By Vita Forest
I sat on Katrina’s special collapsible portable stool, that weighed almost nothing and folded to fit in her backpack. I sat in the shade and looked out at the sunny side, the side of the building, the side with the sunbakers, the coffee takers, the side with the arched windows and metal pipes and picturesque bricks and the old boiler that could have been part of Howl’s moving castle. Maybe it had broken off on one of his jaunts and he hadn’t noticed it yet with all that creaking and banging and carry on. Perhaps it had found this spot in the sun by the railway track and decided to take a rest til he came back. There was plenty to see here after all.
There was a small boy wearing a milk crate on his head and a woman in a floral silk robe belted about her waist that billowed behind her as she strode along in her fluffy magenta slippers. There were dogs of all sizes pulling their owners along by their straining leashes and children making trains of upside-down milk crates lined up in a row. There was music drifting outside from inside the huge metal shed where a man on a cello stroked its strings with a long bow as the shoppers wandered by, their bags full of watercress and tomatoes and home-made pasta sauce. There was the smell of coffee and sourdough bread and the patina of flaking paint on the sturdy old brick walls.
I sat on my friend’s stool, placed just so, right across from the boiler, in the shade not the sun, against the rippling corrugated iron wall, not as sketchable as the sunny side, not as warm either, truth be told, but sometimes you gotta suffer for your art. I sat and flicked a blade across the tip of my pencil, sharpening that graphite to a point (how I love a sharp pencil to work with) and my knife slid down the pencil and my eyes slid across the tracks and the pavement to the boiler and I thought about how I could draw it (all the while aware of the blade of the knife of course, all the while taking care not to cut away a finger or a thumb). And I sketched out the composition, the segments of the cylinder, how it would fit on the page. And I sketched in the milk crate seats in front of it and I noticed that someone had just sat down on one of those milk crate seats and had set down a few items on a milk crate table and looked like she was there to sit awhile so I started to sketch her in too. And as I quickly drew in the angle of her head and the slope of her shoulders I noticed her place a clump of green on the ground for her dog I presumed, her dog on a lead, there were so many dogs, but a dog eating greens? I looked again and saw that the animal with its harness and leash and thick brown fur was not a dog, not a dog in the slightest, but a large, placid rabbit sitting in the sun at the market and eating its morning tea while its human ate hers.
I have never seen a rabbit out for a walk on a leash. I have never seen a rabbit relaxing in the sunshine as dogs sauntered by, not seeing, not sensing, not bothered by the rabbit nibbling fennel fronds on the concrete. Perhaps they knew each other, saw each other every week, here at the market, doin a bitta shopping, hanging out in the sun. I didn’t notice any animal greetings but I noticed passing children doing double takes and stopping to crouch and look and gently stroke the rabbit and one sat quietly and was rewarded by having the rabbit carefully lifted and placed on her lap to pat and whisper to and scratch behind its long velvet ears.
I mapped out the girl and the rabbit then sidled back to Katrina (very subtly of course) and brought to her attention the furry friend that was Not A Dog. She had not yet noticed the rabbit, she was drawing the boiler and the roof and the windows and wasn’t up to adding any people, not yet, that would come later. Then I sidled back and kept on drawing and delighting in the nonchalant girl who sat there self-contained but not self-conscious in the sunshine with her juice and her pastry and her rabbit on a leash.
Had they walked far? I wondered as I scribbled in her boots. Had they hopped all the way? (while I shaded her cardigan). Was this a regular excursion on a Saturday morning in September? Did she have a favourite stall for her nibbly greenery or did they try the rocket from the Hawksbury one week and the radish leaves from down south the next? Would I draw her looking up or looking down at the rabbit, stroking its head, or holding her drink, or leaning on her elbow? People always move so you have to work fast, adjust, approximate, make it up. She sat and sipped her juice and I scribbled and drew and tried to get it down before she up and left with her bunny and her bags.
Nell strolled by with a coffee and her photogenic stalk of broccoli and a bunch of lavender and peered over my shoulder. She hadn’t yet decided on a setting for her sketching, on a subject, on a place to sit awhile. I brought the bunny to her notice and she laughed out loud and leaned against the wall and watched the girl with her bunny sitting under the boiler and said, “There’s a story in that.” And maybe there is and maybe this is it or maybe there’s something more to come.
So Nell wandered off to find her own sketchable moment and I drew in the milk crates and the drink and the table and the shadows and the sunglasses, but before I could go and ask if I could pat her rabbit and what its name was and how they came to be at the market that day and did they come often and a million other questions, before I could ask all that, she picked up her rabbit and her rubbish and put them both carefully in her calico tote bag and walked away.
So I sat and drew rivets and rust instead of rabbits and shivered in the shadows while drawing what was in the sun.