I wasn’t being entirely straight with Bill. The aliens were suggested by the nightmares I had following my miscarriages. Each successive plate, a foetus transformed into an alien with a greater degree of self-awareness.
You might think it some sick test of strength to hang such a sequence on the wall of my kitchen, a daily reminder of a deeply unhappy time. And at first you’d have been right. No-one goes through that experience without coming unstuck. Apart at the seams. Your glaze cracked.
But making them had been cathartic. I befriended the horror and created something new and wise and – a long time coming – comic from it. I’m a ceramic artist; that’s what I do. Though now it’s usually seascapes of the kind that the galleries and gift shops of Cornwall flog to the browsing tourist looking to chance upon a picture for the bedroom wall or porcelain for the mantelpiece. Mementos from a rare week in which they have had time to look for mementos. I guessed they wouldn’t be looking for foetal aliens and kept those back for myself.
I am beginning to forget how alone I was before the wild slim alien came. As lonely as the unforgiving space between planets; between plates. Bereaved too, with grief still a constant backdrop to my waking hours, I had become an explainer of unexplained deaths, a historian, a detective, a psychologist, a pathologist. My subject was my own body, my mind, and the would-be and actual people that lived and died in both of them.
My parents went when I was seventeen. An only child with no surviving relatives, I stayed with the family of a school friend to complete my A levels, into which I threw myself as a means of avoiding having to think about the past or the future. College alternately disguised and enhanced my loneliness. That’s when I started drinking. Cheap beer and cheap wine in the students’ union. Cheap spirits as a means to come by cheap spirit. Unions with students selected with alcoholic serendipity. Nothing serious, until the end of the second year. The beginnings of bouts of serious depression. Nothing serious, until the third year. Nothing that hollowed me right out, until the third relationship. We got through that early mental derailment and lived together for a decade. It was trying to bring a third party into the relationship that eventually led to me slamming myself into unbreakable clear acrylic. Instead of a being bearing both our characteristics the third party that finally entered our lives was a full-grown woman.
His father was a Henry VIII figure; he was more Elizabethan, but still struggled with an anachronistic belief in the divine right of kings. And like Elizabeth I, there were elements of character inherited from the paternal side. So the field was played. After the genuine consideration he showed, the awful helplessness he felt in the time following each miscarriage, he – or something in him that he was powerless to defeat – could take no more of me, of the pain. He left me.
He left me for a woman who already had a child. He left me for a woman who already had a child and then he had a child of his own with her.
He was sensitive enough to attempt to hide all of these facts from me as one by one the layers of their sedimentary pressure bore down on me, a grain of human sand in unbearable proximity with a million other grains.
When the pressure lifted enough that I could lift the telephone, I found myself reminded that my friends had lives so busy that they could barely find any time for me, let alone the time I needed. In any case I doubted that even the most considerate of them could cope with and manage the awfulness of my situation.
All the while I kept presenting my best face to the world. It wasn’t for him, or for other men. It was habit, or rather, ritual, without which the world could not be faced with confidence. But each time I face a mirror and apply my make-up, I think of those times, that succession of mornings whose grimness was too much for too long. No plate, no art can do worse to me than any mirror I look into with a gaze that is necessarily detached, appraising a being who is not me. If it were really me, if I really saw me, I could not bear to look.
Perhaps the only sensible thing you can do in such a state, short of throwing yourself in the sea, is to go and live by it. Only at the ends of the earth is it truly possible to lose yourself in something bigger than you. I was an artist, and the loss of self that creation involved had always come easily to me. Now I needed to mould that familiar sensibility to an unfamiliar place and make the effort to silence the ghosts demanding that I explain to them why they no longer existed; demanding the right to have their story told.
The plates hung on the wall as a means of rendering the experience they betokened over, finished, dead and gone to heaven.