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The girl with antlers

I often think of the girl with antlers.

Decades have passed since I first saw her, yet when I close my eyes she is there in every detail. Her face is oval, framed by falling hair, and almost pretty. I’m not usually drawn to a pretty face, preferring stronger lines or even jolie-laide like Charlotte Gainsbourg, but there was something special about the girl with antlers.

It was her expression I think: a knowing half-smile as she looked at you, as though in possession of some mysterious, wonderful secret.

She might be the younger, more mischievous sister of the Mona Lisa as described by Pater: ‘older than the rocks among which she sits; like the Vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her.’

Her breasts are bare and from her head grow two extravagant antlers. She bears them with pride, decorated with wild flowers which hang down in garlands entwining with her hair. The image has a quiet power as well as beauty, drawing your eye back again and again. It fascinates – in the original sense of fascinere, of casting a spell.

I don’t recall where I found the picture. In an antique shop in a Welsh country town one winter’s afternoon perhaps, or pressed between the pages of a book in my grandmother’s house. Wherever it came from, the picture hung on my wall for years while I was a student, alongside a nude by Mapplethorpe, a black-and-white photograph of Debbie Harry, and a landscape by Caspar David Friedrich. Somehow, in moving house, moving relationships, moving country, the picture was lost and I forgot about it for years.

I was in my thirties before I saw her again. Visiting a lawyer in Canberra on some business or other, I stopped enthralled as I entered his door. There she was: the girl with antlers. It was the very same image, hung in the hallway as though to announce the resident spirit.

I was running late. There were documents to sign in triplicate and deliver somewhere or other by 5 PM. Only as I rushed out, hurriedly shaking his hand, did I ask the bearded lawyer about that picture of the half-smiling girl, with honeysuckle, daisies, and eglantine hanging from her horns.

‘Ah, you know about her . . ’ he smiled, waving and closing the door behind me.

I have searched Google and Bing, Yahoo, and even Wolfram Alpha, but no search engine can find her for me. In scandinavian mythology, I learn, there was a goddess who ran with the reindeer herds, clothed only in furs and with spectacular horns growing from her head. She was a figure of potency and awe. A kind of Artemis. A search for images of ‘girls with antlers’ brought no more luck, delivering manga drawing to me, some pornographic curiosities, but mostly pictures of arty Tumblr girls, posing with horns held to their heads. My curiosity is shared, it seems, if not always in the same way.

I have never found that picture which so fascinated me. I often think of her, convinced the image has some meaning I can’t quite place, some ancient cult-like significance of which I am unaware. Perhaps I’ll never find her again, but if you see her, be sure to let me know.

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