On a night when the moon is low and yellow as egg yolk, I watch a plane, silhouetted but for a few blinking lights, flying quiet as a bat over the roof of my home. Inside, upstairs, I use a pencil and an old city map that’s dog-eared at the corners to plot the possible trajectories of the plane from the airport, over the roof of my apartment block and beyond. I realise that the flight path forms a straight line that passes over my old home in the city’s inner-west to where I live now. Where I used to live, the plane is still so low and the noise so loud that it makes the windows shiver in their frames. But by the time it has reached where I now live, it creeps across the night sky, whispering its presence as if concerned it might disturb us.
While I draw possible paths across the paper, I think of the people in the cabin, excited about the flight, about their destination, tired, children crying, a man who opens the toilet’s slim door, locking it behind him and hunching as he pisses. A woman’s monitor doesn’t work; she feels the anxiety of the possibility of staring at a blank square for the next nine hours rising up her throat. The path of the plane linking the old me with the new.
Soon, I have a page of hard black lines that bisect the city. I hold the map away from me: it looks like an attempt to divide the city in half, as if by opposing forces in war, or the creeping boundary of a plague. I like it—if I was better, more sure of hand, I might frame it. I want to find something that echoes or matches it, and I stay up late clicking deep into art websites.
Outside, under the sun, they sit on the ground around you, gazing up as if you are a holy person, or an oracle.
You point with a forefinger at the work as you explain, clipboard under your arm, then step to its side.
A wide and bright hall, a single artwork occupying the centre. Blocks of light and polished timber surfaces—IKEAean—and your black hair. You have a way. You’re good. You know more than what you tell us; I see this, and I see you notice me (I suddenly become self-conscious and wonder what sort of group I have joined, beginning to doubt that it was just a free tour, that this is some special group) but you continue unperturbed, buoyed, maybe, by the attention. But it’s the hair, the hair, a black mane, swishing as we, me too now, in a group, move on.
Daylight blinds at the gallery entrance; people, in silhouette, pass in and out through the door. You chat and smile with some of the members of the group as they leave. I wait for them all to clear so I can say something. I will say something.
We walk and you talk, as if still on the tour. We cross a street and pass a sandstone cube with Hellhole written on it. This is to commemorate a sandstone quarry that used to be nearby, you say. There are also cubes with Purgatory and Paradise written on them: the sandstone from the Purgatory quarry was hard to work with; Paradise could be sliced like butter and was the nicest stone. Hellhole gave the worst sandstone and the quarry was as deep as Hades. This is the word you use, Hades.
We arrive at a metal door and you shake out a set of keys. Inside, you turn on the lights. From what you said I imagined white busts or heads, dark veins through them, classical. Something you made with your hands. Instead, I get machinery, as if they have a button and a power plug. Turn them on and they produce. Join them together and they become a production line and turn something out at the end. Like robots in Japanese cartoons—but glass, metal, things.
They are to be put on display in a few weeks but you have a fear, are terrified, in fact, you say, that children will throw stones. You are even contemplating pulling out of the show. As I walk around them, I have questions. What child throws stones? Where are these children? It makes me think of the glass domes of the industrial age, of monochrome photographs of pre-war Europe, and I realise this is why we make as little as we can from glass now. Skyscrapers maybe, corporate offices, things out of the reach of the stone-throwing child. We do not dome things in glass anymore.
Then I see the sculptures anew.
Me and you and others shudder to the rhythm of the train. I roll my sleeves up to my elbows, untuck my shirt. Another man, businessman, trim-bearded, seated, looks you down and up. I watch his eyes. Watch them take you in. You talk to me and he looks at me now before he turns away. The train glides into a station, comes to a halt.
We arrive where we are. It is dusk and I follow you to a house I won’t remember. You open a gate and lead me down a path to a half-paved yard enclosed by the house and tall trees like a grotto. There are others here in the back, around a fire not for heat, because it is summer, but for light. I am introduced to a man and you move away as if to let us get to know each other. He sculpts too (I can imagine clay in one thick hand and a blunt wooden knife for carving in the other). I wonder if they all sculpt. I make this joke and he smiles. But he is a sculptor of abstract, primitive things, he says, and yet his head, smooth and hairless with clear and deeply set eyes, could be the model for the head of a perfect classical statue. He must know: his nose is Roman and angled; with ten years and a beard, he could be Apollo. With a bolt of lightning, Zeus.
Upon noticing this, I can’t un-notice it. It is a pivot for everything we say. He tells me that he loves the form of the female. Loves the raw, the natural, uses his hands to feel at something that is not there. This is what inspires. I understand that he and you were at one time lovers and look across the yard to see where you are: you are by a fence covered in vines, talking with someone who could be your older sister. It is out of this feeling, he tells me, this anti-space, that his sculptures rise. I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck—I can’t concentrate on anything but the shape of his skull. I cannot remove myself from the idea that he is sculpting, ultimately, his own self-portrait, every time, and I want to tell him this. I want to get mad at him. Maybe because of this, the conversation fragments, ends.
You and I stand by a dry, snapping fire and it is as if there should be the stomp and heart-pulse of drums. I think I see the mound of a tortoise shell and the glint of firelight in its black eye but maybe these are only shadows.
Food is served, fried fish with the scales on. It feels wrong to eat here, among these people, strangers, but also wrong to not.
Bats squabble invisible in the branches overhead. Bottles, empty and froth-lined, are scattered across the dark yard and clutter the table. The fire has burnt down to red logs, radiating a nuclear heat we still, even at this time, don’t need.
There is talk of a game and I look at you to know, so you know that I am only here for you—but this seems impossible now, at this hour. A game, of course. It’s all a game, can only be a game.
You are gone, slipped away. In the dawn, fire-burnt hands. To be specific: fire-burnt fingers.
Tristan Foster is a writer and critic from Sydney, Australia. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Music & Literature, 3:AM Magazine, Visual Verse, Verity La, gorse, Vestiges and elsewhere.