The building feels like a warehouse, though I know it was once used as workshops for metal workers. The stairways hold the memories of the mesters who once crafted their material, each step I make as I ascend tinny with the clank of the metal frame and steps. I like to think we keep their spirits alive by carrying on the tradition of art in this space.
When I enter the room I quickly find a place in the semi-circle, sit down, and take out my sketchpad and pencils.
I don’t see her at first. Because she is dressed and could be one of us. But within five minutes I notice her standing alone by the toilet and I know she is separate.
It is a strange moment when she strides into the space that’s kept for her with her silk robe tied tightly at the waist, and without looking at any of us, unties it and stands naked before us. It’s weird for the briefest second, but then she is positioning herself up on the blankets and I no longer see the person I saw a few moments ago.
She sits with her head up, her swan neck slightly stretched and her back with the hint of an arch like a young willow tree.
For the next half an hour she is the most elegant thing I’ve ever seen. To the left of her is a lantern and to the right of her is a potted yucca that seems to be reaching towards her with all its strength. I wouldn’t doubt it. I wouldn’t blame it. It must be impossible to not bend towards her if you were so close.
For us, we keep to our places and we make marks on paper that attempt to resemble her.
Someone calls time for a break and she gets to her feet and puts her robe back on. We take tea and coffee and nibble biscuits, and she moves amongst us, gazing at our progress on the paper. When she reaches mine I feel a flutter of nervousness.
“Ho, I like that.” she says.
I turn quickly and have to check that this came from her mouth, from her body.
She giggles and gaffaws. “Aaah,” she bellows, “Wish I could draw.”
It seems impossible, standing right there next to her, that this person in the silk robe, this awkward, goofy person, is the same creature who sat elegantly before us minutes ago.
I smile and stare at her in disbelief.
After the break she takes off her robe again and sits comfortably back on the blankets. I hold my pencil for a few seconds. I twiddle it and I sigh. Then I gaze for a long time at the yucca that no longer seems to be reaching towards her, but now appears to be splaying its leaves like jazz hands. I consider its elegance for a long time before I make any marks. The way some leaves are like pointing fingers and some bend slightly like the slope of a shoulder. And I draw it. I concentrate hard and I bring out a stunning likeness of the yucca, even if I do say so myself.
Samantha Priestley is the author of the Folded Word short-fiction chapbooks Dreamers (2014) andOrange Balloon (2016). She’s a novelist, playwright, and essayist who spins words into gold from her home in Sheffield, UK.
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