I didn’t realize I was an artist until yesterday. Breakfasting in the empty dining room, I picked up a book from the coffee table to browse while I ate my muesli. I holiday here, at the Marine Guest House, every winter. In the hope that sea and sky will reach in, grab the gray-blue churn of my moods, and never give them back.
The book was about an Israeli artist who immerses emotionally-charged objects in the Dead Sea. Entranced, I turned page after page. A suspended tutu grew a mantle of Russian snow. Quartz-glitter court shoes waltzed the ghosts of scarlet toe-nails. A muffled violin dreamed of being a baby white whale.
She had been creating salt sculptures for more than 20 years, I read. Maybe I’ve been doing it for twice as long, I thought. All those things I pushed into the dead sea … I pictured the objects that tell the story of that day as museum exhibits, encased in glass. Each transformed by a shimmer of salt. Beneath the sparkly crusts, their colors were unfaded. I was protected, yet not protected, from shocks of recognition. I was 45. I was five. I am five.
The Pink Dress
I’m wearing my cioccolato dress. I don’t know cioccolato is Italian for chocolate. To me, the looping letters on the label mean the family of pinks picnicking on the puffed sleeves, the satin sash, the three-tiered ruffle. It came in a big padded envelope for my birthday. Grandma’s blue scrawl on the front. Today, when the church ladies admired it, I hid behind the elm. Now I’m hiding under the bed, because Pastor and Mrs Winter have come to lunch.
Squatting beside the elm, Pastor Winter said, Would you like to ride home with us? I shook my head, pink as my dress. Say no thank you, Pastor Winter, said Mom. I said it to his shoes. Shining so darkly the looping elm-leaf letters wrote on the toes.
The Black Patent Shoes
They squeak like mechanical mice. In the toyshop window before Christmas. Does he wind them up before putting them on? The pointed toes are twitching noses. The laces, whiskers. The nose-tips stop at the edge of the rug. That high whooshing must be some dog hunting the mice. I wait for it to spring.
I’m sad you’re hiding when I’ve come especially to see you. There’s nothing to be afraid of. If you come out, I’ll read you a story.
More whooshing. The mice scare me, but the thought of the dog attacking them is worse.
When they hear me crawling out, the dog and the mice go carefully backwards together.
Most stories aren’t for Sundays. Not Bambi, or Amelia Bedelia. Uncle Joseph’s Bible Stories are, though. Their blue spines march across the bookcase in the living room.
Pastor Winter’s hand has lines and knots like floorboards. It slides out Volume Fifteen. Beneath a dazzling sky, Jesus, in a fluffy white bathrobe, embraces yellow, pink and brown children. Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. We sang that today.
I follow him to the couch. When he sits, his arms and legs creak. His pants swish. He gives his trouser-knee a dry slap.
This huge close face makes me want to hide again. Its wooden slats slide up and down when he smiles and talks. The smell through his white shirt and black tie is too sweet, like the maple-sugar candy I found under the back seat of the car. His hair is yellow-white feathers. His eyes are shut in two wire cages. They dart around, as if they want to get out. I don’t want them to get out.
There is something else. Wanting to get out. It fidgets behind the ruffles of my dress. I don’t want to know what it is. Not-wanting fills me. The room. The house.
The Black Lamb (which Smells of Raspberry Jam)
In the dark I hug black lamb. He’s from Grandma, too. He has black button-eyes. I press my face into him, breathing the raspberry jam smell of his real wool. Not thinking. Not remembering. Raspberry jam. Raspberry jam.
The Salt Grinder
Nothing is as clean as salt. If you sprinkle its scrubbed-fingernail flakes over something, the real look and taste get covered up. Like snow. Only it won’t ever melt.
I’m fine, I say. Grinding. Everything’s fine.
After grinding, I’d always pretend I hadn’t. The grinder joined the other things pushed into the still, green, dead sea. The lamb, the eyes, the storybook, the shoes, the dress.
Yesterday, I re-encountered them all. Gazing at their hard brilliance as the ocean churned up its own intestines, grinding fresh salt by the ton. When the first stars came out, I unlocked the display cabinets and set them free.
Right here, on the beach, I created an open-air museum. It’s only temporary. Day by day, wind and waves will scour my sculptures until they’re not art anymore. Just small, naked scraps of life, able to breathe at last.
Faye Brinsmead lives in Canberra, Australia. A lawyer by day, she writes flash fiction in all the snippets of time she can find. Recent work appears in MoonPark Review, The Cabinet of Heed, Twist in Time Literary Magazine, Reflex Fiction and The Ekphrastic Review. She tweets @ContesdeFaye.