My friend Bailey was the first of my group to have a baby, ‘Baileys baby’ we all said when we heard, with a bit of an Elvis twang. She had wanted a painting from me for years, I had promised I would do one but I could never decide what it would be, and she said she didn’t mind. She was caring and cheerful and all I could see was a farm scene of unicorns and cats, which she would probably love but I wasn’t feeling it. So when she had her little guy I thought ‘brilliant, this I can do.’ I chose one of the first photos she posted, only a few days old, and set up the coffee table with all my supplies and got into it. Within a few hours I had a beautiful rendition of him. Soft skin and perfect colours. I had used the white of the canvas as the highlights, and his features where exactly where they should be. I was so proud and couldn’t wait to tell her.
Of course a few days later I picked it up again, set on doing a green background with leaves falling around him when I muddied the colours and placement of his face.
He was bruised, almost rotted. I felt him slip through my fingers, like he had been handed to me and I dropped him. I didn’t touch the painting for months after that, I couldn’t bare to look at it. I hid it in the cupboard and tried to forget about it, every now and then pulling it out and staring at the sick dwarfish face, desperately wishing I could take it back.
It was after a long night at work, usually me and one of the other girls would sneak off to the kitchen on a Saturday night while the bar and band was in full swing to polish and roll the cutlery for the next day. She would polish and I would roll, sometimes gossiping, sometimes in silence. Rolling cutlery was my favourite part of the job. I had it down to an art, every single roll was exactly alike, tight enough to hold upside down and loose enough to pull out the cutlery without effort. Not so dipped that it would destroy the napkin to unroll it, but they never came undone on their own. It was my ultimate OCD dream. But one night we were short staffed and I had to do it alone while the others held the floor and bar.
Instead of going to the kitchen, I quietly slipped through the glass doors into the function room just next to it. I liked this room, on busy nights I would have this all to myself, I would set romantic tables for two and family tables of fours to sixes. I would leave one door open for the smell from the kitchen and one closed for privacy from the chefs. I would have a candle lit on every table and a refreshing breeze stirring the air, and when the sun set, I would tilt the blinds just right and fill the room with bright orange dancing beams of light.
It was dark now though, empty and cold, all the chair legs up. I lit some candles just for me, keeping the lights off, sat at the farthest corner table and rolled each set of knife fork, spoon knife, fork spoon, perfectly.
When I was finished, I stared at the full baskets, napkins glowing silver blue in the darkness of the moonlight. It was then I remembered the story of Dorian Gray. His portrait painted so honestly and with so much love, that it had captured his soul. Had I rolled my soul into these utensils? How could I put so much of myself into something strangers used to eat with, wiping their mouths and dropping to the floor for me to pick up once they’d gone. I doubt anyone even noticed how efficient they were, or how beautifully they were placed in rows upon rows. And I was always rolling cutlery, it was a job never finished, I would fill basket after basket after basket and it never stayed full. I had rolled thousands. Hundreds a day. They were my accomplishment.
When I got home I set my paints up on the lounge floor and pulled out the painting that had been my undoing. I cleaned my brushes and looked for each stroke I needed to bring him back to life. And as I painted I saw him more and more, until I was staring face to face with my best friends son, dreaming with closed eyes that might open at any minute. I mixed a dark blue black oil and let it flow over the dead green leaves, from the edges of the canvas to his face, painting my soul into depth of the universe I wrapped in the blanket around him. When I was finished and the sun was rising, I scattered ink stars with small silver flicks of my brush, creating galaxies, without waiting for the paint to dry.