Like Celine Dion and Michael Jackson, she had a gift that could never be bought – the gift of absolute pitch. If you threw Clara a song, she could play you back the notes by ear. She could do this on the piano at the age of two, because she was a v-i-r-t-u-o-s-o. And when she was four, she stood up on a table and breathed rapid hellfire from behind the chin rest of the devil’s instrument.
I’m house-sitting for a friend. I’m doing it very gladly as this house is considerably nicer than mine. It has AC, my house doesn’t. And it’s high up in the hills offering spectacular views of the low, sprawling mass/mess of Los Angeles. Certain landmarks are easy to make out.
Growing up on a farm in rural Iowa, water was something that came out of the faucet to quench his thirst after a bicycle ride down the seemingly endless, flat gravel roads, sweat soaking through his shirt. It was something slopping out of the dog’s bowl as she lapped it up with her long wet tongue.
I, too, have suffered through Mary J Blige’s A Mary Christmas. She looks like Tito the Chihuahua from Oliver and Company on the album’s cover, pensive and forlorn, and super-imposed onto a department store’s “Meet Santa” photo set.
The outdoor swimming pool was in the shape of a wonky figure of eight. A bridge crossed its middle. They said it was the biggest pool in Europe. The concrete border was patterned with circles in different sizes. If you fell, the surface was hard and unforgiving. Each bulb of the pool was pinned with two sets of diving boards; four and five boards layered on top of one another.
One day, after my father’s death, I was in my parents’ house looking through his bookshelves. I thought about powdering the books for fingerprints so I’d have something left. I still think about that sometimes. What difference would it make to have a copy of fingerprints made by fingers that no longer exist? Those fingers were burned, and now they are dust.
I’ve been thinking a lot about dying recently. Not my own death, you understand, but the idea of dying as a cinematic experience. Like many generation Y-ers, I grew up on a diet of television shows such as Michael Aspel’s poltergeist extravaganza, Strange, But True? and BBC1’s 999 (remember the episode where the kid gets a javelin through the neck?).
I saw Tracey Emin in a pub once. It was in Spitalfields in London. She was standing by the bar, sipping red wine and surveying the room, her head rotating at irregular intervals like a broken lighthouse beacon. I remember she was drinking out of a very small glass. She was talking to the landlady of the pub, who is considered something of an institution, but who I find rude and slightly mad.
As my eyes move up from my book, I spot a dead ladybird – wings spread wide – floating gracefully in the residue of some blue watercolour in a little jar amid shards of gold glitter. I feel a sudden urgency to fix this fragile beauty in pixels as it unfolds in front of my eyes. Perfect composition by coincidence. Snap.
The day that Judy Garland attempted suicide for the second time, Katharine Hepburn elbowed her way through the throng of reporters and paparazzi outside the Minnelli house, shouting back at them from over her shoulder, “Don’t you have anything better to do?” She sat Judy down, one legendary actress to another, and said, unsmiling: “Now listen, you’re one of the three greatest talents in the world.