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by Griselda 

Posted: 12 January 2006
Word Count: 2355
Summary: Two sisters live and work as artists

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We have often discussed, my sister and I, how we came to be living here, but to tell the truth, neither of us can really remember all the details. It was so long ago, and we were so young, just infants really. We start off usually at the end of the day, before we go up to bed, quite determined to establish, once and for all, what really happened, but then the conversation gets diverted onto some other track, and we end up falling asleep without getting any further into the truth. We both have dim memories of our childhood, with friends and relations all living nearby, and we both remember a day when we were taken on a long journey in the dark, but that is all.

Of course, we are quite comfortable here. We did once or twice consider moving to some new place, but it was a terrible bother, what with finding a new place to stay, somewhere which might suit us better. We felt we were not very good at making decisions, even though it took all our strength and courage to get up there and look around. And all the expense, too of course. I kept saying it would have to be pretty good for me to feel secure enough to leave this place behind, for with all its faults and drawbacks, we do feel we are known here. We have delightful neighbours, so kind. They can be a little thoughtless at times, but they are so generous and whenever there is any kind of difficulty or trouble, they are always the first to arrive to offer help or see off any intruders.

My sister often grumbles, though. She says she needs more space, more room to spread her wings. She says she longs to be able to make more of herself, reach out to pastures new, as she puts it. She always was the ’artistic’ one. I see her most days looking moodily over into our neighbours’ garden. It is true they have much bigger grounds than ours, with an expansive lawn and some interesting shrubberies. And I have to agree we might be more comfortable if we too could spread out and picnic on the grass during the summer, and pluck lovely fresh salads and herbs from our own vegetable plot. But on the other hand, neither of us is exactly green-fingered. Our own grounds could probably be made more fruitful and verdant, but neither of us has the faintest idea about horticulture. Funnily enough, the one thing we both like doing is digging.... it must be a family thing. We often laugh about it. It sends us off into real hoots of laughter. We could probably find jobs as easily as cracking an egg, if we applied to a garden-designer. She could set us to work to dig over any patch of land, and we would love it. We’d work away at it, morning till night. Lovely. But as for planting or pruning - well, we have no idea.

I did say it is my sister who is the artistic one, but we are both quite good artists, actually. It comes naturally to us. It is another thing we have in common. Now that we have each found our genres, it is much easier. I have often considered writing about my struggles to become an artist, how hard it was in the early days. I was always on the edge of an idea, hardly able to conceptualise what I wanted. I couldn’t find the materials I needed. I had no idea of the scale of work I wanted to produce. My sister and I would glare at each other, daring each other to show our efforts to the other, but so tangled up and inept were we that we could only stamp on the bungled messes we made, and kick the rubbish about. We had some really tempestuous times, I can tell you. I started it, the whole thing. I knew, with increasing confidence, what it was I wanted to do. I had been sitting and thinking about it, then going out for long walks to clarify in my mind what I had to do. It became almost physical. I was feeling all these tensions inside my body, not labour pains exactly, but a sort of anxious nausea and bloatedness. If I had had morning sickness I would have said it felt like being pregnant, but of course it couldn’t be that. I considered going to my doctor, but my sister poured scorn on me. ’Are you an artist or aren’t you?’ she screamed at me one terrible day. ’Can you or can’t you?’ I nearly cried, but I didn’t, even with such provocation. And from that time on, my work started to improve.

Those days of doubt are long gone now. My works are exhibited and shown. The public just can’t get enough of them. They eat them up! And strangely enough, my sister seems to have been inspired by what happened to me and she is doing pretty similar work. Personally, I find her pieces are slightly clumsy in their finish but she was always one for being in a hurry, and I can’t deny that she has a loyal following too. We did consider working in polychrome, but have decided for the time being to work mainly in white and cream tones, symbolic of our pure state and withdrawal from the world. A critic once wrote about us that the works made in our studios are iconic.

I’m not exactly sure, to tell you the truth, if my sister really is my true sister. I have a feeling, an almost-certainty, that she actually is more of a cousin. We do look terribly alike, it is true, and we both like very much the same things. We sound alike, we have the same accent or dialect, and we share a sense of humour. We also have a very distinct appearance, quite unlike anyone else around here, so we must be pretty closely related, but I do just sometimes doubt that we came from the same brood, so to speak.

Perhaps I am being unkind, trying to distance myself from her - she is terribly bossy, and greedy. This is particularly true at mealtimes when she just whips everything away for herself, darting towards the food as if she had never seen a fresh roll in her life. She often grumbles about food, or the lack of it. I can hardly bring myself to admit this, but sometimes, she has actually gone next door into the neighbour’s garden and stolen some of their produce. She makes a beeline for the vegetable patch and rummages around to find tasty things which she stuffs into her mouth. Once or twice they have actually come out into the garden and found her out there, and very politely shown her back into our place, but I’m sure they must have noticed what she was up to. Goodness knows what they thought she was doing. She looks so innocent when she wants to. Nonchalant. I don’t know how she does it. She should have gone on the stage.

It doesn’t matter how much I scold her. She just shrugs it off and says they’re far too busy to take any notice, and anyway it’s good manners to call on your neighbours from time to time. She says, she can’t help it if they’re out when she goes round. After all, she points out, there was a time before they built the new fence when they actually encouraged us both to wander there. ’Make yourselves at home,’ they said. ’Do use the garden,’ they said. ’Feel free to wander where you want, apart from the seedbeds and vegetable garden,’ they said. Then they put the new fence up and seemed determined to make a clearer separation between our two households.

My sister was quite upset about it. ’Really!’ she muttered. ’Can’t they make their minds up? Either we are welcome or we are not! And it doesn’t stop them coming into our garden, does it?’ she fumed, and I have to agree with her on that point.

’But, every single time they come to see us they bring a present, don’t they?’ I said. ’They bring lovely things from their garden, little snacks of food, drinks, and things. They brought us some cake, yesterday, didn’t they? And the other day, they gave us all that lovely cheese. They said they had grated too much and asked if we woud like it?’ She just harrumphed and went off in a sulk to her bedroom.

They aren’t our only entertainment, oh no. We have plenty of other visitors. They drop in from all around the district, a very mixed bunch. Some of them seem quite flighty to me, always rushing about from place to place. If you called to see them, they’d never be at home. Some of them are quite shy and quiet, just perching on the edges of their seats and hardly saying anything, while others come in great groups, chattering so loudly it is hard to get a word in edgeways. Not that it matters. We get all the gossip, and hear a lot of jokes and news. This is a very friendly place, and as I say, everyone watches out for everyone else, especially if there’s any danger about, prowlers. We are all very grateful to be living round here. Things are so dangerous out there in the wide world, you hear about such terrifying events. Our friends agree with us that we just have to trust that everything will stay safe for us. You never know.

Of course there are some local tragedies. There was a family living just along the lane from us, the Wrens I think they were called, a very nice young couple, with a lovely house, brand new, ready for them to move in. They started a family and everything, and then one day - I don’t know if it was the builder’s fault or what - but there was some subsidence and they had to abandon the whole place. Such a shame. They were heartbroken, of course. I think they moved right away, tried to start again somewhere.

My sister and I have often wondered if we should ever be lucky enough to have children. That leads to lots of giggles too, as we’d need more than a peak at a man to manage it. My sister goes into hoots. She can do really good imitations when she wants. She strides round, calling out like an auctioneer or a market trader, in a really deep voice, just as if she was a fine fellow advertising his wares. ’Look at me, then’ she crows. ’Just see what I could do for you-ou!’ she goes. Really, it is quite hysterical. But between you and me, I do pride myself on this, too, that if ever I should be so lucky as to start a family, I would make a better mother than she would. She is so, well, aggressive. She’d bully any man into submission straight away. She may look gentle, with her soft colouring and girlish shape, but believe you me, she is quite snappy when she wants to be.

I am the more peaceful type, I know that. Recently, we went away on a holiday to a lovely place, somewhere recommended by our neighbours. It had wonderful facilities there, lovely food, spacious grounds. Excellent service too. The staff were so attentive. You only had to look at them and they jumped to attention. It was quite popular too, I think, but we had our own private accommodation so we didn’t have anyone barging in on us. We had quite interesting conversations with the other guests, but my sister was pretty annoyed with one of them, wanted to poke her eye out, she said. I couldn’t see the point of starting an argument, but my sister said this other woman kept giving her funny looks and the only way to sort it out was to go and have it out with her. I could see my sister’s reasoning on this, as the other woman was very odd, but perhaps she couldn’t help it, poor thing.

Today, I decided to write this account of our lives, as a record in case anything should happen to us. It is always interesting to hear about the lives of artists as told by themselves, rather than through the distorting vision of a journalist or critic. I was prompted to do this after an alarming incident this morning, when something or someone frightened my sister while I was out for a walk. I don’t know if it was one of our neighbours gone mad, or an intruder of some sort, a prowler. But she was pretty flustered, and had wet feet - she said the only place she could think of to find refuge was in the middle of the pond next door, and she’d made a dash for it, forgetting that even she can’t walk on water and had sunk in up to her thighs. I knew things couldn’t have been all that scary if she was making jokes about it, but it made me think about things a little more deeply after all. She tucked into her breakfast straight away after the incident, anyway, so she has probably forgotten all about it by now. Later, I saw some of her lovely soft grey underwear floating on the water, so I know she wasn’t just making it up, or having one of her funny turns.

I, therefore, decided to create a new form of art today, a textual history, rather than one of my usual silent sculptures. I don’t want to crow about this, but will lay it gently down in a corner of my studio, on the hay, like that other great artist in a stable once long ago, and trust that my neighbours will understand it and keep it as the precious record of a diligent hen.

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Comments by other Members

gkay at 08:53 on 13 January 2006  Report this post
Weird and wonderful. Your writing has a real whimsy to it. It sounds like the gentle voice of a maiden aunt coming through the text.

Technically and stylistically, it sounds perfect to me. You may get more advice from others on these points. I tend to just read and see if anything jars, but it didn't.

It's very subtle as well. I have to confess that even now, I'm not sure whether this story is allegorical or not. Regardless, it kept me reading.

Great effort.


Becca at 06:56 on 12 February 2006  Report this post
Griselda, they're hens!!! This is what I was writing half way through reading 'The story gets more and more intriguing and weirded-out, - I begin to wonder if they're humans at all! I wonder if they are rabbits, and one escapes to eat lettuce next door, - goats? They're in a zoo?'

What a strange story, quite spooky in a way. I think you could edit it down a bit, even though it doesn't ever really stray away from the point, even wrens I assume are real wrens. But there are certain things like hens can't get pregnant, and even though you don't want to give the game away by talking about eggs, - you could make it more compact and plausible in terms of a hen's life to compliment the twist in the tail ending.
I did think of having eggs for breakfast this morning, not sure now!

Griselda at 07:40 on 12 February 2006  Report this post
Hee hee! I am laughing here.
OK - that is v helpful. Writing it I did get a bit sucked in to it, trying to leave clues but not get too obvious.
It was inspired by keeping 2 little bantams here for a couple of years in our (very small) garden, and wondering what they thought of it all, especially after we caged them in after their initial freedom to wander (they did so much damage).
Their 'holiday' was a short stay with neighbours when we went away...our friends have hens too, and there was evidently a lot of pecking order squabbling.

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