I thought my smallness might be valued here, but it turns out these people are proud of their height and heft. Despite the prestige of my residency, despite the pity they might feel for me, I’ve gotten not one come-on.
I go to the readings and receptions, more of them than I'm obliged to attend. I stay later than I'm obliged to stay, and still, all anyone asks about is sculpture. Full of hors d’oeuvres, I stammer and sweat, mispronounce words from a long-ago artist statement.
It's the loneliness as much as the insecurity that makes me blunt. I sit in on a critique, say, "Your problem is you don't understand how to work in the round. Everything you do is frontal. It might as well be a drawing."
"Oh, thank you," the student says with a nervous bow and comes back next week with another piece just the same.
The other artists and dabblers I'm called upon to influence are equally blithe, unreachable.
I do have afternoons free for work. I tell everyone I'm obsessed with fiber and, in fact, there is much planning I need to do for a hangar-sized string thing to be installed this coming winter, but when I request costly green-gray modeling clay and wire and wood, no one asks questions. The materials arrive on my doorstep the next morning.
It takes two weeks of idle fussing with the frame before I realize I'm making a self-portrait. After that, the work goes quickly.
I love the smallness of it, the way the thighs swell to the sides. It is just slightly smaller than me. Smaller than I? I never know how to speak. Maybe that's part of why people don't take to me or respect me or love me or whatever it is they don't do. I think this as I linger over the dimples at the hipbones, the weird creases in the lower belly, the well-earned folds in the neck: I'll love this body if no one else will.
During weight loss, applying lotion is important, not only to improve the skin's appearance but also to help one's mind map onto the new contours of the body. It's been years since my loss, but I still use lotion every night. This is like that. Once the masses are built up, smoothing and burnishing the clay feels like rubbing myself from behind myself.
You haunt me. When I'm lying awake in bed, you knock over accent tables and squeak the floorboards. When I shower, you finger my things and then freeze in position, leaving me to wonder at a suit that's moved from the bed to the chair.
With a pounding heart, I hold up a wire earring and squint to be sure I'm seeing the gray-green substance stuck in its coils.
I am miserable.
I see your smudges on all of my clothes, my notebooks, my bags. I arrive at tutorials disheveled and without my cruel remarks. I neglect wine parties, then miss a morning panel because I've stayed up late pacing the cottage.
What's odd? This only seems to boost my reputation. I am more in demand. I see my first smoldering look from across a banquet room.
When you slide into my narrow bed, so smooth and so cool, I stiffen and feel I might cry out, yet I'm not exactly surprised. You play dead until I relax.
It's a nightly thing after that and each day something more. You walk behind me to the shower, mime the motions of tooth-brushing and dressing, undressing. You begin to speak.
I think of putting something on you, but I like the sight of your body. You stay naked and do not seem to mind.
But you're minding other things.
"Who are you with when you leave here? Why do you stay so long now?" you say.
"Do I stay long? How would you know?" You've implied that when I go, you lock in place and are lost to all sensation. Is this not so?
You don't answer. I think you forget you can speak. You mirror my movements as I tidy the cottage until I stop to guide you forward. Now that it's your hands on the broom, you freeze.
"You know the movements," I say. I sway behind you as you've swayed behind me, and you sweep the floor for the first time.
And so we've gotten along these last weeks. I warm you on the nights I'm home, and you do the chores.
I've made an admirer, one of the big locals who wants some of my evenings, and I’ve been more conscientious about the days as departure nears—to leave everyone with a good impression.
The time we've had has been lovely. I think you were something I really needed. The whole experience—everyone here and the place. I needed this.
Here is where you cry and slam the doors, just as I would in your position.
"You can't. I'll have no one," you say. It doesn't matter that I made you. That doesn't give me the right.
So I stand behind you, teaching you how to work with wood and wire and then the clay, which sticks to your hands, taking parts of you with it.
My hands guide your wrists, but it has to be you who makes the thing, and you are weak and impatient. It shows in your work, which is oversmall and frontal, a stick drawing with cartoonish masses at the hips and a neck wattled like a goat's. Your pride and your love for it aren't enough.
Seeking privacy, you lead the stumbling thing out to the garden. Watching you, I come aware of clay inside my shirt, inside my underwear, and I know you’ve been trying on my things again. The night is dark green and you two glow against it like marble.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christi Nogle’s short stories have appeared or will appear in publications such as Underland Press's XVIII: Stories of Mischief & Mayhem, Vastarien, andHermine Annual. Christi teaches college composition and lives in Boise, Idaho with her partner Jim and their dogs and cats. Follow her at christinogle.com or on Twitter @christinogle