I DEDICATE ALL OF MY WORK TO – UM? – WHAT? 9-27-10
We were invited to dinner but were told that if we
couldn’t arrange for a baby-sitter for that night, or if
there was a last minute problem with one on that night, we
would have to wait for another time because if we wanted to
meet her husband we couldn’t possibly bring a child with us.
Being that up front and that honest strengthened my
desire to meet the `ogre’ as my wife took to calling him
after hearing that condition being added to the invitation.
When my wife called up to say that we were about to
leave she was given instructions to go to the very
end of their particular subway line and then was told exactly
how to get to the right bus stop from there; how long our
wait would probably be; the bus’s number . . . . at this point my
wife told her to stop and called me over to take the details
and thus she had to start again from the beginning . . . . the
destination that would be displayed on the front of the bus;
what stop to ask for; how much to pay; how to recognize the
right stop as we approached it and how to get to her house
She told me that she had gone to work each morning, and had
then come home again each night, that same way every
day for better than ten years and that she knew the face of every bus
driver and the color of the curtains in every house and what
kind of flowers there were in each garden and what kind of
trees that there were along the way – on both sides of the street.
We knew very little about her private life. What we did
know was that she was a very nice, if somewhat harried,
Headmistress of the high school in a town called Culloden. We
knew that much because my wife, who is a District Supervisor,
had recently met her on her first visit to her school. They had
learned to like each other pretty quickly because they’d found
that they agreed amazingly well on teaching methods and objectives
and disciplinary rules and, especially, how best to deal with bureaucratic
stupidities and, besides all of that and as a nice bonus, that
they shared similar, leftish, political views.
She’d also found out that her husband, the Ogre, was a sculptor.
We rang the bell of her modest, detached, two story
brick house and we heard her call to us that the door was
open and that we were to, “come right in”.
She was an attractive woman of around forty with graying
hair. She had a huge smile that was infectious and she
greeted us with gin in both hands – large ones. How could I
not have liked her after that greeting even though I knew
that it was placation for having been made to make that
horrendous journey that had taken us the best part of one and a
half hours and that had been so tedious that I hadn’t been
exactly civil to my wife for the last half of it.
I thanked her profusely all the while knowing that I was reacting
inappropriately to her offering of life saving gin just as
that guy in “Of Mice And Men” had done after being rescued
from drowning by the guy who had pushed him into the river.
We dropped our coats off and we sat down in her living
room and after a few minutes she excused herself to go tell
her husband that we’d arrived and when she came back she
adjusted various heat levels at the stove in her kitchen so
that the food stayed safe from burning or, perhaps, from over
We sat around talking amiably about everything except, I noticed,
anything that even touched on Education. We became increasingly
loud and merry because when she’d eventually distributed all
of the contents of the more than half full gin bottle amongst
us she’d gotten me to open up some Chianti.
The clock on the mantelpiece showed nine before she gave
up on waiting for her husband any longer and she went back to
the kitchen to turn up the various heat controls again and we
were soon invited to go to the table in the dining room.
Before serving us she put a portion of everything onto a
plate and then she took it away and when she came back she
put some meat on our plates and then she told us to help
ourselves to the rest and it turned out to be a very good
meal. It was filet of lamb, she told us, a cut we’d never had
before nor had even heard of, and it was delicious and lots
more Chianti helped it go down very well indeed.
When we were eating dessert – hot raspberry and apple pie
with clotted cream – none of which was taken out to the
garden I noticed, I ventured to ask her what was her husband
doing that was so all embracing that he couldn’t take time
off for such a wonderful meal at the table and she said that
he was, as usual, working in his atelier and his not stopping
to eat was quite normal, if somewhat rude on that particular
evening, and that we would please accept her apologies on his
Seeing that I’d brought his presence into the conversation, as
it were, she started talking about him. Somewhat by rote, I thought.
She knew positive sure that he was a genius.
She didn’t in the least mind supporting him.
It didn’t matter a bit to her how long that would continue.
Not a problem.
Someday the whole world would know of his genius.
Never a doubt.
She volunteered all of this without our asking so I
decided to do some asking to get us back in balance.
I said that I’d like to know something about his work.
What materials did he use? What exhibitions had he had? What
galleries did he deal with? Were there any reviews that we
could read? Could we see some of his pieces or were they all
too big to be brought indoors?
“He works in brass, only in brass”, she said, “and all
of his pieces are miniatures.”
The answers to the other questions were `no’ or `none’
but she said that she could show us one of his pieces.
She went upstairs and soon came down with a brass (what
can I call it?) a brass blob in her hands. It was about five
inches long and three inches or so high and wide. It had the
slightest suggestion of a spine uppermost which, perhaps, was
more raised to one end than to the other. She put it on the
table in front of us and she gazed fondly at it.
“He gave me that when we got engaged. You won’t believe
it but it’s the only one of his works that I’ve ever actually
held in my hands. When he makes one that he’s especially
proud of he brings it to me to look at but then he takes it
away again. Besides that, he won’t let me into his atelier, ever. No matter
what. When he won’t come into the house to eat, like tonight,
I leave his food out there in a box by the side door and then
I knock to tell him that it’s there and he calls out `Good’
but he won’t open up until I’m long back in the house and so
I don’t get even a peep inside.
“He hasn’t left me alone in this house since we first
moved in and he never goes out anywhere, not even to the movies,
so I’ve never had a chance to go down there to open the door
and look inside. Trying to look through the windows wouldn’t
do me much good because no light escapes from the windows at
night and so, from that, I think that he’s either boarded them up or he’s
fitted thick blinds to them inside.”
To be polite I touched the blob of brass and I said
`Mmmm’ and then I said that I felt that it had a definite,
I paused, `presence’, when what I really thought was that it
had about as much `presence’ as the cream jug that was sitting next to it.
“Where,” I wanted to know, “does he keep all of his
finished work? Even if they’re all this size, over all those years, uh, how
many years exactly? Twenty, fifteen, twelve of them? With his kind of
dedicated, uh, application he must have produced a vast number of (I just
stopped myself in time from saying `blobs’) pieces, mustn’t
he? Just how big is this atelier of his?”
“It’s as big as a two car garage which is what it was
once and its being there, well away from the house and where
he could ensure his privacy by getting an eight foot high
brick wall built between it and the driveway, is the reason
he got me to take out a mortgage on this particular house in the first
“I know that he has a huge butane furnace in there and
two long work benches and lots of molding equipment and many
tools and several ten-feet-long racks for brass rods of
different thicknesses and there are space-heaters for the
winter, also butane, and a reclining chair and a refrigerator for his beer.
Oh! And a coffee machine. I know about all of those because I
had to order them for him and I’m the one who had to find a
way to pay for them as well.”
By this time we were drinking coffee along with the
brandy that I’d brought and obviously all of the alcohol that
she’d drunk was loosening her tongue and evidently was also
easing up on an inhibition or two because she couldn’t keep
herself from taking this chance to unburden herself of deeper
more intimate and long-held-in complaints.
“I know that I’ll never have children – he made that quite obvious
when he asked me to marry him – and I knew that he was serious about
it because when we were properly engaged he moved in with me and,
every single time before we made love, he’d come into the bathroom
with me and watch me insert my diaphragm and even then he’d still
wear a condom!
“Well, of course, I’ve long accepted that but, anyway, we haven’t
had to take any precautions at all against my getting pregnant for six
years or more now and that part is hard to bear. You see, although we
still sleep in the same bed, when he comes to it, which can be at all hours
of the night, it always wakes me up and he keeps way over to his side and
I see him staring up at the ceiling when I go to sleep and he’s still staring
up at it when I wake up.
“Every so often, when, uh, my needs peak again, I get up enough
nerve to try to cajole him to come over to my side or I, uh, touch him
or I show him some skin to tempt him but he always spurns me and
says that I’m to leave him alone because all of his energy has to go into
That was already more than I wanted to know about his
love life, even though it seemed to be non-existent unless it
took place while he was alone on the recliner in his atelier,
so I asked her again about where did he store his – that time I managed
`creations,’ because I wanted to be polite, after all – creations because
the sheer logistics of it interested me. I was horrified for her but also,
by then, I was nice and mellow through being half drunk and thus quite
forgiving even to a sculptor who seemed to have taken fifteen years or
so to produce only one brass blob that was allowed to see
the light of day and who lived off his wife and who never
made love to her and who hated all children and who had
rudely dismissed us, sight unseen, and who had a reclining
chair and a refrigerator for his beer in his garage and who
spent around eighteen hours a day in there in artificial
light! I would have liked to ask her how many cases of beer did
she have to lug home for him every week! Wait! They didn’t
have a car, so every day maybe? One six-pack? Two?
She was reluctant to answer my question as to where he
stored his finished work because (as became obvious to us)
she hadn’t wanted to tell anyone in the world the next part
but after a little soul searching, during which we could practically see
the struggle going on in her brain, she gave in to her
bursting need to tell someone what had happened and just
before the inner struggle with herself ended we saw signs that
she’d given up and it turned out that the capitulation was sanctioned
by first asking us for our promise to not tell anyone else what she was
about to divulge.
It turned out that, the year before, through her
Herculean efforts (she had drawn the line at not being
allowed to try to share his genius with the rest of the
world, in fact she thought it was her duty to do so) she had
arranged for space in a little Gallery in Soho – at what she
thought was an outrageous price and with an even more
outrageous commission on all sales – for his first exhibition.
She had wanted to take the crucial step of exhibiting
his work for years but it was only when he’d told her that he
needed a new furnace – and she well remembered how much the
present one had cost and how long it had taken to make the
payments for it – that she’d decided to get serious and to buy
space in a Gallery. By then she had long given up any hope of
getting a Gallery to do it for free seeing that their owners all
nearly laughed in her face in disbelief when she explained that
they would have to accept his work sight unseen and that she
hadn’t even seen it herself!
She had used the summer break to look for the closest to
ideal place, that was nearest to affordable, so that she’d
have plenty of time to do the manual work of setting
everything up and to arrange for writing and printing the
brochures and for the announcements in the press and all of
the other things that would be necessary down to supplying
white wine and hors d’oeuvres.
She knew, without having to ask, that her husband
wouldn’t come into town to help in any way.
When the big day had gotten to be too close for any
further delay she had demanded that he decide which pieces
he wanted to show, and to polish them or whatever, and
to think about what prices he wanted to charge for them, and
then to bring them out of his atelier for her to wrap and
then load them onto the van that she would hire.
No longer having any real choice in the matter – after all those
years of being supported, it was put up and shut up time
for him – he promised to have them all ready for her to take
away on the last possible morning.
She couldn’t sleep the night before.
He didn’t come to her bed at all.
Five minutes before the clock would have told her that
it was time to get up she got up and went down to make
breakfast and she found him sitting in the kitchen.
He was filthy and sweaty and was looking distraught.
She asked what was wrong on this, his big day.
He told her that he had melted down all of his work!
He said that it was now all melded and fused together in
the thirty pound ingots that were piled up on the floor ‘out
“Why? Why? Why?”
“My work is between me and my God,” he’d told her.
Her tears started to flow and she reached towards the
piece of brass on the table but her hand stopped just short
of it and then went over to her glass of brandy.
She struggled to force out her next words, “I was
devastated. Over twelve years of his work melted down! Gone!
We were back to square one. Absolutely nothing left to show for twelve
She gave a tremulous, long drawn out sigh.
” `Between me and my God’, he told me!”
Another huge sigh.
“You know what the worst thing, for me is? I’m an atheist so what
is all of my work between? Me and the Board of fucking Ed.?”
She gave in to more tears but when she was wiping them away
her eyes locked onto my wife as, clearly, as a new thought came into
her alcohol-generated ranting.
“Whoa! Stop! Hold up here. Does that make you,” this to my wife,
“the Personification? Then, if so, if you are, rescue me,
please! Rescue me from serving his God. I don’t think that I
can go on like this and I know that I don’t want to take much more
of his shit.
“Ha! You know what! You can forget the transubstantiation part, but uh,
what do you think would that have consisted of? Let’s see, uh, chalk and
a bottle of copying ink wrapped up in a dozen different BOE forms, maybe? Ha!
But listen, I’ll be forever grateful if you could arrange for another
virgin birth! Will you try, please?”
She stared down at the brass object, as did we, and
there was silence for several long minutes.
She held the floor. No contest.
“Listen,” she eventually asked, quite needlessly, “while
we’re trotting out the truth here, I want to tell you this
too. I lied to you about something when I invited you to come here – I knew that he
wouldn’t eat with us, he never eats at the table anymore, in fact
we haven’t had a proper meal together for years – but it was for
my own sake that I told you not to bring your child with you.
I don’t think that I could have forced myself to let you
leave here with it after seeing it playing in my
living room and then sitting here at my table, eating with us
and maybe asking for more milk and some more fucking
She dropped her head and covered her face with her hands
and although the tears kept coming she stopped herself from
collapsing entirely into her despair by breathing rapidly and
She forced out more words, “I can deal with the kids at
school because they’re older and they’re in my working place,
but an infant, a toddler, here in my own house? A little
girl yet? Making indelible memories? I don’t think so.”
There was a long, long silence in that dining room after
she’d said that.
We had been sipping the brandy for its taste up to that
point but after it both my wife and I reached for our glasses
and we drained them for its kick.
It was definitely time to go even though it was a good
half hour before the suggested departure time that she’d told
us about earlier to be able to make the proper subway
connections to get home.
To be polite, and to let her try to compose herself, we
stayed seated and we fiddled with our plates and cutlery for
a while, as one does before getting up enough nerve to push
the chair back and then stand up and thus irrevocably end the
evening, but the remaining small talk while we were doing it
was very small indeed.
For most of the long journey back to our apartment we
just held hands and stared straight ahead or at the ads.
When we got home we woke up the baby sitter and I paid
her and then sent her off home which was two floors up in the
We held hands again and, without speaking, we went into
our daughter’s room and we stood there looking at her.
Not just to see that she was all right but to see that
she was there.
We stared at her for minutes on end and then we backed
out and went to our bedroom and we undressed and
we met in the center of the bed and I doubt if as much as a
quarter of an inch of space separated us, tip to toe, until I
had to get up to go to work the next morning.
My daughter was close to three years old at that time
and just before her second birthday I had carved her a duck-
shaped rocking boat that she could sit in and I had liked the
carving and the finished product so much that I kept on working with wood.
I did several things over the following months that were either hopeless
or plain ugly but then I got an idea that grabbed me and I
got on with it and I finished a half of it. It was going to be a
two feet high sculpture of a man and I was going to make it in
six separate parts that could be fitted together or spread
around the living room. I liked the idea and was pleased with
the parts that I’d finished, as did my wife, but when I came
home from work the night after the dinner party I collected the
three pieces that I had spread around and I dropped them into a
shoe box and I put it in the closet in the spare room along
with my chisels and mallets, etc. and I haven’t bothered with it since
then – that’s going on for a full year by now.
My wife still sees the ‘long suffering one’ once every term.
She says that she seems to be about the same as always but she
also says that on her every visit she sees to it that from nine to noon
they only talk about statistics and quotas and form filling, and that
kind of thing, and from one o’clock until three o’clock they concentrate
on solving personnel and practical problems. At lunch they avoid looking
into each others eyes and they stick to trivial subjects, like politics!
We were recently delighted to find out that my wife is pregnant again –
it’s been a long time coming – and so I trotted out the sparkling, soft,
apple cider –we believe in sharing the good things and the bad – and
during our celebration she paused for a minute to tell me that when
she was starting to ‘show’ she was, with permission or without it, going
to break Board of Ed precedents and was going to send an assistant
down to Culloden High School to do the next few visits.