• Olivia Louden

Pygmalia


Leona ran the edge of her thumb over his jaw and knew that he was perfect. Perfect in every single way, from the sculpted curls of his hair to the delicate angles of his body. He was like a god, like some otherworldly thing. When she traced the V of his hip with her fingertips, she could almost feel the bone. What a shame that clay was cold.

She turned off the studio lights and headed out. It was a rainy night, the latest in a long, stormy season. She drove home in silence and thought of her creation. He haunted her at stoplights, his perfect body, and his perfect face drifting through her imagination like a beautiful ghost. In her mind he was warm and lively, not the cold hard thing she had carved. He would come with her to dinner parties and laugh louder at her jokes than anyone else. She’d introduce him to her friends, and they would be impressed. Most importantly, he would crawl into her bed that was always too cold, and she’d feel the weight of his sculpted arm close around her chest and then she’d roll back just a bit as the mattress gave way under him, falling right against his body.

Leona arrived home. The light through her window reflected raindrops on her wall. She washed away the smears of gray clay that always ended up slashed across her cheek and dressed for bed. She nestled under the covers, never quite feeling warm enough.

And then it happened.

Someone was knocking on her window.

This was a very frightening thing for a woman who lived alone. Yet when her eyes jerked open and she lay frozen in her bed, it wasn’t out of fear. She knew who it was. It made sense to her, in some strange, cosmic way.

She opened the window and faced him. His wet skin glittered in the porch light. His hair hung in dripping tendrils over his brow. A raindrop beaded his eyelash like a jewel. She guided him through the window, led him across the room, and dried him off. His skin was hot to the touch; she could feel the warmth radiating through the towel. He was just the way she’d carved him, only better, because he could crawl into bed with her and keep her from the cold.


He never argued. His dark eyes showed nothing but adoration. Leona’s friends were jealous, which shouldn’t have mattered, but it did. He loved every present she gave him, and he always gave her exactly what she wanted in return. She wasn’t sure where he went during the day, but he always came home and said the same thing: “I had a great day at work today, my dear, and now that I see you looking so beautiful, it’s perfect.” He was an excellent cook and loved all the same TV shows as Leona. At night, his hands caressed her body in worship. When they had finished making love, she would curl up beside him and feel his heat and he’d whisper in her ear that he would never leave her, no matter what. He told her he would crawl a thousand miles on his hands and knees to get back to her, and then she would sleep peacefully wrapped in his arms.


When it all began to collapse, it happened slowly, chipping away at her piece by piece. As the weather grew hotter, the appeal of curling up at night against that warm body began to dwindle. “What do you want to watch tonight?” she’d ask.

“Whatever you want to watch, my love,” came the answer.

Every meal he cooked seemed less and less flavorful. When her friends asked about him, she searched her mind for something new to say. She would cradle his face in her hands and run the edge of her thumb over the jaw she had carved and questioned why she ever made it so straight and clean. She pictured raking her sculpting knife across his cheek and wondered if it would bleed. He came home at the same time each night like he had always done.

“Now that I see you looking so beautiful,” Leona mouthed along silently with his words, “it’s perfect.” She grew to hate that word, “perfect”. It started so soft in the mouth before the second syllable cut it cleanly like a scalpel. They made love back and forth, rocking back and forth, Leona’s mind miles away, imagining she understood why God had crafted war and disease and famine. Back and forth, back and forth. Smooth, steady and slow.

What would he do if she told him she didn’t love him anymore? Would he fall to the ground like a lump of wet clay? Would he shatter like a terracotta jar? Her mind wandered in the studio as she tried to sculpt the pathetic mud before her into another masterpiece. She hadn’t sculpted anything interesting in months. All she had made were pots, a million of them, all perfect, all identical. They sat on the shelves dusty and fired and ready for glaze.

If she couldn’t sculpt today, she may as well begin that glazing. Leona picked up a pot and turned it in her hands, waiting for a pattern to come to her, waiting to see something in the pot that could tell her what it wanted to be. But there was nothing. She placed it back on the shelf.

Perhaps it was an accident, or perhaps it was what she had really wanted all along, but Leona had placed the pot ever so slightly too close to the edge and as she walked away. It fell to the ground and shattered. The noise made her jump. The perfect pot was now an angry mass of shapes, sharply jagged and crooked. They laid silent on the linoleum, the momentary chaos of the fall completed.

Leona didn’t pick them up. There was something interesting about the broken pieces, the way they all related to each other, the tension in their angles. What would it look like if there were more of them?

She hesitantly picked up another pot. She let it slip through her fingers and it clattered to the floor just like the first.

Another.

Another.

Then another.

She wasn’t hesitating anymore; she was grabbing them with both hands and throwing them to the ground with force. Another. Focused. Manic. Another, another, another, another. Months of mindless repetition lay at her feet in broken shards. She reached for yet another and found the shelf empty. The moment cracked. The room was silent, and she heard pulsing in her ears. Her chest was heaving.

Leona went home and waited for him. When he came through the door, she interrupted his usual greeting. She spoke to him with more honesty than she ever had. He didn’t speak. She waited for him to get angry with her, to defend himself, to argue, but he didn’t. He stood there silently in the entryway, silhouetted by the porch light through the window. When she was finished, she asked him what he thought. He told her that she was right, and that he understood why she felt that way, and that if she didn’t like the way he was – well, that was okay. He would mold himself to be whatever she wanted. He moved close and pulled her against his body, his warmth soaking through her clothes.

“I’ll never leave you,” he whispered as he wrapped his heavy arms tight around her. “You’re everything. I’d be anyone for you. I’d do anything for you. I’d crawl a thousand miles on my hands and knees just to get back to you.”

Leona went numb. She felt the skin beneath his touch begin to sweat. She was carried to bed in a daze. It was hot and she laid on top of the covers. When he reached out his arms to hold her, she quietly shook her head, instead inching to the edge of the mattress. She stared at the ceiling and wept silently.

...

The next few weeks, Leona felt lifeless. He knew she wanted him to be more opinionated, so sometimes he would pick fights about which TV shows to watch. They were always empty, and he always gave in eventually. He learned new recipes and they tasted the same as the old ones. She thought often of her broken pots, the perfect things that were only worthwhile once destroyed. Her mind wore deep grooves into that thought. The summer dragged on like a sickness.

In October, she asked him to take a day off work. He agreed immediately. When he asked her what the occasion was, she said she wanted to drive out to the cliffside that she used to visit when she was a girl. He seemed elated. Leona felt nothing. They made love the night before, back and forth, back and forth, his ecstasy ringing in her ears as the sound of shattered clay.

They drove out of the city, way out over the hills through which Leona remembered driving as a child. In spring they’d be covered with wildflowers, but now they were brown and dry. They drove over the bridge that used to frighten her and passed the reservoir where she always wanted to swim but never did. It always looked so perfect, so crystal blue.

When they had driven for several hours, she pulled over the car. He got out, exclaiming about the gorgeous view, saying it was worth the drive. Leona didn’t reply. She looked down at the rocks below, jagged shapes that reminded her of broken pottery. She realized she was holding her breath, and that she had been holding it for a while. She came up behind him.


Her drive home alone was like one long exhale.


October melted into November, and the clay melted under Leona’s fingers into fantastic new shapes. She told her friends that he moved for work and had ended things. They were sympathetic until something else distracted them. Fall’s return had made her bed too cold once more, but she didn’t mind as much as she used to. He began to slowly fade from her mind, leaving nothing but a vague outline of a person. She supposed that’s all he ever really was, anyway. Guilt did not haunt her. She felt no more guilt for her actions than she did for smashing all her pots.

Leona arrived home one night as the rain streamed down her windows. She readied for bed as she let the TV run in the background to break the silence.

I’ll always find my way back to you, no matter what,” said a man on the TV. She chuckled a bit. Someone had said that to her once, what seemed like a long time ago. She cleaned the clay out from under her nails in the sink, watching the grayish water run down the drain. What was it he had said, exactly? That he’d crawl a thousand miles on his hands and knees to get back to her? It seemed silly in retrospect, precisely the kind of thing a movie character would say, and she didn’t know how she ever thought it was romantic. Now it seemed like horror.

She turned off the TV and crawled into bed, listening to the rain, breathing softly in the calm of her bedroom, stretching out her limbs across her mattress.

And then she heard a knock.



Bio

Olivia is a 24-year-old former resident writer for the fashion magazine, Jute, who is currently editing her first novel, a surreal coming of age story about grief and mental health. She was born and raised in San Diego and loves painting and sculpting.

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