by Judy Darley
“What do you think about?” the art students ask, agog. “How do you pass the time?”
I’d love to be able to tell them I spend each session solving great mathematical equations, creating formulas that will advance medical science, or composing sonnets of exquisite agony.
Should I admit that I sit, or lie, or stand, staring into space and, on a good day, thinking about the train journey home, or wishing the art tutor was a better time keeper? Better that than the dark darks, increasingly often, when I find myself wondering why it is that I feel strong, invincible, while naked in front of these strangers, yet so creeping and vulnerable in the towelling robe I must wear in the lesson’s break.
I’d rather get fully dressed, or stride naked among them, but there isn’t time for the former or the culture for the latter.
A towelling robe makes me feel exposed and child-like. It’s as though I’ve just stepped from my bath and been sent downstairs to kiss all the grown ups goodnight. From one to the next I pass – Mum, Dad, whichever neighbours have popped in to exhale the draughts of sharp sour heat I can’t bear to inhale.
How the dread shivers through me as they pull me close, pucker their lips, eyelids aflutter as they draw me in, plucking at my bones beneath that horrid towelling role. How naked their attention makes me feel.
As an adult I’ve never, by choice, worn a robe, preferring to pull an old comfy jumper over whatever I’ve chosen to sleep in, or, if the British weather permits, simply nude.
Not that I’m an exhibitionist. I’m an extremely private person – its something my mum and dad never understood. But the real me is buried so deep beneath these layers of sinew and skin that my nudity feels like something I wear, over my memories; over my worries, my hopes.
I’m afraid that the robe might part, might somehow allow my secrets to show, let some artist catch a glimpse as we chat, and fasten it on the canvas of their mind before I can retreat.
“What do you think about?” they ask me in the break.
“Nothing,” I tell them, or: “I wonder what to have for tea.” That makes them chuckle, helps them see me as a person, a life instead of a still life.
I laugh with them: edge away, eager to strip back down to invisibility.
Judy Darley is a fiction writer and journalist, and the editor of SkyLightRain.com, with stories published by The View From Here, The SImple Things, and Riptide Journal, among others.