by Kate Loveday
Miranda looked around the kitchen, scowling at the newspaper covering the table. At one end sat the marble slab she used for her work, with a lump of clay in the middle, and strewn over the rest of it were all the items she needed to sculpt her masterpiece. But the masterpiece was proving slow to take shape. Three times today she had started to shape it, and three times she had punched it down, and re-formed it, into a lump of clay.
Miranda had decided to take a year off work to see if she really had enough talent to make it in the art world. Her teacher at the local Art School thought she had, he’d encouraged her in her decision. In her mind, the benchmark to decide if she should continue, was if she could win this year’s award for the best piece at the annual Art Show. The piece she had decided to craft was the head and shoulders of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. After much practice, using the photograph of an ancient plaque as a model, she was ready to begin on the real thing. But it just wasn’t working for her today.
Looking at the clock, she sighed in frustration; again she was late to start preparing dinner. Tim, her husband, would be home soon, looking forward to a hot meal after his day’s work. She would have to clear all this away before she could start. Every day the same problem. What she needed was somewhere she could leave everything set up for the next day. She needed a studio, if she was ever to achieve her ambition of becoming a proper sculptor. Well, a studio was probably a bit ambitious. Even a shed would do.
The next morning she scanned the ‘For sale’ column in the newspaper, and there she found it. ‘Shed for sale, old but in good condition.’ Just the thing.
Half an hour later, she was inspecting the shed. It certainly looked old, but it did seem to be in good condition. It even boasted a table and chair, and a stool as well, which the elderly seller offered to throw in.
‘Well now, fancy you wanting it for a studio. You’ll hardly believe it, but Norman Lindsay once used this to work in. On his father’s property it was. He used to work at that very table, and his models used that stool to sit on. Sculpted some of his famous nudes in here, he did. My dad lived nearby, you know. Only a kid he was, then, but the great man used to let him watch him work sometimes. Not when he was doing the young ladies, of course, but other times.’
Well, that settled it. Miranda paid over the cash.
‘Righto, I’ll get my sons to dismantle it and they’ll deliver it to you by the end of the week,’ said the old man with a smile.
Tim laughed when she told him the story. ‘If you believe that, you’d believe anything,’ he scoffed. But he helped her reconstruct it when it arrived.
The next day, she went into her studio full of hope, but, although she fashioned the shoulders and the head, she could not get the face right. Day after day she tried, but it eluded her. Finally, after her tenth frustrating day, she sat at the table and admitted defeat. She was not good enough to be a real artist.
‘Well, Norman Lindsay, you certainly didn’t leave any of your talent behind to rub off on me,’ she said aloud.
As she sat there, she felt a gentle whisper of air on her face, as light as a baby’s sigh. But when she looked around, the door was closed, and there was no movement of air in the shed. There it came again. She put her fingers to her cheek, but could feel nothing.
Slowly she stood up and walked back to stare at the faceless head sitting on the board. Picking up a knife, it was as if her hands were being guided as they moved surely over the clay, fashioning the goddess’s features.
In her speech, after accepting the award, she gave thanks to her art teacher, for his belief in her, and to Tim, for his tolerance for all the late meals and unironed shirts, and she finished with, ‘And my heartfelt thanks to Norman Lindsay.’
There were many surprised faces as she stepped down, amidst a burst of clapping, but there in the front row she saw the old man who had sold her the shed, clapping loudest of all, a knowing smile on his face.