By Phoebe Brueckner
This Story Won Second Prize in Our Contest
On the day that Lara first met the sculptor, she was trapped in marble, screaming to be set free. So he went to work with mallet and chisel. And when her face emerged, he said: oh what a beautiful face. When her hands emerged, he said: oh what elegant hands.
Now, on her fortieth birthday, Lara can hardly believe what’s become of those hands; the stark ripples etched into her skin (more pronounced between thumb and forefinger) elicit a soft desperation that persists as she takes in her face in the mirror, noticing only the bags under her eyes, dark hollows carved into her skin—the slow and steady progress of the sculptor who works while she sleeps, turning her, night by night, into an old woman.
Lara stays cheerful. A feminist, she dares not admit the terror that surges each time her eyes trace the deep grooves cut into her cheeks. She tells herself they’re from smiling—a sign of a life well lived. And she smiles more. When Caleb, her youngest, comments on the bags under her eyes, there is that daggered feeling in her core. But she stays calm, keeps an even keel. They could be useful, she tells him. We can get extra treats whenever we want, and we’ll always have a place to put them.
The next day finds Lara and her three boys plucking lavender in Mrs. Henry’s fields up the street. The harvest is successful, with the older boys gathering so much purple scent that she must open the bags under her eyes for the overflow of their efforts. They pack it in, and her face feels heavy. The bags pulling at her eyes keep them open—so open.
She carries the bags home sneezing while the kids, shirtless, dance through the sprinklers, the sun shining down on their torsos. Before bed that evening, Lara leaves a glass of wine and a couple ginger snap cookies on her nightstand for the sculptor. She knows she’ll likely sleep through his visit, yet again, but she dares to imagine she’ll wake to the sound of faint crunching and sit with him for a moment—or many—alone together in a dark and mysterious world.
Lara does wake in the hours that feel late but are early, and she does so relieved, having escaped that familiar paralysis and the many hands reaching up from below to pull her down—so far down.
But the sculptor is not there to comfort her. He does not pull her close and say, It was a dream.
Perhaps tomorrow, she thinks. Perhaps then she’ll meet him once more, convince him to put aside his chisel and touch her gently, accepting that she was released long ago and is free already. But she’ll let him free her again—and again. And in the morning she’ll awake fresh and energized. She’ll roll over and laugh, thinking not of Caleb, how he observes so closely but doesn’t always respond right away, as if he’s somewhere else and must travel a long way to get back to words being spoken. And thinking not of him, she won’t draw her brows together in worry, giving her sculptor yet more ideas about where he might next place his chisel.