You’d think I’d get used to it but you don’t, not really. Every time is like the first time, ‘cause it usually is for them. A revolving door of students mainly, A-level sometimes, Foundation and First Years more often. I’ve learnt to switch off from the giggling and the pointing. I’d probably have done the same at their age.
One student keeps coming back though. I shouldn’t have even thought about it. He’s just a boy really, all Sta Prest trousers and those funny wee jumpers that my Da used to wear back in Waterford, patterned greys and greens with a rolling V of knitted fabric at the front. He’s like an 18 year old Val Doonican, which is probably not the look he was after, given that he’s never heard of him. He keeps his tie on too, which makes him stand out even more amongst the stained baggy shirts and ripped dungarees. He has the pale skin and hungry cheekbones of the tortured artist down, though. He’s not even that good at painting; he tried to explain to me, after that first time, what he liked about art but his vague murmurings felt watered down, borrowed. He’s committed to the parody at least, faithful to the construct. I never look at him directly as he glances from canvas to me, my body, but when he is there I am hyper aware of every crease, shake, twitch. My stomach rumbles loudly and I hope that they will think it’s someone else. I listen to the traffic outside and sometimes a little sound will sneak from my closed lips, a quick, short hum of a note or a whimper, a ‘huh’ that has to make its way outside of me, I can’t stop it. It’s awkwardness, or fear, I suppose. I can see his smirk, or rather I’m aware of his general look of being really pleased with himself, as though he’s the one with the audience. It’s the sort of self consciousness I can remember at that age but with him it comes from vanity rather than insecurity.
Most people prefer to pretend I am simply an object, another screen or an easel that appears and then removes itself from the room, silent and unobtrusive. I try not to break the fourth wall – it goes back to my training, I suppose, and technically I am still an actor. So his tap on my shoulder, albeit now covered in a terry towelling dressing gown, felt intimate and rushed. I was flustered and a little bit off with him but he didn’t seem to notice and he thanked me for sitting and then paused and said I had great… poise. It was clear that he meant something else, though I’m still not sure what – an innuendo that he didn’t quite have the right words for. That said it all about him really, a triumph of confidence over aptitude – his raw cheek was his talent. That and he smelled really, really good; cheap aftershave always sends me off kilter. I agreed to a coffee which turned into a long stroll around Camden and another undressing back at my flat just off the Lock. All my authority and self control and poise evaporated with every stumble, every angular clash and arrhythmic shove on my unmade bed.
Today he practices his strokes with particular flamboyance. He jabs deliberately at the palette, then the canvas with such violence that it wobbles slightly. I wonder if he’s trying to make me laugh but still I don’t look. Instead I amuse myself with thoughts of him standing there in a beret and smock, an oversized Salvador Dali moustache trailing from his face. No underwear, if I really want to enjoy myself. It distracts me from the sharpness of his jaw, the future he has over me, to mock him like this. I’d never tease him to his lovely face of course. I feel a sort of fatherly kindness towards him, though I am not quite old enough to be his father. Uncle, maybe. He’ll tire of me soon enough.
Until then, I kid myself that I am a guardian angel in a Renaissance painting. I could break his heart as he pores over my loosening flesh, as he paints over the telltale criss-cross of my forehead, as he smoothes away the darkening skin on my leathery knees.
Bio: Monica Dickson is a writer of short fiction. Other examples of her work can be found in the current issue of Salomé (#3) and the forthcoming issue of Firewords (#9). You can follow her on Twitter @Mon_Dickson