The New Yorker: Medusa by Pat Barker

[dropcap letter=”B”]y the time I left the cathedral it was already dark, mizzling, the kind of rain that looks like mist but drenches you in minutes. I walked quickly, head down. In the marketplace, the Friday-night bonanza was well under way, girls in tight dresses and vertiginous heels, teetering along in noisy groups, watched by boys who pretended indifference and turned back to their mates, laughing. How did girls walk in those things? I could barely manage in the heels I was wearing, and they were nowhere near as high. Mind, I don’t normally wear heels. Jeans and trainers, that’s me. Only, that afternoon I’d felt the need to make an effort, because I’d been supervising the hanging of my paintings in the Galilee Chapel. My first solo exhibition.

As I turned into Silver Street, I was hardly aware of my surroundings; I was still walking around the exhibition in my head. All recent work, all on the theme of metamorphosis. Women turning into hares, foxes, crows, cows, fish, seals, trees. I’d been looking at these paintings for so long I couldn’t see them anymore. Sometimes, when paintings first leave home, they seem a bit weak, clingy—as if all they really want to do is get back to the studio as fast as possible—but these felt different. Strong, independent, even a bit supercilious. What have we to do with you? they seemed to be asking, sitting there, smug inside their sleek black frames. A good sign, perhaps? Out of the corner of my eye I caught a movement, but it was only my own shadow flitting across the blank windows where Marks & Spencer used to be.

Was it there that I picked up a second shadow? I don’t know that I did, of course.

Click here to read more. Or here to read the follow up interview.