Images by Diane Simmons
They are pencil drawings mostly – seven or eight of them hanging on the wall above Helen’s bed. Some are intricate, drawn with a care that must have required several sittings. Others look like they’ve been dashed off in a few minutes – the aggressiveness of the strokes at odds with the subject matter. Sophie can’t imagine the sittings, can’t picture her friend drawing for hours in that anonymous room. Had someone been with her? She has no idea of the protocol. Or of how Helen could have coped with being in there, let alone with being able to draw.
Helen stands beside her, waiting for her response to the drawings. During their short friendship, Helen has taught her so much about art appreciation, but Sophie still feels ill-equipped and unable to find adequate words. ‘They’re good,’ she eventually squeaks. Good? She tries again. ‘It must have been hard. I can’t imagine …’
‘Some sittings were easier than others. But I had to do it.’
‘I couldn’t not have done them. And it gave me somewhere to escape to – time to think. There always seemed to be people around.’
The number of visitors had made Sophie worry about Helen at the time. Her need for silence must have been overwhelming. But the urge to draw? If it had been her, what would she have done to escape? She can’t imagine that anything would have worked – except sleep, and that, even with the drugs, would have probably eluded her.
‘I’ve done a sculpture,’ Helen says. ‘From one of the drawings. Come through and I’ll show you.’
Silently, she follows Helen to the studio. The room is messy as usual. There is clay dust over most of the surfaces and half-finished paintings propped up on chairs and worktops. Helen leads her to the table next to the kiln and gestures towards a small sculpture. Sophie can almost not look. Feeling tears forming, she swallows hard. How can she cry when Helen isn’t? Had Helen cried when she had been making it? Perhaps when she moulded the clay or when she’d taken it out of the kiln perfectly formed?
She forces herself to look properly at the sculpture of the baby’s head. It looks complete, perfect, like a baby gone full term. Helen’s womb did its job of protecting him when her car turned over – at least from any outward signs of damage. He looks asleep.
‘They were good – in the hospital,’ Helen says. ‘They let me go down to see him as many times as I needed – for as long as I needed to get to know him.’
Diane Simmons studied creative writing with the Open University. Her first writing success involved a TV appearance on ITV’S This Morning where her story was awarded second place by a panel which included the writer, Jacqueline Wilson. Since then she has been placed in many competitions and has been widely published. She now mainly writes flash and is a keen participant in NFFD in the UK, with her stories included in their last five anthologies. Diane was part of the organising team for the first ever flash festival held in Bath earlier this year. She regularly performs her stories.