‘Anna’s party’s on the 21st. I’ll stay over.’
Anna. Beth’s sister. She and I had a hate:hate relationship for reasons neither of us ever disclosed to Beth. Beth had sense enough not to ask.
On this occasion my smile was for more than gratitude at her tact. An entire night to myself; twelve plus hours, taking into account Beth’s travelling time, suited me perfectly. That it was only three days away was, by the sound of it, less of a problem for me than Beth getting a hairdresser’s appointment.
While she fidgeted in the bedroom, trying to decide what to wear; whether she needed anything new, I planned. For a start, working out what I wanted to say. A little bit of … not ambiguity, but suggestion maybe. But forceful enough to dispel doubt.
I tried to recall what I had in the way of supplies – it had been a while since urge and opportunity coincided. For a brief while, I wondered whether I could still do it – Anna apart, secrecy was alien between us – but I told myself ‘Of course. When will you get a better opportunity?’
Beth left at three. By now the urge to begin, to relax my mind and let the love flow in was urgent. I made straight for my studio. I’d already found a good-sized sheet of aluminium, sanded its edges and degreased it. Had torn 310 gsm Magnani Acqueforti to size and stirred and checked the inks I thought I needed. (Probably only lamp blue black but, just in case, scarlet red and yellow ochre).
I’d applied the etching grounds while she was getting her hair done. I set Verdi’s ‘La Forza del Destino’ playing, put white spirit and cotton rag handy, seized a needle and began.
The hours flew. Wiping, inking, polishing – am I the only man who regrets the demise of Yellow Pages? Their directories perfect for tearing into squares, setting between heel of hand and plate and wiping round and round to remove all but the ingrained lines and shadings? – re-inking and blurring in other areas, putting through the press again, breath held until I can answer – will this be the one?
At 2 a.m. it was. I allowed myself to gaze a moment, then put it under boards, cleaned up and went to bed.
On Christmas Day Beth unwrapped it – mounted, not yet framed. Smiled at me. Said, ‘Yes.’
[400 words excluding title]