He sits on the floor by the cream-coloured wall, back to back with an opaque grey shadow and its faint penumbra.

‘It might be a glove or it might be a hand,’ she says, after her silence. Not so stupid then, not a case of ‘nothing going on in there’ as the neighbours think, because she’s not talkative, looking through a helmet of retractable lenses at peculiar drawings. This is a test as to whether the squint and intelligence are linked.

Someone was employed to paint this character’s canvasses; big brushes, big strokes, hugely expensive smears of glossy red and black, a wage-earning sideline. While, in the story, the young woman painter earns a meagre living making copies of Impressionists, commissioned by a man in a battered felt hat (a louche type, if ever there was one).

‘His own work’ someone said in confidence, ‘has an absence of heart’ (he wouldn’t like to hear it). Two distinct styles — a landscape and a figurative — stacked round the walls of the fifth floor studio. ‘What do you mean by style?’ she asks abruptly; denying she’s aggressive, when he complains. Why style — everybody knows is the man — the handwriting, the manner of doing, the matrix of perception, the authenticity. Style is not a glove. (But it could be a glove).

The visiting Swede said it was miserable, his painting of the crowd, it needed something bright. And he got uppity, lying that he couldn’t go into the museum because it would kill him to look at Picasso, but then sneaking back in pursuit of a woman who was more to his fancy. Her job was matching colours and she was untouchable, or so she claimed, having recently married. With regard to his output she seemed more amenable.

‘What is it you like about my painting?’ he said and she was hard put to reply to this because —

Look at that bird, flying like a drawing of a bird — two pencil marks — over the rooftop out into the morning —