A Place of Doubt
I stand here before you, not knowing my name.
The light in this place is so blinding, so intense, that for as long as I can remember, it has forced me to close my eyes. Now this is about to change. Coming out of a brilliant haze, here she is: My Creator. I am clay in her hands. Let her do with me as she pleases; for what am I to do?
Now listen, listen to that sound: The air is vibrating around her; I can feel her breast heaving. Is she about to blow life into me? Here it is, here is her touch—
She puts a mark on me, pressing the sharp end of a chisel until it pierces the center of my eye. I shriek! I cry without a sound. It is not until she pulls out the blade, that I become afflicted—for the first time in my life—with vision. Emerging from the glow that has so far pervaded my existence, I open my eyes.
The haze is gone. There is not much to see around me. Here is a dim place. A place of doubt. Clutter. Confusion. From this point on, I start sensing shadows. First, I spot her, the Creator; then, that other presence: Him. Like me, he seems immobile. At first glance he is blurry, gradually turning sharper and gaining more and more definition. Being so close to him brings me close to blushing.
His hand is extended to reach me. This is a gesture of hope; which, out of spite, I may as well turn down. I will never allow him to touch me, and neither will she. With a great deal of precision, she coils a metal wire around the palm of his hand, loops it around and ties it to my fingers, fixing a small distance between us: Clay, separation, clay. That way we are close—but not quite intimate.
From time to time, a slight vibration is transmitted from him. It comes through the coils, in a quiver that pierces me all the way through. It sings about our pain, about the tension between us. We listen, and weakness runs through our limbs. He does his best to hold still, bravely maintaining his pose. And so do I.
Meanwhile, she moves to another corner in the studio, out of my field of vision. Now I can take a full measure of his arm. Arranged in slender, bonelike fragments, it hangs directly under my arm, like a large, shattered shadow. What has just happened here, I wonder.
I turn my attention to his odd, sharply featured face. The studio lights fall over him, casting shadow over shadow. His features combine into a constantly changing countenance of definite indecision. His head is tipped over in a most awkward manner as if straining to see me. Listen, I tell myself: A sentence must have just died on his lips, for they are slightly parted. Listen—can you hear?
But no. There is no breath left in him; maybe there never was. So fragile, so irregular are his ribs that one of them, I think, may be missing. With his back to me, he falls to his knees right there, at my feet, bending over backwards almost to the point of falling to pieces; and so, greatly straining every wire in the armature.
His ankles are chained to a wooden base, where an assortment of chisels, pairs of pliers, sharp implements of every kind, wires thick and thin, hammers and nails are strewn in no apparent order, all around him. Am I chained? If so, I cannot tell.
Standing behind him on tiptoe, and leaning ever so lightly against his shoulder, I spread my arms. I feel entirely free—if not for these wires—to fly away. I have no need, as a matter of fact, for this wooden base; nor do I find any use for this armature. I can tear out my ties. I can leave him. I can take wing. Really, I am sure I can. And yet, it is my curiousity that will not allow me to do so.
For now that I am afflicted with vision, I appreciate how obscure things really are. The sharper the perception—the more complex the interpretation. There is nothing here but doubt. Every object is merely a shell, a container for so many uncertainties. And so I can not help but wonder, Who am I? Did she make me in her image? Who is he? What has happened here between us? What is our story? How will it unfold? How will it end? How much longer will we remain here, connected yet apart, suspended like this in frozen animation? And why are we in this place, at this particular moment? For whom are we posing?
Meanwhile, the Creator goes on to define me, curve by curve; tightening a wrinkle here, shaping a muscle there, carving my armpits, my wrists, my fingers, lifting and turning my head, polishing my skin, until—little by little, bit by bit—my body becomes silky smooth and my posture becomes ever taller, ever more graceful.
And before long I sense a change. No longer am I clay; I am matter no more. Somehow, her touch has awakened a soul in me, teased a divinity out of dirt. I have become an icon, an embodiment of something larger. An eternal quality, an idea, more profound than Beauty, more lasting than Youth.
And so I find myself thinking, I am not an object. I am not a woman. What I am is Womanhood. Does he know? Can he name me? Can he guess who I am? I whisper to him, I hint—I nag, even—but he is obstinately silent and furthermore, refuses to hear me. His head seems to hang down even lower than before; which may be explained, I tell myself, simply by the force of Gravity.
I call out to him. I signal in any one of my subtle ways—rising even higher on my tiptoe, stretching away to snap his coils, pressing my weight into his back—but no matter how hard I try, he goes on giving me the the same old, cold shoulder. Leaning against it, I stand there telling myself, Never mind. Let me forget how lonely I am. Let me try to amuse myself. So I invent different names for him. It is the name Adam he ignores most passionately.
Meanwhile she wields the chisel with great flare, gouging his body in several places, and excavating the sockets of his eyes. Throughout the process, his jaws remain tightly locked. He may be beside himself with the usual agony; he may be suffering from boredom; or both.
Later That Evening
Boredom? What boredom? It is party time!
“You’re so talented! Such an inspiration,” says a shrill voice just outside the studio.
“Oh, it’s nothing,” says the Creator, as if overcome, all of a sudden, by a sense of humility. “Lucky to walk and talk,” she says, “just like the rest of us.”
“Walk? Talk? Lucky you,” grumbles a deep, melancholy voice from below.
I turn my gaze to Adam. It could not have been him—now, could it? He seems so paralyzed, so restrained and so utterly focused on kneeling down in his particular shackled position as to have said absolutely nothing at all.
She welcomes the first guest. He offers numerous praises; which she accepts with a mix of visible pleasure and concealed distrust. I can tell she believes none of it—but all the same, praise, to her, is intoxicating. She can never get enough of it, which she will never admit, and which makes her angry with herself as well.
Now if you ask me, the guests are here for no other purpose than to pay tribute to me, as I rise over their heads in the flesh. Being in the nude, modesty has never been my strongest suit. Is it vanity, I ask you, to let them lay eyes on me and—even worse—to delight in their cheers with such an open, shameless joy, and with no inhibitions whatsoever?
Why should I refrain from basking in my own glory? Guilty pleasures are the only ones worth having.
More men come into the studio. Judging by the whistles and claps they do seem, at first blush, to revere me. They examine me all around: front to rear, top to bottom. My figure is so erect, my cheeks so voluptuous, and my bottom so round, that they adore me tremendously, and hold my rump in very high regard.
One of them shouts, “What an ass!”
The sentiment, I wish to tell him, is mutual.
But then, upon discovering the horribly disfigured figure at my feet, they tend to shrink away. I can feel them shuddering; yes, shuddering at the thought of coming face to face with their own mortality. I take a look at Adam, finding him in the worst of moods and as lost for words as ever.
Presently the women come in and start laughing at the poor devil. They peer into his vacant eyes, poke fun at his sunken cheeks, even yank at his chains, which makes him rattle on. I feel so sorry for him. I wish to tell them, Enough! In this place, we are stuck—but not senseless! We are immobile—but not inanimate! We have feelings, too! But somehow, I doubt they can hear me.
My coils creak and at once, the women turn their attention to me; more precisely, to my supple breasts, which they seem to admire; and which inspire them to exchange information, detailed information about where to shop for some contraption called a bra. I figure, Oh well, they need support. If you look closely, everyone needs some kind of an armature.
Just then, a baby stumbles into the studio. She clings to her mother, who has just recently gone through the lengthy, arduous process of weaning her. The baby is so cute I could hug her, take her at once into my clay bosom, if only I were free to move. I smile at her; She, in turn, points her little finger directly at my nipples, and cries hungrily, “Milk!”
Come here. Come to me, little one. Let me nurture you, I murmur.
Which is precisely the instant when, to my astonishment, Adam decides to come out of his silent stupor. He does so with nothing less than pure poetry on his tongue. His eyes meet mine and then, with the deepest, most dramatic tones I have ever heard, he whispers to me,
From dust you gather me; I beg you on my knee
Look away... Imagine me, the way I used to be
Now shadows spread upon me, stain by stain
I shiver. Touch me, heal me; make me whole again
Sure, I say, Why not! And finding myself aroused—which is quite easy in my state of undress—I tug at his strings as tenderly as I know how. To tell you the truth, I cannot begin to imagine the way he used to be; but then again, I am the last creature in the world to tell him that.
Early Next Morning
The next morning a broad shouldered man enters the studio and without troubling himself with a single word of introduction, he grubs the base in one hand, the armature in another, and hauls Adam and me out the door.
Meanwhile, she puts on her shoes and runs after him, heels clicking. “No!” she cries, in an unusually high pitch for her. “Stop! What do you think you are doing?”
He finds no need for explanation, and for her part she finds no reason to wait for one; for she immediately follows up with, “I told you to wait for me, didn’t I? Yes I did. You forgot? It’s no problem? I’m ruined. That’s it! Enough! You’re going to destroy them. I know you will. Too impulsive, is what you are. Reckless fool.”
This bickering, so early in the day, is simply too much for me. So is this abrupt shake, as the man carries us over one final threshold, at which point we cross sharply from darkness to light.
I have never felt sunshine before—but all of a sudden it brings back a memory, a hazy memory of that glow, that blinding radiance that had pervaded my earlier, more innocent existence. I wish I could simply close my eyes and go back to being a slab of clay again.
“Careful! No... Slow down,” she cries. “I swear, there will be nothing left of them by the time we get there. All thanks to you.”
The man shrugs her off, which is a tricky thing to do while at the same time carrying a hefty load. “Open the car,” says he. “Hurry. Its heavier than I thought.”
I can see tears in her eyes and beads of sweat on his upper lip, both of which seem entirely unnecessary to me; for I can convey emotions more purely, through my pose alone, without all that excessive excretion, all those tears and sweat.
The man bends down, sets us on the pavement and tries to catch his breath. As soon as the car door swings open, it becomes abundantly clear that the space inside may be too confined for Adam and me, not only emotionally speaking—but in a plain and literal sense; and that fitting us in is going to present a major challenge.
At first, great attention is given to the passenger seat. She covers it with a cloth and holds the door open as wide as mechanically possible, and possibly even wider.
The man picks us up again, and proceeds to calculate his angle of approach into the car. Somehow, he succeeds in placing Adam and me halfway in—with our left hands spread out directly into the dashboard. It becomes clear that our right hands will not make it through the door without major damage to life and limb.
So they pull us out—coils humming—and start over: She retrieves the cloth, then spreads it again, this time over the backseat. He tilts the whole apparatus, quite precariously I might add, so it may clear the opening.
He pushes us in from the right, she pulls us in even farther from the left; he controls, she contrives, a shout, a shriek, and the entire exercise is repeated, not once but at least three times, maybe more, using a different angle of approach each time, until—with carefully choreographed maneuvers, some heavy breathing and plenty of wangling—Adam and I find ourselves inside.
The mastermind behind the whole operation wipes his forehead, shuts the doors with a thud and starts the car. Meanwhile, she steadies her nerves by clutching the armature to steady us. At the same time she tries to fix the wires that, one way or another, got bent out of shape.
Looking at the car window I notice that it bears my fingerprints, along with some other unidentified smudges of clay. Three of my delicate fingers have snapped off; now Adam has them in the palm of his hand.
The wire that used to keep a measure of distance between us has snapped off, and thus, no longer do I have Adam wrapped around my finger. With every bump, every turn of the road, his head bounces back and forth. With unavoidable friction, he grazes up and down my waistline, leaving traces behind.
Our wires sing—but the tension that has been holding us together for so long is now less sound than before. So is the tension between them.
Her eyes are red, her face pale. I can feel her remorse. It pains her, certainly, that her man is in such a distress; tears her up, practically. In short, it hurts her more than it hurts him, that it hurts him. But trapped in her pride, she must now go on ignoring him the rest of the way—or at least until she can somehow extract an apology out of him.
After a long-winded drive, the man brings the car to a stop near the entrance of a building, above which the sign, ‘The Art Cast Foundry’ is prominently displayed. The process of extricating Adam and me out of the car is as elaborate as can be imagined, if not more. There is a lot of pushing and pulling, shouting and crying, which helps us ignore the question of what is to come next.
How could we guess that which was clear to others: that our life—such as it is—is coming to an end; that these are our last moments together? Alas, had we known it, we would have taken a pause to cherish them. We would have taken more pleasure in our pain.
But right now, there is no time for reflection. The man carries us up the stairs and into the building. Around the corner I am being greeted by several identical sisters, several bronze casts of the same sculpture.
The similarity between them is somewhat disquieting—but it inspires me to think of a new possibility: The possibility of being reborn, of living forever through multiple instances of myself. I wonder if such a rebirth can happen. I doubt it. Maybe it can, but then—does it require disintegration? Maybe, death?
The fluorescent light falls upon the busts of these sisters with a steely shine, quite unlike the way it washes over me. Set upon slippery marble pedestals, they look at me with a superior attitude. Miraculously they are unchained by any wires, unconnected to any armature. Indeed, they are free—but their freedom must have come at the cost of becoming hard. I can see it in their eyes. So, on the way past them I laugh in their faces, for they are merely copies and I—the original.
Meanwhile, Adam and I are brought into the inner room. Here, a display of patina samples hangs on the wall, as well as a number of shelves piled high with molds and empty shells, which they use for casting. A smell of molten wax is in the air. A tiny flame and its reflection, separated by a thin line, are burning there; together, they shed flickering lights across the huge, metallic table. The closer I come, the more alarming I find it. The surface, quite eerily, brings to mind a battlefield scene:
It is crisscrossed with cutting tools and laden with twisted bodies, dismembered limbs. At once, Adam recoils in horror. It hurts me to see him so shaken. He spreads his hands out—his usual position—in a mute call for help. But to no avail, for it is upon this surface that, finally, the man sets us down.
“There,” he says as he turns to leave the room, “Take a last look.”
She spins the base around, inspecting us for any bumps and bruises from the long ride and fixing when necessary. Meanwhile, new people come in and stand there, waiting. “You need anything?” one of them asks, hinting at the cutting tools.
“No,” she says, tersely. She wipes the traces, the clay traces left unwittingly by Adam all around my waistline. She adjusts my back, neck and head. Lastly, she sticks the three missing fingers back in place. “That’s it,” she says. “I’m done.”
And with that she, too, disappears from view. Will she be coming back?
I am patient. I wait for her. I search for a hint, a breath, a touch—only to realize that waiting is pointless. We have been abandoned. She has turned us over, unceremoniously and with no parting words, into the hands of strangers. For what reason? What will they do with us? How long do we have? There must be some purpose to this suffering—is there? Adam looks at me more tenderly than ever. We cling to each other, clay to clay. The silence between us screams fear.
Now they turn on a big kiln, pick up their tools and, one by one, come over to surround us. They snip at the coils and break Adam free. I can see only a glimpse of him between their shoulders. He strains, in his own quiet manner, to give me one last look. They lift him away, after which I lose sight of him completely.
I can remember very little after that. The light in this place is so white, so intense, it fills me with such radiance that I am forced to close my eyes. The air is hot, and getting hotter; and yet I can feel a shiver running through me. The Creator is coming. She is near me, around me. I have no doubt.
A big flame of fire flares up, engulfing me. I feel it in my veins, swelling in me like a flow of molten bronze; I hear it in the crackling of embers from below. That hazy glow of my earlier existence is finally here, burning brighter than ever.
I am grateful to go back. No longer am I stuck here, in a place of doubt. No longer inflicted with sensing shadows. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. All my sorrows are about to melt away. In this inferno, nothing will be left behind me but an empty shell. I fly into the brilliance. I am ablaze. I am in bliss. For where I am going I shall be reborn.
|Uvi Art Gallery|