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Authors: Zillah Bethell

Girl in Profile

BOOK: Girl in Profile
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Contents

Also by this author
Title Page
Dedication
Quotes
Gwen – Beyond The Pale Of Myself
Moth – Adam
Elizabeth – Death Row
Gwen – Rodin
Elizabeth – Autobahn
Gwen – An Eroticised Terrain
Moth – Swallows
Elizabeth – Orgasms/Fairy Knickers/The Language of
Gwen – Ordinary Colours
Elizabeth – Sweating
Gwen – Gates of Hell
Moth – Bounce and Rhyme
Elizabeth – Pathos and Bathos
Gwen – Bousculé par le Monde
Elizabeth – Cuckoo's Nest
Gwen – Rape
Moth – Women's Work
Elizabeth – Wishbones
Gwen – The Narrative Gone Elsewhere
Elizabeth – Augustus Gloop
Gwen – Drafts
Moth – God
Elizabeth – Westerns
Gwen – Preparing the Canvas
Ida's Death
Elizabeth – Colonising Mars
Gwen – Notebook Entry
Letter From Rodin
Moth – Pot Noodles
Elizabeth – Skinny Minnie/Eton Mess
Gwen – Sex and Sinkholes
Elizabeth – Letter To Death Row
Gwen – The Little Interior
Moth – Cunts and Flying Saucers
Elizabeth – Moonlight
Gwen – Note to Self
Letter to Augustus John
Elizabeth – Perfect Turd
Gwen – My Despair Over the Inexorable Nature of Ti
Moth – Foxes
Elizabeth – A Ceaseless Rumba
Gwen – Letter to Rodin
Elizabeth – The Weight of Words
Gwen – Young Nun
Moth – Rope and the RSPCA
Elizabeth – How's a Marriage Like a Hurricane?
Gwen – Me
I Attempt to Justify the Choices I've Made
Moth – The Vet's
Elizabeth – Regrets/Shade/Old Apples
Gwen – Working
Girl in Profile
Moth – Monopoly
Elizabeth – Wendy Dies
Gwen – Met a Man
Met a Woman
Met a Man and a Woman
Moth – Maggie
Elizabeth – Death
Gwen – My Property
Elizabeth – What are Days For?
Gwen – The Strange Form
Technique
Moth – That Argument Carousel
Elizabeth – The Truth
Gwen – Regrets
My Garden
Moth – Not Deep Enough for Snow Angels
Elizabeth – Cigarettes are Cool
Gwen – Gloria
Moth – Punching Air
Gwen – Spinsterhood
Moth – First Day
Elizabeth – Meds
Gwen – Flowers and Cats
Elizabeth – The Truth
Gwen – Fuck Off
Moth – Just Because I Can
Elizabeth – Maximilian
Gwen – Pale Quiet Songs
Elizabeth – Horseshoe and Cocoa
Gwen – Mama Pussy
Moth – Tomorrow
Elizabeth – Minnie Again
Gwen – Part of the Painting
Elizabeth – The Objects on my Shelf
Gwen – Girl in a Mulberry Dress
Moth – Four Weeks Later
Elizabeth – Adam Again
Gwen – My Death
Moth – My So-called Death
Elizabeth – My Death
Zillah Bethell on writing GIRL IN PROFILE
About the Author
ABOUT HONNO
Copyright

Also by this author

Seahorses are Real

Le Temps des Cerises

Forthcoming for children;

A Whisper of Horses

Girl in Profile

by

Zillah Bethell

HONNO MODERN FICTION

For Loveday

For if we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Art consists of limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame.

G. K. Chesterton

The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.

T. S. Eliot

Gwen

Beyond The Pale Of Myself

I creep along the edge of amethyst cliffs, palely certain he will come. My room is immaculate – only a hair of Edgar's out of place on the bed and a fish bone licked to China white (from Tenby of the Fishes I fled). He says to paint while I wait, but my jar of brushes remains on the mantelpiece beside the primroses just plucked. A work of art is a little beating heart, a little beating, palpitating heart, and I have no palpitations, no beats to spare, not while Rodin is alive. Though if I were to paint, I would paint this room, pretty and clean, awaiting his arrival – thrilling, expectant, anticipatory space. The lace curtains billowing, allowing the light to pick out each object – the barley sugar leg table, an open book, my hat and parasol, Edgar on the wicker chair perhaps – yet joining them all in one atmosphere. Mysterious, oblique. Time suspended, interrupted, me in the shadows, absent yet present. I hear his tread on the stairs. Quick. The lucky heathers peep, palely certain of the sun. The glass reflects an oval, that unruly strand of hair, the proud mouth still there, the cameo at my throat. We will enact
The Kiss
, I think, my skin a gleaming marble, my right leg over his lap. My wet clay. Sometimes he spits to moisten it. The delicate cathedral of his hands. I worship beneath.

Greetings next door. It is someone else. The sea mocks me with her cruel, cerulean smile. The sea is the very last thing to go dark. I'm almost tempted to throw myself in but I can do nothing. I should eat something. There is an egg, somewhere. If I get too thin I shan't be able to model for him. He likes his girls to be
dévelopée
(measured me with a compass the first time we met). Moonlight arrives with the fireflies and nightingales. I put on my nightdress and try to sing, but the noise of lovemaking through the walls is too loud. I am dumb like Hans Anderson's little mermaid (from Tenby of the Fishes I fled). Collecting cowries with my father and bluebells by the river Cleddau. Now he sits amidst mahogany and stuffed doves under glass, his foot firmly pressed on the sostenuto
pedal of grief. My mother always a wave away from death – her life gone into her hats – travelling from one health spa to another for the rheumatism in her limbs. Augustus and I on the beach near Haverfordwest, drawing gulls and crabs in the sand and watching the neophytes plunge into baptism and then resurface, their selkie heads breaking the sea's caul in rebirth. As I am reborn in his hands. Prometheus.
Mon maître
. I lie between the sheets and do what only Rodin should. Edgar snores on top of the wardrobe. A cameo moon – goddess of invention – sieves her golden sand through the billowing lace curtains and onto the barley sugar leg table, the primroses just plucked, the egg gone cold. I lie awake and wait for the dawn, beyond the pale of Minerva, beyond the pale of myself.

Moth

Adam

He's wearing a white shirt and blue jeans, same as me. No visible tattoos. He's not the kind of guy to have a tattoo. Drew's got “Moth” on his chest and “Roan” and “Dove” on either wrist. Looks plain dirty if you ask me, and imagine when you're old. I drew the line, with a full stop at piercings. We're his heart and arms, he says. Load of crap. It's just his tribalistic, sadomasochistic, look-at-me way of displaying us. Branding. Establishing ownership rights. If you name it, you own it, isn't that how it works? Maybe that's why our rescue puppy doesn't come to command – we haven't named him yet. At the moment he's Treacle; only because he licked up a whole tin of golden syrup that fell out the cupboard when we were making Roan's school fête ginger cake.

His eyes are licking me up right this minute. I'm sugar-frosted all right. Cornflakes on my boyfriend jeans (and they really were my boyfriend's); snot from Dove's retroussé nose on my minging-as-Tracy-Emin's-bed grandad top (and it really was my grandad's); and an old-as-Stonehenge spunk stain (and it really was Drew's, whatever you may think) on my pants – from the time we attempted to do the swamp thang in a ten-minute slot. (Lesson number one: don't attempt to do the swamp thang in a ten-minute slot when you're sex deprived, sleep deprived and think your children have just nodded off – they probably haven't. Creak creak thump thump and that's not the bedsprings, let me tell you, that's a little body climbing out, creeping across and suddenly appearing like frigging Caspar on the landing. Oh God, not now. Gearing up to full throttle. Mummee Daddee. Jesus Christ, get your kecks on, you'll scar him for life. Bad dream, honey? Why the fuck can't your mother have them overnight for a change instead of coming over here with sweets and violent computer games? No wonder he's having bad dreams. And come to think of it, why's it me has to remember her birthday when she's not even my mother, ditto sister, brother, Grandpa Jo, Aunty Jean and your Uncle Tobermory in Nairobi?) He's still licking over little old sugar-frosted me. (His retinas must be hypoglycaemic.) Pixie crop gone long and a body, well, a few more sit-ups and I'd be drop-dead beat.

Adam makes us sit on children's seats. (Lesson number two: if you're over twenty-five you won't be able to sit on a child's seat without looking like you've got haemorrhoids or worms. I've got both courtesy of childbirth, and a dog that eats snails and slugs out of molehills then unbeknownst to me licks my BLT.) There's a lump of brown clay in front of us – it looks like a massive dog shit – and we have to do something with it. A pooper scooper comes to mind, or one of those wonderfully environmentally friendly plastic bags people hang their dog shite up in trees in like Christmas baubles, so instead of stepping on dog shit you're more likely to have a bag of it fall on your head. Oh, happy days, sing the squirrels, scampering down the branch of a stately old oak, a bag of nuts. Before skidding to a stop. What the fuck? A bag of shit. Since when did dogs start climbing trees, crapping on our park bench?

A little girl sat next to us is glaring at her lump of clay. She's in the charge of her grandmother, who's glaring at a knitting pattern. “A fairy,” I suggest and they turn to glare at me. I know how the knitting pattern and the lump of clay feel. Roan is already working on a stegosaurus. He's studying dinosaurs at school. He knows pretty much everything about them from the fastest (velociraptor) to the largest (diplodocus). A group on the far side of the room are painting the clay sculptures they made last week. A few girls are looking over at Roan (like mother like son). Even at eight he's got stars sketched all over him. I keep his dark hair short to show off the bones in his face – which are perfect – and his huge green eyes. (You can smell the grass being mown looking at those eyes.) Sometimes I wonder what Drew and I did to deserve such incredible kids. Our son, strong and clear as the daylight. Our daughter, deep and mysterious as an ocean.

“Black and white are tones,” Adam says to the group on the far side of the room. “Repeat after me, black and white are tones not colours.”

The parents look arty, sophisticated, pretentious. Brings out the rebel in me, to be honest. I start rolling up balls of dinosaur poop to go with Roan's steg. I wish I hadn't come, wish I'd gone to the shopping centre with Dove and Drew, picked out a tasteful card for his mother.

“Cool dinosaur.” Adam snowdrifts over, pulls up a little chair between us. He smells of fireworks and clothes that have dried on a high washing line in a long thin garden at the back of a terraced house in a Swansea valley. Much like our own. I remember one winter Drew and I stood halfway up our washing line, the snow was so high and the air so quiet and still it was like the earth had wrapped its own heartbeat up in a scarf. We walked on top of muffled hedgerows and made angels on the roof of an Alfa Romeo.

“You could do a monster face, a dragon, a treasure chest.”

“Ooh yes.” Roan's the cat with the Cadbury's Cream Egg on his lap. He's forever collecting feathers and stones and little bits of rubbish in old shoeboxes. What is it with boxes? We live in them, are buried in them, keep our precious little things in them.

“That's settled then.”

I flick my pixie crop gone wrong and caress the clay with my long delicate fingers. This is the way I'll caress your face, my fingers are telling him. Adulterous little piggies that want some roasty roast beef before they go to market. I'm hurtling towards death and middle age just being a mother, and in ten years' time a man like Adam won't be looking at me like his retinas need a double-shot espresso and glycogen boost. I'll be a bitter old horse pill by then, the sugar licked right off me. Lick me now for real, my fingers are screaming. His leg is six inches away from mine – still squirming courtesy of worms, haemorrhoids and a plastic orange child's seat. I want to cry, but Roan is beaming at me. This is fun. A magic box, a box that morphs into a dog, a boat, a collapsing toadstool.

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