Story: The Artist

By: Joshua Medsker

 

Clay scluptorPeter Loew dug his hands furiously into the hard clay.

“Come on, you rotten son of a bitch.” Swearing at the clay helped him get on top of it and make it do his bidding. He stood back to inspect his work.

“That’ll do ya, ” he said, running his hand through his hair, then wiping the beads of sweat from his forehead. The mass of clay now almost resembled a human head. He sat down on his bed, and lit a cigarette. He flipped the match into the garbage can in the kitchen, and blew smoke at the clay head.

“You like that, don’t you?” he said. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

To Peter Loew, sculpture wasn’t so much an art, as a competition—with himself. When he wasn’t sculpting, he was a relatively normal guy, but when he got into his studio, he got into a mood. He became manic, aggressive. Lately, he’d been getting in the mood to sculpt more and more often. A lot of it was out of necessity. He had a big show coming up at 111 Minna, his first show outside of SFSU. But, he also got the urge to sculpt when he was down, which was pretty much all the time.

He heard the phone ring. He continued to sculpt and smoke and swear, until the fourth ring, then he picked up and brusquely said, “Yeah?”

“Hey, honey.” It was Alison.

“Hey baby, what’s up?” he said. “Sorry about how I answered the phone. You know how I get.”

“It’s alright, baby,” she said. “You wanna meet for lunch, or early dinner tonight?”

“Sure. Where?”

“The usual? Say, five-o-clock?”

“Sounds good. See you, baby.” He hung up the phone, and then showered. He needed extra time to shower on his sculpting days. He had a habit of running his fingers through his hair to get the sweat out of it, to make the clay more pliable. Which was good for the clay, but made his hair crusty and gray by the end of the day, like a homeless mad scientist?

Five-o-clock rolled around, and there was no sign of Alison. He waited a few minutes more, then glanced at his watch. A couple walked by, on the other side of the street in Washington Square Park. He frowned, had a thought, then dismissed it. No, that’s ridiculous, he thought. Still, why was she late? She’s never late! He let it go. A few minutes later, Alison pulled up in her red Subaru Forester, and looking flustered, walked over to Peter and kissed him on the cheek.

“Sorry I’m late,” she said. “Got stuck in traffic.”

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey yourself,” she said, winking, and setting her bag down. A waiter came out from the restaurant and gave them water and bread.

Peter sat, looking at Alison, who was twisting her napkin between her fingers, looking around for someone to take their order. “Something on your mind, sugar?” she said to him.

“No, why?”

“You just seem upset”

“Why would I be upset?”

“I don’t know, you just seem, agitated.”

“Agitated.”

“Yeah, you seem on edge. I mean, a little more than usual.” She smiled and took a sip of water. She took a nibble of bread. He didn’t.

“No, not agitated, just confused. Just wondering why you aren’t playing straight with me,” he said.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Peter.”

“I’m sure you don’t.”

“No.”

Alison slowly cut her steak and raised it to her mouth, eyes squinted, locked on Peter.

“How long has it been since you slept, man?” she asked him. Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Act put out, act like we don’t know each other. Don’t I deserve more than a ‘man’?”

“Okay, Peter, you need some sleep, or coffee, something.”

“What am I to you?”

“Well, right now, you are someone who’s freaking me out. I don’t really know how to deal with hat you’re implying.”

“Implying?”

“Yes, you’re accusing me of something, but you apparently don’t have the balls to come out with it.”

“Balls, oh I have balls.”

“Really?”

Peter took a bite of his salad, stabbing at the lettuce.

“You don’t have the balls to come out and say it.” Allison said.

“You want me to say it?”

“I want you to say it.”

She had both hands on the table now, leaning forward.

“Fuck you,” he said.

“I knew it,” she said., “You are a fucking piece of shit.” She sat back in her chair.

“Go to hell.”

“Go screw yourself.”

“I’m outta here,” he said, and threw a ten dollar bill in Alison’s direction and walked away.

+

The next afternoon, Peter bought some flowers and walked over to Alison’s apartment. He was working out his apology on the way over. He dinged the bell, then stepped back. No answer. Damn. Maybe I should have called first, he thought. He waited for a moment, then rang the bell again. This time Alison answered the door.

“Peter!” she said, visibly flushed. She tried to smooth her rumpled clothes and messed up hair.

“Hey,” Peter said, without handing her the flowers. “What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Just loafing around, you know.”

“I brought you these,” he said, thrusting the flowers into her hand, without smiling. She smiled a little.

“Can I come in?” he asked.

“Ah, it’s a mess in here,” she said. “Maybe you shouldn’t.”

Peter could feel the blood rushing to his head. “I don’t mind,” he said.

“There’s dirty dishes everywhere, clothes,” she said.

“Alison, what’s going on?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

He pushed past her, into the apartment.

“Peter!” she called.

A young man sat on the sofa, looking nervous.

“What the…” Peter said. “This is the guy you’re… Is he in one of your classes or what?”

“Peter,” she said.

Peter walked towards the young man, who immediately grabbed his shoes and was gone. Peter turned to Alison.

“What the hell is going on? What is this?”

“Peter, we have to talk.”

“About what?” He paced around the living room. “That you’re fucking some guy behind my back?”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

He stayed silent, stalking around the room. “How long?” he said after a moment.

“About a month,” she said. “I was going to tell you, but…”

“Whatever,” he said.

He started for the door.

“Peter, wait.”

He pushed past her and kept walking. She followed him out to the porch, and stood alone as he went down the street. Her face was bright red. She started to cry. She walked back inside and slammed the door behind her.

+

Peter muttered to himself as he worked the clay with his fingers. He could barely see straight, and his head felt gigantic. He was so hot he had stripped down to nothing but his boxer shorts. Sweat poured down his face and from his armpits and sides. His hands were cramping from mashing the clay so hard. He lit a cigarette as soon as the last one had finished, and smoked it till he tasted the burning foam of the filter, then lit another. The clay was now wet with his sweat. He smacked it with his elbows, and carved it with a spoon. By the end of an hour, he had finished a foot.

He ran his hands over his face, and through his hair, which now was stiff and matted with chunks of gray clay. His eyes were wild and glassy as he began the other foot. The cords in his neck pulsed, and he lit another cigarette, tossing the used butt in the corner. His muscles worked double-time as he sculpted the clay flesh and jammed in metal bones, and worked the earth into its new form. Soon, the grayish brown lumps would become legs, and arms and a torso. By the end of three hours, he had constructed both feet and two legs.

His heart raced, as he thought about Alison. “Didn’t I show her respect?” he said aloud. Didn’t I do things for her? Treat her well? And for her do go and do this? I figured something was going on. He worked on the upper leg. “You piece of shit,” he said to the clay legs and feet. You’re mine. He wrenched the clay into place. He dipped another ball of clay into the bowl of brown water, and mashed it flat with his foot. There’s no getting out of this. No getting out. He ground the clay flat with his elbow, and wrapped it around the upper leg. By the end of five hours, he had both legs and feet done, and half of the torso. His throat was raw from the yelling and smoking. He fished a semi-clean bowl from the sink, and filled it with cold water. He drank from it, and let the water flow down his front, with had collected little balls of clay. His feet were brown too. He ran his hands through his hair again, feeling the clay stick to his fingers.

The phone rang. He looked at it. It rang again. He became aware of his breathing, his heart beating in the back of his throat. The phone rang a third time, and the machine picked it up. He turned it on speaker.

“Peter,” the woman’s voice said. “Peter, it’s me. I know you’re there.”

He stood in the kitchen, arms folded.

“Fine,” she said, then hung up.

Peter lit another cigarette, and went back to work. He bent the wire arms out in front of the sculpture, which was beginning to take shape. It was squatting down like a football player. He wrapped long pieces of clay muscle onto the metal, and wet it down. The phone rang again. And again. This time, Peter did not stop. He attached the head, and began working on the face. The machine picked up the call. It was Alison again.

“Peter, I know you’re there. Pick up,” she said. “We have to talk.” There was a pause. Then she said, “I know you’re angry. You have a right to be. But I want you to know I thought long and hard before sleeping with Michael.”

Michael huh? So that’s the prick’s name.

“I didn’t know what else to do,” she said.

Yeah right. He manipulated the mouth.

“You can’t say you didn’t see it coming,” she said. Whatever. “I tried to bring it up all the time,” she said. “But it never seemed like a good time.” He sneered, and twisted the ear. “I just feel like I’m continually playing second fiddle to… everything thing else in your life,” she said. “Like you always think of your career, or whatever, before me.”

“Whatever?” He was yelling. He picked up the phone. “Alison,” he said. “Why don’t you understand what I’ve been trying to do?”

There was a pause, then she said, “You just don’t get it do you, Peter? You haven’t heard a word I said.”

“Oh, I’ve heard you alright. I’ve heard how selfish you can be.”

“You’re calling me selfish?” she said. “You are the most arrogant, self-absorbed asshole I have ever met. Goodbye.” And she hung up.

Peter hurled the phone across the room, watching it smash against the wall and fall, in pieces to the floor.

Then he looked at his work before firing up another cigarette. He attached the other ear, cursing and sweating as he pounded the clay, barely stopping before he molded the brow, and began smoothing the cheeks. For the eyes, he used two near-round obsidian stones. He set them in place. It was done. Peter stepped back and took a long look at his creation.

The sculpture was six feet tall from head to toe, and was human in every way, save for its’ tendril-like fingers, which had eyes on the ends of each of them. The face was twisted into a grimace that was half anger, half pain. Peter sat at the edge of his bed, with his head in his hands, utterly exhausted. He lay down and fell immediately asleep.

+

The wind blew leaves down the quiet suburban street. A figure walked down the street, staying in the shadows, under the trees. It walked down a ways, until it came to a brown

building, with beige trim. It made its way across the yard, then up the short flight of stairs. It didn’t ring the bell. It turned the knob on the door first. Locked. It noticed a window on the bottom floor, cracked open just a bit, and walked over to it, and pulling the window up, went inside.

Now in the kitchen of the apartment, the figure climbed down from the counter, and made its way to one of the rooms. It stopped in front of the door. Then, burst into the room.

A young woman pulled a bed sheet to her, and screamed. “Oh my god!” she said, at the thing that reached over and grabbed her by the hair, and shook her. “What do you want?” she said. The thing gave no response. Her eyes widened, as she recognized the figure in her room. It hit her across the face, and she fell back onto the bed. She began clawing at it, as it came for her, arms outstretched.

+

Peter woke with a start, and looked at the clock. “Damn,” he said. He threw on some clothes, and wet down his hair, and was on his way out of the door, when he stopped. He noticed something strange about his sculpture, something wrong- but he couldn’t figure out what it was. He threw on his jacket and left.

He was walking across the campus grounds, to his first class, when he saw the Dean, standing with two policemen, by the entrance to the building.

“Peter Loew?” one of the policemen said. Uh oh, Peter thought.

“Yes?” he said.

“We’d like to ask you a few questions,” the second policeman said. “You’re dating a girl named Alison Green?”.

“Yes,” Peter said. “What’s going on?”

“Just answer the questions, Peter,” said the Dean.

“When’s the last time you two talked?” said the first policeman, flipping open his notepad.

“We saw each other yesterday afternoon. I went over to her house,” Peter said.

“Did you get into an argument or anything like that?” the second policeman said.

Peter felt a lump in his throat. “No,” he said. “Everything was fine.”

The two policemen looked at him, not saying anything, expressionless. Peter squirmed, and looked around.

“You sure nothing happened?” the first one said.

“Well…” Peter stopped. The second policeman began jotting something in his notebook. “We had a little argument at her house, and then she called me on the phone last night. What’s going on?”

“She was found this morning, strangled in her bed,” said the first policeman, walking closer to Peter, whose eyes were now opened wide..

“And we found flecks of clay on her neck, and in her hair,” said the second policeman.

Peter felt sick. His legs buckled under him.

“Do you have some water?” he asked.

+

The bed was harder than his bed at home. The gray walls reminded him of clay. The slop they gave him wasn’t exactly what you’d call food, but he ate it anyway. He was shaking, with hunger he thought. He heard something above him and looked up. A large gray hand appeared at the bars of the window of his cell. One by one the gray fingers gripped the bars, as the eyes on the ends of the fingers, first five eyes and then ten, all looked at Peter with unquestioning love.

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One response to “Story: The Artist

  1. Pingback: You Didn’t Think So. An Anneliese Poem with an Explanation | Primal Night's·

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