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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Olive's initiation

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“Mind the gap,” the voice said out of the train speaker. And she did. It was a long one, and she had to almost leap from the platform through the door into the train. Her sandal slid on the gritty linoleum, and she felt the memory-throb of a skinned shin as she found a seat.

Once, she had not minded the gap well enough, and her leg slid into that dark chasm, her shin scraping the metal edge of the train, making a washboard gash that filled with the cherriest blood. Always now, stepping onto or off a train, onto or off an escalator, up a curb, down a curb, she watched her feet with the attention of a guard at the Parliament building.

But that other day, one of her first in London, her attention had not been on her feet. She had just finished her first live model sketching session at the academy in Drawing 1. It was, in fact, the first time she had seen a real live man, nude.

He was young, like her, sitting on a stool, gazing sightlessly at the floor. His build was slight, his hair long, as in he needed a haircut, not as in, he wore it long. She did not feel uneasy, the studio class of twelve students was a clinic, and she was an artist. She adjusted her easel and picked up her charcoal. As she started to space him in, she began to feel something for him. Maybe better to say she just felt him. Not that she was attracted, or aroused. She could see something. He was uncomfortable, and his unease hung on him like an awkward schoolboy toga. She couldn’t decide whether to feel compassion for him, or to despise him and his gawky arms. She’d never despised anyone, so why was she tempted now?

Why? There wasn’t supposed to be any emotion in the room. Day 1 of Drawing 1, #1 Nude, is a passage, like medical students meeting their first cadaver. They had all prepared for it mentally long before this, and those other female students like her who had never seen a naked man in the flesh (there were three others) had found their own way to appear relaxed. Hers was to imagine his body as a still life of various fruits and vegetables. This may have started with some obvious correlations between bananas, plums and the male anatomy, but it continued to be helpful in seeing how the shapes of his limbs filled the space. His shoulders were small mangoes, his thighs eggplants, knees beets, fingers carrots, and well, she was distracted from that now. The instructor stood behind her, watching her shade his extended calf with the pad of her middle finger. She was avoiding the foot until the instructor moved on to shadow another student. Feet were so damned hard, and she hated the angle of his. But of course she couldn’t ask him to adjust it. Then she noticed. Nestled in the curly black hairs of his outer thigh, just above the knee, there was a long, fat, shiny scar that looked like an earthworm. In fact, she thought it was an earthworm at first.

This shy young man had a scar that must have been from a knife, straight and even, and raised above his skin by at least a quarter inch. Was he a street boy who ran skunk to school kids, and his supplier got rough with him when he didn’t pay up? Is that why he needed a hundred quid from modeling this week?

The hour was quickly up and her sketch not quite finished. That foot was only an outline. There was no charcoal stroke for an earthworm scar. She packed up her materials and gave one glance back at the boy-man wrapping a towel around his waist. She slid out into the bright summer light on Southwark Street with images of him in an alley in Brixton where all was dark except the glint of a steel knife. She jogged to the stairs down to the tube, her flat sandaled feet flying down, for she had heard the train pull in. Eyes on the platform, mind on the boy-man, she hurried to the open door. She stretched her foot to enter, her sandal toe skimmed the ledge, and her shin banged and scraped the metal, in one perfect motion painting a cadmium red sumi-e brush stroke from the top of her foot to her knee.

Post script: My big thanks to dear Dutchbaby for finding the "Mind the Gap" photo in her files, and offering it if I wanted to use it on this post! 


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67 comments:

Gwei Mui said...

What an equistite tale, so beautifully and fully drawn. I was there looking over the shoulder, slippng as and feeling the gash.

Susan said...

Oh my goodness. You have to find a publisher.

deb said...

I like the tag... imagined memoir.

I want to read as much about Olive as you write. Fabulous

Lorenzo said...

Wonderful. An artist's eye and a poet's pen, Ruth. Every detail is so finely rendered. I really felt drawn into the story and would have gladly liked it to continue, had it not been so round and perfect in its conclusion.

Anet said...

Incredible Ruth! I want more!!

Marcie said...

Such a lovely beginning to a story that promises such self-exploration and excitement. I have to confess - I walked out during the life drawing class that offered me up its first male model. Made me smile to go back and remember...

Shari Sunday said...

Charming story with the ring of truth. I want to believe it is true even if it is not. Ouch on the scrape by the way. I am already leary of escalators. I'm sure I will think about this on the next one.

Shari Sunday said...

I love the picture, too. And your new header.

Judy said...

I love an ART story! I've only painted female nudes in my class... tried my husband once, but you can guess how that story ended :)

dutchbaby said...

Thank you for providing the perfect start to my morning with this delicious, tender piece of literature.

Patricia said...

I love the symmetry of your story, Ruth. Also, you really do capture the complexity of emotions associated with those first figure drawing sessions!

Loring Wirbel said...

I agree with Susan - get thee to a lit magazine publisher. This is delightful. More prose, please.

Jeanie said...

Oh, my. This is just wonderful Ruth. I can "see" it all -- your words paint an image as clear as an artist -- which, of course, these words are. Loved the close of the circle with the bruise and blood and subway stumble and the sense of energy of the young drawing students. Beautiful details. Lovely in every way. Yes, I concur with those advocating a publisher.

ellen abbott said...

I love this story. I did some nude modeling in my mid-20s for various art classes and once or twice with my infant daughter.

Sandy said...

Well, this was great Ruth and I love the photo. You are quite the writer!

Babs-beetle said...

What a great story! You had me hooked in from the off. Is it part of a longer story? I want more :)

willow said...

This lovely piece takes me straight back to my art school days.

margie said...

feeling the pain of the scrapes.

Arti said...

Oh Ruth, this is the kind of sync that one would dread. Just yesterday in our city, a 3 yr-old child was killed as he fell headfirst into the gap between the platform and a moving train. Many noon time witnesses were crying, even the police officer at the scene.
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/calgary/story/2010/06/23/calgary-transit-ctrain-boy-killed-safety.html

However, back to your vivid illustration. Again, I admire how you can paint with words. Thanks for another interesting post. But heaven forbid any more accidents with the gap, London, or anywhere else. I know, they should start announcing on the platform "Mind The Gap" here too.

♥ Kathy said...

That was really awesome Ruth..I so enjoyed reading it!

Kamana said...

loved this! so well written.

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to the continued story Ruth! You have talent, thanks for sharing with all of us! Pam~

ds said...

Brilliant, Ruth. I love the way you write. Such balance in this; I was sketching right along with Olive, feeling her reluctance, seeing as she saw. More, please!

Deslilas said...

Usually it's hard to describe an initiation, you cope with it very well.
Was the right pic of your new header taken along the Seine in Paris ?
Elle a un air des quais de la Seine.

Grandmother said...

This is such a lovely, well paced vignette. I was utterly there in that other world that good writing brings us to. Thanks.

Ruth said...

Thank you very much, Gwei Mui, I'm glad.

Ruth said...

Thank you for your endless support, Susie Q!

Ruth said...

Thank you, Deb, then maybe you shall here more.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Lorenzo. Coming from a writer like you, that makes me feel great.

Ruth said...

Anet, you must promise me that if I ever obey you and get a book published, you will buy 50 copies.

:)

Ruth said...

Marcie, now that's a [true] story I want to hear . . .

Ruth said...

Thank you, Shari.

I wonder if you have an escalator story? I do, and I was thinking of it the whole time I wrote this.

Ruth said...

Judy, smokin'!

:D

Ruth said...

Oh, Dutchbaby, I will take delicious and tender and literature any day from you. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Patricia, I've never been to art school, so I'm glad to hear that!

Ruth said...

Loring, thank you for your encouragement!

Margaret Bednar said...

Very enjoyable and very well written! Curious about what happens and what is her story...

westcobich said...

Hi, Ruth, Love the picture but even better, the images you paint with words. You got me with "mind the gap" cuz there's only one place they say that and I had to see what else went on. It just flowed right along. Best of all, one wishes there were more!

And just as much, I like your tag "imagined memoir."

Back soon, and happy summer!

Ruth said...

Thank you very much, Jeanie. It's enough for me to have readers here enjoy it.

Ruth said...

Ellen, wow, it would be fascinating to hear you tell that story.

Ruth said...

Thank you, Sandy. I imagine you have many vessels with paintbrushes, pencils and other artistic tools. :)

Ruth said...

Thanks, Babs. It's part of a longer as yet unwritten story. I'm glad to know you'd like more, because that will motivate me to get more down.

Ruth said...

Willow, thank you for that, since this was only imagined. I've never been to art school, though my grandmother went to the Chicago Art Institute.

Ruth said...

Margie, writing this I was remembering a bad scrape I got on an escalator. This story began with a memory of seeing a girl step into the gap getting on a train in Dublin and scraping her leg. :(

Ruth said...

Oh, Arti. How do we live with that? How does a parent recover? How does anyone recover. Another tragedy happened in Castelldefels, near Barcelona, during the San Juan festivities, maybe you heard about it. Lorenzo posted about it. Dozens of people were dead or injured, I believe at least 13 were killed.

I was wondering if they say Mind the Gap anywhere else. I've never heard it anywhere but London and Dublin.

Ruth said...

♥ Kathy, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

cathyswatercolors said...

Really lovely. Olive is a very intriguing character. I am left with many unanswered questions ... I think the story could continue?

Ruth said...

Kamana, thank you.

Montag said...

Brilliant... too brilliant for the out-moded convention of exclamation marks...
it has set me brooding over its perfect structure

Pat said...

What an enjoyable read! I was right next to Olive in the class as she sketched the nude man. I liked being in her mind, with her thoughts while in class and getting on the train.

photowannabe said...

Ruth, you are definitely an artist of both words and pictures. I saw everything you described.
I'm sorry I have missed the last few posts. Its good to be back into my everyday routine again.

Ruth said...

DS, my friend, thank you for the encouragement. I will try.

Ruth said...

Merci, Daniel, for that.

Yes, there is an air of the quais in that header photo because I am standing on Ile St-Louis looking across at Ile de la Cité. Good eye. :)

Ruth said...

Grandmother, I am so pleased to hear you say that. Thank you.

Ruth said...

Hello and welcome, Margaret, I appreciate your kind comment. I will try to share what happens next to Olive (I don't know yet myself). I saw that you started following sync, thank you very much. I tried to find you at a blog, but you don't seem to have one?

Ruth said...

Hi, OH, happy summer! Thank you for your kind comment, I'm thrilled that you, the book lover extraordinaire, like my little piece.

It's good to see you again, I missed you.

Ruth said...

Ah, thank you, Cathy. I would like this to continue, we shall see if I can go on meshing memoir and fiction in a way that feels right.

Ruth said...

Montag, thank you. I can't tell you what your words mean to me, man. [Hand on my heart.]

Ruth said...

Pat, I am so happy this gave you pleasure!

Ruth said...

Hi, Sue, it's good to see you back. Thank you for saying that you enjoyed this piece. I'll see if I can do another installment sometime.

Anet said...

I promise Ruth!

♥ T said...

This is such a great story! You're a great writer. I love the photograph as well. It goes well with story.

http://whatshernameslittlesecrets.blogspot.com/

http://thedetroitserenade.blogspot.com/

Oliag said...

Oh Ruth...I have to join your fanclub here...This is just the kind of story I enjoy reading...and want to keep reading. I love the picture you painted of your grandmother's art class...I makes me want to read about her whole life and I hope to someday.

Ginnie said...

This immediately reminded me of one of our collaborators at V&V who is writing a book for us and every post is a new chapter. We've had 3 thus far. :) How fun, Ruth. I assume this is our Olive but it certainly doesn't have to be....

Vagabonde said...

What a beautifully written story – I love it. I felt the hurt against your skin. I reminded me of the first time we had a nude in an artist studio in Paris – used my charcoal and not sure where the drawing is now.

Terresa said...

Love this story. I want to hear more about the girl artist and the model boy. Encore!!

lovely you said...

You know, Ruth, I read/see/hear so many things everyday that I'm sorry to say, much of it leaves my mind as quickly as it goes in, but this, which I read several days ago when you posted it, is still with me.