I’ve decided to carve your face. Oh, not literally, of course. Guinevere, our clay sculpture teacher, said we should try making something familiar. And what’s more familiar to me than your face?
I prop your photo up on the bench and wait for the class to start. I’m here with my friend, Claire. It was her idea for us to start a hobby.
‘You need something that will get you out of the house,’she said. She was right. Since you got that promotion and said I should give up my job, I rarely go out. My days are filled with keeping the house spick and span, just how you like, and watching the afternoon soaps on TV. It’s been good to meet new people.
I picked clay modelling because I was thought to be a bit arty at school, and I’ve always been good with my hands. Wespent weeks building our wire frames and pressing pieces of pummelled clay against them, until we’ve got the rough semblance of what we’re aiming for. I’m really proud of the bare clay head I’ve produced. That was the easy bit. Now I’m determined to get the details right.
I look at the pile of modelling tools on the table. There’s everything from instruments you could use in an operating theatre, to ones you could use to cut out fancy pastry shapes with. Guinevere said we didn’t need to buy specialist tools—we’d find lots of items in our own houses that would work fine.
I begin using a wooden thing like a blunt pencil to mark the hairs on your eyebrows. I work quickly with deft, light strokes. It’s not much different to filling in my own brows. Yours are thick and dark and bushy. They give you a romantic, brooding look. When we first met, I thought you looked just like Heathcliff. So sexy.
After that, I start on the eyes—carving a crease above the eyelid and one underneath. Then I take a thing like an apple corer and swivel it into the eyeballs to make the irises.
I shape your long, aquiline nose and make the nostrils flare like yours do when you’re cross about something I’ve done. They look beautiful. I try shaping the clay blobs on the side of my sculpture into your ears. I step back to see how they look. They’re okay, but they don’t match. I take a sharp blade and slice one ear off in a single stroke and then set to building it up again.
Your mouth is taking longer than I expected. You have such beautiful lips. Quite full and luscious for a man, just like Lord Byron. What is it they said about him? ‘Mad, bad and dangerous to know?’ Well that’s not you.
Guinevere comes around in a cloud of patchouli and peers over the top of her half-specs. ‘That’s coming along nicely, dear. Well done.’ She pats my shoulder and moves on.
I take one of the wire loopy things—the ones like tongue scrapers, only made of piano wire—and hollow out your cheeks. It feels good as the clay sweeps away in smooth curves. But it makes your mouth stop smiling and now you look a bit menacing.
You’ve got a lovely smile, especially when we’re in company. But that other look, well I’ve seen that, too. I’ve learnt it’s best to keep quiet when you look like that. I know it’s only because you’ve had a bad day at work again and had to have a drink on the way home.
I stand back and gaze at my handiwork. It looks good. It looks like you. But then again, I probably know your face better than my own. I’ve studied it so much—spending my time watching it, waiting for the scudding clouds of your changing moods to pass across it, trying to side-step trouble before it arrives. I can never tell what’s going to annoy you. I only know that whatever it is, it’s always my fault.
I take a plastic knitting needle and mark the frown lines between your eyes. Then dig in the deep grooves which run from your nostrils to the corners of your mouth. I do it twice, to make sure. Just one last thing now. We’re not as young as we once were, and I’ve forgotten the age lines on your neck. I take thesharpest implement I can find and slash it across the clay throat.
One. Two. Three.