Self Portrait

short story, 494 words, Goldsmiths MA Journal


When she was small, she used to spend hours sat at the kitchen table, making little animals from plasticine. At the age of four, her father began taking her to the arts centre in town, and at five, she graduated from plasticine to clay and was the star of the Saturday Pottery Club. At eight, she started private lessons with a local sculptor, who was amazed at the dexterity of her little fingers; at eleven, she was invited to create three sculptures for an exhibition of children’s art to be displayed in a London gallery, and she made a swan, a tiger and a horse using clay that was fired into porcelain; at sixteen, she enrolled at a prestigious arts college and continued to exhibit her work; at eighteen, she won a place at the London School of Visual Arts, and the centrepiece of her degree show was a bronze sculpture of an elderly Labrador; at twenty-two, she was commissioned to create a series of equine sculptures for the Olympics, and her work was celebrated in arts journals and the national press; at twenty-three, she felt a pain behind her eyes that would not go away, and she went to the hospital, and a few days later they operated and removed her eyes.

After the operation, it was many months before she left the hospital, and it was many months more before the desire to sculpt took hold of her again. Excited, nervous, she felt her way from her bedroom to her studio in the garage. From around the room, on plinths and shelves, her sculptures watched: a kneeling camel cocked its head, an Indian elephant peered from beneath the heavy folds of its brow, and a horse looked on, concerned, over its left shoulder. She sat down at her workbench and tore off a piece of clay. This sculpture would be a self-portrait, she decided, a sculpture of her new self. She set to work, her hands moving to a different rhythm than before, and she felt her confidence grow with each successive press and caress of the clay. When she was finished, when she was happy, when her self-portrait stood proudly on the work surface, she felt her way to the sink, washed her hands and left the studio.

A week later, the sculpture arrived back from the kiln, and her father brought her the package excitedly. She tore off the paper and traced the contours of the features she had crafted so carefully. She smiled, because it was perfect, and she asked her father what he thought. He was glad that she could not see the look on his face. There was something disturbing about his daughter’s self-portrait: it was strange, it was alien, it was wrong, and yet — at the same time, in a way that he could not articulate — it was her.


Published in Goldsmiths' Creative Writing MA journal

Performed at LitLive! @ Peckham Pelican 19/3/2015 [video]