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Upward Spiral

by Karen B. Kaplan

Minus the warmth of any admiring voices and the stimulus of the more skeptical ones, the sculptor finishes loading up her materials alone in the disconcerting silence. She returns home and brusquely stashes away her samples in her mobile studio stationed in her back yard.

Her hands have so many freckles and other markings of old age, they look like pieces of paper that have been crumpled up and then smoothed back out. Going inside and gently lowering herself down onto her long, crescent-shaped sofa, she spreads out her newspaper on her lap. Its pages are made of rice paper, the deluxe non-electronic edition, and the print is pleasingly sharp and generously large.

Her eyes alight upon an article about archaeology and she lowers her face into the paper as if ready to charge into it, her dissatisfaction downsized. The article starts out by reminding the public that the different colors of each snowfall function as an archaeological clock, like a rainbow formed in slow motion:

“This is why our most eminent archaeologists have gone to zones where the snow does not melt. The most recent color is on top, and as the team digs, they reach one color after another. Experts say that objects found within the same color may be from the same era, and the deeper the layer, the older the objects. If someday the digs go deep enough, they may extend all the way back to the white snow that exists only in our fables, proving the minority school of archaeologists right, namely that there used to be white snow, or even more unlikely, white snow exclusively.”

She zeroes in on an announcement concerning volunteers for an upcoming dig, which finishes off the remaining remnants of her dissatisfaction. Despite this, I am worried that her sullenness will descend again and quickly cover everything in her, like the green snow piling up every which way and, like Mom, get caught in its drifts that would end up not sparing her no matter how she fought to rise above them.

One snowfall later, Clara is out and about collecting samples which are navy blue and shaped as spheres so tiny you would think they could have sprung out of her freckles. These newest arrivals from above lodge so tightly among their green predecessors that they cannot form a layer of their own. Her effort to get unadulterated navy blue is almost as exasperating as trying to pick out black pepper from a pepper and salt blend. She curbs her impatience and settles for some impurity.

Rather than being annoyed for long, this gives her the idea to define the green, aquamarine, gold and red shapes from last winter’s snows to be the homes, banks, houses of worship, houses of ill repute, shopping centers, jail and baseball stadium in a town. She sprinkles the navy blue grains among them, these paths forging relationships among the buildings.

She has to work fast, or for short periods at a time, for when the sculpture is outside of the temperature-regulated display case, it can melt. Or if she wants to put up with the cold on a sufficiently cold day, she can work in her outdoor studio as long as she likes.

* * *

She takes her model town to her gallery, and on opening night is childishly sneaky enough to hang around behind a partition to see what her friends will say to each other, the next best thing to staging one’s own funeral to see what people would really say.

Gray Birch, one of the most persistent and reliable gallery patrons, and he knows the sculptor well, says confidentially but audibly to his elder brother Hubert and sister-in-law Rose, “Clara’s work is like a futuristic city this time, and that’s a fact. Quite a change of pace from her portraits, and now not a soul to be found in this cow town.” As he talks, he uses his holovideo camera. This act is so much a part of his behavior it is as if he needed to activate his camera in order to have it assist with his breathing.

“Duh,” Clara softly breathes out loud but not distinctly enough for anyone but me to unscramble her auditory signal, “that is so like that Gray to state the obvious so blatantly. He just wants to rub any magic out of it once and for all. And as usual, he just flings his thoughts about willy-nilly.”

“Whoa,” I feel like admonishing Clara, “what is making you so snappish today? First you look unhappy, then you close yourself off from the youngsters, and now you are grousing about Gray.” Is something unraveling in her, taking her to wayward places?

Unlike all my past visits to Risington, this is the first time I have worried that instead of returning joyful and renewed I will be more fearful and disengaged. I will strive to put my doubts on hold, for the time being...

When Gray spots the sculptor now out in the open hovering nearby, he can consummate his wish to tell her to her face what he really thinks about her creations. Just as the strewn-out navy blue paths rescued each building from the peril of isolation, the sculpture itself links Clara and Gray to each other as artist and critic as well as friend to friend. Like Clara, Gray is quite uninhibited about what he needs to say, so I do not understand why she at first played around with not letting him know she was within earshot. To give him credit, his impression of her work rapidly evolves.

He admonishes her. “Why don’t you put more detail on these anonymous-lookin’ buildings, Clara? Stick on some ice doorknobs; those will look like glass ones. Prop the shutters partly open and put a dusting of snow here and there. Then that way, everyone’ll be dying to see what is inside each building and wish they could remove the door or hey, why not the roof even and barge right on in! Even if you can’t see the people inside the buildings, you should be able to sense them, Clara. Unless it’s a ghost town you’re after, there’s gotta be people in there. At least put some trash on the sidewalk or something or footprints in the snow.”

Hubert. speaks up as well and in doing added a navy-blue path of his own, as it were, among Gray, Clara and himself. He agrees that this town is Nowheresville without animate objects in it. He goes further, saying the people should be seen, not just implied: “That would be great if you had a figure poised to open one of the doors, about to cross the boundary between the inside and the outside of a building, to add a little mystery to what is waiting within.”

She whispers to herself that is typical of the sort of suggestion Hubert would make but that at least he sweetens what he says — unlike a certain someone whose name starts with a “G.”

Perhaps his suggestion is what she expected because he practices meditation and yoga and the like with the aim of living in deeper and deeper levels of reality. He is just the sort to want to enter other dimensions, as I know for a fact that he has entered at least one.

* * *

I recall a conversation he had with Gray about it shortly before becoming wedded to Rose. They were in Gray’s apartment to make a final set of decisions about the wedding ceremony and reception. Hubert had said something to him about becoming married being like entering another dimension, that it was an altered existence with new rules.

Gray grimaced and his face tensed up to retreat physically from considering his brother’s idea. But Hubert needed to vent his wariness of the unknown a little more, so he sped right on through his brother’s bodily stop signs and went on to describe the dimension he saw: “I know, Gray, you are not inclined to hear about my trip to Dimension Monkey” — they name dimensions after animals — “but at least let me tell you this one anecdote.”

Gray shrugged, letting his indifference buffer his discomfort enough to listen. Hubert soldiered on, putting up with his unwilling and at best indifferent audience as a better alternative to no audience at all. Gray has never wanted to cross dimensions, nor hear about others who have entered them, as he is focused on matters which remain alive only inside his own social bubble, like seeing how much he can get Clara off balance. To tell you the truth, I do not know what payoff Clara gets out of his heavy-handed criticism.

At any rate, Hubert described how on Dimension Monkey, thievery was a bigger problem than here. He thought the cause of it was a stronger form of envy, a feeling that wreaked havoc with every detail of their society. “Not that I am saying our wedding will lead Rose and me to a worse existence than now; just, you see, one with new consequences.”

Instead of responding to these premarital jitters, Gray admonished him for playing around with other dimensions in the first place. If only I could have been Hubert’s audience I would have drawn him out and gotten as much of his story about Dimension Monkey and his transition to the marital dimension as I could (I sheepishly confess that the dimension he is referring to is ours!).

Like Hubert, I thirst to be taken into other worlds, be they other dimensions or people’s unveiled internal worlds. Yet Hubert’s world is largely veiled to me; it is striking that he married someone like Rose, who is miserly with her output of words. Today she did not release a single one. For Hubert’s mate I would have expected someone with more entryways to her essential self because of his interest in meditation and such.

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2012 by Karen B. Kaplan

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