Even better than the real thing

You invited me to your flat. You looked ever so pleased with yourself. Your flat was a part of an older building near the park which had a beautiful lake in the middle of it, you wouldn’t think that we were in the middle of Berlin, were if not for the low aircraft every few seconds coming in to land at the airport. Your flat had high ceilings and very tall windows, and it always felt cold, even in the middle of summer. So it was autumn now and it felt freezing cold.

‘Come and have a look at this’, you said.

The ground floor of your building was an Italian restaurant. The door to the restaurant and the stairwell were both behind an iron gate which you held open for me. You seemed very excited as you led me up the concrete stairs to the first landing, and then up the narrow second set of stairs, which were wooden and unvarnished. This building must have been here during the Nazi years, and I’d always meant to ask you whether this neighbourhood had been a part of East or West Berlin.

A late autumn low sun was shining through the tall windows when you opened the door to your studio flat, and it mins of added a yellow tinge to everything, and deep shadows, an outline of the window frame. The bare wood floor was splashed and sprinkled with multicoloured drops of oil paint where you had been working, and there were various canvases leaning against the walls, some of them three or four abreast. You also had a bed, and a sink, and a cooker. A free-standing radiator on a long lead and wheels, also covered in paint. You told me once that when it feels really cold, you paint with the radiator between your legs to keep you warm. Wind rattles through the old window panes.

‘This is what I’ve been working on’.

In the middle of the room there’s a canvas on an easel covered in a large sheet. Very proudly, but also very slowly, you peel off the sheet to reveal something very familiar indeed.
‘It’s the Haywain’, I point out,

‘Yes. Constable’s Haywain. Well, to be more specific, my own version of if. It’s my Haywain. What do you think?’

‘But . . ‘, I asked, stammering, ‘w-why?’

You look at me very seriously for a few seconds.

‘Why not?’

It’s a very good copy, I give you that. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think that this was the original. And it was certainly a surprise to see it here, in the middle of Berlin.

‘You’ve put a lot of work in to this’, I point out. ‘But . . It already exists’.

‘I know’, you reply. ‘And now it exists again’.

‘I don’t understand . .’.

‘I got the idea last year, if you remember. We went to that small Irish bar, and they had a cover band in there, doing U2 songs, remember? U2.1, I think they were called. And remember how I said at the time that it must be really good to experience the feeling of recreating something so timeless? Remember that? And you know, I’ve always been a big fan of Constable . . ‘.

‘It’s a forgery!’

‘It’s a homage’.

‘I don’t know what to say’.

‘You don’t like it, do you?”

‘I never liked the original’.

‘You know what? I think we’d better end it’.

‘End what?’

‘Our relationship. What do you say? We’re over. We’re through’.

‘But . .’.

‘I think you’d better leave’.

Your flat always belt cold. I hadn’t even taken my coat off. The long shadows seemed to hint at some contrast between right and wrong.

‘But’, I whisper to you, ‘We’re  not seeing each other’.

‘It felt like it, though’, you whisper. ‘And really, isn’t that the most important thing?’

An aircraft flies over, very low. And as I make my way to your door, I start to understand where you were coming from.


Robert Garnham is a comedy performance poet and writer based in Devon. He is active all over the UK. His website is https://robertdgarnham.wordpress.com/