Tag: short story

starting over again

It seems surreal that i am back here again: being an artist who sells her work.  A week ago yesterday, we had an event here at the studio, after which i  committed to keeping the studio open every Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm for the rest of the year. Last night, i was so excited at the prospect that i barely slept.  Just being out here, making art, opening the door to sales, this is a big deal for me.

Truly, i believe that this is only happening because of the intervention of other artists.  Several provided me with amazing support when i face tasks that were impossible while this body languished in such a diminished state.  They have proven themselves willing to help me out when i have been overwhelmed.  In an act of belief that still boggles my mind, i have been blessed to share my studio space with creatives willing to partner their art with mine at these events.  You can see their work at these etsy shops, if you cannot travel to the coast of Maine:

https://www.etsy.com/shop/nekojindesign
https://www.etsy.com/shop/thecommonshaman
https://www.etsy.com/shop/theperfectcup

i cannot quite process the generosity of spirit that they are displaying.  Between these two and those who unflinchingly had my back over the past few  years, it has helped me create a new perspective when other people comment on my return to the world of art.  Things that would have crushed me when i was still alone, now give testimony to my good fortune.

At the first event we hosted, just over a month ago, people were surprised to see me.  They laughed, “We thought you were dead.”  Scores more told me that they heard i was having problems financially and physically, and that they were shocked i had made it through. i wondered why they talked like this, so comfortable at articulating their surprise at my continued existence, until i remembered that i am an introvert without family and have a learned to suffer alone rather than spill it out onto the shoes of random strangers.  Not to say people haven’t had to clean off the slime of woe after talking to me, but when i am on the edge of survival, i crawl into my hole and to heal.

Thus, when things got really bad for me, i retreated into art and the work that needed to be done to move from one minute to the next. It was all i could do. Overloaded as i was, i could not reach out; rejection would have been that one thing too much to bear.  No one else is responsible for those tendencies in myself, but realizing that they created the environment for those comments to appear was incredibly helpful.

By in large, i found i could eventually laugh at those statements and reassure people: i am alive, i never stopped making art, and here i am back to running a business, albeit part time.  However, it shook me to my core as a reminder that i am truly starting over.  The work i have been doing was invisible to the rest of the world, unless a manuscript wandered into your email’s inbox.   No one else saw that i had never fully surrendered; now, many can witness how reopening with hope and a support network is the greatest blessing possible for one that has been so alone.

Last week, a couple pulled me aside to discuss with great satisfaction what had been the hardest time in my life – when i had to start going backwards, cannibalizing the studio instead of investing in it, when i could not move my arm, when tumors had taken over to the point i could barely bend over without howling in pain, when i first found out that my hips would have to be replaced.  All this time later, they were still so pleased with the buy they got on the equipment i sold them so that i could keep living.  They let me know they had only come by to see if i was still selling off my tools at bargain prices.

While they gushed about the memory, i could not help but hear the echos of my the howling cries that night, realizing that with that sale of a wheel and kiln, i had admitted to myself that i was too broken to work. 

Exchanges like that would have made me feel excruciatingly isolated before, but my situation has changed.  i had people sitting beside me, ready to tell me things would not get that bad again.

My heart started to sing with gratitude over the miracle of human beings willing to roll up their sleeves and help me out, who stayed in touch and kept supporting my compulsive vocation to create.  Having people in your corner is always a blessing, but in this moment, when i realize that i am not hobbling forward by myself any longer, it feels like the sun has come out to shine on my life.

However, there is no room for denial: i am starting over as a business woman. People, quite literally, thought i was dead.  There is no greater indication that i am starting from scratxh than rising from a perceptual grave.  This voyage into business has to be different, too.  i am undertaking this journey hyperaware that my body’s needs cannot be pushed aside. Still, opening myself up be here in the studio, ready to make sales, feeds the best part of me.  This feels like a miracle.  i want to dance with gratitude; if only it didn’t hurt so much to stand.

And that sound you hear?  That is me shouting thanksgivings for the people who love me and are willing to help.

The Larkus Ending

The first time i heard this music, i was very young.  Before school, certainly – probably between three and four.  i remember listening to it, not for the first time, in the darkened den. This journey in music always struck me into silence. Perhaps that is why my mother put it on.  Once that opening grabbed me, i let very little other sensation come in. For awhile, i felt things.  My pajamas had footies and was made of the softest cotton.  i felt safer in those than i did in a nightgown.  The couch held me gently, its fluffy cushion under my head.  My mother read by lamplight, having turned off the overheads.

In all likelihood, she was hoping that i would fall asleep, but when the entire symphony joined that singular melody, like a group of angels following the first sad one to comfort it, in a crescendo of glory, i lost any connection to my responsibilities or her expectations. In that darkened space, i laid on my back, and dissolved into the lilting music.

i soared.  By the time i had heard it three times, i became utterly convinced that this was written just for me, to lift me out of my life and take me sailing through the sky.  The sighing melody alternated between sadness and joy, the singular and the plural, echoing down to my fingertips and toes.

To this day, i hear the first notes of that music and i am as enthralled as a child again, floating on clouds and rising through the air. The crescendos and the moments when one or two instruments seemed to take to the winds in isolation left me thrilled. From repetition, i knew they would not be alone for long. The subsequent swelling of sound made me fill up to bursting with joy.  It gave me hope. Maybe the same would be true for me. Maybe, someday, i would not be lonely any more.

If i had known that the instrument i heard was a violin, i probably would have demanded lessons, despite listening to my older brother’s rather taxing abuse of the instrument.

As the last three beats of the song faded away, i sat up on the couch, stretching the fabric covering my feet and legs as i crossed them. “What is a Larkus?”  i chirped, “And why is it Ending?”

It took a second for my mother to pull herself out of the novel.  Then she looked at me dumbfounded for a moment.  “What the fuck are you talking about?” Her voice was deep but not unkind.

“This song.  You told me it was called The Larkus Ending.  What is a Larkus?  Why is it ending?  And why is it so happy about it?”

She stared at me for a second before she started to laugh, “Oh, my God you are retarded.  I told you it was called THE. LARK. ASCENDING. by Ralph Vaughan Williams.”

My shame at my perpetual stupidity quickly surrendered to more curiosity.  “What is a Lark?”

“A bird.”

“OOOOH.”  Suddenly i knew why i had been flying through the sky in my footie pajamas.  That was why the music freed me from the ground.  “Can we listen to it again?”

She sighed, but was still clearly entertained by my mistake, “Will you be quiet?”

Bouncing on the couch, “Yes!”  Bouncing some more, “I will!”

“Alright.”  Very slowly she marked her place in the book and then she got up from her chair and walked over to the record player. Before the first notes started again, I had gone back to laying on the couch, ready to lose myself in the music. “Seriously,” she spoke to herself more than me, “I ought to just put this on a reel to reel for you, so you can listen to the damned song on endless repeat.”

She eventually did. It was fabulous.

 The Lark Ascending was the first experience of what would be a love affair with music.  i can get drunk on harmony and melody, without the help of any other intoxicants.  Songs that have become good friends, ones to which i consistently turn when i am in need.

To this day, the Lark Ascending is a miracle in my life.  The other day at work, i was exhausted and frustrated.  i had lost the ability to pretend that i was anything other than on the edge of what i could take mentally and physically.  During my last break, i retreated to the comfortable chairs, put on headphones, and listened to the Lark Ascending at full volume, from beginning to end.  i miss the soft cotton footie pajamas, but i still soar when i hear that song.  It left me strengthened enough that i could get through the last stretch of my shift.

The tiny girl that still lives with me remains convinced that this particular sequence of notes was written just for her, so she could fly no matter how lonely and sad she felt.

Halloween Fiction: the sculptor: 11 of 11

*** part: 1234567 8 9 10***

Thomas started driving to their old apartment out of habit on the way home, so it took him twice as long to get to the new house as it should have.  He stopped for dinner on the way, comforting himself by thinking about Violet’s unanticipated superstitions, by her willingness to believe Moira’s fiction.  It made him feel better about himself, at least he had not been trapped into actually believing it despite what happened. During the hallucination it felt real, but honestly, self torture althe had more rationality than that.  As long as he kept reminding himself of the logical explanations – like those terrible neighbors playing jokes on him – he was on solid ground.  He only got as far as feeling like he could understand Moira’s madness, before Violet’s incomprehensible credulity acted like cold water washing over his psyche.  He grounded himself in his sanity.

When he got home, he was exhausted.  He locked the door, threw his coat down on the couch and got a cup of water.  Then, he went to the bedroom barely looking at the door to Moira’s unused study.  It was still closed and locked, with the cupboard inside of it, all the sculptures trapped behind that set of closed and locked doors.  He was doubly safe. He had nothing to fear, no reason to be anxious. After locking the bedroom doors behind him, he told himself he was invulnerable.  The new bedroom was blissfully soothing, too, all grays and muted blues.  Once inside it, he started to relax.  Sipping his water, he decided that he should just let himself fall asleep.  There was no point in torturing himself by reading or watching tv.

Slowly he stripped and climbed into bed.  Every muscle was sore from the move and the nights of restless agitation.  Each atom of his body was begging for restoration.  He entered the darkness of sleep before he had finished pulling the covers over him.

Sometime during the night, a sharp pain in his right shoulder pulled him unwillingly out of his slumber.  The pain had spread to his right side before his eyes could focus in front of him.

Instantly, terror overcame him as he looked into the eyes of viciousness standing tall upon his chest, blade high above his head ready to bear down.  Just behind viciousness, struggling on the bed, he saw anger, being restrained by compassion, but still able to laugh and say, ‘I told you we’d kill you, you son-of-a-bitch.’

In the moment before viciousness could bring down his weapon, Thomas thought it was ironic that he was being murdered by a delusion.  How could her madness have been telling the truth? How could a fantasy cut with such merciless rage? Only, now it was too late for him to ask – his thoughts flowed out of him with his blood.  His logic could not help either Moira or himself.

Halloween Fiction: the sculptor: 10 of 11

*** part: 1234567 8 9***

Violet was waiting for him just outside the door.  She pulled him out of Moira’s earshot and pushed him into an office used by the doctors for private interviews, before she shook her head,  “Thomas, why didn’t you tell me about this sooner?”  She sounded deeply upset, “You have my home number, you should have called me immediately, or just come to my house.”

“I was tired,” he stared at the floor as he spoke,luz morgan monroe ashamed of himself.  Somehow, he felt weak for having been so afraid of very things he had been telling his wife were delusions for over a year, “I’ve been thinking so much about what Moira imagined, I guess I started to hallucinate the same thing.”

Her eyes narrowed and her voice grew colder as Violet responded, “That has always been your greatest fault, Thomas.” he looked at her startled, she had never sounded so judgmental before, “You have such a small view of what’s real.”

“What do you mean?” he could not understand what she was saying to him.

“Moira,” she thrust her hand down the hall, toward his sleeping wife, “was a strong, vital woman before all of this started to happen.  You taught me that with all the stories you shared.  I feel like I know that twenty year old woman you described, as well as I know Moira now.” Violet paced the floor of the small office violently, “I refuse to believe that she could fall into such a state for so long, being so afraid, of nothing.  Something happened to that woman, I believe it.”  She stopped when she was facing Thomas, thumping her hand over her heart for emphasis.

“You don’t believe that her sculptures really came to life?” Thomas sounded sarcastic, incredulous that this intelligent, professional woman could succumb to such unbelievable things.

“I can’t say that I don’t.”  Violet said strongly, staring into Thomas’ eyes defiantly, “I’ve heard Moira scream about them too many times, with too much conviction in her voice, in her fears, to doubt her.”  She poked Thomas’ chest so potently that he backed away from her, “Listen to what she said, there is something in that.  She spent all morning today telling me about what happened.  Hours and hours of terror poured out of that woman.  I don’t believe that she did it all to herself, because of some psychosis.”

“Violet,”  Thomas put his hands on her shoulders, “you know that I adore you. You have been like an angel in my life. But you can’t say this.” She rolled her eyes as he spoke, “Maybe you’ve become too emotionally attached to Moira,…”

“Maybe,”  she scolded Thomas, “you’ve been too detached.”

Thomas felt a wave of guilt wash over him.  Never before had Violet criticized his relationship with Moira, his lapses of attention.  It was too much for him to hear.  He turned away from her and grabbed the door.  “I should go home.”

“I’m sorry.” Violet sounded sincere, but Thomas could not make himself turn around to look into those eyes, “I know you love her.  But, maybe, you should trust her a little more.  That might be the key to helping her.”  Thomas started into the hallway, when he felt a hand on his arm.  Finally, he looked back at Violet to see her face grave with concern.  “Thomas, call me if anything happens.  Anything.  Even if you just feel uncomfortable.  I’ll be there in an few minutes, your new house is close to me.  If you want to stay at my place, you know you’re welcome to.”

“Thank you for caring about her so much,”  Thomas rumbled, “I should get going.”

He was walking toward the elevators when he heard Violet call out, “Take care of yourself, Thomas.”

Halloween Fiction: the sculptor: 9 of 11

*** part: 1234567 8***

“Thomas, is that you?”  Moira nearly knocked over her tray, reaching out to him.

Thomas ran to her and pushed it out of the way.  He gathered her up in his arms, rumbling, “Moira, I love you.  I love you so much.” Violet closed the door behind quietly behind him, to give them time alone together as she always did.

contentment4“It is you!”  For a moment Moira’s voice was like a child’s, excited and high.  She hugged him tightly, then pulled back to look at his face, “You’ve changed.  You’ve lost a lot of weight.”

“So have you.” He caressed her cheek lovingly, tears welling up in his eyes, “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard your voice.”

Panic crossed over her face for a moment, as she glanced around her, “I don’t think they’ll hear me from in here.”  She started to shake, “I don’t think they can get in here.”

Thomas held her close, stroking her hair. Even given the experience he had had over the weekend, he still had an impulse to correct her.  He stifled it, murmuring instead, “No, they can’t.  They can’t hear you, they can’t get in here.”

Moira relaxed into his arms and let him comfort her.  Pushing away again, she looked at Thomas with relief, “Violet said that she would keep them out.”

Thomas nodded, “She would do anything to keep you safe, she cares for you very much.”

Smiling shyly, Moira glanced toward the door where Violet had last been, “I know.  I don’t know why, but I know she cares.”  Her eyes unfocused as she gazed into nothingness.  Thomas’ heart began to fall, as he thought she had lost herself again.  His head drooped with fearful sorrow, when she tapped his shoulder, and spoke to him, her voice skeptical, “Thomas, you said they couldn’t get in.”

“They can’t.” he tried to sound reassuring, reaching out to touch her cheek again, “There is no way they could travel this distance, get through all these doors.”

“But before you said that they weren’t real.”  She squinted at him, working to concentrate, like she was putting the pieces of a puzzle together.  “You always insisted they weren’t real.”

Thomas stammered.  He had thought he would be talking to her sedated, motionless form.  Over the weekend as he unpacked things, half-listening to Patrick’s endless babbling, he worked out an entire speech of apology that he would address to her.  While he could not tell her about his dream, he could not lie to her either. Suddenly her delusions seemed so much more plausible.  He understood how she got that way. But facing her, talking to her, he lost all his words. Moira’s recovery shocked him too much to be creative.  With her awake, coherent, it was an different matter, he did not want to feed her fear, her madness, by admitting he had encountered them, too.  “Um,”  he did not know what to say, he just wrapped his hands about hers.

She started to pat his hand, waiting for an answer, when she felt the bandages on his hands.  Thomas had forgotten about the cuts.  “What happened to you?” She sounded so concerned.  Finally, he thought, she’s coming out of herself.

“I hurt myself packing.”  Thomas rushed to say it, his voice too forceful.  When he saw Moira’s eyes narrow he continued on, trying to distract her.  “I bought a house for us, its a beautiful place, I can’t wait for you to see it. You have an enormous studio, with so much light. I’d brought you pictures the last time I was here, but you were too sleepy to see them…”

“What were you packing when you hurt yourself?”  There was an edge of hysteria in her question, she had begun shaking with fear.

Thomas drew her close again, stroking her hair, unable to decide what he should tell her.  He mumbled an “I’m sorry,” which made her tremble more.

“Did they hurt you?”  She began weeping into his shoulder, “I was always afraid that they would strike out at you if they can’t get to me…”

He just held her, in silence, trying to give her his strength.

There was a knock at the door, just before Violet swooped in with three servings of Jell-O and three small plastic cups filled with ginger ale.  “I thought we should celebrate, so I raided the kitchen…”  her sing-song paused when she saw Moira’s tears, “Now what’s going on here people?” she scolded, “You’re supposed to be happy today!”

“They’ve gone after Thomas,: Moira wailed pushing Thomas away from her and grabbing his wrists, “just look at his hands.” She exposed the wounds for Violet to see.

Thomas looked helplessly at the nurse, as she studied him.  “Is this true, Thomas?”  To Thomas’ amazement, there was no hint of skepticism in her voice, just sober concern.

“I was tired.”  Thomas moved to the bed and leaned against it, staring at the floor.  He could not look either woman in the eye. “I had waited to pack the sculptures last.  I must have had a nightmare.”

“And a dream cut your hands?”  Violet put the tray down on the bureau and grabbed some gloves from the box by the door.  Gracefully, she moved toward him and began inspecting the wounds, ripping the bandages off impatiently.  “You think we are so stupid as to believe that?”

“I…”  Thomas stammered as he looked at Moira, her eyes huge with fear.  He could not lie to that face.  “I don’t know.”  His voice was so low when he responded, that he could barely hear it himself.

“Oh, no.”  Moira cried, “Oh, no.”  She looked at Violet desperately, “It’s because I’m not there.  They want to hurt me any way they can, so they’re going after him.  He’d be safe if I was there!”

“I’m not going to let anything happen to either one of you.”  Violet sounded so confident, she comforted Thomas as well as Moira.  Her stare penetrated both of them as she spoke, those lovely, serious eyes adding weight to what she said. “No one or nothing will hurt you while I’m here to stop them.” Violet finished inspecting Thomas’ cuts, and said authoritatively, “I’ll be back in a minute, these need to be cleaned.  They are already starting to get infected.” She smacked Thomas on the arm, “You should have called me, I would have taken care of this earlier.”

While Violet was gone, Moira and Thomas stared at each other.  Finally, Thomas said, “I’m sorry, Moira.”

She shook her head, about to speak, when Violet came back with a tray filled with bandages, alcohol and other first aid supplies.  “You two have got to understand that I’m not going to let any harm come to either one of you,”  she put on a new pair of gloves and ripped open some kind of wound cleaner.  Thomas winced as she scrubbed out the cuts.  “I care for you too much. I have grown attached these past months. You couldn’t be more dear to me if you were my own flesh and blood.”

Moira relaxed marginally with the Violet’s last reassurance, watching soundlessly as Violet finished cleaning and rebandaging Thomas’ hands.  When she was done, Violet ripped off her gloves, pushed Thomas back toward Moira and passed out the Jell-O and ginger ale.  Raising her own glass high, she enthused, “Now, here’s to the future… to the day Moira goes home and you have me over for dinner.”

Their cups quietly touched each other as they made their toast.  After they had their celebration, Violet left Moira and Thomas alone again.  He held her and told her how much he loved her.  When her eyes were starting to droop, he picked her up and put her into the bed.  She stirred slightly before she dropped into sleep, mumbling “I love you” as she drifted off.

“I love you too,” Thomas kissed her on the lips then on the forehead, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

Halloween Fiction: the sculptor: 8 of 11

*** part: 1234567***

Thomas entered the hospital slowed by his burdens and soreness from moving. Carrying the box of journals, he took the elevator to her floor.  It had been almost two weeks since his last visit.  After his conversation with Kendle, his absence seemed inexcusable.  As soon as he walked up to the nurses’ station, Violet met him with a smile and plucked the box out of his hands, putting it on her dedancer 2 altsk.  “How are you doing, Thomas? How did the move go?”  She turned back to him and gave him a swift hug, her dark eyes glittered with happiness and interest.

“Fine, I suppose.”  Thomas hesitated for a moment, almost ready to tell Violet about his hallucinations, but he decided against it.  He did not want to diminish himself in her view, he had become very fond of her over the months of Moira’s confinement.  Violet had taken both he and Moira under her wing.  “The new house is beautiful.  Lots of light.” At least that he could say with more enthusiasm.  “I want to leave a key here with you, in case something were to happen to me, or Moira would get out…”  he took an envelope out of his pocket, “I trust you, Violet, and I don’t want Moira to feel locked out when she can come home.”

Violet smiled broadly and put the envelope into her purse.  “We have a wonderful surprise for you, today.”

Thomas smiled despite himself, caught up in her infectious mood.  “Kendle told me that Moira recognized you, and she was sitting up.”  The prospect of more good news warmed him.  “Has something else happened?”

“Yes,” Violet linked her arm into Thomas’ and started to guide him toward Moira’s room.  “But I want to start from the beginning.”  She pouted playfully, “I feel cheated that Kendle told you first, so I’m going to pretend he didn’t.  Moira recognized me Saturday.”

“That is almost too wonderful to believe.” Thomas stopped walking, pulled himself away so he was facing her, and stared at Violet’s joyous smile.

“You heard me, man.”  Violet laughed, “I walked in to check on her and she was fairly alert, sitting up in bed.  When I came in she looked at me, and she said ‘Hello, Violet.’”

“She did?”  it seemed surreal to Thomas, even though this was the second time he heard it.  Hope had been so far away from him just a few days before.

Violet laughed again, linking her arm in his and leading him along.  “Yes, she did.”  After a few steps, she smiled broadly at him again, “And that’s not all.”  She let Thomas’ smile ask the question for him, “She’s also eating her lunch on her own.”

“She ate?  You didn’t have to feed her?”  Now that, Thomas had been completely unprepared for.  He whispered his questions, eyes wide.

“Am I there, you silly man?  She’s eating right now.”  They had reached Moira’s room, and he saw his wife, sitting in a chair, a tray of food before her.  Her fingers reached out and picked up the food gingerly, like it was the first time she had ever done it.

“Do you think it’s the change in her medications?”  Thomas tore his eyes away to see Violet beaming with pride.  “Kendle said he had taken her off everything.  It seemed like he was giving up.  I should’ve been here to see her more, but it all seemed so…”

“There’s no need to apologize, Thomas.”  Violet patted his back, maternally.  Over the months, she had provided so much support to him, “You have a lot on your plate, right now.  They officially took her off all medications about a week ago.  Dr. Kendle won the fight to take off everything; her body has to clean itself out before he can give her anything new.  We had to move her to isolation for a couple of days, either Margaret or I stayed with her while she screamed, but eventually she calmed down.  Friday night, she went to sleep for Margaret, a deep sleep, and then when I got in Saturday, she recognized me.  Today she’s talked and eaten.  It’s amazing to see.”  Faintly, Thomas could hear Moira humming through the glass.  The sound made his heart leap with hope.  He remembered when she used to break out in song. Maybe she could come back to him.  For so long, he had not dared to dream about that.  He put his hand on the door, ready to go in.  Violet got her pass card out, poised, ready to swipe it, but stopped.  Instead, she put her hand over Thomas’, her lovely eyes studying him soberly, “Now this is good news, Thomas.  She’s been improving for the past few days, but still, don’t expect too much from her.  This will take time, she has to heal.  She’s still terribly afraid.  I think she’s just finally starting to trust that she’s safe here.”

Violet’s seriousness cooled Thomas’ enthusiasm, and the familiar sorrow he had felt for months welled back into him.  All he could do was nod and whisper, “I won’t expect the world.”

Her smile flashed again, as Violet ran her card through the lock.  The lock buzzed, and she pushed on his hand to open it.  “Now go tell that woman you love her.”

Thomas walked through the door, awestruck as Moira looked up from her dinner, smiled brightly, and said “Thomas?”

Halloween Fiction: the sculptor: 7 of 11

*** part: 123456 ***

It took two days before Thomas could deal with Moira or her doctors.  His brother had met him at the new house, helping with the unpacking.  Thomas hadn’t told him about his experience with the sculptures, suspicious that Patrick would tease him even more than the movers had.  Instead he asked Pat to put them away on other emotional grounds.  ‘They remind me of Moira too much,’ Thomas had explained.  That reason firstsculpturealtwas valid too, and Pat dutifully unpacked them, locking them back in their cabinet, without questioning his big brother further.

For the rest of the weekend, Pat kept Thomas distracted with stories about college and drinking parties.  Those kind of things had never really interested Thomas, but at least they kept him from dwelling on his nightmare too much.  Monday morning, after Pat left for college, Thomas called Dr. Kendle.  Quietly he told him about the journals, describing how far back they went and how complete they were.  “Violet can keep the journals for me until I get to the hospital on Tuesday.”  Kendle had been enthusiastic about the find,  “She has keys to my office in the hospital.  We can keep them there.  This may be what we need to bring Moira back completely.”

“I’m glad I found them, then.”  Thomas tried to sound happy, but thinking about the journals brought back memories of those animated demons.

“I have good news for you, too, Thomas.”  Kendle’s smile was almost audible.

“What?”  anticipation snapped Thomas back into the conversation.

“We’d tried to call you this weekend,” he started.

“My phone just got hooked up today,”  Thomas interjected apologetically, as a wave of guilt hit him.  A little voice inside of his mind chastised him or not sitting by the phone, unmoving, waiting for the hospital to call with news.

“We figured,” Kendle sounded a little peevish, frustrated at being cut off in the middle of his progress report.

“What happened?”

“Moira recognized Violet Saturday morning.”  Kendle sounded triumphant.

The news made Thomas stand up, it shocked him so much.  “What?”

“That’s not all,”  the voice merrily crackled over the phone, “yesterday she was sitting up in bed, responding to her name.”

“Oh, my God.” Thomas was shaking with the news.  Of all the times for him to be out of reach, why did it have to be now?

“It’s fantastic, isn’t it!”  Again, Thomas could hear the grin as it spread across Kendle’s face.  “Taking her off the mediation seems to have helped.  I’ve asked Violet to stay with her as much as she can, to try and keep her with us.”

“I’ll be in later today,”  Thomas rushed to say, the guilt and joy competing within him.

“That’s wonderful,”  Kendle said, “with luck she’ll recognize you.”

Halloween Fiction: the sculptor: 6 of 11

***part 1part 2part 3part 4part 5 ***

Curled up behind the steering wheel, keys in the ignition, doors locked Thomas felt safe enough to sleep deeply, the victim of his exhaustion and stress.  He awoke only when he heard the moving van rumble up in front of his building.  Blinking, he had a vague, disconcerting memory of having a nightmare, but he shook it off – there were too many things to do.  Still bleary-eyed and disoriented, Thomas introduced himself to the crew of workers.

“Have you finished packing?”  one of the younger men asked, peering through the window as Thomas unlocked big angel altthe door.

With the question, Thomas reached back into his mind to remember the events of the night before.  Trying to stifle his sudden wave of fear, he rushed to answer, “I should only have one box left, I can pack it while you load the other boxes into the truck.”  Because, he reassured himself, none of it was real.

When he swung the door open, he gasped in terror.

There were sculptures everywhere.  Most of the boxes had been opened, clothes and books spewed across the floor.  Curiosity was frozen on top of a box, trying to remove the tape.  Viciousness was busy bludgeoning another sculpture, cowardice, by the door.  Mischeviousness held onto the hot water tap in the kitchen as a cold stream gushed into the sink.

For the moment, though, the were all still, unmoving, frozen in the middle of their mayhem.

Behind him Thomas heard the boss sigh sharply, “Is this what you think being packed should be, Mr. Darrow?”

Eyes wide, Thomas turned back to the man.  His look of shock softened the boss’ scowl.  “This…”  he squeaked, “This isn’t what it looked like when I left last night.”

The youngest man shrugged, offering helpfully, “Maybe some kids got in last night, and decided to mess with you?”

Numbly, Thomas nodded.  That must be it.  Someone in the complex heard about Moira’s situation and decided to play a cruel joke.

“If you want us to help you clean up this mess,” the boss rumbled, “it will be an extra charge.”

“Oh.”  Thomas nodded his head eagerly, “That’s okay.  If you all can pack up those sculptures, I’ll fix the rest.”

The men laughed at his eagerness to have them do the ‘easy’ job, at his obvious unwillingness to handle these lumps of clay.  When they saw the wide berth Thomas gave any piece he came across, it fueled their glee.   Still shaking their heads and chuckling they began wandering through the apartment, collecting the artwork.

Every so often, someone would sneak behind Thomas, brandishing a statue, and scream “Gotcha!” just to watch him jump.  With great delight, the youngest held a statuette to his neck and screamed, “Help! Help!  He’s trying to kill me!”

Thomas took all their ribbing quietly, he was too spooked for any shows of bravado.  Their teasing could not outweigh his fear.

It only took them an hour to find all the sculptures and pack them away.  After that was done, Thomas started breathing easier.  For his part, he had cleaned up the mess that had been left, “It must’ve been kids or something,” he kept whispering to himself, “someone trying to scare me, someone who knew about Moira.”

His rationalizations came easier given the spectacle that had occurred when Moira was taken to the hospital.  Police, emergency medical people, firemen, neighbors all cluttered in front of their door, talking about how the poor lady had gone mad.  Moira’s screaming had let everyone know what was happening.  Part of Thomas’ incentive to move was the persistent habit of the tenants in his building to snicker when they saw him, asking how his wife was, if any art had attacked her lately.  Before Moira’s hospitalization, he had thought that he had endured that cruelest people had to offer when he was a child and adolescent trapped in school with unfriendly, taunting peers.  ‘Adults can be just as bad,’ he reminded himself, as he heard the moving crew still joking among themselves about his apprehension, ‘even worse, because they are more practiced in cruelty.’

The repacking and resealing went fairly quickly and soon the movers were hefting the furniture and boxes into the truck.  Thomas picked up the box marked ‘Moira’s Journals’ and put it in his car.  While he was bent down over it, he stroked her name on the top of the box and whispered, “I can understand your fear, finally, sweetheart.  You lost so much sleep, you were in such a bad state, your hallucinations must’ve seemed so real.  I’d just never let myself get fatigued enough to have one like that.  And, if it hadn’t been for the movers, I might not have understood that someone had moved them, playing some kind of joke on me.  It would have been terrifying.  I can finally understand how you felt.”

Halloween Fiction: the sculptor: 5 of 11

***part 1part 2part 3part 4***

Christmas and New Years Eve came and went, with Thomas alone in their apartment and Moira sedated and hospitalized.  He spent Valentine’s day staring at their wedding pictures, and his birthday with his family listening powerlessly to his mother recite all the reasons why he should not have married Moira in the first place.  As the time had passed, his guilt and grief lessened to some degree, although he could not think about her without the sadness washing over him.

anger

After five months he stopped seeing her every day, after six months he was lucky to get there once a week.  Thomas still loved Moira, but he knew that she had become something totally different than the woman he had married.  He did not know what to do, how to cope with this loss.

The lease on their apartment ran out in spring, and Thomas spent a week of vacation days in their home, windows open so the sunlight poured into their rooms, packing up the life they had together.  He poured over pictures and momentos, still sorrowful, but finally feeling nearly blameless.  As he folded her clothes, he held them close, trying to smell her.  She had been gone so long, even her scent had faded away.  When he found her journals at the bottom of her closet, he began to read them.  Several books were from the early years of his marriage.  They made him nostalgic for the Moira he used to know, the woman he committed his life to.  In her beautiful script she recited tales about their love.  It reminded him of the good times, of how dynamic she was. Then, the entries changed as her madness took hold.  The anger he felt toward his wife flashed, as he found endless descriptions of her hallucinations, of encounters with her sculptures that she had not shared with him.  Even he had not realized how bad her delusions had been.  Her words were confessionals, admissions.  She had lied to everyone but these journals, letting Thomas, Ward, their friends, everyone believe her fear, her neuroses were minor.  Furious, he realized she had kept them from helping her because she was afraid of them, too: afraid of her own husband, of doctors, of hospitals, and especially of medications that would keep her normal.

For the first time, Thomas completely understood that Moira had wanted help only on one level.  She saw her hallucinations as nothing more inherently dangerous than having acute vision.  ‘If two men are hiking together and one man sees an angry bear charging toward them, but the other doesn’t, who should you believe?  Who should you question?  What should you do?  Would you trust the man who sees the bear and shoot it, or would you assume that he was hallucinating and investigate after you are dead?’  However real she believed her delusions were, though, she was as frightened of them as she could be.  Their tangibility made them more dangerous for her.  In her mind, there was no question that they were trying to destroy her.  Her fear coarsed through the pages of her journals.  She did not want to expunge her specialness, but she needed help stopping her creations.  She wanted the other hiker to shoot the bear before it gored them both to death.

Throwing the papers across the room, he cursed at her picture.  ‘How could you believe it!  Why didn’t you get better!’  Livid, he went to the journals and threw them in the trash can.  After banging some of Moira’s books into a box, his rage diminished a little with the noise and the effort.  More rational, he decided that he should pack up her writings for Ward and Kendle, an additional psychiatrist asked to consult on Moira’s case.  Resurrecting them from the bin, he glanced through them again.  His anger softened as he went over her even handwriting. Even at her most insane, she managed to keep her letters artfully formed and even. Rage turned to pity as he packed the memories into a box and labeled it ‘Moira’s journals.’  All of his tears had been shed, his rage had been spent.  He just felt terribly alone.  Before he resumed his packing, he turned on the television so it would seem like he had company.  Then he began boxing his books, things that would not remind him of Moira so much, things that would distract him.

It was past one in the morning before Thomas finally got to Moira’s sculptures.  Everything else had been packed, the movers were coming in the morning.  There was no more avoiding the task.  It bothered him, he did not want to look at them.  Since that conversation with Ward, they had remained locked away in the cupboard, hidden from view.  Her artwork proved to be too painful for Thomas to have around.  They gave evidence about how Moira failed him.

Slow with fatigue, he unlocked the doors and saw the sculptures there:  vivid, beautiful, but inert – still as death.  The truth was, he’d never repay liked them.  He always felt like he didn’t understand art, as though it was a bit of folly on its face.  Starting on the top row, he methodically picked them up, wrapped them in newspaper, and stuffed them into the boxes.  After the second piece, he did not even bother looking at them.  He could do the task through touch alone.  Ten pieces into the job, he let out a sigh of relief, it would not be as painful as he thought it would be.

Then, he cut himself on a piece.  It surprised him enough that he glanced at it.  In horror he realized that he was holding viciousness, a small, disheveled man covered in knives and guns.  Moira had insisted that he embodied all the violent urges in a person.   Certainly he looked vicious now, dripping with blood.  Thomas’ blood.  He threw the sculpture down onto the pile of newspaper on her work table and went to the bathroom to clean and bandage the cut.

When he got out of the bathroom, the sculpture was in the entrance to the hallway.  Fear washed through Thomas, before he reasoned out that it must’ve fallen down from the table and rolled out of the studio.  How it stopped rolling to land on its feet, Thomas could not quite explain, but he assured himself that there was a logical reason for it.  Gingerly, he picked the sculpture up and went back to the table.  He cut himself again, but this time he bound the piece up tightly in newspaper, roped he paper down with twine and put it in the open box on the table before he went to take care of the wound.

When he came back, it was outside the box, on the table, standing up again.  Thomas’ lost his breath for a moment, before he reasoned out that he must have thought he put it away but actually had not.  He was dreadfully tired after all.  He grabbed a cloth from the kitchen and came back.  The sculpture was on the floor, a few feet away from the desk.  ‘It must have rolled off the table again,’ Thomas said aloud, but his heart started beating faster.  Carefully, he caught the sculpture in the rag and wrapped it up.  This time he suffered no injuries.  Then he wrapped the covered statuette in newspaper, and then bound it again in duct tape.  By the time he finished, viciousness had six inches of padding around it.  Thomas laughed to himself, it would be the safest of her sculptures.

Silently he wrapped piece after piece in newspaper, putting them in their boxes.  His movements were mechanical, although after his experience with viciousness he picked them up more carefully.  Gratefully, he discovered he still did not have to look at them.  An hour into the chore, Thomas took a break to get something to drink.  While he knelt down to study the beverages lurking in their refrigerator, he heard a rattling.  Standing, he reached out with his hearing to determine what the sound was.  It grew louder, it seemed to come from the studio.  He felt his pulse in his neck, as he stood frozen for a moment.  The rustling continued.  Finally, he mustered enough courage to close the fridge and turn toward the studio.  It must be a mouse, he thought to himself, or a squirrel that sneaked in through the window.  It must be playing in the newspaper.

Yet, when he got to the threshold of the studio, he could see nothing but boxes, newspapers, and sculptures.  The sound was clearer, though, definitely something crinkling the paper.  Thomas forced himself to go toward the boxes.  ‘The mouse must be caught inside the box,’ he lectured himself, ‘it can’t be anything more than that.’

With his last shreds of courage, he peered into the box.  Something was squirming under the packing.  Tentative, his blood pulsing in his ears, he ripped away the newspaper.  It revealed a naked woman, lying on her back, writhing, so sensually.  The beauty of her froze him.

‘It’s good to see you again lover,’ a sensual, familiar voice cooed at him.  It was Moira’s voice.  Moira’s body.  Moira’s sexuality. ‘How I have missed you.

Thomas stepped back, horrified.  He looked at the cupboard.  All of the sculptures were moving.  All the newspaper was squirming with life.  Tiny knives stabbed through the duct tape covering viciousness.  Sorrow cried, madness wailed, anger threw up her fists in rage.  Fear paralyzed Thomas, the thumping of his heart paused for a terrifying moment.  When it remembered to beat, it surged in his chest with painful intensity.  He started to move toward the door, trying to escape,  when he heard a plaintive voice call out to him over the din.

‘Thomas.  Oh, Thomas.  How could you have done this to me?’

Numb with dread he looked back.  Disappointment had crept to the front of the cupboard, holding her hands out toward him.  Moira never told him what inspired her to sculpt it, but Thomas had always worried that it had been something that he had done.  After he had seen it for the first time, it effected him so deeply that it was days before he could sleep through the night.  Lists of all the ways he had disappointed Moira kept swimming through his mind.  Endless gifts and dinner dates sought to relieve him of this nameless blame.  Despite his panic, he had to know.   ‘Wha…’ he stammered, ‘What did I do?’

‘You didn’t believe me.’  Disappointment cried bitter tears, her face wrenched with the betrayal she felt, ‘You could have helped me, you could have found a way to save me, if you had just believed me!’

‘You fucking bastard!’  Anger spat venomously at him, pushing disappointment aside, ‘I’ll fucking kill you for what you’ve done to me!’  She jumped nimbly out of the cupboard and charged at him, ready to strike.

Finally, Thomas regained control of himself enough to run away.  He left the house, slamming the door behind him, and got halfway down the street before the cool breeze of the night soothed him.  Abruptly he stopped running.  His body screamed out in its exhaustion.  ‘I was just tired.’  Thomas comforted himself halfheartedly, ‘When Moira first started hallucinating, all the doctors said that it could be caused by fatigue.  I’ve been packing for days.  I am drowning in her madness.’  Slowly he began making his way back to the house, bolstering his courage with each step and each rationalization.  ‘I haven’t been eating well,’ his thoughts picked up speed, ‘hunger can make you see things.  And, I’ve been under a lot of stress.’  By the time he reached the threshold of their apartment, he had become fully convinced that he was seeing things.  ‘It was all in my head, I was asleep or something, when I get to the studio, they will all be in the boxes and cupboard, just as I left them.’

When he opened the door, viciousness stood directly in front of him, blades poised to attack.  A wicked smile had crept across his face as he began to leap at Thomas.  Right behind him, anger shouted, ‘There he his!  Get him!’

Thomas screamed, slammed and locked the door and slept in the car.

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.