The streets are rarely this empty in the run up to Christmas; only a trickle of shoppers get off the Routemaster from Camberwell High Street. I look out from the fourth floor window onto Myatt’s Fields below. I am the last to leave the studio, only the caretaker Ernie, walking up and down the corridors, reassures me there is another living soul in the building. Three million unemployed under Thatcher’s government, the radio says. I switch it off, sling on my coat and walk down the winding steps to the double door exit.
As the first snow of the season falls, I pull my coat shut, and hurry across the art college forecourt. The foundry windows are ablaze, exuding passionate heat. I picture molten liquid roiling inside molds; nascent shapes created by young, eager hands.
He stands there, waiting for the metal to set. Retro brothel creepers on his feet, an incongruous combination with his drab work coat, buttoned-up askew. Unglamorous save for his curly, towheaded hair which made me fall in love with him. I stop for a moment, then backtrack so that another figure joins him in the frame. A woman. It’s Emma, a second-year student who wears vintage clothes, ballerina shoes and always has her dark hair in a serpent braid.
At once, I realise, from the way he leans towards her and she tilts her head back to laugh, her mouth slightly open. See their future together, know she’ll be the one he goes back to after each new muse and I will become part of his history. A photo of us on that day at Kew Gardens will lurk at the bottom of a shoebox, waiting for liver-spotted hands to find it. Or perhaps not. Sparks from the furnace die on the stone floor while one metal is subsumed into another. Turning away, I button my coat and head towards the skeleton bare trees.