The scarlet lady

Saturday, 5 June

Sophie is coming.

Since Leonard has been so fiercely determined to avoid contact with me until he returns from London, the arrival of a medium-sized envelope this morning that was addressed in his handwriting was of immediate concern. When I opened the envelope I was relieved to find one of Leonard’s usual postcards and a hand-written letter - clearly he cannot wait to tell me his exciting news and there is too much information to fit on a regular-sized postcard! The postcard is from an Egyptian exhibition at the British Museum and the picture on the front is a statue of Sekhmet, the lion-headed Egyptian goddess. On the reverse side of the card he has written an extract from W. B. Yeats’ poem Oil and Blood:

‘In tombs of gold and lapis lazuli
Bodies of holy men and women exude
Miraculous oil, odour of violet.’

The accompanying letter reads:

‘My Dear Helen,

By the time you open this letter I will be firmly ensconced in London with my son, grand-daughter and various 'mummies'. When we meet again to resume our model-sculptor//sculptor-model partnership we will continue with our work, our delightful theological discussions and our own [‘Alpha’ crossed out] Omega Course!

Sophie is, as usual, Sophie. But, because she knows my stage-photographs of your pastel portrait, she has sought my advice – amid many whispers – on whether she should curtsey to you…because she agrees with me about your beauty…and a natural for our sculpture. She is anxious to ‘get it right’ when you both meet, as I hope you will. You already rate frequent words at her school and her father promises that they will visit very soon…

The bust-peg for your terracotta portrait, as well as smaller armatures for Saxophonist, etc., are ready for your appearance…I too am dying to start…but then you know that already.
I promise to be with you in spirit during your forthcoming exams…wishing you all you wish for yourself. I will ring nearer next week-end.

With my love, L’

Leonard has spoken at great length about Sophie but I have no idea what to expect when we finally meet. He has no photographs of her and he is always evasive when I ask questions about her, making broad and sweeping statements such as ‘she has a lovely smile’ or ‘her father dresses her beautifully’. I find these vague generalisations to be extremely frustrating because I prefer to be well prepared when meeting someone for the first time and briefed on topics of conversation to avoid and any strange accents/facial features/nervous ticks that might reduce me to hysterical laughter upon the very second that the individual enters the room. But Sophie is an unknown. All that I can do is wait and see for myself.