This entire site is the sole copyright of Valerie Wood 2018
'Hull's answer to
BBC Radio 4's Front Row
Award winning author of
novels set in and around
Hull | City of Culture 2017
A sudden, shocking bell indicates that it’s break. The students move off swiftly to get coffee. As I pull on my dressing gown and stretch, Philip asks if I would like to join them but I shake my head. My small talk in English is limited and my thoughts about past humiliation have made me afraid to consume a drink until I get home. I’m happy to stay in the studio on my own, to stretch and to wander round the easels seeing what they have made of me. I don’t recognise myself in the charcoal lines I see. I didn’t really expect to. Then I examine the objects on the benches and, watching the door, put a small dusty fir cone into the pocket of my gown.
When Philip and the students return I am instructed to take a new position with a different view. He indicates with words and gestures, reaching out to touch me at one point then stopping himself. I wouldn’t mind if he touched me. I am a mannequin, scarcely real, hardly breathing. I would not run screaming if he broke the rules and touched me to reposition me. But I see two of the women students exchange glances and I know that in this situation, there will be no touch. The physical contact I am used to is not in this contract.
In my new position I’m relieved to see an indication of life, an onion amongst the objet trouve on the window sill that has sprouted, green and white ribbons curving their way towards the light.
The heating goes off at eight, regardless of evening class hours, and I spend the latter part of the evening getting increasingly cold. It’s a relief when Philip draws the session to a close and I can pull on my dressing gown, and scuttle to the toilet to get dressed. Then I call at the office where I’m given a small sealed envelope. I smile at the woman who hands it to me. I smile even more at the Queen’s face visible through the packet’s window. I picture her sitting for this portrait, naked except for her crown, surrounded by old boots and sprouting onions.
The taxi driver looks at me suspiciously. Perhaps he’s picked me up from a club or watched me sitting with punters in a bar, my eyes wide with fake attentiveness, uncomfortable in cheap lacy underwear. When he asks for the destination his English is as heavily accented as my own but not in a familiar way. Our journeys have been on different roads and we complete this one in silence.
When I get out at the house, I see the curtain move. Velek opens the reinforced door and I slide in past the boxes of merchandise topped with piles of junk mail. He has his mobile in his hand and is talking about a meeting place and a deal. He holds out his hand and I pass him the envelope. He rips it open, phone between his expensive coat collar and diamond studded ear, and flicks a note back to me. Then he turns his back and I go into the kitchen. There are signs that he’s had people here, debris from drug use. The front door slams. I walk briskly to my room and hide the note with others inside a novel tucked amongst other books. I can save because I have avoided developing expensive habits, however tempting the distraction. This is my escape fund and it is growing from its small roots.
I make a big mug of strong coffee and start to warm up. I liked the work tonight. I hope he lets me go back.