An Ambiguous Weekend — Part Three

Friday was a big day for Richard because he was about to finish the last piece of “Emily’s Subjective Privacy.” He called in sick to work and spent the entire day in the basement, with his hands and face covered in clay. At seven-thirty in the evening “Emily’s Subjective Privacy” was finally finished. Richard’s demeanor changed immediately: his intense “fighting” or “dancing” with the clay abruptly halted, and he stared at this new object with wide eyes. He lifted the little board on which the clay figure sat and placed it in its proper place, at the end of a string of objects in various states of suspended animation. It exhibited the signs of an imminent collapse. Richard stood dumbly for a while, simply staring. It was impossible to picture something until it was already made. And as soon as it was finished, every creation was simply one more toy lying on the floor in the living room of the natural world. Now, finally, Richard understood what should have been obvious to him long ago: creation is blind and unaware of itself. It is only a crude groping, a gesture of raw nature with no sense of proportion. Certainly the pieces of “Emily’s Subjective Privacy” were “curious,” to say the least, and perhaps even “suggestive” in a certain way of something or other. The main impression they made was that of movement: the sculptures seemed to consist of literal flourishes, and to capture the points of inception of gestures, poses, and a sort of quasi-dynamic “winking and trembling.” It was a small miracle, similar to the knack some people have for “silent blubbering,” which is something you cannot ignore even if you close your eyes.

Finally a new thought occurred to Richard, which amounted to the question: “What are you doing?” But this realization was only fleeting, and was soon “scattered on the wind.” Richard knew there was a storm brewing inside him. The next step, of course, was to say something to Emily Parker. Something “important” had happened, and Richard knew that he was the one responsible for telling her — it fell on his shoulders to act as his own messenger. He had somehow convinced himself — without quite realizing it — that “Emily’s Subjective Privacy” was a magnetic symbol, a powerful “token” with unique powers, and that Emily was going to pin this “decoration” on the front of her blouse, so to speak, next to her heart. A heart can only implore, beg and beseech — even the heart of a Napoleon or Stalin, whose withering glances send men shrinking to their graves. Richard could remember hearing the voice of a heart making demands when it ought to implore: a desperate voice, feeble and enraged, giving its last gasp. He considered whether his own breath would stop before his heart quit beating, and what it might feel like to know that your blood had finally fallen quiet for the first and last time, and that the “end” was coming.

Richard turned and walked up the deep gloom of the basement stairs, rubbing his hands together. He could not brush off the idea that he had, unbeknownst to his own mind, been “making an account of himself” for the past six weeks of his life. Although he had kept his past in the basement, he was still doing his level best to remake or perhaps “fabricate” a history for himself. By “working over” his past moments continuously, ad nauseam, he was able to abdicate the present, leaving it to be shaped wholly by “mere chance and the elements,” along with a convenient sort of superstition about patterns of Providence and the circumstantial workings of “fatality.” And finally he would choose, one fine day, to gather up these “images,” stick them in a firing-oven, and bake them until they underwent a chemical transformation and became something else, a thing caught and captured and stuffed, condemned to remain always in that state and never again “become something else.”

Richard walked into the kitchen and found Liz at the counter, decorating gingerbread cookies in the shape of little round-armed men. Outside, snow was drifting down against the window. Liz looked at him.

“Would you like to taste one?” she asked.

Richard looked at the little pastry men with their white, frosted smiles and blank chocolate-chip stares.

“God, you’re archaic,” he said, and took the cordless phone off the wall and went back into the basement.

There Richard stood in the midst of his sculptures, glaring and staring. His face was sweating and a residue of clay stung his eyes.

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