Saturday, January 2, 2010

Casting With Clay

The painting to the left is a detail of "Chris", oil, 9 x 12, 2007.
This story was published a few years ago in an online magazine...

“How you doing, tonight, Julie?” He smiles, and leans in from the shadows, resting his hand on her apartment doorframe.
“It’s Saturday night and I’m home alone, how do you think I’m doing?” She tightens the sash on her bathrobe and crosses her arms on her belly.

“Your ex-husband around?”
“What do you want, Mickey?”
“Can I come in?”

She steps back from the doorway and he slinks into her dark studio apartment. Clay heads mounted on her work shelf greet him; their glass eyes reflect pinpoints of light.

He takes her hair in his hand and lets it flow through his fingers. It’s smooth and silky, like she just washed it. He stares silently into her dark eyes and pulls her close, kisses her on the mouth, but she pulls away at the last second. He stands upright and glares at the clay heads.

“So, how are things in the world of forensic art?”

“Busy. People being killed, buried, found, all the time. It’s a cruel world.”
She pauses and looks him in the eye. “We can’t do this, Mickey. It’s just not gonna happen.”

He tilts his head to the side. “No matter how many times I see these heads you make, I just can’t seem to get used to this one.” He taps a small clay skull mounted on a side table.

“Why are you here, Mickey?”

Beyond her shoulder is her unmade bed, looking warm and soft. Secluded from the rest of the world. He turns and faces another skull, the features barely discernable the darkness of the room. He shudders at her reconstructed roommates.

“What’s this, a new one? Hey, that looks like-” He leans in and pulls the skull into the light. His face goes white, and his jaw drops.

“My new assignment. They found him last week.”

Julie feigns professional disinterest, but continues to watch him from the kitchen.

“They just found this skull? Who, who is it, you know, yet?”

“I just finished the final layering.”

Mickey takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out through his nose.

“How can you stand having this stuff near you?”

“Where have you been tonight?” Julie asked.
“Aren’t they all dead people, anyway? Murder victims?”
“Jane Doe types mostly. You out at Sawyers?”
“Over at The Town House. Had a few beers.”

She heats up a pot of water. He sits at the table, takes the saltshaker into his huge hand as his eye search her robe for the line of her still young body.

“You want some tea?”
“Got any beer?”
She hesitates, turns to face him.
“You can’t stay, Mickey.”
“Who said I wanted to stay?”

Mickey picks up the clay head. “Ugly little prick, ain’t he? I bet he got what he deserved.”

Julie turns to face him. “What do you mean deserved? What do you think happened to him?”

“I don’t know. People do things, you know, get what’s coming to them. How do I know?”

“You recognize him, Mickey?”

“What? Are you kidding me? Him?”

She glares at Mickey.

“It’s a clay head, for cripes sake. What do I know? How am I gonna know? Who is it? I don’t know…Howdy Duty?”

“You’re flustered.”

“Mickey’s face flushes red. “I don’t know any of them, your creepy little dead friends.”

Julie places a hot cup of tea in front of him. He snickers, takes the cup up in his hands, and breathes in the steam, and scowls in disapproval.

“How are things at the shop?” She asks.
“Busy, had two new orders come in this week. A couple of classic choppers. Custom chrome tear drop on one.”
“That’s a gas tank, right?”

He sips the tea.

“Mickey, I said I would be your friend and you know that I am.”
He scrapes a “Yeah” from the bottom of his stomach and stares down at the table, like he knows what’s coming.
“But, I don’t think coming here on Saturday night, after a few beers.”
Mickey looks up, a grimace on his face. “Drunk?” He finishes for her.

Mickey stares into the other room. She follows his eyes to the new clay head. He catches her looking at him.

Suddenly he stands facing her. “Why you wanna bring that stuff in here for, huh, you trying to ruin your house?”
“Mickey, what has gotten into you?”
“You have all this crap around here. A guy can’t even think! This head staring at me!”

He goes to the head, picks it up, and stares at it. “Certain things should be buried. Stay buried. You people keep digging this crap up.”

“Mickey, you’re sweating bullets. My work has never bothered you before.”

“I hate your work.” He tosses the clay head onto the sofa and it bounces, landing face up on the cushions.

“Mickey, come sit down. Have some tea.” She leads him to the kitchen. He sits and takes hold of the cup. After a few minutes he sighs.

“Better?” She asks.
“You must think I’m crazy?”
“Oh, no. No.”
“I have these feelings sometimes. I can’t tell you what.”
“I know.”
“And those creepy heads, they don’t help.”
“They’re my work, Mickey. That’s all.”
“Well, what you take your work home for?”

He takes another sip of tea and smiles at her.

“Ever since I met you. I mean, a guy like me. A woman like you.”
She smiles lightly, a twinkle in her eye.

“You ‘re an educated woman.”
“You’re a beautiful man.”
He laughs. “Cut it out. A man isn’t beautiful.”
“To me you are. You are a strong, virile-“

“Grease monkey.”

“Who is smart enough to own his own business and has changed his ways.”

“Yeah, I changed. You helped me with that. The guys I used to run with. Things we did.” Staring at her, his eyes well up with tears. “That’s how come I can’t…” His slams his fist on the table in frustration.

“Can’t what?”

“Let you go.”

She pulls back, standing against the kitchen counter.

“I didn’t come just cuz’ I was horny, you know that.”

“I know, but I think you should stop coming here unannounced.”

He stares at the skull on the sofa.

She folds her arms across her torso and backs away. He turns to her.

“What? You’re afraid of me now?”
“You are!”
“I don’t fear you.”
“Why you look that way?”
“Nothing. Listen, Mickey, it didn’t work out for us. I’m sorry. We have to let it go.”
“What was the other night, then, huh? You let me into your bed!”
“That was a mistake, I’m sorry.”
“Everything was fine until you went off to that seminar!”
“Was it?”
He pauses, looks into her hazel eyes.
“Wasn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What, were you just pretending?”
“Mickey, no. Please…”
“What, then you tell me…”
“I never meant to hurt you.”
“What was I, some sort of experiment? Go see the gorilla?”
“Date the gorilla with the bike. See I can train him?”
“Stop it.”
“I meant nothing to you?”
“Of course you did. I-”
“You what? Loved me? You can’t even say it.”
“I have great affection for you, Mickey.”

Mickey stands up. “You’re just a bitch, like any other, you know that? You think you mean anything more than that? Huh?”
She shakes her head.
“You’re just a lousy bitch in a smart suit. You think you’re so frigg’n smart! Miss Manners!”

The new clay skull is in his hands. He holds it high above her head; about to smash it down; he sees the fear in her eyes, her mouth open in a silent scream. Turning away, he smashes the clay skull onto the floor.

He takes her in his arms, presses hard against her mouth, and probes her with his tongue. She pushes him away, raking his neck with her nails. Tears well up in her eyes, as she looks down at her bloodied fingernails.

“I just wanted to.” He backs away from the kitchen holding his bleeding neck. “I just wanted you!”

Looking out the window, she sees him racing up the hill to his motorcycle. Two sets of headlights pull away from the curb and follow him into the night.

Sheila picks up the phone and dials.

“Hello, Lieutenant? You were right. He recognized the fake skull. No, he just left and I saw two of your cars following. He was pretty agitated. Probably lead you right to the body.

She drops the phone and cups her hand to her mouth. “Oh, my Mickey.”

The End

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