I was out west with my girlfriend of the time, Amy. We were just mooching around, seeing what we could see. Amy didn’t know anything about Australia. We were just south of Broken Hill when we came across an old metalworks or machine shop, something like that. There were old tractors, ploughs, cars piled up out the front, all rusted to buggery. But I noticed someone had been messing with it. Like, there was a tin kangaroo sitting on one of the tractors. A rake with the teeth twisted like gorgon’s hair. Something like a poem cut into an old boiler.
So we go inside, and there’s this old guy, crazy guy, and his wife. Not so old I guess — seemed pretty old to me then, I was like twenty. He was, I dunno, prob’ly fifty or something. Big guy, built like a fuckin front-rower, y’know?
They were really pleased to see us. The woman makes us a cup of tea as soon as we step in the door, the guy starts talking nineteen to the dozen. I’m thinking shit what have we landed in here, they want to sell us something — he’s showing us all these things he’s made, all that crazy naïve folk art shit — animals made out of car parts, a fox with a rabbit trap for teeth. In five minutes I’m wishing we could get out, but Amy’s charmed. She listened to him rabbiting on about his forge and his skills and his inspiration. He was pretty full of himself. “It’s hard being a creative genius out here. I studied in San Francisco, Paris and Melbourne. I was a master etcher before I turned to sculpture. My paintings were exhibited all over the world, but I don’t bother with painting any more.” On and on. He said it was wonderful to have two brilliant young artists like us come to visit — as if we had travelled all the way from Sydney specially to see him. Not that we said we were artists — we could hardly get a word in. He said he could tell by the way we looked at things. Especially Amy.
He asked us our names. He made a big deal out of our names. He said my name meant God is great, like Allah Akbar, which was very powerful for an artist. Would be good if it were true, but it’s not. And of course he said Amy meant beloved and that she would be much loved. His name was Max French. He said he was descended from a long and brilliant line of artists. I thought it sounded like some fuckin pornstar name.
His wife just smiled, and every now and then she goes “He’s brilliant, you know?” and “They don’t know he’s a genius,” and she smiles. She got us more tea.
For some reason Amy is totally into all this. She’s buying it, asking questions, nodding along. He’s giving her more and more stuff about the history of the country, his theories of art, his creative journey, his world travels. I try hinting that we have to move on, but she’s not listening. He asks her where she’s from, and next thing he’s talking about Hong Kong like he knows it really well, and he tells her she’s a gorgeous Hong Kong girl, and he launches into all this stuff about Chinese art and Chinese jewellery.
It was kind of creepy, that’s what I thought, but I could tell Amy was enjoying it. I thought maybe she couldn’t tell he was creepy — sometimes her English was a little weird, y’know what I mean?
Next thing we’re invited through into another room and the wife has gone off to get us beer, and we’re all having a beer, and Max is showing Amy jewellery, and it’s not even slightly like Chinese jewellery of any kind that you’ve ever seen or heard of, being made out of lumps of quartz and bits of brass and copper. Chunky, heavy stuff. But Amy’s going yes, ooh, that’s interesting. He’s putting rings on her fingers and necklaces around her neck, and he’s like, taking the opportunity to really touch her, y’know what I mean? Says she has lovely skin, sets off the colour of the stones, blah blah.
The thing is, the guy wasn’t totally without his charms, I guess. He was built — plenty of muscle from beating all that metal — and he had a personality. He had one of those weathered faces, kind of handsome in a rough kind of way. I remember suddenly thinking that Amy was ignoring me because she was enjoying the attention, that she knew I wanted to leave, but that was just pissing her off. I knew I had to stop dropping hints. She was being counter-suggestible, like girls are sometimes. Boy, I really wanted to get out of there. They were ignoring me. The wife just smiled at me and got me another beer.
Next thing he’s pulling us into yet another room and showing Amy more sculptures. “I know what you like.” The stuff out the front is just for tourists, he says. This is his real art, she will understand. And it’s erotic, if you can talk about erotic sculptures made out of recycled metal parts. Think female torsos with headlamps for tits, and a minotaur with a well-oiled piston. Then he asks Amy to try on a breastplate, and I think that’ll tear it, she won’t go for that, but no, Amy whips off her T-shirt and wriggles into this kinky metal thing and I’m going whoah o-my-god and Max is getting seriously excited. He starts dressing Amy up. He’s got a red cloak and two ammunition belts and he puts the cloak around her shoulders and the ammunition belts on her hips. And I am totally weirded out. I don’t like this guy at all. I’m seriously pissed off with Amy, who apparently can’t even see me at this stage. Who is this girl? I felt like I didn’t know her at all. She’s doing cosplay with this outback freak, showing him her tits as he changes her in and out of kinky gear. And I —
I said I needed to have a piss. It was true — all that tea and beer. But it didn’t break the spell. The smiling wife, who hasn’t skipped a beat during all of this, leads me away. We go through room after room. It’s a fuckin maze. We go past a hot forge, and a room with coal, and more rooms full of junk and sculptures, even a room of stuffed animals, and more junk, and then, incredibly, outside, like he’s got all this but he doesn’t have an indoor toilet, it’s an outdoor dunny.
I have a long piss. The dunny’s hot as anything and I’m feeling sick. I want to get back to Amy but you know how it is, you can’t hurry a piss. I come out and the wife has disappeared. I go to the back door and at first I can’t open it and I really panic. I think they have locked me out and Amy is really in trouble. A moment later I manage to open the door. I’m still freaking out. I run, but I can’t find my way back through the rooms to the place where I started. At one point I barged into the kitchen. I remember it really well, it was full of the most incredible light and stinking of meat. Two or three huge blowies were buzzing around in lazy circles and there was a whole row of giant fridges — real old ones, with cream enamel and big chrome handles, straight out of the fifties. I stood there for a while before I realised that the woman was sitting in a corner smoking a cigarette. She smiled at me.
“How do I get back to Amy?”
I said something rude, which just made her smile all the more, but she waved towards a doorway and I shot through. In a moment I found the room with the stuffed animals and from there I got back to the room I had left Amy in — but she wasn’t there.
Then I really felt sick, but I heard a noise, an Amy noise. I went through a door. I pushed aside a curtain, and there was Amy with the crazy artist guy banging away like there was no tomorrow. Amy saw me, but she didn’t stop. Geez, I can remember it so clear. Perhaps she couldn’t stop. He had a pretty good grip on her.
I backed out of there before I knew what to think and then I felt ashamed, so I grabbed up a lump of iron and went back in. Maybe I was going to smash his brains in, but he was just going off in her right then. Groaning and shooting it right up her.
I think I said “Cut it out!” or something lame like that. He barely looked at me. He pulled out, pulled up his daks, told Amy she was the most beautiful little pussy he had fucked in a long time. Then he winked at me. He looked at the iron in my hand.
“You like that one? You can keep it. Souvenir of our auspicious meeting.”
Then he encouraged Amy to get dressed and get going. No more spiel. No more games.
Amy hardly spoke to me as we drove off. We drove a long time in silence.
That night we hardly spoke. But I fucked her. It was fantastic. All the way back to Sydney I hardly spoke to her, but we fucked like rabbits. Soon as we were back in town, Amy disappeared. I think we had both had enough of each other.
©2017 Craig Bingham
— Extract from The story of the picture, a novel