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Bette knew she shouldn’t have worn a skirt. It was a favourite, a Prada wraparound in grey mohair, but far too short for this sofa. She lifted herself up slightly, trying to get fabric to switch from being under her bottom to covering her knees, but it was no use. The gigantic cushions were eating her up, her legs were exposed above the knee, the air-con was on and she was going to be freezing, and these were all facts.
‘Are you uncomfortable?’
‘My legs are cold,’ she said, rubbing them. ‘I’m sorry, do you have a throw or something?’
‘Yes, I think so.’
Wendy got out of her creaky leather armchair and went slowly towards an armoire tucked in a corner of the room. Bette had noticed she seemed to have a bad hip. She watched leaves flutter outside the window, heard the click of a key, some rustling, and then the click again.
‘I’m afraid I must have taken it upstairs.’
The woman’s speech was slow, and had a level, opaque quality that Bette associated with Foxworthy. She felt her goodwill unravelling. A disaster if she didn’t stop it.
‘Is it a lot of stairs?’ she said. ‘Could I get it for you?’
Wendy smiled. ‘That’s kind of you. I suspect it’s in my study. First door on the right. It’s yellow and white.’
‘No, the study. The throw is . . .’ Wendy stared off, her mind clearly blank.
‘I’ll find it,’ Bette said.
Wendy waved her hand and began to go back to her chair.
Bette stepped out into the hallway, grateful to be moving, and for the chance to shave five minutes off the hour. Nice attitude, she scolded herself as she started up the stairs, but then forgot everything when she reached the mezzanine level and discovered a gallery wall crammed with art photography.
Iconic American automobiles, dusty store-fronts, brooding trees, scarecrows, street kids . . . The bottomless blacks and icy highlights suggested some antiquity to the prints. A few were signed. Langdon Coburn, Winogrand, Arbus, a Vivian Meier self-portrait. And the most extraordinary Imogen Cunningham of three female dancers captured at the very apex of a formation jeté. They were in blazing sunlight, their shadows stark. One had her head thrown back, the sinews of her throat, exultant, her body hanging in an eyeblink of pure space—