“I’ve been thinking, darling.” Tark eyed his wife over the steeple of his hands from his calfskin armchair, his eyebrows wiggling in a manner suggesting that great riches were about to ensue from a cranium unmolested by follicular fuzz.
“Oh, dear,” said Mara archly. “Go easy on me, darling. You know I can’t digest brilliance on a full stomach.”
Mara pushed the plate of lamb’s lettuce away and rose from the table. She was always glad to have her weekly meal over and done with. Zero calorie green food played havoc with the designer gap between her two front teeth.
“I knew you were plotting something,” she said. “Twice last night you shouted ‘Limited liability, you charlatan!” in your sleep.”
“I can’t keep anything from you, my precious python,” Tark chuckled. “Look, it’s regarding our art collection. It’s become worthless.”
Mara’s gaze rested briefly on her own personal art collection (seven 1960s Hermès handbags, housed in a thermostatically controlled cabinet), before she took in the priceless Jackson Pollock over the fireplace, and the Fabergé egg which once belonged to a Russian princess, whose violent death had quadrupled the bauble’s value. The entire penthouse was festooned – tastefully of course – with such collectables. She might have gazed at more of them, had she not been mindful of boring her readership within such a limited word count.
“Do you want to sell something?” she asked, confused. Tark never tired of leaving the tags on the priceless items they had amassed during their marriage: had he tired of them? Was the difference between pricey and priceless no longer enough?
“I don’t need new art,” he said.
Mara dislodged some salad which had wrapped itself around an incisor. Surely her husband wasn’t going to turn to – she swallowed – philanthropy?
Tark beamed and rose from his chair. “Everything we need is right here.” Tark indicated just how near ‘here’ was by extending both arms into their full three foot span, pointing to the northside of Dublin with one daring index finger, and swirling the other one from side-to-side in the general direction of Dublin 8.
He walked to the piano and began to play the theme from Jaws.
“Did you read about that fellow yesterday who sold that picture of a spud to a foreign businessman for a million quid?”*
“I did!” said Mara. “Most annoying. I was the one who started the famine trend. But I never sanctioned potatoes. They’re not nearly retro enough.”
“Well, I’m the businessman who bought it.”
Mara’s mouth opened, but nothing came out. She was so shocked, that in that moment, if someone had offered her a square of milk chocolate, she might conceivably have had a nibble.
“Look at your face!” said Tark. “Oh, I’m sorry, my pernicious pudding. I didn’t mean to give you a heart attack. But we already had pictures from this photographer in our collection. You were orchestrating the bidding war for the last two chapters of your true crime documentary when the call came, and I only used the small change we had left over from having a staycation last year.”
Mara was mollified: they had always agreed that minor purchases under three million didn’t require consultation. It was how she’d acquired half her wardrobe. She had to admit it was just the idea of the potato that bothered her, and she said as much.
“But it’s all part of the plan, darling,” said Tark. “Remember when I went through that phase back in 2007 of supporting local artists?”
Mara shuddered. “Yes. It was a difficult time. Having all those awful people on our doorstep.”
“And remember how we targeted artists in obvious financial trouble? Remember how we haggled? Getting those fantastic jelly sheep for a quarter of their value?”
His wife nodded.
“Well. I’m a big enough man now to admit that I was wrong.” Tark moved away from the piano, all five-feet-two of him casting an impressive shadow across the polished floor in a sudden inter-shower flash of winter sun. “Those artworks aren’t worth any more now than they were then. Sure: we quadrupled our money, but in terms of net present value, it was a bust.”
“But there was a recession, darling.”
“Yes. Which was all the more opportunity for stratospheric gains. We could have had our own artist-in-residence, for Christ’s sake. But I know what to do now.”
Mara unfolded her size minus-something frame from the table and walked to her husband. She felt that familiar flicker of excitement which always indicated that Tark was about to beat the bankers. “Tell me.”
“I should never have underpaid, my homicidal honeybun. I should have overpaid. Art is only worth what’s paid for it, and only ridiculous prices will lift our collection to the status it deserves. That potato photograph cost a million yesterday, but the four other pictures we have by this guy are now worth 127 times what we paid for them.”
Mara placed her hand on her husband’s shoulder. Tark liked her benediction almost as much as he liked winning. “I shouldn’t have been so shocked, Tark. It was just the potato. You know how I feel about tubers.”
“You’d better gird your loins for my next acquisition, in that case,” said Tark. “I’ve got an option on a black-and-white photograph of a rotten turnip which was thrown at rebels in the 1916 Rising. It’s been valued at one hundred thousand euros, with at least two Irish politicians in the bidding.”
Mara, content, settled herself on the arm of Tark’s chair. “And what will we be doing?”
“Oh, that’s easy,” said Tark. “A bid for nine hundred grand should do it. And then we’ll donate it to a museum, so it can never devalue, and make a net tax gain. You mark my words. The walls of Ireland will be fully decked out in vegetables by Easter. And by June, our collection’s going to make the Saatchi Gallery look like a car boot sale.”
*Note: the following text is purportedly what the photographer behind the €1 million spud had to say about the meaning of his lucrative print, but it’s funnier than anything else in this post, so I had to include it. If he’s joking as I suspect, fair play to him. If he’s not, he’s still a million quid better off, so what can I say?
“I see commonalities between humans and potatoes that speak to our relationship as individuals within a collective species. Generally, the life of a harvested potato is violent and taken for granted. I use the potato as a proxy for the ontological study of the human experience.”