Transcriptions: Writing

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'Transcriptions: Writing' is a project inviting MA Creative Writing students from Birkbeck, University of London, to write a short fiction response to a National Gallery painting.

Degas: 'La Coiffure'

Ilona Jesnick

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Combing the Hair ('La Coiffure')
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas: Combing the Hair ('La Coiffure'), about 1896 

A zip of lipstick, a dash of rouge, ready for Monsieur Degas. The first hour was sweet. Suzanne brushed my hair softly, slowly; her fingers grazed my temples. I sizzled with pleasure. No one ever touched me so tenderly. The second hour was a struggle. It was stifling; I was thirsty, sweaty. Suzanne, tired from standing, stopped brushing. Monsieur hissed.

The third hour was agonising. ‘Zazie, you’re sitting, I’m on my feet, stop grousing,’ said Suzanne. She tangled the strands of hair, pulling so hard I shrieked, stood up, pinched her. She landed me a slap, I smacked back, she spat.

Stop! Monsieur slated me, but it wasn’t my fault! Spiteful shrew. My head was stinging, but Monsieur enjoyed painting my cross face. So she indulged in a frenzy of tugging and inside I seethed, blazing with fury, but what could I do? I needed the cash for the baby.