Wednesday, August 15, 2012

the space and quiet that idleness provides

Working on a short story today, and it's similar in tone to one that I published in You People Disgust Me. I'm posting that little story here, just because.


Once upon a time, a statue loved a painting.

The statue lived in the Native Folk Art exhibit next to fertility totems and beaded canoes and hand-carved miniature villages. The card next to him said that he was South African. He'd been carved from a single block of wood, just like Michaelangelo had chiseled David from a single piece of marble, struggling around each natural flaw in the medium, and embellishing each advantage. The statue's hands rested on his hips, his knees bowed, and museum visitors would pass him and think that his face looked like a monkey. This made them feel bad, to say something like that about what a black man had made.

The statue's tiny feet sloped into an irregular base that had been chipped on one side, leaving the curators no choice but to lean him to one side in a corner of the room, just across from a row of African shields.

One day, the statue saw a couple of volunteers carrying a painting through the room to the elevator. It was Reubens' portrait of Anne of Austria, throned in a gilded hall to which her back was turned. She stared out into the world with eyes as pursed and cautious as her bow lips, in a gown so extravagantly baroque that she barely took shape in it. Everything she saw in the Native Folk Art exhibit had a purpose, either ceremonial or practical, but they were odes to form. Form that occasionally got blood or mud spattered all over it, but form all the same. There was a keen and obvious aesthetic linking her graceful flesh tones and delicate hands and faithful adherence to the ideal with the simply hewn rounds and edges of the statue, of its considered body and her invisible one.

His base had been chipped. She had nearly been dropped out of the truck by someone rushing to cover a sneeze with his load-bearing hand.

They fell in love.

They sent messages to one another through criticism. Men wearing fashionable jeans and timeless beards, and women in neutral colors and sensible shoes, stood around them, passing notes through their mouths. He was graceful and elegant, a symbol of authority put into wood by a reverent craftsman. She smirked at her flaws; her round baby face, her long arms, the costume - detailed to the last stitch - that hid her body and directed the eyes to the face that suggested yes, she did have a body. A very nice one, in fact. And his body, they would say, puffed out with a swelled chest and arched back, a well-fed belly.

Hers was a six month residency. When it ended, she and the other portraits were loaded back into a truck and driven into another city. The statue's un-communicated love grew so humid that it split a hairline fracture from between his toes to just under his left hand.

She fell off her new wall and onto her empty face. The scrollwork at the bottom of her frame was damaged, and the new museum's rough carpeting scuffed one side of her face.

They're both in a restorer's temperature-controlled storage room now, waiting to be mended and shipped back out. And brought back in. And shipped back out. Catching glimpses of each other when the door opens. Each shard of light between them is a kiss. The restorer's hands on them, dabbing and sanding, might as well be gloves.

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