Upstairs he stood the prints of Gina and Bridget on the mantelpiece side by side and put the smaller prints on the table.
‘Excuse me for a moment,’ he said. He came back with some old-fashioned lace blouses and Bridget’s diary and letters.
‘Please, I want you to help me. I want you to sit in that chair by the window and read parts of her letters and diary out loud to me. I want to hear her words in your voice. Your voice so lovely and mellow, just as I imagine hers. You know, when I read her words I imagine them in your voice. I want to take photographs of you reading and record your voice. I want you to let me use this material for my exhibition, please, it will be so helpful to me.’
‘Of course, Claude, I’d be honoured. Do you want me to try these on?’
‘Yes, and fix your hair up like last time.’
‘Where did you get these?’
‘Two in Temple Bar in a second hand shop and Oxfam, that pretty lace one in a shop -I think you probably know it -Jenny Vander in George’s Street market. Beautiful clothes. I was not sure of size.’
Gina looked at him for a moment, trying to reconcile this man who knew about vintage and second hand shops and buying women’s clothes with the picture in her mind of the frequently inaccessible artist. The lace top was perfect. And when Claude was happy with her hair she settled herself into the chair.
‘Where do you want me to start?’
‘You see I have marked some pages, parts I find are interesting.’
Claude had set up a recording device with a microphone beside her chair.
‘You’re making me feel nervous now!’
‘No, no, you must not. I will do this many times, Gina, and use some perhaps, or perhaps none, we will see.’
For the next hour and a half Gina read and Claude took photographs. Sometimes he would stop and ask her what she thought of what she was reading. They would discuss how hard Bridget’s life seemed. And Gina relaxed and became absorbed in the detail of her life. When Claude declared himself happy he went to make coffee again and Gina read on.
‘It is so interesting, is it not?’ he said.
‘Yes, it feels so real.’
‘But, Gina,’ Claude said, sitting on a low stool beside her and staring upwards into her eyes with his intense expression, ‘it feels real because it is true. You must read some of your diary for me too. I want to have the real voice reading also; your diary, her letters: the true voice calling out across five or six decades only this time the person is alive and part of the exhibition so that it is reality now.’
‘Not my diary, Claude, I’m not going to read my personal details into a tape.’
‘But you have read her diary, her letters. You did not find it embarrassing. Why should your life be embarrassing for you?’
‘But Claude, that’s just it. I don’t want everybody else to hear my private thoughts. There are things in there that would be very upsetting for my family, for my friends, even Brendan’s business contacts,’ said Gina, thinking of Brendan’s associate Des, and what she had written about his affair. Claude’s eyes were sparkling with excitement.
‘That’s it! Don’t you see how it would help me, if it has secrets then it will be braver, more controversial. You know how people love to find out secrets, watch a drama unfold. It is why everyone watches when there are rows on these reality shows. Where is your diary Gina? Please, you must get it.’
‘It’s downstairs, Claude, and that’s where it’s staying. Don’t you understand the need to keep some things private?’
‘But Gina, you have shown photos of your body, you have exposed your thought processes already in your exhibition, so why is this so different?’
Gina was shaking her head. She did not want to have a row with him but this was something she would not back down on.
‘This is art, Gina. Other artists have exposed their lives.’
She shook her head, feeling exhausted suddenly.
‘You are tired, Gina. I am sorry. We will talk about this more tomorrow, but you will think about it, yes?’
He gave her one of his most charming smiles. ‘I ask too much, yes? I am sorry, Gina, when I get involved in an idea I see only it. It is one of my faults.’
But as he reassured her, his eyes were darting around the room again, avoiding hers. He picked up her hand suddenly and kissed it.