Authors: Maria Blanca Alonso
Tags: #coming of age, #bohemian, #art school, #lesbian 1st time, #college days
Ben had Paula
in a standing pose, against a low screen; the screen came just
about up to her shoulder blades and she was slumped a little, one
knee bent, her head lowered towards her chest and her elbows hooked
over the top of the screen; her hands and lower arms hung loose and
I thought of the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian.
you’re not going to make me look like your crucified lump of meat,
Ginny,’ Paula joked, when she heard my remark on the resemblance to
my best not to,’ I promised her, and walked around for a while,
looking for a good angle.
was quickly settled and just about the only place I could squeeze
in also happened to provide me with the view I found easiest to
draw; from where I positioned myself Paula’s face was turned away,
I could see neither of her eyes, very little of her mouth, just the
flicker of an eyelash and the swell of a cheekbone; one upper arm
came almost straight at me, a tricky foreshortening, while the
other was hidden from view, just the hand seen, fingers curling and
seeming to be reaching towards the silhouette of her breast. It was
a view more discovered than chosen, but I liked it and set to
weeks when I struggled with a single piece of work and there were
days when everything came together with no effort at all. This day
was one of those rare ones, I had the pose outlined, the figure
hanging as it should and not simply standing; all the tension was
in the left elbow, which rested on the screen, and in the left leg
which added more support; the hanging of the head was so forlorn.
The perspective of the upper arm was a bit tricky but I scribbled
away, feverishly but with a light touch, using a soft rubber here
and there to change the angle of a line or two. The tone I applied
is delicate, almost hesitantly added, and I thought of Ingres’
drawings as I worked, suggesting the form of the body economically,
just a touch of darkness fading quickly from each line.
Suddenly I was
aware of Ben behind me, I felt his breath on the back of my neck
and tensed; for a long while he said nothing, which was a bad
great emphasis, he said, ‘Very wan, very much the agony of the
young romantic. I’m reminded of the death of Chatterton.’
Chatterton died prone, on his back,’ I said, noting the
sarcasm in his tone.
couch, yes, with one hand trailing ever so effeminately to the
floor. I’m glad you’ve been paying attention to my art history
lectures, Ginny; I always thought you just sat there with your eyes
closed while the slides flashed across the screen.’
always riveted by your lectures, Ben,’ I said, returning the
you bloody well should be after all the effort I put into them!’ he
boomed, for the benefit of the others and not just me. ‘And now,
this drawing of yours.’
forward, to take the pencil from me, but my hand clenched into a
fist around it. ‘Oh no you don’t!’ I said.
one drawing you’re not going to scribble over!’ I threw my arms
across the board and shielded the drawing with my body; there was a
delicacy in the drawing that I liked and I was not going to let him
deface it with any brash clumsy strokes. ‘You’re not going to touch
this one!’ I repeated.
nothing! Get away!’
think you know better than me?’ he challenged.
said, and tried to sound threatening myself. ‘I know what I like,
though, and I like this drawing just the way it is.’
bloody hell!’ Ben laughed, but moved on all the same, to threaten
others who might be less brave, a little less protective about
was remarked upon later by the others, who said it was rash of me
to antagonise Ben like that. After all, it was only a drawing.
I packed away
my things early that afternoon, deciding to meet Stephen when he
finished work. I hadn’t seen much of him of late, and for the next
fortnight I’d be busy working on the post, would have neither the
time nor the energy to spare for him.
I stowed my
paints away in my locker, even washed my hands so Stephen wouldn’t
mind me holding his, and was outside the offices where he worked in
time for his five-thirty finish. A few minutes after the half hour
the workers started to spill from the building in twos and threes,
males and females, senior staff and juniors. Stephen walked from
the door in the company of two slightly older men. Just as I was
about to cross the street to greet him, though, he saw me and
scowled, hardened his mouth and gave a quick shake of the head.
This must be
I followed him
and his two colleagues along to the bus stop, noting the neat
haircuts and the smart suits, joined the queue for the bus some
three or four places behind them. I couldn’t hear what was being
said, but saw Stephen smile and nod a great deal in agreement with
the conversation. The bus arrived and took us through town towards
home; again I was a little behind Stephen and his colleagues, could
see the movement of his lips but was still unable to make out what
was being said. The two men had briefcases on their knees, as did
Stephen, knees together and ever so proper; he was being very
attentive, much more so than he ever was when I talked about my
work. One of the men got off the bus and right away the second
slipped across to the seat beside Stephen to continue the
conversation; if it was finance they were talking about, which I
assumed it was, then I never realised it could be such an absorbing
crawled through heavy traffic and three or four sets of lights and
it was almost ten minutes before I could get up from my seat and
follow Stephen down the length of the bus; I had to pause a moment
behind him, while he said goodbye to his companion, and then we
both stepped down onto the pavement.
was all that about?’ I demanded, when the bus had pulled
conversation? We were just talking about work, that’s all,’ Stephen
replied, starting to walk along the street.
didn’t mean that,’ I said, striding along beside him.
you warn me away like that, when you saw me outside the
with someone,’ he said, which answered nothing.
with those people.’
claim to be in love with me,’ I reminded him. ‘Can’t the two
hesitated long enough for me to see that there was obviously a
point, a boundary, beyond which my life could not impinge upon his,
and though this worked both ways -by mutual consent or otherwise he
was excluded from her art school life- I was somewhat offended by
his attitude. His sensible employment, it seemed, was turning him
into more of a snob than I could ever be.
stopped, cast a downward glance at my scruffy jeans and scuffed
shoes, said, ‘Be reasonable.’
Reasonable? Are you saying that it’s unreasonable to want
to be with you?’
don’t want me to be with you when you’re out with your art school
there,’ I argued. ‘And you wouldn’t enjoy it if you
you wouldn’t have enjoyed our company just now. We were talking
about work and I know how much that bores you.’
doesn’t bore me.’
can see it in your eyes every time I mention work.’
do you do it?’ I asked, beginning to lose my temper.
to fucking tears with all that bloody talk about the office every
time we meet!’
began, but no further words come, just a hurt expression and a pout
of the lips, so I told him to sod off and stamped away.
in the morning Sleepers Hill was a different place, dark and silent
and with an eerie frosting to the rooftops. I walked into town, so
that the cold morning air could bring me fully awake, and I saw no
more than a handful of people. The deserted streets and the lack of
bustle gave the town a rather more dignified air than usual, a
reminder to me that it was the people rather than the architecture
which made it such a place to hate; in the peaceful state in which
I found it, that morning, it was almost bearable.
argument with Stephen my days, too, had been peaceful, he’d made no
attempt to make contact or to apologise, and neither had I. Indeed,
there was a temptation to make more of the argument, to blow it out
of all proportion simply for the sake of bringing about that final
separation between us; I had my excuse and it would be foolish not
to take advantage of it.
moment, however, there were other things on my mind, I had the job
to go to and it would keep me out of Stephen’s way.
office I head for was close to the centre of town, just behind the
railway station, a modern building which was squat and ugly and, at
first glance, seemingly lacking in windows. A notice at the main
gate directed all temporary workers to the supervisor’s office on
the first floor, and there I found a queue of two or three dozen
people, a mixture of students and older men, some young women too.
As the queue edged forward the chap in front of me started to
Sorting’s what you want in this weather,’ he said
knowledgeably. ‘You might work your balls off at times but at least
you’re indoors, warm and dry. There’s always overtime if you want
it, too, at this time of year.’
done this before?’ I assumed.
on. I usually work Christmas, a few weeks in the
He was in his
late thirties, with a tang of last night’s beer on his breath, in
need of a shave and not at all the type of person I'd like to see
on my doorstep first thing in the morning. He popped a stump of a
cigarette between his lips and struck a match.
smoking in here,’ someone told him in passing.
Bastard,’ muttered the bloke, killing the fag-end and
slipping it back into his pocket. ‘That’s one thing to be said for
working outside, there’s no one watching over you. In here they’re
on your back all the time. Still,’ he said stoically, ‘you takes
moved steadily forward and people were sent to all corners of the
building; as my mentor and I got closer I heard the supervisor
saying ‘deliveries’, ‘sorting’, ‘parcels’ at regular intervals.
to the parcels,’ said the old hand in front of me. ‘They stick you
in a van with a regular and he lets you do all the work, all the
humping and carrying and doing fuck all himself.’
supervisor heard him, for this was what he was given –parcels- and
then I was at the front of the queue. I handed the supervisor the
card I’d been sent, he jotted down a few details, gave me an
armband and then pointed me to his left.
Deliveries,’ he told me.
I was sent to
one man, passed on to another and then left with a third; this
third was seated in front of a bank of pigeon-holes, flicking
letters into them with the speed of a card sharp.
looking up he mentioned a district on the edge of town, asked, ‘Do
you know it?’
well,’ I admitted.
catch a number twelve bus and get off at the ‘finger-post’. The
route’s straightforward, the letters are packed in bundles and
numbered so you just work your way through them in order and you
can’t get lost. You ought to be back by lunchtime.’
He showed me
the bag which had already been packed; it was bulging with letters
and small packets and weighed a ton. I thanked him, stupidly, and
staggered out with the strap already cutting into my shoulder.
Downstairs, as I got to the main gate, I saw the bloke from the
queue sitting in the passenger seat of a van.
parcels,’ he cursed. ‘What’ve you got?’
Deliveries,’ I answered.
see that. Where?’
I told him the
district, added, ‘It’s just by the ‘finger-post’.’
it,’ he said, and turned to the driver who had climbed in beside
him. ‘We can give her a ride, can’t we?’
problem,’ said the driver. ‘Get in girl.’
I squeezed in
with them and we were off through the town which was slowly coming
awake. My advisor told me of the mixed blessings of the route I’d
been given; there were no blocks of flats to tramp up and down, no
rows of terraces which never seemed to end, and that much was in
its favour; against, however, was the fact that with so many
detached houses, cottages and the occasional farm the area could be
pretty bleak at times, especially when the wind blew the rain down
from the moors.
We had driven
downhill for a while, out of town, and now we climbed again, the
houses thinned out and there was a little more space.