Pygmalion

January 30, 2009

posted & written by Caroline Picard; this story was written in 2003.

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Pygmalion

She has strong hands. The backs broad, strong backs with orderly knuckles and a few easily missed hairs on the bridge between knuckle and joint. The lines described there are deep where the act of bending has scored. The fingers are thick and long, their length admitting an inherent sensitivity she prefers to conceal. In public she manages well enough, keeping the fingers inside pockets or sleeves or pants pockets or wielding a cigarette intended to distract. She’d rather not look at her hands. They seem not quite feminine.
Jill prefers solitude. Jill works alone, upstairs in the main body of her apartment. At work she is unabashed; at home her nimble joints, absorbed in activity, reveal themselves. The brazen knuckles upstairs stand tall relishing their course of labor. Her psychic fingertips detect the character of any given surface reading the grain as brail: a message left from the form inside vying for its freedom. Her hermit palms are generous at night. They take stock of nighttime investigations, comparing what is gleaned with what has already been learned, and in so doing mutter procedural advice. Unabashed, the hands delight in composing and refining raw material into artifact. This is transubstantiation.
Jill makes furniture. She makes tables and chairs and the occasional bed frame. The objects propagate in a single storage space allotted her in the building basement. She supposes she might sell them one day, that one day these things might lead a life of their own in other houses with other families, where other hands would traipse across the veneer. This is what she says during Thanksgiving dinner, when the over large family begs for practical answers. She is building an inventory. She might start a business.
With some reticence, while she polishes a piece to completion, she is disappointed that the perfection achieved is unrealized without the later hands of strangers who will wear the wood and soften any hard corners with abuse. Where their lives are at odds they will rub, and the wood will record the provocation; it is only once disputes are regretted that the scratch in the wood is lamented, and only then will the table’s initial perfection, what has been lost, be recognized. Jill sighs; the even polish is so far empty where it lays. She sees her face reflected in veneer. A sad perhaps passes through her.
Jill lays her hands on the windowsill, away from work. An old man across the street is walking his crippled dog. The old man has strung up the dog’s haunches in a sling. The couple moves forward and the dog prepares to piss in the snow. Both are breathing smoke. Dotted lines extend behind them marking their course.
Underneath the snow summer children wrote their names in wet cement and in the spring their names will be torn up, repaved and replaced by other summertime kids. Knowing this was like knowing the world.
The nail of her left thumb is perverse from a hammer’s relentless assault. The nail has each time survived, but each time with a character that thickens obstinately in the most vulnerable part. The left half of her nail is thick where the hammer insists most often on beating. That thick part wants to retire, silently burrowing in the skin cushion as a passive aggressive mole pushing toward bone. Jill regularly checks the urge with a nail clipper. She has already pointed out that the nail is there to protect the skin and not vice versa. She is disappointed in the nail’s cowardice, but looks abject instead of taking note. Meanwhile her right hand, the clumsy perpetrator, is most apologetic.
The thumb is useful. Perhaps her most adept appendage. This thumb, this Hephaestus, through the incumbent reminder of so many repetitious and inadvertent pains does paranormal service to the wooden surface. It is a refined instrument and lent its insignia to each article of furnishing in the basement.
The dust collects and preserves the sleeping artifacts.
Jill looks up from her hands and out to the city skyline. When the rest of the world is sleeping, Jill comes close to peace. For that peace, she sacrifices the day, sleeps through it, misses it, and takes the peace of night with quiet lamentation. It is her ritual. Lamentation.
She chuckles now, her nerves curled up beside the methodic palpitations of her heart. She waits, shyly, with a glass of whisky, watching for the first blink of daylight. The moment of beginning is close but not yet. A sad perhaps is tinkering in bare feet, as a child unused to mortality, in a house full of sleeping elders.
The whisky leaves a ring on the sill beside her dirty fingerprints. The dialogue between impressions distracts the woman who left them there. The incomplete circle describes the glass that the partner of the hand with prints in common is now holding. Her right hand is active, and now it holds the glass actively, still apologetic. Implied also are the thoughts she had moments before when fingers and whisky alike sat resting side by side. What she sees are the thoughts inspired by her an earlier pulse, when she wondered whether that heart, hers, would get confused with company if a pair of hearts beat side by side. Hers might fall into step with the other, for hers was accustomed to surrounding quiet that did not compete, but always relented.
A cameo performance is recorded on the sill. It is awkward. It is not poetic. What is left behind is the husk of what was breathing before. She feels ghosts in the room; they are not sleeping but are watching like the residue of sweating ice and human oil and sawdust. Her pulse perpetuates itself, governing her breath.
Probably there is asbestos in the paint.
In Hiroshima there are stairs that lead from the street to a bank. On the stairs the shadow of the man who stood there in a top hat before the blast is burnt into concrete. The blast was so bright it pinned down what the man’s form blocked: it bleached the area around his shadow. The steps are in a museum but Jill had never seen them, only heard. She had never been on a plane.
At night, when Jill is awake, all time is present. When things stand still time moves slowly. Time moves slowly beside Jill who takes care not to excite its passage. If her heart grew bold she took care to pause, to breathe, to measure her fingers, and extend the movement of a minute once more. A steady heart was best for working.
At night before bed when her work is finished the whisky smiles, Jill wavers on a rope between the ghosts of those who had not yet died and those who had died already. Unsure of where to put herself, she remains indeterminate as one who has not yet come to be. In solitude it is possible to defer one’s own potential in order that it never be exhausted. Jill kept the furniture she made in the basement where it waited for some wear. The furniture is gathering dust and both the wooden surfaces and the face of the woman who made them are tired despite their newness. Sometimes people called her haggard, but her face was like a child’s and her night like Hades.
“I hate Cupid,” she said to crippled dog outside.
He was inherently precious. His limbs were soft with baby pink pudge that folded gently into form, relying on itself, one fold leaning on another, his wrist like a volumetric hinge without any bone, only consistent softness. He had been arranged to bounce and prance and bat his eyes with pleasure; a pleasure that was self-inspired, an epidemic of giggles and stupidity.
He was ugly when he giggled and abhorrent when morose.
In recent years Cupid became withdrawn. Crippled by irony, his matchmaking efforts were repetitious. He seemed to have lost initiative, relying on greeting cards and presents wrapped in plastic. Cupid was shallow. He became depressed. A precious depression is disgusting.
Sympathy persisted.
In truth he was carrying the disembodied whispers of every lover’s memory.
“While lovers drink the spirits of Lethe, Cupid is doomed to recollect.”

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