Edgar and the Thumb Lady


Standing in his gutted living room-slash-studio in a scary gutted out end of Saginaw, Billy shows me two red clay figurines. I hold them in the palm of my hand like baby birds. Billy is an East Coast Upper Middle Class Ideal Giving It All Up For Art, I am a Small Town Working Class Chance He Will Take. We live two hours and several social classes apart. We are only a month or two new, possibilities not yet formed, nothing set in concrete.

Like the clay, I become another project. He says he will teach me everything I should know, should have already known. I am a foreigner in his country of art and intellect.  I crave love, he requires a muse. I careen into him, a moth singing the tips of my dusty wings with sparks.

By the time we are seven months old, giant blocks of clay have overtaken the studio, overtaken him. Twelve hours a day, the clay, the clay.  When I go home after spending lonely weekends watching him work, the bottom of my shoes and the hem of my jeans are an angry dusty red.

It only takes a year for him to shatter me and begin to build me up from the ruins.  He thinks he will save me from myself. I can never do enough. He says I am not writing enough, I am not working hard enough, I am not reading the right books, I am not friends with the right sort of people.  I am not, I am not…I am not.

I now live in a country where the sun almost shines, where blossoms remain tight buds, birds merely twitter. The wave of pressure rises, then shatters. We retreat. Late one evening, a month later, he calls, overwhelmed. The sculptures have crumbled, huge fragments disintegrate, clay turns to powder, ripping massive cracks in the structure.  He has miscalculated everything. We start over.

Another six months and the clay figures are complete. Two massive figures squat in the studio, rising from the red dust. The bulky, hunched-over man we dub “Edgar” and the giant thumb creature we christen “Thumb Lady.”  Now, intricate plaster molds are to be made around the clay before the concrete is poured. A year and a half of clay will be washed away in an afternoon.

In the studio, Edgar and Thumb Lady sit face to face. Something vital is absent. We turn the platforms so they are nearly back to back.  Thumb Lady now looks mournfully over her shoulder, peering at Edgar’s back. In this pose they speak volumes: that single, terrible moment in an argument where too much has finally been said. The almost-apology hangs in the air between them, but there are no more words, nothing to make it right again.

The red dust makes way for sawdust. Lumber clutters the back yard to build gargantuan supports for the molds. With concrete, Billy says, the sculptures will last at least a hundred years. They will have the strength to survive snow and sun and little kids.  Our survival rate only has another eighteen months. I do not have enough strength to compete with eternity.

There is a point that the creations will outgrow the creator. Re-bar, Plaster of Paris, sacks of concrete, a cement mixer, a massive wooden frame, an engine lift in the back yard, bronze glaze, a flat bed truck. Edgar and Thumb Lady are ready for their public hundred year disagreement.

His projects are complete. We are exhausted, exasperated. Our words are raw electric wires, a frayed cord snapping just-get-your-things-leave-the-key-when-I-am-not-home. That night I sleep with my key tight in my fist, the last thing of mine that Billy has touched, and when I wake up, I can see the sun.

(This piece first published in the 2006 edition of The Huron River Review)



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