We’re in art class and I’m supposed to be listening to Mr. Bolton’s speech about sculpture and the human form, but all I can do is look at Nikos and wonder about his form. I like to focus on different parts of him in our classes. Sometimes I’ll wonder at his jaw, or his beautiful dark eyes, or the play of his shoulder. Today, I’m just so in love with his hair. It’s a bit messy today, falling into his eyes fetchingly. I want to run my fingers through it, bring him close, kiss him and tell him I love him.
Half the girls in our year want to do this, though. Some actually get to touch him.
I’ve never been allowed.
I’ve tried, hard, to come up to scratch for him. I wear make-up now. My clothes are more flattering; I even dyed my hair red because I know it’s his favourite shade on a girl.
I put myself on this diet I read about in one of my mum’s magazines. It was the most soul-destroying experience of my life, if you must know. Fridays (pizza night in our house) became hell to me, sitting there with my broccoli while my family gorged themselves on stuffed-crust, deep fried whatever. But I did it. I lost 10lbs and I look amazing. In fact, I got a bit too skinny so I can allow myself a deep-stuffed-crust pizza thing every now and again. I look amazing, but not amazing enough for him.
Then Nikos was in maths one day and he was all, ‘I hate it when a girl thinks she’s so smart’ and that was because Linda, who knows everything, told him about Pythagoras and he got mad because he didn’t know about this guy.
So I stopped putting my hand up in maths, because I didn’t want to seem like one of those nerdy girls who all the lads say talk too much and don’t do their nails enough.
‘Diana,’ says Mr. Bolton.
‘Sir?’ I say, startled. I hadn’t been paying attention at all.
‘Are you listening to me?’
‘What was I talking about, then?’
‘Would you care to repeat the story of Galatea for the class?’
They groan as one. Nobody cares about the statues, but you know what? My dad took me to see My Fair Lady in the West End a few months ago and I read the programme, I know what it was based on. So I say, ‘Pygmalion made Galatea – I mean, she was like a sculpture – to be the perfect woman—‘
‘With big boobs and no mouth, then!’ interjects Jamie, the class clown. Mr. Bolton glares at him and he shuts up.
‘Well, I suppose you were listening,’ says Mr. Bolton.
I glance at Nikos for approval, and he’s not even looking at me. He’s texting.
Mr. Bolton claps his hands. ‘So this week’s project is going to be fun. As you’re sixth form now and I can trust you not to ruin my studios and act like children – Jamie, you’re excluded from this task – you have the run of the art rooms after school for this one week. This will be part of your coursework: use clay to create your own Galatea.’ He picks up booklets from his desk and slings one at each of us. I open up my copy and flick through the pages, groaning. I can’t replicate any of this. They’re all so perfect.
Mr. Bolton holds up a copy of the booklet, pointing at each picture. ‘So you might try to replicate Michelangelo’s Dying Slave – good luck with that, brats. Or how about this? Don’t forget modern sculpture is represented at the back, where it belongs. Here’s Romulus and Remus at the wolf, that’s always worth a try. And this lady here, the Winged Victory of Samothrace.’
‘I always called it Nike,’ says Nikos.
‘I called her Reebok,’ says Jamie, but nobody laughs because now it’s Nikos who glares at him. ‘Idiot,’ he says. ‘the statue’s older than your chav trainers.’ He considers. ‘But not by much.’
The class laughs dutifully.
Mr. Bolton nods. ‘Yes, the statue is sometimes referred to as Nike.’
‘That’s my favourite,’ breathes Nikos. ‘It’s so gorgeous.’ Nobody laughs at him for his reverence. His emotions are not something to mock: the boys want to be him, they want his stormy Byronic countenance. We girls… we all fawn over him. ‘I saw it in Paris, in the Louvre. I mean, it’s just so big and it’s Greek, you know? We built that thing. It’s not Galatea, but it is perfect to me.’ He considers. ‘No woman could be like that. Only a man could create something so beautiful.’
Rachel hits him and the rest of the girls boo. The class erupts into chaos around me, but I don’t pay much attention. I stare down at Nike, wondering how I can sculpt those wings, my mind made up: I will make this for Nikos.
It takes two hours of torturing myself after school on the first day to get her torso resembling anything like a human figure. Another day is spent shaping it. I can’t quite get that wind-torn clothing whipping around her body as the original sculptor did, but hey, my version is like 30cm tall and I only have a week to get her right.
On the third day, I manage to get her wings on. It takes forever, but what I do is I do both wings separately, and measure them against each other. I make the right wing a bit too small, so I lop off some of the left, but then that’s too small so I have to mould another piece of clay on and then I meticulously carve the feather marks into her wings, and it takes an hour before that part is done, but it’s worth it. I then have to fix them onto her back, but they’re a bit too heavy and she keeps falling over because her torso can’t take the weight. I struggle and curse for another hour trying to get it right, but it’s no use, so I take them apart and use half the amount of clay and start all over again, measuring them and moulding them and then making those marks all over again. Then I fix them on to her back and smooth it down, and they look great.
On the fourth day, I have to stop her looking like a beheading victim, so I concentrate on getting grace and beauty into her neck, which I do by smoothing that down and emphasising her clavicle. I lop a bit too much off again, so have to rebuild her, but she looks pretty decent.
On Friday, I take her home with me and set her up on my bedroom desk. My mum has a good artistic touch, so she helps me smooth down the torso and create the flow and ripples in her dress so she looks more feminine and perfect. I won’t let mum do any more than that, though. Nike is mine, for my own Galatea.
On Saturday, I spend all day perfecting her.
On Sunday morning, I wake up and decide I dislike her wings, so I fiddle with them a bit more and a bit snaps off, so I spend a panicked few hours fixing it so nobody can tell. I have my dinner and do my stuff on Tumblr and then go to look at her again before bed, and allow myself to imagine Nikos’s surprise and admiration when he sees her. She’s so beautiful. And she’s for him. It’s perhaps the only thing he’ll accept from me, a hard lifeless body when he won’t touch me.
I’ll never have her body. I have short legs and a long torso. I’ll never have that perfect ratio of hips to legs to breasts.
She’s half stepping forwards, poised and beautiful even as her fabric clings to her.
I’ll never have that grace.
She’s silent and strong and idealised and everything a man wants.
Only a man could get it right, first time around.
I can’t be what you want.
I feel frustration well up in me, bubbling over into hatred. I glare at Nike. ‘Why do things like you exist?’ I hiss. ‘Why can’t it be fairer for the rest of us?’
She doesn’t answer. She just continues to hold her bloody pose, her perfect feet (I am good at sculpting feet) poised as if she’s going to step right off the table and take flight away from me and my petty jealousy.
Then I feel bad, because her beauty isn’t her fault. I touch her once more, reverentially, and then I go to bed.
Art isn’t until third period, so I have to suffer through Maths and English first. I want to show Nikos before class, but that won’t do. It’s too desperate. He’ll wonder why I care. His friends might say, ‘that Diana, she has a crush on you’ and they’ll tease him because I’m not perfect, because it’s embarrassing to have someone like me love someone like him.
In art class that day, Mr. Bolton sighs. Seven of the girls have done Nike, and four of the boys. He bemoans our lack of nous, and we’re all rubbish and he’s sick of trying to get people to think only for them to want to be led, and he says that Jamie’s attempt at a Sistine Chapel brick gets no points for execution, but ten for originality.
Nikos has done Nike. His version is strange, a bit off to me. Her torso is too lean, her body more like Angelina Jolie’s than the thick-set, strong statue I read about on Wikipedia. Her breasts are way too large. Her clothing clings in a very indecent place and one of the lads points it out.
‘It’s the best one,’ says Nikos proudly. ‘Look at the crap the rest of them did.’ He goes around, mocking the lads whose statues aren’t as good. He says to each girl that she tried, she really did, but maybe they should have fixed the wing here, the foot is all wrong, the breasts too small.
I glance down at my Nike and I dread his approach. She’s so perfect and so delicate, but he’s going to spot her flaws. He’ll see that the big toe is twisted a little, or her clothing is not quite right. Her breasts look very modest. I should have made them bigger. Of course he’d want them bigger.
He stops before me, glances over her critically. And his review surprises me: ‘It’s not bad.’
‘But her wings—‘
‘Her chest is a bit small,’ I say, blushing.
‘Just a bit,’ he says, ‘but she’s still more perfect—‘ he stops himself.
‘Than the others?’
‘Than, you know.’
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I just wish I could look like that.’
He laughs kindly. He glances at me, his eyes soft. ‘You understood it better than this lot, what Mr. Bolton meant.’ His voice lowers to a conspiratorial whisper. ‘What I meant.’
Oh, Nikos. You handsome boy. You cocky, self-assured, gorgeous thing.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I understand completely.’
And I place my hands around Nike, closing my fingers over her perfect body, her beautiful, mute form, and I hurl her from the table and watch with satisfaction as she shatters upon the floor.
Stay tuned for Anne’s answer to this prompt on Friday. Follow us on Twitter to get updates and news.
Photograph © Copyright, Anne Marie 2008. All rights reserved. Used with permission.