She tended to articulate things quite too late—her mother said it’s what drove her to what she’d done. She wasn’t confrontational, and welcomed up-to-date accounts of why she’d failed, only to later scream and tear hairs over what was said. Then she couldn’t sleep.
At first she’d lay and work over writing she’d begun and stopped toward a degree in art history. She’d written about whether it might be inferred from his engravings whether Albrecht Dürer suffered from clinical depression. This writing itself begun as a retort against a friend who’d opted she’d be better off on 5-HTP or St. John’s Wort and exercise than taking such things. By now the friend had graduated and she was nowhere closer to Albrecht’s open head.
This: at first. Now however she’d left her monograph and begun visual work of her own, enacting whole cities of skin with oil work well into the day’s light then leaving for walks and lecturing. Her work took walls, over time, and thus she’d paid for student space in a studio that slowly filled with worried takes.
She’s become hypnotized by dark, is how she’d conveyed her state to therapist. There just seemed to be so much heft in death, in absence, in spare takes on being. She’d attend defenses of graduating works and make puddles of spit on the ground in front of her while the rooms erupted in tears or claps. The world around her seemed heavily concerned with things that made her skin wince, and thus she’d wallow in that bathetic state poring over what she’d done, unable to flee the scene.
Nothing worked, nothing was working. She’d left her studio work with a floor sopped in red and mumbled around a bodega for minutes until placing her face against the cool surface of glass and staring in. The room became accusatory; she couldn’t do this. She grabbed what seemed a mealy red apple and bottle of wine and enacted the purchase process without wholly looking at the clerk.
Wielding paper bag, she hugged the brick and stepped along the street leaning so as to create an angle. Her head occasionally rubbed the stone and she felt bits of it trail off her hairs and clack softly against her calves. She walked thus until she came upon an entrance to a park, it wasn’t quite day. Nothing made sense. Runners around, workers shuffling.
The air made her a bit nauseated as she slid against some grass and leaves to sit her tights on wet earth. She watched as people passed and pressed her teeth into the mealy apple. The mealy apple was disgusting. She sucked at it until it felt she’d removed all its liquid and then spat high up into the air so that its contents showered over her and mingled with the brick. She fed Swiss Army corkscrew through the wine and pulled between her legs and felt young.
Her parents had encouraged her attendance at various things, her mother concerned over what she’d done, made of life, her work. As a project once she’d apparently defiled herself in certain eyes and made this public alongside a manifesto about the emptiness of moneyed heads and this complicated things. Her mother and father possessed her child because of this, and other things. Powers of attorney in so many words, the ability to say yes or no. They’d taken care of her finances and kept her fed and medicated, but beyond that her freedom was limited. She attended class and spoke about her interests to undergraduates in an environment where this was safe. They saw her as threatening, she saw them as threatening. She’d been hospitalized for several weeks intermittently. It was complicated. She was suspected of forms of neglect. She recorded these things as best she could and publicized them on her release. It felt unlike a gesture toward being famous. She didn’t care about that. She didn’t even care about money as she’d never had to think on it. She cared about some feeling that seemed to be leaving her gut from when she turned nineteen or so.
Dürer’s work came in after the handing over of her child to her parents while putting certain things back in order. She loved her and saw her frequently but felt as if invading the space of their relationship whenever around. She’d focused heavily on the biographies of certain artists and their absenteeism at fatherhood. It seemed to make matters cohere but still left that fleeing gut concern. His works, his engravings, his takes on humanity and the artist within humanity’s movement helped a bit and she considered her efforts in smearing shades as aligned with redemption of failures.
What then. She is a cliché. There is a world of cliché burying her in its wake and all she’ll contribute to the slush is a crackling ahem. She’s trying hard to assemble something with the work and her writing and the images and the past and her walking but drink and depression and medication and failure and sopping wet heaps of rejected works have created a perfect wall between what might be and her hands.
A boy walks by with father hooked in hand and for a moment she feels tempted to weep, she can’t but it isn’t significant. She hasn’t and hasn’t expected to cry in some time. Life has been reduced to occasional sketches on the backs of prescriptions standing in line at CVS drunk while the light seems to eat away at her flesh.
She gets up from where she was and begins to move toward her home. It won’t bring happiness but she starts the process anyway. She’d slugged two breaths of wine and left the rest for whomever. It wasn’t significant, expensive, or improving. Her fingers fidgeted against the air and she wondered at when she’d last slept. A night, years, a life. Her father’s image planted on her face. The engravings then and their arithmetic. Logic as the refuse upon an unfulfilling life. Here is every reason why you’re suffering and will continue to suffer. Here is medication that has been proven to help. Here is potential for careers and families and loves and here is another door wherein you might enact something that veers away from all aforesaid. Hm. She wonders at the steps she takes and feels the coat surround her. She’d taken it from a boy’s apartment who’d played in a group utilizing electronic instruments and nothing else and they’d fucked a night when things seemed simpler. She was incapable of finishing. The boy dressed like a member of Bauhaus or The Cure and wore more makeup than she. Walking around his apartment stubbing her toes against books and equipment she noticed a coat and thought about the importance of the evening. Weighed against the potential importance of such an enclosing coat she decided to pick it up and leave. She’d forgotten the figure’s name who might very well have fathered her kid. The coat was all left of the oaf.
Arriving home she entered the bathroom and pressed her head against the mirror. A greased print was left and she pulled an old roommate’s clippers from the cupboard. She’d read at times of religious women, devoted women, ritualistic women shorning their hair. She said the phrase aloud. She stood staring at herself and sunken face and pulled the clothes from her back, standing in black tights not drunk but off and turned on the machine. She thought of women burned on stakes and pyres. She thought of cities run by women and young girls wearing constrictive footwear. She thought of balletic erosion of bodies, the image of an emaciated Renée Jeanne Falconetti against some constructed flames, shorn and beaten and finally likened to Christ. She burped wine remnants and mealy breath and kept staring at her failing. Lives had passed her by, she couldn’t grab them back. She couldn’t pull herself from whatever trajectory began years back, the political, bureaucratic conversations at the university about the integrity and possibility of her work. Obscenity trials, conversations about the end of media, artwork, expression.
As the buzzer clipped her skin she felt afraid. Her hair was long and thick, dark and perhaps her fullest feature. She slowly removed side by side every stitch until all she saw was skin and ends of stubble. She couldn’t cry and so found her gut laughing. She looked at the hair emanating around her feet like new roots. Nature is satan’s church. She felt the sweat on fingertips and back before looking up again and entered the shower. The cold water cleaned lengths of hair from on her ribs. It slowly warmed and she reached out to turn off the light and fell into a ball of facial expressions on the floor. The water stunk of iron and the room slowly steamed over with its film.
In hospital she’d known a boy without incisors. He’d pulled one and somehow the structural integrity of his face required the other’s removal. They’d meet and talk in the lounge when males and females were permitted to. They’d exchange stories about their aspirations and he told her he’d been in line to become a detective. She misunderstood him and thought he currently worked as a cop, on his way up. He corrected and said he’d studied criminal justice until he’d been found with blood pouring out of his face by concerned friends and hospitalized. He’d been inside then for months afterward, taken care of by relatives who’d rather not speak with him. She asked after his desire to police, and he corrected her again. He didn’t want to walk the streets in blue. He didn’t want to carry blatant firearms and mace. He hoped to solve deaths. He hoped to take torn families and stitch them back together with his head. It wasn’t about policing, he insisted. She’d never felt all too comfortable around him afterward however. She thought of scenes of the two couched just then on the floor and remembered his military cut, industrial. She ran her fingers over her skull and slapped its back. She pulled a cushiony razor from the shower’s lip and ran it over her stubble until it smoothed and bled a bit. She drank the water and felt disgust. She lay back and closed her eyes in darkness and tried to ignore her limbs.
The following day she woke with sticky skin, her mouth apparently dried and bitten, her teeth in pain from nightly abrading. What she did was look around her and see the mess of an evening. She sat on the floor off the mattress a bit and looked around at walls. She grabbed a handful of crude manifestos and zines and pressed them to the center of her forehead, taking in their abjection and insight toward the times. She pulled a ripped black T-shirt over her body and fixed her tights aligned to legs. The room smelled of piss and waterlogged paper, heavy mold dragged the fixtures, outlets down. She walked to the kitchen and noted cuts along her sides. She had no idea how long she’d slept. It felt like ever. She rubbed her palmheels constantly against the sockets of her eyes until she thought she heard the bones rub.
Within the kitchen she found instant coffee and turned her sink as hot as it went. The water came out steaming and she ran her fingertips beneath it watching them redden. She emptied half the container into a mug and watched it spread and smell until she caught a toxic note and grimaced at what followed. She closed her eyes and put her left hand mugless on her shaved scalp and put the cup to lips. She drank without thinking and tried not to sniff but first it tried to retch itself back up. She forced it down and followed it all with water fresh from the sink, cold and noted with iron she thought her eyes might slip from her head to plop in the metal.
So awakened, she walked to the window and remembered waves of things, thought on her family and child, thought on her studio and artworks, thought on the work that still remained and all the feet she’d have to cross and lick before she’d arrive anywhere substantial. She detested the second, the reflection, the morning, and pressed her head to the glass of the window. People below could see her and a handful seemed to note her description. She wondered at her ugliness, what faces the students might make in sneering. She held her hand to stomach and rubbed it soft, having no way of knowing the hour passing.
Grant Maierhofer is the author of Flamingos, Postures, Marcel and others.