BACKWARDS

 

Augustina had always had problems seeing things from the front. Everyone else seemed to find it easy to read people’s faces: their lips, their eyebrows carried signs that could be easily decoded. But not by her. Women’s breasts could carry messages about their age, their lactation, their general perkiness. And men’s penises, of course, could easily be read as indexes of their mood, their desires, their religion. But again, not by her. She always got it wrong. The results of her misreadings could be comical and sometimes dangerous.

But the back, now. That was something different. You could always be safe with a back. The vertebrae spoke volumes to her, and she always knew, by looking at the set of the shoulder girdle and its alignment with the hips, whether the owner of the spinal column was having a good day or not. For her, the gluteal muscles were more eloquent than eyebrows, any day of the week.  Skilled interpreters of the human face knew how to read the “eyebrow flash”, but Augustina knew how to derive meaning from a shrug. 

There must be a way to make a living out of her skill. At first she considered being an osteopath, but people liked to have an initial consultation face to face, and for Augustina, that would never do. She wanted to talk to the back. She was quite good at drawing though. Perhaps that might be a way forward.

 

Accordingly she began to draw people’s backs, and was very adept. She knew, none better, how to capture the sadness in a pair of buttocks, or the disappointments of the sacro-iliac. And once her name got about, clients came to her in droves. They sat on chairs, they reclined on couches, they looked backwards over their shoulders (that was just about OK) and Augustina soon became known as the Queen of the Spinal Column. Much could be adduced from a back, and much could be hidden by it, and her works of art began to function as riddles and talking-points in polite society.

 

There were some further possibilities, of course.  One of her customers offered to trial a fashion house for her, and accordingly a range of clothes was designed that did rather well in warmer climes: backless outfits for both sexes, and large rear pockets that could carry kittens or small lap-tops. A spin-off of tattoos was mooted, with explanatory arrows inscribed onto the flesh of the back. 

 

Augustina was now very well known. She appeared on television. But not filmed from the front. She devised a very ornate hairstyle of tiny plaits and curls, and developed a sort of limited ventriloquist skill, such that it appeared that the answers she gave issued from the back of her head. She proposed that the Mona Lisa and The Laughing Cavalier would be much more interesting if painted from the back. As indeed they turned out to be.

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© 2020 by Sue Harper

feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | supernatural | fantastic and paranoia | literary female gothic | gothic narrative | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest | portsmouth university | emeritus professor sue harper | feminist gothic literature | tales of the macabre | fantastic and supernatural | gothic fiction | written by women | gothic literary tradition | gothic fiction | outstanding achievement award | british association of film, theatre and television | professor of film history at portsmouth university | film, media and creative arts | british academy and the arts and humanities research council | stories of transformation and surprise | sue harper | short stories | feminist gothic literature | The Dark Nest |