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Reading to Myron Stout

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I feel like this was a writing project I did in class at GWU

The windows were frosted and the room laid large and heavy. In all its width and depth, the walls were close and scarred, shreds of paper flittering in the wash of central heating. Against the walls, tarp covered working tables. In the middle of the concrete floor sat an old Myron Stout and me. Even under the down of blasting heaters, he clutched a red plaid blanket over his knees. Mr. Stout only required that I speak softly and keep away visitors; he touched me sometimes, but only to remember . Today I was reading from Camus' L'Étranger. I read and read, acting out parts by making my voice gruff like too many cigarettes.

He looked perturbed until he rose and stumbled over to the studio's basin and wrenched the tap until droplets of water stopped plopping from the faucet. I hadn't noticed their tinny voices. He hobbled back and huffed into a wooden chair. He looked like h e wanted to speak, so I folded a bright green ribbon into the pages of the book. He just sat, breathing through his teeth. His eyes stared intently, but it bothered me that the gaze passed just to my left, as if their attentions laid on the lobe of my ear .

"Victoria, please hand me the clay," he said, wringing his dense fingers until they turned purple and the veins stood like intestinal worms. I moved to a makeshift table of board and saw horses and pried the lump of clay from its suction on the coarse wood. I wrapped it in a wet cloth and led his fingers to it.

"Read on, Victoria, we have quite a story to resolve before you can stop." I began to read to him from the French:

"I waited. The heat was beginning to scorch my cheeks; beads of sweat were gathering in my eyebrows. It was just the same sort of heat as at my mother's funeral, and I had the same disagreeable sensations-- especially in my forehead, where all the veins seemed to be bursting through the skin."

I looked at his hands, and their veins, tearing into the pale flesh, molding its new body into a skull that lacked substance like the pitiful half-life of an excavated Egyptian prince. He still focused not at me but my ear.

"I couldn't stand it any longer, and took another step forward. I knew it was a fool thing to do; I wouldn't get out of the sun by moving on a yard or so. But I took that step, just one step, forward. And then the Arab drew his knife and held it up toward me, athwart the sunlight..."

"He shot him, you know Victoria, because the sun bothered him into madness. Oh, you know the story-- everyone knows this story: too many pulls of the trigger, one just as innocent as the other... Et c'était comme quatre coups brefs que je frappais sur la porte du malheur."

As he quoted the words that hurried book one to its end, he pressed his thumbs deep into the eye sockets of the shrunken head in his palms.

"He thought he had vision and control and a stable life, but he was separated from the real stability of convention. He should have cried, he should have mourned, and he should only have emptied only one round from the little pistol."

"Move closer to me and let me feel skin instead of this clay. You were formed from this smelly stuff,you know, carved from bogs."

His hands were chalky where the clay had dried and slick where wet. I removed my shirt and let him run his crusty thumb from my neck to where my belt cinched. He kneaded me until I noticed the lumps of my spine and the wings in my back.

"Continue to read softly, Victoria. I need your droning to filter out the silence." I continued reading with my back towards him. He startled me with newly wet palms.

"I see you Victoria. I see you are clay. I see you formed at random by erosion. You are like clay from a kiln. A vase heated from within. I couldn't see you on canvas, rendered with a brush. I would need to layer the acrylic on too thick and keep it soft for it to be you. If Rodin were blind, his work would have not only rendering but give."

I turned to look over my shoulder at the clay and there stood a squat arch, its silhouette like a wide-mouthed flower urn. It glistened from newly applied water. There was no rendering of the stutter-bumps of my back, or its wings. Only the smooth reduct ion of width from just below the armpits to the waist. That and the slouched arch of posture.

You've stopped reading, Victoria. Have you begun to doze off? I would like to hear your awkward French open the jailer's door for poor Meursault."

I continued reading until I heard his breathing deepen into sleep. I then left.

©18.1.1993 Chris Abraham
Jan 18, 1993 04:35 PM