Pygmalion’s Daughter

Pygmalion’s Daughter

by Jaeden Knight

The orange-red clay stained her fingertips, dry and fine as sand and soft like powder. It had taken a long time to grind down sheets of the dried clay, something well worth the effort in her own mind, at least at the time.

It was supposed to keep her from thinking of James, her now dead husband. The more she thought of him, the harder she pounded into the dry slabs. Pounded away the tears. It didn’t always work.

She took a sip of water from the large plastic container most people would use for iced tea or kool aide. Her fingers left long streaks behind that Crayola would call burnt umber. She watched the fine powder absorb the water the way a desert wanderer would devour a canteen of fresh poured cold liquid of any variety. To her, the streaks were orange and blood.

An old science lab table she bought from the high school’s “garage sale” waited invitingly in the center of the studio. She and James had taken great care and effort into stretching canvas over the top and tacking it to the bottom. She’d then treated the canvas with a whitewash. She’d gotten more on James than on the table.

She smiled looking at the unique hand print he’d left in the corner. She’d drawn a heart inside of his hand and he laughed at her then drew their initials. “J.R + J.D. 4ever”

“Are we in grade school again?” she had teased him, “Have you stolen your last name back from me?”

He had pulled her close and wrapped her in a hug, kissing her neck. She never had the desire to cover the imperfection in the paint job up.

Julie shivered and went back to pulling the powder from a barrel and placing it on the table. She pulled some clay from another barrel filled with half water and half clay to keep it extra moist, slimy and not to mention more wet than she could possibly work with. She mixed the powder in with the wet clay and began to knead it like a bread dough.

The clay always made her disgustingly thirty. It soaked every ounce of water from her skin. James had always reminded her to drink water every half hour. Now that he was gone, she had to remind herself, and often lost herself in her work so deeply that it was hours before she remembered to drink. She spent the last three weeks making a stand for the statuette that she would make today. It would hopefully be dry enough to hold the weight of the statuette.

When the clay reached the right consistency for her to feel comfortable working with, she shaped it into a block and began carving at it. During times like this she found that she lost herself in memories of James. How he looked, how he felt. She remembered vividly what he smelled like. Sometimes, when she felt really lonely and lost she’d spray one of his colognes, usually the one she liked the most, on the bed sheets and pillows. She’d throw herself on them and inhale his scent deeply, like she was fulfilling her thirst for his presence. Then she would cry.

They’d known each other since kindergarten and had known then that they would always be together. Their parents thought it was cute and that they would grow out of it. When junior high came and went and they were still inseparable, Julie’s mom sat her down and talked with her about James. She’d said he was “a good kid and all” but maybe it was time for their game to end, and how she was worried that she was missing out on life because she was so wrapped around James.

Julie knew better. They’d studied Greek mythology in sixth grade together. She knew that what the goddesses felt for their chosen gods was how she felt for James. She knew that she and James were soul mates, and now she knew what the goddesses felt when they lost their soul mates forever.

The statuette began to form before her eyes, but it was wrong. The male figure was too tall, the female figure was too fat. It was just coming out all wrong. They weren’t happily in love. Their faces were turned slightly to the sides. It looked like they were unhappy, even though their hands were joined, and their bodies leaned in to one another. This was not her and James!

Julie picked up the clay statuette and threw it down on the table. The figures distorted and crumbled. The woman’s face was now a flat in the front and her neck turned up and to the side. The man’s figure, that was supposed to be leaning toward the woman was now smashed in on itself and reminded her vaguely of a dancing rhinoceros.

She resigned herself to try again another day, when her focus wasn’t on memories of James, when she could concentrate on the love they had and how she felt for him now. Her heart ached and she remembered at last to take a drink from the container James had always kept for her. She drank from it deeply as if drinking it would be able to bring him back to her.

Instead, she would have to settle for a model of him in clay. She would do away with the woman in the statuette and carve James alone. She would be a modern Pygmalion and carve her husband. There would just be no goddess to bring him to life again.

Copyright © 2009 by Jaeden Knight


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