Sculptures by Christina Murphy

ELLEN CAME IN while I was putting clothes in the machine. “I’ve already washed those," she said.

“I know. Tommy spilled grape juice on them."

Ellen looked at Tommy, who was sitting in the corner, playing. “The whole pile?" she said.

“Most of it."

“Here, let me help you, then," she said. She put sheets in the washer, sprinkled Tide on top. “I hope we have enough hot water left," she said. It was obvious she was irritated.

Her husband, Robert, came in the back door, carrying two bags of groceries. He put the bags down on the counter and looked at me. “Washing again?" he said.

“Tommy had another accident," Ellen said.

Robert picked Tommy up. “If you wouldn’t spill things, we wouldn’t have these problems," he said. Tommy kicked his feet and laughed as Robert held him high in the air.

“Have you called Michael?" Ellen said. “No, not yet," I said.

“I just thought with the postcard yesterday you might want to give him a call."

“I’m sure he’s busy."

“You could call him tonight. It’s been a while since he’s heard from you."

“She’ll call him, Ellen," Robert said.

“I was just making a suggestion," Ellen said.

“I know, and Clare will call when she’s ready. Just give her time." Robert began putting groceries away.

“I’ ve been reading the want ads for Michael," Ellen said. She was cleaning out the sink with a sponge, sprinkling Comet on a stain near the rim. “I found two ads for a carpenter."

“Michael is not a carpenter," I said. “He’s a sculptor."

“He cuts up pieces of wood for his sculptures, doesn’t he? It’s the same thing."

“It’s not the same thing, Ellen," I said.

“If he cuts up wood, he can be a carpenter," Ellen said.

“I don’t think being a carpenter would suit Michael’s sensibilities," Robert said. “He’s always been the sensitive one in the family."

“I’d rather be the most practical one in the family, myself," Ellen said. She threw the sponge down. “I can’t get this stupid spot out."

“How about a beer, honey?" Robert said. He put his arm around her shoulder. Ellen shrugged him o f. “I don’t want a beer," she said. She pointed at Tommy. “You’d better change him, Clare," she said. “There’s grape juice all over him."

I took Tommy into the bedroom. He played with his feet and made soft, laughing noises as I put a new pair of pants on him. I could hear Ellen ask Robert if he thought Michael would ever get a job.

“I don’t know," Robert said, “but I’m sure he’s trying."

“I don’t see why he can’t look for a job around here," Ellen said. “There are plenty of jobs if you really want to find one."

Ellen was chopping onions and Robert was tearing lettuce into a bowl when I came back into the kitchen. “We’ re going to have spaghetti tonight," Robert said. “Will that be okay with you, Clare?"

“Yes, I like spaghetti. I’m going to take Tommy to the puppet show. Do you need me to pick up anything?"

“How about some wine?" Robert said.

“That would be wonderful," Ellen said. “You won’t forget, will you, Clare?"

“No, I won’t forget," I said.

“A Chianti or maybe a burgundy would be the best," Robert said. “I’ll remember."

I held Tommy against me tightly as we walked to the library. There was an October chill in the air, and the wind was blowing soundly. A woman gave us a flier as we entered and pointed us toward a room in the back decorated with poster-board clouds and a giant papier mache rabbit holding a pair of spectacles against his nose.

I sat Tommy on my lap and read the flier. The lights dimmed in the room and an announcer thanked us for coming to Magic Land, a place where trees can dance and clouds can sing. “And now on with the show," the announcer said as the curtain pulled back and two puppets dressed in polka dot jumpsuits chased a tiny pink chicken around in circles.

The child sitting next to me bounced in his seat and clapped his hands as the chicken raced away from its pursuers. “Be a little more quiet," his mother said to him, putting her hand on his knee and smiling at him.

“But it’s a chicken, Mommy,’ the little boy said. “It’s a chicken!"

The mother looked at me and smiled. “Christopher’s four," she said. “How old is yours?"
“Two and a half."

“That’s a good age," she said.

When the puppet show was over, the librarian passed out lollipops. Tommy got a green one that he didn’t want. I gave it to Christopher.

“Tell the lady thank you," his mother said. Christopher looked at me and stared.

I carried Tommy down the aisle toward the exit and noticed how red the leaves were turning.

In the square across the street, the bus for Crestview and County Line Road pulled up. The bus driver made change for my dollar, and I put three quarters in the large plastic dome by his seat.

“You need a transfer?" he said.

I shook my head. The man nearest me was coughing loudly. I moved past him toward a seat near the middle of the bus.

As the bus drove off, the square faded away and became streets filled with city tra fic. At County Line Road, the city spread out into dark green countryside. I got off at Hollister Park. At the Crafts Center where Indian beads and pottery were sold, three of Michael’s sculptures were on display in the side yard. They were his newest sculptures, large, elaborate pieces in cedar and pine that curved into geometric mazes or slanted in sharp angles toward the sky.

I put Tommy down. He walked through the grass and then squatted down, playing with a caterpillar he had found.

I sat on part of one of Michael’s sculptures and rubbed my hand against the texture of the wood.

“Don’t eat that bug," I said to Tommy. He dropped the caterpillar and ran a little distance away, laughing, tumbling into the grass.

I looked at the curves and angles of Michael’s sculpture. Tommy ran over and handed me a scarlet leaf with torn edges. I had Tommy sit on the sculpture with me, and together we put the leaf in one of the curves. Then we walked the two blocks to the bus stop.

I let Tommy play with my purse as we rode the bus into the city. He opened my compact mirror and smiled at himself.
“Pretty," he said.

Only a fragment of sun was left in the sky as Tommy and I got o f the bus, and the evening air was much colder than I had expected. In the center of the liquor store window was a ceramic decanter shaped like a rabbit.

“Look Tommy, a bunny," I said as I held him up to the window. He pressed his fingers against the glass.
“Bunny," he said. “Hop, hop."

Ellen had the table set and the salads served when I came in. Tommy let go of me and went to play with his toys.

“Did you get the wine?" Ellen said, looking at my empty hands.

“No, I forgot. I’m sorry."

Ellen stared at me then shook her head in disgust.

“That’s okay," Robert said as he opened a paper bag by the sink. He smiled at me, nodding his head. “I bought some wine while I was out," he said. “A Chianti, 1979. We’ ll all enjoy it."

“Where have you been?" Ellen asked, eyeing me suspiciously.

“The puppet show . . . and the park."

“Oh God," she said. “Is this ever going to stop?"

“Ellen!" Robert said, sternly.

“What? Why are you always defending her . . . and Michael?"

“I’ m not defending anyone," Robert said.

“What are you doing then? It’s always the same thing. Excuses, covering up, making sure no one ever tells the truth around here."

“And what is the truth around here, Ellen?" I said.

“You live in a dream world. You and Michael. Meanwhile, who’s responsible for you and Tommy?"

“I guess you think you are," I said.

“That’s right. And you’re no help, Clare. Robert and I ask you to do one little thing, bring home a bottle of wine, and look what happens?"

“What happens?" I said.

“For God’s sake. If you don’t understand it, you never will."

“Okay, Ellen," Robert said. “That’s enough! We’ ve got the wine. And this meal will go to waste if we don’t sit down and eat soon."

“Is that it, Robert? We just go on with this charade like we always do?"

“I just want us all to sit down and eat," Robert said.

“There’s no need to keep at it like this."

“You eat then . . . the two of you. I’m sick of it all."

“Ellen, please," Robert said. “Nothing is solved by yelling like this."

“Nothing is solved because the two of them won’t solve it, Ellen said. “Michael needs a job. He needs to support his family and not just dump them off on us."

“Ellen, he is not dumping them off on us."

Ellen went into the bedroom and slammed the door. “Clare, she really doesn’t mean all that," Robert said. “She does. She’s been angry for a long time."

“She’s not a mean person," Robert said. “She just thinks things are simpler than they are."

“I’m going out for awhile, Robert," I said. “Just let me get a jacket for Tommy."

“You can’t leave now, Clare. Where will you go?"

“For a walk."

“This time of night?"

“I’ve done it before."

“At least let me go with you."

“No. Stay here. Ellen needs you."

Robert looked toward the bedroom door. “I doubt that," he said.

I got Tommy’s jacket from the hall closet. “We’ re going for a walk, sweetie," I said to him. He carried his toy horse with him as he came back into the kitchen.

“Stay here with us," Robert said. “I can get Ellen to understand."


“What then?"

“I’m going to call Michael later. See what he says. Go from there."

I knelt down and helped Tommy into his coat. “I won’t be gone long," I said to Robert.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?"


“When you come back, we’ll eat. Ellen will be calmed down by then, honestly.

“No, not really," I said.

“Okay, maybe she won’t, but we can still eat," he said.

I looked into Robert’s eyes. “Michael isn’t coming back," I said. “You don’t have to pretend for my sake."

“Can’t you go to him?" Robert said.

“I don’t know."

“I love him because he’s my brother, but I’m pretty damn mad at him, too." I nodded.

“I guess you’re angry, too," Robert said. “Sometimes. Other times, I’m just sad."

“Please stay here with us a little longer," Robert said. “There’s always a chance Michael will change."

I smiled at Robert. “You’re not much of a liar," I said.

“Neither are you, Clare. Like about the wine. Why didn’t you get it?"

“My own kind of anger, let’s say."

“Against Ellen?"

“Maybe. Maybe everything. Why did you cover for me?"

“I felt responsible."


“I don’t know. Just my nature, I guess."

“Is that why you want me to stay, because you feel responsible for Tommy and me?"

“It’s part of it."

“Robert, I know how concerned you are, but it is what it is. Michael’s going his own way, and I don’t know if Tommy and I are part of it."

“I wish I could talk some sense into him."

“He won’t listen. Not really."

“It’s just a shame."

“Yes, it is," I said. “It’s taken me a long time to realize that."

“Is there anything I can do?" Robert said.

“Take care of Ellen."

“She really is a good person, Clare."

“I know. This is just a bad time for all of us."

I kissed Robert on the cheek, and then I picked up Tommy. “C’ mon, little man," I said. “You’ re going to freeze out there," Robert said.

“You’ve been really good to us, Robert. I really appreciate it."

“You’re family," he said.

“Thanks for saying so."

“Michael’s just in over his head," Robert said. “He’s just trying to find himself and has been all his life. You and Tommy give him direction. He knows that. That’s why I think he’ll be back."

“I’ve been hoping for that for a long time," I said. Robert kissed my cheek. “You’re not alone, you know."

“I know. But it feels like it sometimes."

“Would you like to leave Tommy here while you walk? I’ ll take care of him for you."

“That would be nice, Robert. If you wouldn’t mind."

“No problem at all," he said, lifting Tommy from my arms.

Ellen came out from the bedroom. She looked at Robert and Tommy, then at me. “Are you going somewhere?" she asked.

“For a walk," I said.

“Do you want to eat first?" she said. “No. You two go on without me."

I stood at the door. Tommy settled into Robert’s arms, content in his embrace. I wondered if soon Tommy and I would be like sculptures in Michael’s mind a beautiful idea, once loved, but now quietly left behind.


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