IN MY DEFENCE
I’m here, naked, in front of a dozen people on a Wednesday night. How the actual fuck did I get here? Drips of sweat escape my armpits and roll down the side of my torso. It’s the middle of winter and I’m sweating. Later, I’d have plenty of time to wonder how exactly it was that I got here.
In my defence though, it was probably the third glass of wine.
Scrolling through my social media feed a few nights prior, I’d seen a post from a newly-minted arts organisation run by a friend.
Life drawing every Wednesday night 7-9pm. Materials supplied, untutored $20. Thanks to local muso Greg who posed while serenading us last night.
I’m sure it was the third glass of wine that lead me to comment. ‘I’m a registered life model.’ It wasn’t until the morning that I saw the response – ‘talk to the gallery manager tomorrow.’ Now, I work as a barista in a small town and have done for many years. I know many people by sight and what they drink, if not by name: he’s the large-skinny-cappuccino-extra-hot-half-a-sugar-guy: she always brings her reusable cup, which hasn’t been washed out – soy cappuccino with honey: that couple? Weak latte for him, skinny flat white for her.
There’s one particular local family I kinda half know. Dad drinks long blacks in the morning and peppermint tea in the afternoon. Mum drinks a three-quarter decaf, almond latte – not too hot. I work with their son. He got his carefree personality and good looks from the both of them. Dad is always chatty. He’s a photographer though I do wonder when he works as I see him most days book in hand, chatting with locals. I don’t see her that often. She’s gorgeous. Tall, slim, effortless blonde pixie cut. She’s the kind of person that when she smiles, the world just seems like a nicer place.
After work on the day in question, it only takes two glasses of Yarra Valley Sangiovese to set me up for the life modelling session. I arrive 15 minutes early, scope out the space then retreat to get changed, emerging in my fluffy bathrobe shortly after. Artists have started to arrive, claiming their spot with an easel. When enough have gathered, I move to the middle of the rough circle and set out the housekeeping for the session.
‘I’ll start with five 2-minute poses, then we’ll have two 5-minute poses then a quick break. After that we’ll head into two 10-minute poses, another break and so on. I’ll change up my orientation so no one always gets the same side, though feel free to move around if you want to. Okay, everyone ready?’
My robe drops to the floor and there I am, every bit of pale, hairy winter skin on display, just as Mother Nature made me. The first section goes swiftly, standing poses, arms in various directions, hips contra-posto, a knee bent here and there. I look up, I look down, I turn at least 90 degrees between poses.
At the break, I take a sip of water and organise some more insulation between the exposed concrete floor and my feet which are starting to feel the chill. I shift a padded stool into place, drape my towel across it and catch the eye of the facilitator to see if she’s ready to begin.
‘If everyone is ready,’ I say a little too loudly. They settle and I slip out of my robe and deposit it a few feet away. Feeling like I may have neglected the back of the room, I suddenly decide to face that direction. I position my legs open without being gynaecology-exam-open, lower one knee and slightly twist my upper body to rest my weight on my right hand. I centre my gaze, look up and there she is. Directly in front, looking straight at me.
Fuck. It’s three-quarter decaf, almond latte. It’s Elliot’s mum. Fuck. Don’t smile, don’t do anything different. Of course, she knows it’s you. She’s smart AND beautiful. Keep calm. Think of something else. What’s for dinner tomorrow night? Oh, I don’t fucking know. FUCK!
Calm down, they’re artists. Breathe.
They knew what they were getting into. Breathe.
You’ve done this before. Breathe.
No one cares. Breathe.
You’re just a mass of lines and curves and light and shadow. Breathe.
You’re just a mass of lines and curves and light and shadow.
The only thing that gets me through the session is the Eric Clapton song ‘After Midnight’, swirling around my head over and over and over.
After midnight, we gonna let it all hang down, after midnight, after midnight
After dressing I collect my cash from the facilitator and head towards the back door. Her work is strewn across a back corner of the gallery. Body after body, contorted limb, flesh piled high and tumbling about, a composed face not out of place on a crumbling Roman statue. Of course, she’s gorgeous, intelligent AND talented. I glance up and see her eyes – warm and friendly – looking right into mine. I reach out my hand and stammer, ‘I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. Hi, I’m Mandy.’