Untitled XI

For the record, I have sculpted dozens of sculptures of women and not fallen in love with them. I feel I should just put that out there.

I sculpted Untitled XI over a long weekend, which was crazy. I stayed up all night, the third night, desperate to finish the sculpture before Cait got back into the studio we shared. It was as if there was a woman in the stone already and I was desperate to find her.

I was a portrait artist. I made art on command. I wasn’t an artist in the way that Cait was, and for that I was intensely grateful. Art led Cait, not the other way around. Her pieces took things from her. Or maybe she gave them willingly, like a blood donor. Me, I had gone to art school for two reasons: I was good at it, and I knew it would piss my father off.

Untitled XI was the first piece I had done in long time without a client in front of me. I had sculpted dozens of shoulders, but none as straight as Untitled XI. I had sculpted dozens of chins, sometimes more than one per client, but none were as perfect and smooth as Untitled XI’s. I had sculpted dozens of eyes, but none had laugh creases under them like Untitled XI’s.

Dozens of mouths, but I didn’t want to kiss any of the others.

I needed sleep. I needed to get my mind back in the right place.

“David,” Cait’s voice sounded strange. “Why did you sculpt that?”

I slowly opened my sleep-gummed eyes. My back was stiff from sitting in my desk chair too long. I followed her gaze to Untitled XI and my breath ceased to be. Her eyes — only hollows in the stone, tricks of shadows — laughed at me still and her mouth teased, looking a moment away from a smile.

Cait was looking at me, absolutely still, when I looked back at her. I didn’t think I’d ever seen Cait motionless before. Even after throwing all of her overblown passion into a painting, she was fitful in her exhaustion. It was like I didn’t recognize her.

Untitled XI was making me sick. I knew it and hated it, but I couldn’t stop it.

Cait painted in the background, loud and clumsy as usual, while I struggled over a portrait commission. I couldn’t get the lines right. I couldn’t think of anything but the last face I’d created. I always told my clients, “the sculpture should speak to you.”

Untitled XI spoke to me. She said: “Do you remember what you wanted?”

“David,” Cait leaned across my desk, knocking over a pencil can as she did. She righted it. “You need to get out. You’re working too much.”

I didn’t want to get out. I wanted to stay and analyze the beauty of Untitled XI’s expression. I wanted to know why I couldn’t get on with my life. I wanted her.

“I’m taking you out. Get your coat, it’s a weenie-shrinker out there.” Cait pulled me out of my chair and into the frozen winter outside. She grinned at me, her breath escaping in clouds around her half-moon smile, and then she crushed a handful of snow under my collar. “That’ll loosen you up,” she said, as I twisted and yelled into the December air.

She made up for it by taking me for coffee. She told me about the range of cellulite on the old ladies and the degree of hairlessness on the old men at her latest gallery opening and made me laugh. Until something in her smile reminded me of Untitled XI and I needed to get back.

I was drowning with longing.

I slept in the studio now. It was how I came to see the unfamiliar woman, pulling me from sleep, appearing from nowhere, wrapped in the past.

She glowed with unattainable beauty, but there was none of the mirth of Untitled XI in her eyes. I knew what she would say before she said it, and I flinched. “I have seen your love for this statue,” she said, and her voice sounded older than the stone I’d carved Untitled XI from. “And I see how desire has made you a new man. I see how this statue has awoken love inside you.”

She smiled fiercely. “On the morrow, at noon. I will make her real for you, if you wish it.”

I wished it.

Morning dragged. Cait was even louder than usual, as if she were intentionally trying to draw attention. I sketched frenetically, staring at the paper and at the clock. Staring at Untitled XI. Outside the window, snow floated down in a gray world that no longer belonged to me. The studio was my world, until noon. Then I’d be free again.

“It’s almost noon.” Cait rinsed out her brushes at the sink. “Do you want to go get lunch?”

“Later, maybe. Go without me.” I wanted her to go. There were only two minutes left on the clock and I was suddenly terrified.

“You can’t stay in here forever,” Cait snapped, suddenly furious as only she could be. She was as volatile as the weather in spring. “I can’t watch you do this to yourself.”

And she spun away from the sink towards me. I don’t know if she meant to do it. I don’t know if she just meant to come towards me, and her anger made her clumsier than usual.

But she ran right into the back of Untitled XI. For half a heartbeat, nothing happened.

And then the sculpture plummeted forward and crashed to the floor.

A stony arm skidded by me, powered by the force of the fall, the biggest piece left. It shouldn’t have shattered. It was stone.

“What did you do?” I couldn’t breathe.

Cait didn’t say anything, and after several long moments, I looked up at her. Cait stood behind Untitled XI’s platform, her normally laughing eyes stricken, her smiling mouth twisted in unhappiness. I was starting to see.

“Do you remember what you wanted?” she asked me.

Author’s Note: I have an unhealthy obsession with the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. That’s all.

16 thoughts on “Untitled XI

  1. Untitled Eleven – for some reasons sounds like a superhero name to me.

    Ok, I love this story. It’s my favorite so far. Do you want to know WHY? Because it’s raw and rough. This is the first time I’ve though, woah, I wish I was reading this because Maggie emailed it to me and I can tear it apart so she can make it into a real short story and get it really published.


  2. Author’s Note: I have an unhealthy obsession with the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. That’s all.

    This is shock you so hard you can’t type for three hours: ME TOO.

    It would have been a GREAT prompt. Damnit

  3. I think one of my favorite lines is, “I had sculpted dozens of chins, sometimes more than one per client…”

    There’s a sort of passive-aggressive resentment of the patrons there that’s very revealing.

  4. “I’m taking you out. Get your coat, it’s a weenie-shrinker out there.”

    I woke up sad this morning, unsettled, agitated, and started reading only because this is what I do. I sighed, my face relaxed, and it felt like I was moving out of my body. The ‘weenie-shrinker’ line startled me.

    I read it again, but it didn’t happen. Now I’m looking for this feeling. Sigh. Move, meet Nelson Mandela to no. 16, and upgrade write like the sisters to 15.

    I enjoy visiting. Thank you, Simon.

  5. Well, you’ll have to do it next week . . . I could pull out another version from somewhere I’m sure . . .

  6. It’s an interesting modernization of the myth, but if I can make one suggestion, I don’t think a sculptor would think of the statue as generic stone, but rather as marble or alabaster or whatever. And for the record, marble is darned hard to work with.

  7. I didn’t notice the allusion, I just thought it was an interesting and eerie story as it was. πŸ™‚

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