarlatan prepares a meal from what he can find in the fridge (my friends insist on calling it a refrigerator):
Some smoked trout followed by treacle tart, washed down with a bottle of Oyster Cove wine.
Feeling relaxed and full, I lean across the breakfast bar and hold Tarlatan’s hand. I look out of the window. I can see The Seattle Needle and Bill Gates’ house, near to the original Starbucks coffee house where I regularly enjoy a cappuccino.
“I want you to sign your NDA,” he stated.
“Non Descript Adornment,” he explained, “what you can and can’t do.”
He slipped a sheet of paper across the old ochre breakfast bar.
The beigeiessive will obey all instructions of uniform decorations by the beigeient.
The Beigeiessive will agree to any decorative activity given by the beigeient without hesitation or reservation.
Any paint related activity deemed fit and pleasurable by the Beigeient excepting those outlined in hard limits (see appendix) will be enacted.
The beigeiessive will ensure she sleeps no more than 7 hours a night and makes a cup of peppermint tea or non caffeine equivalent every morning for the beigeient.
The beigeiessive will be provided with food that cannot be described as too spicy, foreign or experimental, as defined by the Beigeient.
The beigeient will maintain the health of the beigeiessive including all creams, painkillers and feminine products required providing none of them contradicts the strict colour code of the beigeient’s domain.
The beigiessive will be provided with a DAB radio and must listen to four sessions of inoffensive music output (BBC Radio 2, Smooth 70s) in hour-long sessions per week.
The beigeiessive is allowed any alcoholic beverage provided it is not coloured in any dramatic way; for example, Blue Nun, Liebfraumilch and Bailey’s are all acceptable beverages, as are any fluids of a light umber appearance.
The beigeiessive will keep herself clean with any generic soap products at all times.
Hair removal using a pumice is not mandatory, though it is important to wax myrtle at all times.
All items of clothing will be chosen by the beigeient, from a range of knitwear including cardigans, midi skirts, blouses and tank tops from reputable high street retailers. The beigeient will accompany the beigeiessive to purchase aforementioned clothes on an ad hoc basis.
I stared at Tarlatan’s list.
“I’m not sure I can listen to four hours of middle of the road music a week,” I tell him, “can’t you make it three?”
“No,” he insists, “Four hours it must be. It’s not all ABBA, and it’s very hard to receive Radio 2 on a DAB radio in Seattle, let alone Smooth 70s, but there we are.”
“Hard limits? What the travertina?” I gasp.
“Yes. What you won’t do, what I won’t do. We need to be clear.”
Tarlatan leans back in his breakfast bar stool and tosses over another sheet of paper like a skimming stone.
No acts involving intricately patterned wallpapers.
No acts involving the use of brightly coloured lights.
No acts involving risqué colour schemes which may clash.
No acts involving the use of pastel coloured products.
No acts that will leave any permanent damage to the participants’ retinas caused by the extraneous use of the subset of the electromagnetic spectrum known as the visible spectrum.
I read, my lips moving silently. I lower my head, knot my lip and bite my fingers. I suddenly feel old, white, nervous to the bone.
“Let me know now, is there anything you wouldn’t do?”
I remain silent. He leans forward and proffers his hand.
“Take my palm, honey,” he purrs, “ I want to see your beautiful clunch, let you experience the wonder of my mallet. Sign the NDA and be my beigiessive.”
My mind was racing, I felt as fragile as a wild mushroom.
“I don’t know what I might do,“ I tell him.
“What do you mean; is there anything you won’t do?” he asks, anticipating.
I bite both my lips, tie up my toes and crochet my fingers.
“I’ve never decorated my house in anything but strong colours before,” I stammer.
He lets go of my hand, almost overbalancing on his kitchen bar stool.
“Why the tufa didn’t you tell me?” he growls.
(Acknowledgements to Lady Barton St Mary for providing 50 shades of beige courtesy of Fired Earth, Farrow & Ball and Dulux. Can you find them all?)