“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.
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!