Celebrated (part twelve)
“I’m not a trash artist.”
She wanted to laugh, and the matter was somewhat bitter. His head bent to the hand, turning one of the bobbles back and forth, catching light. Petra bought a lot of glass, long tubes of color, buckets of frit; she snaffled bottles from the roadside, also to incorporate.
As much as you could find glass these days.
“So you just put them out. Do people take them?”
“They do. But you want that…you want your stuff in the world. I make one, I put it out, every day. The idea is…there is an every day. We accumulate…somehow or other…buying things, consuming things…we add to our sum total. Every day a little farther impact, we burn more energy, breathe more oxygen. I’ve been putting them along the trails for four years, since I started the project. And you know, the metalworking…”
She had done accumulation art since dropping her first major, writing, which might have earned her a nickel. Thirty years of art, most abandoned, the installations…if they were making an impact, in the towns she’d had grants, visiting artist, teaching posts.
(She was bad at teaching, she thought. Even now, to this supernaturally interested visitor, she explained badly.)
Young Petra Motley, written up twice in the art journals. Present-day Petra invisible. Dead Petra might earn a retrospective…
In the town paper.
But her mother had been almost known…she had known known people. The daughter, almost, could be interesting, her story almost of history…if she had known it herself.
But every day, a bobble. The bobble was a little glass creature, that she invested over and over with her mother’s face.
The woman said to have been, very tiny in a locket.
A tiny person, Petra guessed…the length of arms told. The woman wore an elaborate wedding costume, a crown-like hat, a stole of lace and embroidery. Petra’s height suggested her father had been not much taller. The face…the eyes, so hard to read in miniature, large, doomed, foreknowledged. The bobbles, then, were not cute. They were needy little ghosts.
“But maybe you know this, you were a student of my mother’s?”
He’d said, or he hadn’t, that rush after she’d first picked up the phone. She wanted to make her point, only make it to someone.
“Maybe I know…?”
“You studied writing…you did write?”
He grinned. “Why past tense?”
“Well.” She smiled back, sheepish, and the first time since opening her door. “No, you’re right. If someone said, weren’t you an artist? Back when you weren’t as old as you are now…? I suppose I really meant it like that. The things we think, before we catch ourselves.”
“But you would be right. I wrote a novel once.”
“So, you know… Not such a happy family, the community of the arts. They pick, pick, pick, don’t they? I told you I’m not a trash artist. Then off the bat I feel I have to qualify…there are people who make found art, who use trash, so trash is not a pejorative.”
“Petra Motley, however, is not a trash artist.”
She didn’t give him what he was looking for, this solemn, taking-you-seriously mockery, too familiar. If you could go back in time and counsel yourself…
Just leave the room, Petra. Don’t get your hopes up. “Tom Wilmot,” she said, but already he was prompting her.
“Well, there. You see the kinds of things…my raw materials.” The barrels. Crossing to pull out a license plate frame, the topmost thing, she was telling herself, for heaven’s sake. “I’m poor. Anything I find, I don’t have to buy. That matters. I just don’t work that way…I don’t tack a rusty exhaust pipe onto a piece of driftwood.”
“Now, see,” she added. “I’ve got that feeling again.”
“So…perfectly okay if you did, but you don’t.”
“And what are these, plugged in?”
“And then….looks like you have a sort of courtyard out there, where you do the blowtorching.”
And so…so far…they’d had a meal together, that he’d paid for. If she were good at strangers, she’d have got out of him whatever it was he wanted to say, why he cared about an old professor’s relative. Being shy, Petra fell into these traps, where it took some boldness, backtracking to the point. He was making to go out the studio door, leading her on her own tour.
He hovered a hand, and looked back at her.
“That one is Guinior. No…” As to the hovering. “You don’t really pet them. They don’t want feeding, either…for the most part. But they do like to follow. You may as well come up the trail, get a sense of the bobbles out along my little pond. You can meet the burros.”
“Burros. No kidding.”
(2019, Stephanie Foster)