Drawing from Life

drawing from life a short story

A gentle breeze carried the energy of the ocean to Hannah’s garden. Although she had no direct view of the beach, the sound of gulls and the tang of salt in the air were constant reminders of its proximity and life. Her previous house, the one she had shared with Terry during their twelve years of marriage, had urban traffic as a soundtrack, and a summer bouquet of diesel fumes.

She moved to the small seaside village, remembered from childhood holidays, within a year of Terry coming out as gay, and declaring he needed to ‘find himself’. They managed an amicable separation and remained friends, although there were still questions to which Hannah wasn’t sure she had answers. She could not get away from the feeling that she had been deceived, but couldn’t bring herself to blame Terry, whom she knew had also suffered. Their town house had sold well, and they divided the assets equally.

Once established in her new house, Hannah adopted a dog, a large but docile Airedale Terrier called Juno.  Their daily routine often included a walk on the beach, where Juno would run towards the waves, before scampering back to avoid any contact with the sea. And, through Juno, Hannah met other locals.

One of those casual acquaintances suggested she join the local art group. Hannah had made a comment about the light quality by the sea and, under friendly interrogation, confessed that she had spent two years at art college. Although she knew she would eventually have to find a job, for the summer at least, she too had resolved to find herself again.

The art group met twice a week in an old Methodist chapel. The first time Hannah walked through the doors, she felt as though she belonged. The high vaulted ceilings and open space echoed with every spoken word, every dropped brush, every curse or giggle. Even the sound of a canvas being moved could be reimagined as distant thunder. The lower half of the walls were clad in dark wood, polished to a rich lustre, probably by generations of women. It was usually women, she thought, who gave rooms like this a sense of permanence and community.

She was reminded of the large airy art studios of her college years, and wondered if her life had merely been on pause during her marriage to Terry.

The group was predominantly women, although one man sat quietly at a table, arranging his brushes, paints and paper in perfect geometry. Their teacher was a woman called Sam. She wore a dusty blue smock, adorned with artfully positioned paints splatters, not necessarily acquired by accident thought Hannah. A knotted headscarf, failing to keep long dark tresses in place, and an assortment of beads and bangles, bestowed a vaguely bohemian air to her. Hannah was introduced to her by Jane, her acquaintance on the beach.

‘It’s actually Samantha, but nobody calls me that, except my father of course.’

Some of the group positioned themselves around a rather uninspiring assembly of fruit in a white porcelain dish. Hannah chose a table away from the still life group, and turned the cover on a new pad of cartridge paper. She hesitated, not sure whether to attempt to draw the people immediately in front of her, their backs hunched in concentration, or try to capture the sense of space in a room which was taller than it was wide. She knew she needed to make a mark, to break the spell cast by a pristine sheet of white paper.

Hannah had chosen not to bring paints that day, but soft pencils, which would glide easily over the paper and leave only gentle marks – just until her confidence returned. A line appeared, as if by its own volition, and Hannah began to withdraw from her surroundings, not really aware of the chatter and laughter. 

Drawing for Hannah was like entering a time machine. It could whisk her back several years or deposit her three hours in the future, with no idea of where the time went. That morning her pencil took her back to a summer of promises, mysteries and passion. The spell was only broken by a voice at her shoulder

“That’s excellent Hannah?”

Sam’s voice made her jump. Hannah hadn’t been conscious of anyone watching her sketch. She moved her hand a few inches, wanting to cover the face of the young man, to keep him private. It was a face she had held in her memory since the summer she turned sixteen. They had been in love, teenage love, which had burned so brightly until life intervened.

David moved away with his family when his father was offered a new job. In those years before social media they had exchanged letters, but the interval between each communication lengthened. David had not replied to her last letter. In it she had enclosed a pressed flower and a drawing of him, copied from a photograph. A silly romantic gesture from a teenage girl.

 It had probably generated laughter from his new friends, and embarrassed him. What would a teenage boy have done with a dead flower and a pencil sketch by a teenage girl.

The comment from Sam drew the attention of others to her drawing. Hannah wanted to cover it, to close the drawing pad, but she hesitated, and then it was too late. She let her fingers rest on the table.

“It’s just a face I remember,” Hannah said quietly.

Sam noticed Hannah’s hands slip from the edge of the table and nestle in her lap. She was playing with the wedding ring which she wore. Hannah’s marital status had been something of a talking point around the village.

“We usually go to the Three Ducks after our meeting,” Sam said. “Just for a light lunch and a glass of wine. You should join us.”

Hannah hadn’t been in the village pub. She was only slowly easing her way back into a more normal life. But she found herself nodding, happy for the change of topic.

She put the drawing to one side. Over a cup of tea and biscuit, Hannah found her mind wandering back to David again. Would they have stayed together had he not moved away? Might they have married, had children?

After the break Hannah attempted to capture the still life, but her efforts were stilted and awkward. The portrait she had drawn remained tucked in the back of her pad, and on her mind.

After the class finished, six of them headed for the pub. Sam had given her no opportunity to refuse. Jane, who had encouraged her to join the art group in the first place, explained how the pub was the main focus point for the village.

She giggled. “Not that we’re all alcoholics you understand.”

The pub was old. Hannah was no expert on architecture but put it at two, maybe three hundred years. The door was two steps below the present street level, and Hannah instinctively ducked as she entered. The interior more resembled an antique shop than a pub. Shelves were lined with old books, an assortment of lamps provided intimate pools of light, and a myriad of collectible objects and stuffed animals filled every niche and alcove. Small paintings and framed curios covered the walls. It was chaotic, but cosy.

Their order was co-ordinated by Jane, while Sam reorganised the chairs round a table, to accommodate them all. The young woman behind the bar knew everyone’s name. Hannah was introduced as their latest recruit and a real artist – a description she hastily refuted.

“We’ll have to have one of your paintings, everyone gets hung on the wall in here.”

Hannah protested that she was really out of practice and they might have to wait before anything of hers deserved a place on the wall.

“He’ll be back in a minute, you can tell him yourself, and good luck, the boss doesn’t take no for an answer.”

Sam leaned close to Hannah. “Not that any of us would say no to him.” She giggled. “You’ll see for yourself soon enough – he’s tall, attractive, and unaccountably available.”

When the boss made an appearance, he bore a remarkable resemblance to the boy Hannah remembered and had drawn from memory. 

Only then did Hannah notice, behind his shoulder, propped on a shelf, a small pencil sketch framed with a dried flower. So many years had passed, but the flower had managed to retain some of its colour, hinting at a life that might have been, or, hopefully, one that had merely been on pause.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.