Artist As Witness

Entry by: jaguar

15th June 2015

I told the class bully she was wrong. Nikki wasn’t the sort of girl you could contradict publicly. She had two ‘k’s and no ‘y’ in her name. My name was Janet – there was no hope of making that seem cool. Then Nikki told us you couldn't get yellow nail varnish.

I stood on the edge of Nikki’s clique, boring and unnoticed as the earth below. My snake of self-loathing stirred. Before the terrified mouse majority of me could hide, the snake spoke. ‘Yes you can. I’ve got some.’ I hadn’t, of course. It’s everywhere now but you couldn’t buy it then, even if you had the money.

'Wear it Monday.' Nikki said and turned away. We weren't allowed to wear nail polish to school but that was the least of my problems. The teachers never noticed me, I would probably get away with it because I simply never mattered.

I spent the whole weekend trying to create yellow but the best I could do was white varnish, mixed with gold glitter with yellow felt-tip painted over the top when it dried. My nails looked like spoilt eggs, the white kept resurfacing through the broken yolks.

Monday morning, I thought I'd better kill myself but I didn’t really know how you did it. We didn’t have any rope. They took Dad’s gun away after he used it on himself. I swallowed what was left of Mum’s pills. They scratched their protest down my throat. My snake thrashed so hard I was sick three times.

At first break I was all burning rivers as Nikki came over. She looked at me like a predator acknowledging the life in its prey. She sat on her hands as if to stop them punching me. ‘Good weekend?’, she asked, and that was that. She looked down at my fingertips and shrugged. Failure is so boring, after all.

My snake bit itself in shock. I watched as its ribs flexed from its flesh. Its forked tongue broke free of its death throes and slithered inside me. The timid mouse swallowed it, expanded and became who I am today.

Nikki looked down at her hidden hands. I knew they didn’t belong to her. Those hands loved to pinch, shove and twist the skin from bones. Nikki didn’t. She wanted to be nice to me because we were both so afraid. But her hands twitched with desire to pluck at me until I was unfeathered. Nikki hated their cruelty. I reached and pulled her hands from under her thighs. She didn’t shake me off.

When I look at my sitters that’s what I see first, the part of them that doesn’t belong. With the fashion model it’s her long, lean limbs almost down to the sinews but her vision slathers them in lard. I paint her in shadows, the ghost of her fat thighs still rubbing together.

The cyclist, hit by a car as a teenager, whose whole face shouts at me: ‘this is not my nose’. His first nose was spread across the tarmac decades ago. The only traces left of it are in our minds. I paint his real nose back in to him and he cries at the unveiling.

Here’s my painting of the footballer who couldn’t keep his head still. He kept reaching to deflect the balls his father no longer hurled at him. His club paid but don't want this image because his head's a blur. He says he can see himself more clearly than in the mirror.

I see my ballerina’s exquisite feet have been replaced by a pair of calloused paving slabs. She holds them up one at a time, over her head, to show me their disgrace. We giggle at the flashes of her knickers. I paint her feet as they were before she tortured them.

Nikki’s a famous actress now. People pay obscene amounts of money for my portraits, especially the dozens of Nikki. Which is odd because all the critics say I make her hands look like a retired boxer’s. I want to screech at them because they can't see. Nikki's smile silences my forked tongue because I still hold on to her hands.