THE HOUSE IN THE WOODS
Suzanne has a Frank Lloyd Wright house in the woods. While she’s away, a team of trusted hairdressers are using it to offer beauty treatments, and keeping it zealously clean. When I get there Heather makes a real fuss of me, washes and cuts my hair and says: “Now Suzanne left instructions that I was to do your nails a candy floss pink?”
Talking to Strangers
Out in the forest it’s dark and smells of leaf mould. There’s a young woman who looks close to tears, with a child and a baby in a buggy. I invite her to Suzanne’s. She’s a sensitive academic and doesn’t look cut out for life on the road. “Will you be okay getting back to Oxford?” I ask her. “Is it that obvious?” she blurts. “Is your baby alright?” I ask. “Oh no, not quite,” she says with an anxious laugh, and she lifts the baby’s woollen hat off him, and I see that his head isn’t solid, it has a big hole in the top, like a vase, and all the workings visible and quite dried out. He can’t be alive like that, surely? “We’re waiting for his skull to grow over,” she explains.
I persuade her and her little girl to come into the house where miniature chocolate brownies and strawberry tartlets are regimented on slate trays. Whilst she nibbles cautiously at the snacks, her little girl is wild and lays into the food like a wolf. “I’m so sorry about Sylvia’s manners,” murmurs the woman. I smile: “Please! Never apologise for your child!” I’m impressed with the way tiny Sylvia loses no time in trashing the neat house, and I wonder what Suzanne will say when she gets back from being dead.
I go into one of the whitewashed outhouses and Michele is there, going through the stock of dark carved ornaments that she’s importing from the artisans’ collective in Ghana. There are beads, giraffes, shallow bowls and soap dishes… I find myself staring at the stately rhythm of their hewn naturalness against the stark whitewashed concrete of the counter.
“I see you’ve met Martha, Sylvia and little Arthur?” says Michele, without looking up. “Oh is that who they are?” I’m disappointed that she already knows them. “I didn’t know they were friends of yours.” “Yes!” says Michele, “Martha’s been involved in the ethnographic studies behind my presentation of these artefacts, she negotiates with the bush people from time to time.” “How do people get these jobs?” I wonder.
Copyright © Sophie Herxheimer 2019
Sophie Herxheimer is a visual artist and poet. Recent books include Velkom to Inklandt (Short Books 2017) which was an Observer book of the month, and The Practical Visionary (with Chris McCabe, Hercules Editions 2018). She’s held residencies for many organisations including Transport for London, Museum of Liverpool and LIFT, and recently come back from a Hawthornden Fellowship.