‘See – the tsunami?’
They had spent the morning at the exhibition.
‘See/Look/Understand’ Lawrence kept on saying, pointing upwards, leading her around.
‘Yes.’ The word waited at her lips, poised.
‘The giant waves coming to engulf the silhouette. Of course, the meaning is Existential Angst, like Munch’s ‘Scream’.’
She knew that painting, had pinned a postcard of it to her kitchen notice-board.
‘Yes!’ The word was stronger now.
What she really saw was an empty space where a human-being should be.
It was harder than she expected. Each cut must be precise and not stray into the background. And there was the fear of detection. True, she was lucky, going back. The hall was empty, except for one elderly couple, keeping the attendant talking as if they were accomplices. She had bought the knife from a stationer’s, round from the gallery, and the black felt-tips; so, when she finished cutting, and the shape of the figure fell into her hands, she could darken the space on the mount-card behind. One step back and no-one would notice. She placed the paper-doll in her handbag, and walked out.
Back home, she propped it on a cushion. It looked better already. At least there were no waves to engulf it… her, it was a ‘her’.
Lawrence phoned. He had given her his card ‘for retail-therapy’.
‘What did you buy?’
A knife, black felt-tips; coloured pens. White cartridge paper.
‘This and that.’
‘You can always change them if I don’t approve. I’ll be round later.’
‘No.’ The word was strange. It blew out of her lips, instead of the slippery ‘yes’.
It was stranger still to him.
She turned back to the cut-out, and smiled.
She began her work.
She placed the silhouette on the pristine sheet, and drew around it. Drawing was easier than cutting, but still she must be careful. Her tongue slipped through her lips.
Bella cannot concentrate in class.
Bella’s attention wanders easily.
There! Done! She was pleased with her effort, though, of course, it would have to be cut again. But she would leave that until she finished her drawing, so it wouldn’t matter if she crossed the lines. That made sense.
You are a pleasing addition to the team, but need to plan things more carefully, and think things through.
She stared at the shape in front of her. Black turned white. Empty, waiting to be filled.
Air-head. Dumb blonde. Knock, knock is there anybody in? So pretty, but so stupid. Dumb-ass – what an ass!
She put her hands to her ears.
She knew what the waves in the picture were. They were words bearing down on the solitary figure. Teachers, fathers, boys, bosses, men in clubs, parties. First husband, Lawrence. Do this, that, the other. You know you can’t think for yourself. Blah, blah, blah. It was the same in ‘The Scream’ postcard. That’s why she had bought it. There was no ‘existential angst’ whatever that was. The man was simply trying to stop the talk of the figures behind. Trying not to hear.
What next? Decide, for god’s sake. What are you doing? You’re acting like a child.
What would a child do? She took the rainbow pens, and scribbled onto the white figure. Red, orange, blue. She built up the layers, colours running into one another. Her strokes moved further, to the corners of the paper. Round and round, up/down, until there was nothing but multi-coloured lines and curves.
A mess. Muddle. No structure. No thought. Rubbish. What a useless bitch!
And somewhere in the middle was the shape of the woman, more lost than ever.
Diana Powell was born and brought up in Llanelli, South Wales, and studied English at Aberystwyth University. Her stories have featured in a number of competitions, including, most recently, the 2020 Society of Authors ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award (runner-up), the 2020 TSS Cambridge Prize (third place), and the 2019 ChipLit Festival Prize (winner).
Publications credits include ‘Best (British) Short Stories 2020’, various anthologies, and magazines such as ‘The Lonely Crowd’, ‘Crannog’ and ‘The Blue Nib’.
Her novella, ‘Esther Bligh’, was published in 2018 by Holland House Books. Her short story collection, ‘Trouble Crossing the Bridge’, was published in July, 2020 by Chaffinch Press.
She now lives near the coast in the far west of Wales.
She has a website at https://dianapowellwriter.com