Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Shard Art

The light hit the vase and shattered, dancing playfully on note paper, bouncing off of watches and creating new colored shapes on the fiberglass table at the front of the classroom. Some of it hit Molly’s forehead, and she could feel the strong heat of the sun in a shaft of glaring red. Professor Gunther was holding the object in front of the window to demonstrate its rare beauty.

“Dozens of fragments repurposed, reborn into something new. That’s shard art.” The teacher sounded far off, lost in the glow of illuminated glass; the green, orange, red speckles of light hit her square, black-rimmed glasses, like a 3-D movie in her mind’s eye.

Marie Gunther had a magical quality; she was one of those professors that your eyes followed with the wonder of a child. She carried a large paisley carpet bag to class from which she pulled the most interesting visual aids: antique art, her collections, or sometimes her own work.

“I made this vase when I was a freshman in college just like you all are, except it was in the early 1990’s. I went around collecting the discarded glass from other student’s projects. So technically, this gorgeous vase is comprised of waste, but it won me a spot in a local art show in Greenwich Village, and that was how I first got noticed.”

Molly had a hunch that Marie Gunther had a wild side once. Sometimes, her thoughts wandered during her teacher’s Power Point presentations on Modern Art. Molly’s life felt skewed and sureal like an image in a Dali painting, but every day she got up and put one foot in front of the other, taking the stairs, (rather than the elevator), down to the street. There was something cathartic about running down the steps and bursting out the door of her building into the noisy daylight.

A tattoo of a mermaid’s tail peeked out from the teacher’s smock sleeve as she clicked through the slides. Molly could see her right at home in a mosh pit back in her hey-day. She pictured her professor drenched in wet clay earth, arms spread wide like an open vessel, being carried by a sea of humanity, a modern-day Diana.

Professor Gunther placed the vase down, announcing that a shard art project was the next assignment. Molly tapped her eraser on the table, excited at the prospect of torching something for a good reason. She guessed it would be therapeutic.

“The base structure of the vase is hand-blown,” the teacher explained, turning the piece over carefully to point out the mark from the tube that the object was born from. “The tube leaves a mark on the glass.”

“Like a belly button.” Molly said, in a low tone.

Professor Gunther glanced at her thoughtfully, and winked. She liked when critical thinking was happening. She brushed her ballooning stomach with her hand unconsciously letting the class know she was suddenly thinking of her unborn child.

“Yes, Molly, like a belly button. That’s a creative comparison,” the teacher remarked.
Molly smiled, darting her eyes around the room to gage the reaction of her peers. Freshman year of college was a whole lot similar to freshman year of high school, as far as social insecurity was concerned.

Molly lingered after class ended.

“Do you know the sex of the baby yet?” She asked.

Professor Gunther was eyeing the restroom door.

“It’s a girl,” the teacher said, smiling widely, placing the vase on a shelf near the back of the studio. “Excuse me,” she added, pointing to the bathroom. Molly nodded.

“I understand what it’s like!” she sympathized. Professor Gunther paused, and turned back towards her, not wanting to be rude.

“Being pregnant, I mean. I have a little girl too. She’s nine months old today, in fact,” Molly said quietly smiling at the floor.

“Oh, Wow. I didn’t know that! So you are student and a mom,” said the teacher. “That’s wonderful and commendable. How do you appear so on top of your game?”

Molly shrugged. “Well, it’s really hard. I think about my daughter all the time. I guess you just do what you have to do. Right?”

Professor Gunther nodded and excused herself, scooting across the hall to the restroom. Molly heard the Ladies Room door click shut. She turned off the classroom lights and lingered in the threshold, thinking. Seeing no one in the hallway, Molly sprinted back into the room and grabbed the vase off the shelf. She wrapped it in a brown spiral notebook made from recycled paper and gingerly tucked it into her duffle bag. Her walk from the university campus to the subway was brisker than most mornings.

Since the termination of her pregnancy, a little girl followed Molly through too many dreams to count, her arms uplifted in a request. The ghost images left her lying awake in a sweat, eyes leaking profusely, greeting the sunrise with traumatic exhaustion.

In the clinic they played a video on DVD explaining the procedure. Molly saw the image of a child floating on a black screen and heard the sound of blood flowing through its veins as if in a race against time, but the commanding tone of her mother’s voice drowned it out.
The previous evening, Molly had found her mother at the pub. She told her that two EPT tests were positive, and she was afraid.

“This will ruin your life. Take care of it. Trust your mother.”

Molly went home to do her laundry, leaving her mother at the bar chatting with a man in a brown suit. At the clinic, she signed the form and closed her eyes.

The memory clutched her mind until the chill of it made her numb. Molly reached into the bag to feel her treasure as she sat in a corner on the subway train. People behave like animals on public transportation- eye contact means confrontation. It’s more comfortable just to stare straight ahead like you see nothing at all, not even the sign above your head that tells you:

“Not only are you sleeping with him, you’re sleeping with his past. Get tested. Play safe.”

Her right pocket was buzzing. It was Steven texting her.

“I’m at the ATM near Walgreens in Penn. Can’t wait 2 c u, boo.”

Molly grinned. She hadn’t actually met Steven in person yet, but they had been chatting it up for about six months on Facebook. He was a sweetheart who helped her to forget her past. Just maybe, Molly thought, Steven was her knight in shining armor. He worked on Wall Street, and was moving his way up the ranks to success. He even had his own apartment overlooking Central Park. That’s pretty cool for a 27 year old, Molly thought. She imagined moving in with him, setting her shard art vase on the coffee table, gliding to the giant picture window overlooking the park in her robe. Steven would surprise her with coffee on Saturday mornings when they would sleep in.

The subway came to a halt, and Molly jerked up out of her seat, realizing she was about to miss her stop and end up in Brooklyn.

Penn Station was bustling with holiday crowds. Under a gilded dome ceiling, beside a flower stand, a small-boned woman sang haunting, forlorn songs in a Celtic style.

Molly looked for Steven at the tables near Walgreens. She spotted an older man in a short grey jacket sitting alone. He had dark sideburns and a pointed goatee with grey streaks that sort of made up for a lack of hair on the top of his head. He was reading from a tattered hardcover book whose title appeared to be in a foreign language. Molly scanned the tables for the Steven she expected, all the while feeling this odd man’s eyes latched on her every move. As she approached, he put his phone in his pocket and stood up, waving. Molly squinted, in disbelief, trying to process the possibility that this meeting was dangerous, and a complete mistake. In addition to being about 20 years older than the Steven she was looking for, Molly noticed that the man’s fingernails were long and caked in dirt. She felt overcome by a wave of nausea, but tried to rationalize what she saw. Maybe Steven was old, but still cool. Perhaps he was an ex-80’s band member, a guitarist. But this couldn’t be Steven. This man was old enough to be her father and nothing like the pictures he posted! Turn around, he’s a psycho, she decided.
The man pushed in his chair casually and started walking toward her.

“Molly?” He said, with a hesitant smile.

“It’s me, Steven.”

Molly took a step back and froze like a squirrel she remembered watching poised on a tree trunk in Central Park.

“Look, I know I’m not exactly what you expected, but…”

Molly turned to run and tripped on the rolling luggage of a passerby. Her duffle bag flew off her arm. It hit the floor with a muffled crumbling sound.

“This man is bothering me. I don’t know him,” she told the National Guardsman who helped her to her feet. The strange “Steven” turned to run, but was confronted swiftly by two cops who escorted him away. Lucky for Molly, Penn Station was teeming with soldiers in uniform and the NYPD.

A half hour later, she sat up against a wall in a campus lounge, clutching her bag of broken treasure. She had made it back to school in time for her next class, but decided to skip it, her heart flooded with disappointment over meeting the strange Steven.
Molly rested her head in her arms. A tap on the shoulder startled her. She jumped a bit, looking up, expecting that the man at Penn had followed her. Instead it was Professor Gunther, smiling. She sat down on the floor beside Molly, clutching her swollen belly. Molly turned away. The teacher motioned to her duffle bag.

“Oh, I really hope you found my vase. If you did, you know, you can keep it,” she whispered.

Molly felt the heat of embarrassment crawling up her neck. Put on the spot and shaken by the meeting with Steven, she didn’t even have enough energy to lie. The last thing Molly wanted to do was disappoint the only adult she admired. Sometimes, she imagined that Marie Gunther was her own mother, and that she was the tiny human waiting in utero for a new beginning.
At the thought of this pathetic day-dream, Molly burst into tears, opening the bag. Shards of glass tumbled onto the marble floor.

“I don’t expect you to understand, or forgive. Sometimes dreams get crushed. I had a daughter, and … I never had her,” she whisper-sobbed.

The professor reached out and Molly allowed herself to be held in the comforting embrace.
Professor Gunther glanced around. They were alone in the third floor lounge except for a young man snoring on an orange couch on the other side of the room.

“I can’t fix this,” said the teacher in a low voice. She removed her glasses to wipe her eyes, and put the bag of broken glass back into her student’s hands, “but you can make it new again.”
Back at the classroom Molly softened the jagged pieces of the vase in a furnace, and picked up the reheated fragments with a small ball of molten glass. As the glass ball turned and was dipped repeatedly, Molly fused the color shards onto its surface. Soon, a new vase was born. The teacher set it down to cool.

“A new vessel that waits to be filled, or emptied. It whispers the possibilities. You can take it home tomorrow when it’s finished.” The professor winked playfully, but Molly spotted her glassy eyes behind neat square-rimed spectacles.

As she left the classroom, Molly smiled. Perhaps she might major in art, with a focus on sculpture … maybe even teach someday. Somewhere, deep in her soul, a light was jelling the fragments.

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Dear Internet Traveler,

Welcome to my writer's blog, started about six years ago for fun. Over time, the writing I have posted has ranged from personal reflection, to Long Island history research, to tall tales for my own amusement, to feature articles for local newspapers. As you can see from topics listed here, I travel in many mental directions in regard to interests. Click on the tabs and labels to explore my strange mind which senses that you may be having a criss-cross day. If so, perhaps this blog will distract you. However, please note that if you tell me my blog is beautiful just to get me to advertise rhinoplasty surgery and cheap drugs from Canada in your comment, I will ask the gods to give you a tail that cannot be concealed.

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Loren Christie

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