Halloween Fiction: the sculptor: 4 of 11

*** for part 1  – part 2 part3***

“When do you think this began?” Iris Ward sat on the couch in Moira’s studio, looking up at Thomas, as she took a steaming cup of tea from him.

“Don’t you know this already?”  Thomas could not hide his frustration.  Irritated, he stalked across the room and sat in a lotus on the floor.  Moira had been hospitalized for two months, and there had been no progress.  The doctors had sedated her, then tried stimulants, thumb sucker aLTplaced her on anti-hallucinogens, narcotics, every other drug he could have imagined.  He did not even understand what most of them did.  At first, he could keep track, but after a week they blurred together, all unpronounceable names with indefinable results.  For the first few days, Thomas had thought watching Moira scream, hysterical and terrified, was the most painful thing he would ever see.  The zombie that the drugs created proved he had been wrong.  They changed her medication frequently, allowing the fog of sedatives to lift just enough to see there had been no alterations in her condition.  Then, when she grew uncontrollable again, they put her back on x or y to calm her down.  Diagnoses, terms like schizophrenia, psychotic break and delusion, drifted about them, but none ever seemed to take hold.

After eight weeks,  Moira still needed to be tranquilized, or she would be screaming that ‘they’ had taken her soul.  Not once had she recognized Thomas or any of her doctors.  Now he looked into empty eyes when he talked to her.  Under this level of sedation, she never spoke, never answered his questions, never returned his ‘I love you’s.  Each time, he died a little more, watching his wife ebb away bit by bit.  Her body had become skeletal.  Since she had been hospitalized, Moira had only eaten a handful of times, and then only when someone fed her.  Most days, they had her hooked up to an iv to keep her alive.  Violet, the nurse that had been so kind to him that first night, assured him that Ward visited with Moira every day, speaking to her, listening to her hysteria when it surfaced.

The situation seemed unbearably bleak to Thomas.  Every night he spent in the apartment alone made him realize how much he loved her.  It magnified his guilt at leaving her alone, he had known she needed the stability she found when he was there.  She had always said Thomas distracted her, protected her through his presence.  On one level, he knew he was not to blame for Moira’s collapse, but part of him clung to the doubts, the responsibility that hovered over him, waiting for someone else to claim it.

Iris Ward also bore a considerable amount of Thomas’ frustration.  She had been Moira’s therapist for three years.  In his mind, she should have seen the warning signs before Moira broke down completely.  The fact that she was just now seeing their home irritated him.  No, it was worse than that, it offended him.  Yet, he wanted help for his wife, so he agreed to the visit.  Her wasting time going over covered ground annoyed him, though.  When he set the time to meet, he assumed they would be talking about Moira’s treatment, her prognosis, not rehashing history that Ward had been there to observe all along.  He prayed that his agitation and her interrogation would not make him reveal his deepest, most shameful feelings – his anger, no, his rage, at Moira herself.  How could she have let herself fall into madness like this?  How could she have not fought it harder? Irrationally, he wondered if she loved her insanity more than she loved him, if that was why she remained this way.

“I want to hear it from you.”  Ward smiled, her white mane bobbing up and down as she nodded, “You might be able to tell me something that Moira couldn’t or didn’t.”

“I don’t know when it started.”  Thomas shrugged his shoulders helplessly.  Over the past eight weeks he’d lost too much weight, gone too many nights without sleep.  His inability to help his wife made him feel powerless on a basic level.  “It crept upon her so slowly.”

“When did she start sculpting?” Ward put her cup down, picking up her pen and notepad.  Smoothing her skirt before she placed her tablet on her lap, she got a contented smile.  She looked every bit the objective psychiatrist, with her blue suit, wild white hair and manicured nails.  Ward had always taken greater care with her clothes and accessories when she went to a patient’s home, to strive for a greater sense of control, at least over herself.

“Around three months after she started seeing you.” Thomas could not help spitting out his answer, confronted by Ward’s role in bringing this darkness down upon Moira, “You’d recommended that she try to find some way to express the emotions she’d been bottling up.”

“Did she think that they were alive from the beginning?”

“No.”  Thomas closed his eyes, remembering silently for a moment before he continued, “She didn’t mention it until after she’d been hallucinating for some time.”

“She had said that the hallucinations began a year ago in October, is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“How did they begin?”

“They began innocently enough at first,”  Thomas relaxed into his memories, keeping his eyes shut and his voice quiet.  Ward had to lean in to hear him clearly.  “the edges of things were blurring into each other.   Then, they began to shimmer and dance.  Lights would bend and sway, the bed would breathe.  Only at night, and only when she was tired, she said she felt the world turn ‘unreal.’  Everything about her changed, her voice, her mannerisms.  She was completely off balance by what was happening, physically and emotionally.  We assumed that it had something to do with the sleep medication or antidepressants that you had prescribed.”  Thomas looked at Ward accusingly, “When you took her off of them, you said that was probably the case.”  Ward nodded her head slowly, acknowledging the comment, sensitive to the accusation behind it. “But, the hallucinations didn’t exactly stop when she stopped the medication.  She had a short break where she didn’t have any, but that only lasted a few weeks.  Then they started up again.  After awhile, she told me she thought she might be seeing things that most people didn’t, small irregularities in the fabric of the universe.”

“Did you believe that?”

“No.”  Thomas opened his eyes and bore his gaze into Ward, “but it made me think.  She is an artist, and I do think she’s more perceptive than most of us.  She’s definitely more sensitive than other people.  However, I also think that she lets her imagination and her emotions have their way with her.  I believed that she was seeing something, but I didn’t believe that what she saw was real.”

“Did you tell her that?”

Remorse flashed over Thomas’ face before he whispered, “Yes.” Closing his eyes again, he paused for a moment to regain his composure.  “After awhile, the things she saw and I didn’t began to terrify her.  She began to check nearly everything, asking me if what she was seeing was real.  Things like, ‘Did that painting blink at you too?’  Most of the time, she seemed relieved that I didn’t see what she did.  I tried to keep her focused on reality.”

Ward scribbled in her notepad for a moment, before she asked “When did the hallucinations begin to focus on her sculptures?”  She sat, alert, on the couch working to hear what Thomas was not saying.  Thomas kept himself in the reddish darkness, trying to focus her out, trying to ignore that someone was listening to him, judging his wife in absentia, trying to stay true to his memories.

“After about six months.  She came to bed one night and woke me up, saying that one of her sculptures had spoken to her.”

“Which one?”  Ward scribbled in her notepad for a moment, then looked over at Thomas expectantly.

At last Thomas had to open his eyes, for a moment he stared intently at the psychiatrist, before he unfolded his long legs from underneath him and walked to the tall cupboard.  Slowly, he unlocked it and opened its doors.  Ward rose when she saw the rows of sculptures.  Most were between five and eight inches tall, they all showed Moira’s talent.  It took her breath away. There was something slightly unsettling about them, which surprised Ward more than she would admit. During their sessions, Moira had brought a few isolated pieces to Ward to study, and they had been beautiful, but she had not realized that Moira’s sculptures were so consistently compelling. Nor had she guessed at what their aggregate effect would be. Each one, out of the dozens before her, conveyed something to the deepest part of her soul.  They also showed how tormented Moira had been.  Taken as a group, they represented every aspect of Moira’s soul.  Ward sighed as she realized how much she had underestimated the woman and her problems.

“This one, the angel.”  Thomas reached into the cupboard, pulling out the figure of a kneeling woman from the back row on the middle shelf.  Her hands clasped over her chest in prayer, her body straight as an arrow, the angel’s face embodied serenity.   Ward received the sculpture from Thomas carefully, stunned by its detail and grace.  Holding it surprised Ward as well, she had thought it would feel cold and fragile, but it was warm, with the solidity of rock.

“What happened?”  Ward spoke absently, as she turned the sculpture around looking at the long hair flowing down its back, puzzling about why the angel did not have wings or feet.  What in Moira’s psyche made her cobble an angel?

Thomas sighed, “She said that she had been looking at the angel when she realized that its lips were moving.  Moira swore that she,” he pointed to the sculpture, “really was praying.  After watching her for a few moments, Moira heard her voice.  She told me it was the most soothing sound she’d ever heard.  When the angel noticed her, though, she stopped praying. She swore to me that the sculpture looked a little taken back, either from embarrassment or frustration. Thinking it was her fault, Moira apologized and asked the angel to keep praying.  Then, the angel asked Moira if there was anything she wanted her to pray for.”  Tears welled up in his eyes.  “Moira said that she asked the angel to pray that she would be able to get rid of her weakness and flaws through sculpting.”

Ward stared at the angel, waiting for Thomas to finish his story.  It did look like her mouth might just start working.  The lips were parted, giving the illusion that the angel had been frozen in the middle of a word.  After some time, Ward prodded Thomas to continue, “What happened then?”

“The angle asked Moira if she was certain that she wanted to remove her flaws. If she was certain she knew what weakness really was. She told Moira that imperfections were part of her soul, inherent unto her.  Moira said that she didn’t want these things – that she tried to sculpt them out of herself, but she lacked the power to do so.”

“So the angel granted her wish?”  Ward carefully put the angle down on the work table beside her.  Even though it had proved to be hard, solid, she still felt like it ought to be handled with respect.

Thomas smiled, a sad, distant expression, “No. She told Moira that she could not, as a messenger of God, pray for something she knew was wrong.  Instead, she said, she would pray that Moira would have the strength to survive, to flourish.  She said that Moira already had everything she needed inside of her to heal herself or damn herself.”

“And her other sculptures came to life immediately after that?”  Ward looked at the rows and rows of figures, reaching out to touch them, but unwilling to pick them up.  Why did they still seem so fragile, when she knew that they were not?

“No,” Thomas blew his irritation out in a sharp sigh, “I told you before, it crept upon her slowly.”  He moved back to his spot and folded himself back into a lotus.  It looked like he was going to meditate when he closed his eyes and put his hands on his knees, but instead he resumed his narration, his voice even and controlled.  Ward finally began to realize how much the interview was costing Thomas Darrow, how much the past two months had taken from him already.   “As I said, she had been on some anti-depressants,”  he opened his eyes long enough to shoot Ward another accusing glance, “that you had prescribed.  We all assumed that those were causing the hallucinations.  When you took her off of them, she assumed that they would stop.  And, for a while, they did.  But after about a month, the subtle ‘unreality’ came back.  Around eleven or twelve o’clock, she would suddenly switch over.  Her voice would change, her eyes would get large, she’d start telling me what was happening.”  He sighed sharply when he finished with his review, allowing his voice to slow.  “Eventually, the angel started praying again, although Moira told me she couldn’t understand her anymore.   One night after her world had become unreal, Moira was caught with the idea that she really could exorcise her problems in the clay.  She’d been trying it for years, but this time it was different.  Suddenly, she really believed that she could do it physically.  It was like she could take a razor blade to her soul and cut out everything she didn’t want.  She seemed so wild when she told me about this – the angel had said that she had everything she needed within her.  That night, she started to sculpt her gorgon.”

Ward searched through the cupboard, looking for the statue.  Finally, she had to ask him, “Which one is it?”

Thomas sighed again, “It’s in black and white, with her hand upraised… in the very back, top shelf.  I can’t stand to look at it.”

Ward had to stretch onto her toes to find it.  It lurked in the back of the top row, a vision of the woman tormented.  Enthralled by the violent beauty of it, Ward studied it as someone might look at a car wreck, with detached fascination.  A rat was eating into the sculpture’s side, her tongue had wrapped around her neck, choking her, spiders crawled out of her vagina, the fingers on her left hand were broken off, her wrist slashed and bloody, whip marks covered her back.  Worst of all, her right hand was plunged through her breast, coming out of her back.  She had impaled herself.  “What does it mean?” Ward whispered.

“Moira said it was about all the ways we damn ourselves through our actions.  She wanted to stop being self-destructive, so she created something that embodied all the ways she damaged herself.”

“Did this one speak to her?”  Ward’s voice remained hushed, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what it would say.

“Yes.”  Ward had to look at Thomas for a long time before he felt the heat of her stare and continued, “It took a couple of weeks, after it was dried and antiqued.  One night, Moira was quietly listening to music, when she heard muffled cries.  When she looked at the sculpture, it was trying to talk.  She told Moira that she was just the beginning.  That there were many more sculptures she had to create before she would be finished.”  Thomas sighed again, his back and head moving in an effort to relax him.  “After that, she started sculpting compulsively.  When she felt she needed a break from ‘exorcising her demons’ she’d sculpt kinder images, to give her some relief.  Those voices, she said, were compassionate when they spoke to her.”

“And this only happened at night?”  Ward put the gorgon down beside the angel.  “She only heard their voices at night?”

“For awhile.  Then, her unreality moved into the daytime.  Soon after, Moira told me the sculptures would speak to her whenever she paid attention to them.  She claimed it was a matter of focus, of allowing them the right to talk.  The only time they were really silent was when she was actively sculpting.”

“When you say she sculpted compulsively, do you mean that she could not stop sculpting?”

“Once she started a piece, she couldn’t stop working until it was done.”  Thomas shifted himself, bending his legs up before him and wrapping his arms around them.  His chin rested on his knees as he stared intently at the couch.  “That was compulsive as far as I understand it.  But, what I really meant was that she sculpted figure after figure.  She would dream about one, start working on it, finish it, go to bed and then dream about another.  The cycle would start again.  I was the only one who could distract her, by spending time with her, talking with her.”

“So, she did all of these sculptures over a very short period of time?”  Ward knew the answer, but Moira’s prolific creativity amazed enough she needed to have it verified.

“Those and about fifty more.”  Ward looked at Thomas in disbelief, but he kept his gaze on the couch.  “She sold several of them, gave more away, and destroyed quite a few.”  Thomas’ voice grew quiet as he finished his sentence.

“Why did she destroy them?  How many did she destroy?”  Ward felt almost sick at the loss.  Even though they sprang from her patient’s madness, she could not deny the power of the sculptures as art.  Slowly she moved away from the cabinet back to the couch.  When she sat down, Thomas shifted began studying the bookcase to his left.  Obviously, he had become unwilling to look at her.  He was close to losing his composure.

“Around twenty.  To me, they were her best works.”  Thomas shook his head, “She started to destroy them after they came to life.  Each night, a new piece would speak to her.  She saw many of them as vicious, wanting to attack her.  About five months ago, she sculpted an amazing piece – a mother and child.”  Thomas finally looked at Ward, “You know we were trying to have a baby?”

She nodded, muted by the red, mournful look on his face.

“We had been trying for years, long before Moira began seeing you.”  Thomas sighed, turning his gaze back to the books, “Moira wanted a child so badly.   She sculpted the image, using herself as a model for the mother and imagining what our child would look like.  It was spellbindingly lovely, but it didn’t survive for long.  Before Moira took it to get fired, she threw it off our balcony – shattering it into a million pieces.”

“Did she tell you why?”

Thomas nodded slowly, rubbing his cheek against his knees, “Because it had spoken to her, thanked her for giving her such a beautify baby.  Then it told her that she was sorry Moira couldn’t have any.”

“So Moira threw it out in rage?”  Ward picked up her pad again, preparing to write it down.

“No.”  Thomas’ voice was harsh, “Not out of rage.  When the sculpture said Moira would never be a mother, Moira sensed what it said was true.  She told me that, suddenly, after years of longing for children, she just didn’t want them any more.  The desire had left her, it felt like there was a void inside of her.  She destroyed the sculpture, hoping that the desire might come back to her.”  He rose and strode across the room to a window.  There were too many strong emotions in him to remain still.  His only hope to maintain his calm was to vent some of his storm through motion.   After fooling with the window blinds for a moment, he continued, “Moira didn’t want the emptiness there.  She had changed when other aspects had gone out of her…’”

“Changed in what way?”  Ward was writing furiously in her notepad, frustrated with herself for not asking Moira these questions months ago, when she could have answered herself.

“Well,”  Thomas charged across the room, grabbed a sculpture and rushed it to Ward, thrusting it in her face.  She took it from him, startled by the urgency of his actions. It was a woman, her features distorted in rage, shaking her fists.  “She sculpted this after we’d had an awful fight.  She’d apologized to me a thousand times for losing her temper.  As it got later in the night, she started mumbling about how good it would be if she didn’t get angry at all.”  Snatching the figurine back from her, Thomas stalked back to the cupboard and returned the work to its place. “When I came home from work the next day, anger was gone.  After that, I never saw Moira get angry, no matter what I did to provoke her.”  He sounded bitter.

“That seemed like a good development to me,” Ward offered, a little hesitantly, “she seemed so much more even at the time.  Calmer, at least when she was with me.”

“No!” Thomas shouted, “She was dead!”  They were both silent, as his outburst rang out, hovering between them.  At last, Thomas started speaking again, his voice hushed and deep, “She just didn’t care about things anymore.  Not even her sculpting, in a way.  She stopped trying to sell pieces, or fighting for a fair price for those few people requested.  She even agreed to visit my parents for a week – something she would never have done in her right mind.  When we got there, she just absorbed everything Mother said quietly, without defending herself.  She just didn’t care.  That was really how she lost her anger, she stopped caring about things.”

“Like she stopped caring about having children?” Ward put down her pen, too interested in Thomas’ story to take notes.

“No.  After anger she still yearned for motherhood.  Maybe it was the biological imperative most women feel, maybe it was the thirst for love, I don’t know.  When she thought that mother and child had robbed her of that, she wanted to get it back. She said she would rather have the unfulfilled desire than the emptiness.  So she destroyed it, hoping that if it didn’t exist, her desire would return to her.”
“It didn’t.”  Ward knew the answer, her voice was flat and low with expectation.
“No.”  Thomas moaned, his face bleak.  “All the ones she destroyed were of qualities she wanted back.  They were the positive hopeful things she created, trying to distract herself from her living faults.  I don’t think she ever expected these to come to life.  The last one was of an old couple, holding each other on a porch swing.  She smashed it saying she’d just sculpted away our future together, and she couldn’t bear to lose that.”  He rubbed his face with his hands before he continued, “I kept telling her that she hadn’t really lost these things, that she still had all of her flaws and hopes, that her sculptures really weren’t alive, that she was still the woman she’d always been.”  Tears rolled down his cheeks, he finally made no attempt to hide his grief.

“She didn’t believe you.”  Her tone was still even and low, again she knew the answer.

“No.  She would tell me that I didn’t understand.  She said she had been diminished, that these things were gone.  Her hallucinations grew worse, she became completely terrified of her pieces – buying that cupboard just so she could lock them away.  But, she didn’t stop sculpting.  Almost every morning she’d awaken with an idea, sculpt until it was done, and then lose that part of her soul.  It was relentless.  Really, though, she was diminishing,”  his eyes moved to Ward’s helplessly, “she was vanishing before my eyes.  Her illness chiseling away at her bit by bit.”

“Did she ever say she wanted children again?”

“No.  And she never got angry again.”  Thomas reached into the cupboard and began to take pieces out and angrily thump them on the work table. “And she never expressed sexual passion, or her religious faith, or her curiosity, or even her desire to get a cat…”  he stopped taking out the works and let his forehead fall against the cupboard door.  He stood there letting tears fall silently down his cheeks, until Ward walked over to him.  Gently, she put her hand on his arm, trying to comfort him.  When Thomas spoke, it was with a voice struggling over his tears, “Finally there was nothing left in Moira, but the fear of her sculptures and the madness of her hallucinations.”  His shoulders sagged as he continued to lean against the cupboard and cry.

Ward patted Thomas on the back, as comfortingly as possible.  She could think of nothing to say.  Since they brought Moira into the hospital, she had been heavy with her own guilt.  What Thomas had said was true.  They watched Moira diminish, and could not stop it.  Each of them had tried to pull Moira back as best they could, but without any success.  Ward shook her head silently while she listened to him weep.  Throughout her descent, Ward had met with Moira once a week, talking about her husband, her family, her friends.  Granted she had noted that Moira was becoming more distant, more removed, but Ward had misinterpreted the change.  At first, she had thought it was the medication.  Then, she supposed Moira gaining a more even balance, mastering the mood swings she had endured for so long.  In the end, she thought it was her depression resurfacing.  Moira had only rarely mentioned her hallucinations, minimizing them, and Ward had not thought to ask if they had gotten worse.  Instead, whenever they spoke of them, Ward had gently reminded Moira that they were not real, that she should remind herself of that.  “Maybe that’s why she stopped telling me about them,”  she wondered.  At this point, she felt as disheartened as Thomas seemed.  Even her colleagues, whom she interrogated almost daily about the case, were running out of ideas on how to help Moira.  If things didn’t change soon, she’d have to pull in another psychiatrist full time.  Eventually, Thomas’ rumbling voice broke through Ward’s thoughts.

“When will she be herself again?” he had turned to her, looking utterly desperate.

“I don’t know.”  Ward dropped her hand.  “I came here hoping to find a way to help her.”  She met his gaze, her eyes wide.  Thomas’ heart dropped with her voice, “We are running out of ideas.”

“Christmas is in a couple of weeks,”  shaking his head, not completely able to process what she was saying.

“She won’t be home for it, Thomas.”  Ward tried to sound as compassionate as she could.  This was a hard thing for her to say.  “Even if she starts to improve tomorrow, she won’t be ready to be released by then.”

“What are you doing for her?”  he shook, his lips quivering, “What’s wrong with her?  What are you doing to bring her back?”

Ward started to tell him about the different approaches she had been considering, various medications and stimuli geared toward making Moira come out of this state.  Lists of diagnoses leapt to her mouth, ready to be said.  Yet, she pursed her lips, silencing the list and jargon.  Talking to him, she had realized that none of that information would really help him.  They had gone over it before.  Nothing they were doing was guaranteed to work, and they were only moderately sure that they knew what Moira was suffering from anyway.  Quietly, she told him that she had been consulting with several other doctors, and that they were not sure what to do, but that they would try everything they could to make her well again.

Tears started pouring out of Thomas’ eyes again.  He sagged against the cabinet, trying not to break down completely, “Could we continue this another day?” he pleaded with her, swallowing his sob after he spoke.

Soundlessly, Ward nodded.  She smoothed her jacket, walked back to the couch and put her pen and notepad in her briefcase.  Behind her, she heard the sorrow tear itself out of Thomas, but she did not turn back to look.  This was something he needed his privacy for, he had to grieve over his loss.  Violet had told her that Thomas visited Moira every day, holding her when she was calm enough, pouring out his love for her.  “This is too hard for him,” Violet had said, “He loves her too much to see her like this.”  Ward prayed that he would be able to find comfort through this time, somehow, as she left the apartment, closing the door behind her.  When the latch clicked shut, she heard Thomas’ sobbing grow louder as all the shreds of control he had left disappeared.  She could still hear him when she left the building.

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