Each weekend the BBC News website has a section called “10 Things We Didn’t Know Last Week”, and this week we learned that in Ohio it is illegal to disrobe in front of a male portrait….
Life was changing quickly for the Picture of Dorian Gray.
For years he had been locked away in a basement. He had grown old, ugly and bitter, and not just because he had been locked away in a basement. Then his alter ego had tried to stab him but had ended up killing himself instead, proof that what goes around really does come around, and Dorian had found himself restored to his former beauty.
And up for sale, as part of his former owner’s estate.
There was an auction at which he was sold for an astonishing amount of money. He found himself locked away again, this time in a crate, and then spent a fortnight in the hold of a ship during which time he was saved from sea-sickness only by the fact that it is impossible to throw up in two dimensions. He consoled himself during this ordeal by reminding himself of the large sum for which he had been sold. His new owner was obviously a person of substantial wealth, and Dorian looked forward to spending his days in a magnificent drawing-room, looking out at the Eiffel Tower, perhaps, or the Taj Mahal.
Eventually he was unpacked and hung upon a wall. The protective sheeting was lifted from around him, and his heart sank.
He was in a bedroom.
It is well known that artists pour their very soul into their work, so it follows that every portrait is part soul – and not just any soul, but the sensitive, easily tormented soul of an artist. They do not have the kind of temperament that deals well with sudden nudity.
Edvard Munch, a portly gentleman, had once finished a simple portrait of a young man. He had stepped away from the easel at which he had been standing for hours, and had loosened his stiff muscles by stripping off the bathrobe in which he always worked, and touching his toes twenty times.
The paint hadn’t dried yet, so the young man’s face had dissolved in horror, and the look had been captured for ever.
All portraits knew this story. Dorian was looking at an endless future of wobbling moobs, idle arse-scratching, and the sight of someone rooting fluff out of their navel.
The bedroom door opened. Dorian was looking at the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
Her name, he discovered over time, was Tawnee. She was twenty-two, and the wife of the billionaire Governor of Ohio, who she had met at a charity function because she was the reigning Miss Cincinnati. His marriage to her had destroyed any chance of his being re-elected but he didn’t care. He had always had a weakness for beautiful things, which was why he had bought Dorian.
She was a trophy wife, in that like any trophy the Governor would only get his hands on it about once a year, usually after an effort involving extra time, and penalties. Thus this room was hers alone.
Over the next two months Dorian thought he was in heaven. Tawnee practised yoga in her room, in leggings and a pink Lycra top. She could put her left leg behind her neck, and the first time she had done this Dorian had been so startled that he had somehow managed to bang the back of his head against the wall.
Sometimes she wandered around the room in her underwear. Sometimes she didn’t.
But occasionally Dorian noticed her looking suspiciously at him, and one day she brought the Governor into the room.
“I’m telling you,” she said, “there’s something odd about it. His eyes follow me around the room.”
“Now, Honey,” said the Governor, “every painting gives that impression.”
“Well, this one really does,” said Tawnee. “Have a look.”
The Governor stood in front of Dorian, who fixed his gaze straight ahead. Then Tawnee bent to pick a sock off the floor and for an instant – the tiniest fraction of the smallest part of an instant – Dorian’s eyes flicked towards her.
The Governor drew nearer, his gaze locked upon Dorian’s. For five minutes they stared each other down, then Dorian crossed his eyes very slightly. The Governor began to get a headache.
He backed off. “There’s nothing wrong with it, Honey,” he said. “Anyway, if you think you’ve got problems, I’ve got the Mona Lisa in my room, and I’d swear she smirks every time I take my pants off.”
He left the room. Tawnee turned and looked at the picture. It winked at her, she was sure of it. She shivered.
“There should be a law against it,” she muttered.