Oct/Nov 2020  •   Fiction


by Leah Erickson

Public domain street art

Public domain street art

In her old life, her eyes would have been anxiously scanning the room, searching for flaws. Was there enough food? Were the flowers fresh enough? Were the guests having a good time?

But the guests were happy. The place was buzzing with conversation, laughter, and exclamations of the beauty surrounding them. And, for the first time ever, everything was perfect. There were flowers, lots of them, and they were all white: stately calla lilies, paperwhite narcissus, hybrid peonies. And gardenias. Her favorite. Lots and lots of gardenias in low crystal vases, emanating a scent lush, sweet, and to her, almost narcotic.

Her floral designer had never let her have gardenias. Or all white. Or topiaries. But they were here now and looked as chic and elegant as she had always imagined. Although the flowers were not in season. Then she realized she did not know the season here, and it felt a bit strange.

It also felt strange to be in the middle of the room, blazingly naked. The young man who had carved her from a block of ice had made her that way. She was luxuriously stretched, her arms crossed in the back of her head, clutching her hair back into a bunch. It was like she was just rising from a bath. Or getting into one. She looked relaxed, peaceful. As though no one were looking.

But people were looking.

The young man who had carved her had dark hair, dark eyes, and skin like burnt caramel. He wore baggy jeans and a backwards baseball cap. He had used a chainsaw in the beginning, and it seemed almost as though he were fighting against the ice. At war with it. Slashing at it, bits and splinters of it flying up into his face. But then, as she began to take form, he used an astonishing array of picks and chisels. He lost himself in the process, a look of fierce concentration on his face as he worked. He gently tapped out her face, her arms, legs, and breasts. With a tiny little chisel, he carefully carved out the hint of a slit in her most private place: she was embarrassed at first, and wondered if she was supposed to be a dirty joke.

At the end, he ran a little torch over her, the flame smoothing the surface, erasing any flaws. The ice was pure, clear as crystal. And when he knew he was done, he looked at his creation for a long moment, with a look of such... well... mournful reverence. It was astonishing. No one in her old life had ever looked at her that way. And that's when she knew she was not a dirty joke: she was beautiful.

It seemed maybe she could get used to being naked. More and more, she was forgetting her old life. The sense of gnawing unease, of dissatisfaction that had plagued her since she was a young girl, was slowly slipping away. Her old identity could be dropped, shed, lightly as a peignoir robe. And now, for the first time, she could enjoy the party.

The guests were in cocktail attire, men in suits and women in short dresses and long dresses, but all in heels. When they passed, they paused to admire her, and she tried to raise her head a little higher, ease into the stretch a little bit more, because she knew she was at last beautiful, and it made her feel full of love and grace, and she wanted to bestow these things right back onto the people.

Amazing ice sculpture!

I know, they must hire the best people. I wonder who they are.

I think she is supposed to be Diana.

Or maybe Aphrodite.

Aphrodite, goddess of the sea.

More like Aphrodite, goddess of the crustaceans, am I right?

But when they laughed, it wasn't in a cruel way.

And well, she had to admit, with just the smallest pang of embarrassment: she was standing in the middle of what anyone could see was the raw bar.

All around her base were tiered stations of shrimp, crab, lobster, and freshly shucked oysters, all laid out in beds of crushed ice glimmering like heaps of diamond chips.

Very clever, she thought, the way there were tiny plastic cups of cocktail sauce and lemon wedges. Individual servings. She drifted back into her old "self" for just a few moments, feeling envy, indeed wondering whom they had hired and if she could get their number. But then the forgetting happened again. The thoughts slipped away. And she went back to being as enchanted with the world as a proverbal child.

It was a grand ballroom on what most would call a mega yacht. There was a panoramic view of the night, and the glimmering lights of a coastline she could not identify. And they were not docked. They were moving offshore, the coastline falling farther and farther behind.

She could sense the immense mystery of the ocean, how the waves seemed to communicate with the other elements. The message was a rhythm, a sort of song. Sung, erased, resung. If she listened closely, she knew something important was about to be revealed. The secret was just within her grasp.

Funny, how in her old life, she loved to sail. But no voyage had ever satisfied her. The imagined trip was always better than the real thing. The journey itself never made her happy.

But everything was different now.

Was this a wedding reception? Was it an anniversary? A fundraising gala? So many people. Oddly, but she had a vague, nagging sense that in her old life, people had stopped gathering in groups. That it was a danger. That humanity was a hazard to itself. So all the parties had stopped.

And yet this one was carrying on, and it made her heart swell to watch the people, so happy to be there, together. So much to be enjoyed. She strained to listen, to pick up on any clues. But all she heard were bits and bobs that didn't connect.

I don't know who owns it. Nobody does. Russian oligarch, I hear...

This? I picked it up last time I was in Monaco...

A shame it happened, really. But they threw flowers on the water and gave the belongings to the police, so what else could they do...

There was a station of chefs in their tall paper toques, serving pasta into small bowls. Somewhere, there was a pianist playing. And, she noticed for the first time, there was a child there. A girl in a fussy burgundy dress with a silk flower appliqué. The girl was at that gawky, colt-like age, maybe 12, so that the volume of the dress made her arms look even longer and skinnier.

The girl must have been bored, because she was wandering aimlessly. Blonde hair with untamed waves, frizzing at the hairline. Eyes deep and watchful. Not smiling. She remembered that age. The way it always felt like the whole world was against you. That's when it started. She felt a great tenderness well up in her ice body.

She lost sight of the girl a couple of times but felt the her presence circling the room's edges. And then, just as she hoped, the girl passed the raw bar. The girl stopped and was looking straight at her.

Oh, the tense way the girl held herself. The brittle vigilance! She wanted to tell her something. The girl had her eyes on her, could see her icy beauty, like the others did. Maybe she could make her beauty speak directly to the girl.

Could say, relax into the moment. Don't be at war with the world. Because you will lose. Surrender to the moment. Can't you see? Can't you see? The flowers, the dresses, the bounty of food. All for you. It's right here. You'll never have this moment again. Oh, darling. Just look...

And... the girl was leaning in a bit, peering closer. Oh, she hears me! She felt such a welling of emotion, she swore she could crack right in her center.

The girl's lips parted just a bit. Mouth full of silver braces. A hesitant, bemused smile. Then she said, "Look. She's melting!"

With a shock, she realized it was true: just a few pattering drops, coming from her raised elbows. Why, she would not have even noticed them at all if not... if she...

It felt cruel, is what it felt. The girl's unvarnished frankness. The way she pointed. Weren't children taught anymore it was impolite to point? So rude to point out another's misfortunes for all the world to see. The girl still wore a small, wondering smile. Had she never seen a woman melt before? She was glad when the girl's mother came over, a plate of three bright balls of sorbet in red, yellow, and green. Come back to the table now, Elizabeth. And she could swear the mother gave her the briefest, commiserating glance as the two walked away.

There was a small rivulet running down her gently lifted thigh. Oh, she really felt it now. This coming apart, this becoming less. She had the feeling if it hadn't been pointed out, it wouldn't have been made real.

Drip, drip drip. She wanted to stay longer! Now that she saw things as they really were, they couldn't be taken away. Not now. Not yet.

She could sense the ship was at sea now, moving at a faster clip. Nearby she heard a man murmur discreetly to someone, Of course, the owners don't have to declare. We're in international waters now. And there is no flag.

The words meant nothing, yet they made her anxious. So to distract herself, she chose to concentrate on the smell of the gardenias. It made her think of being young, herself, and how she once held a sticky, freshly picked gardenia in her hand, a real gardenia, covered with black ants. The smell was sweet but also deep. Even... dirty, really. In the way of the earth and all the things throbbing out of it...

How she loved gardenias.

At some unknown cue, everyone in the room stood and began applauding. Someone was arriving. People were rising, arching their necks to see, over there. She did not know who it was. Though she was now coming down like rain upon this bounty of iced ocean life, in spite of everything. In spite of herself, an overwhelming question came from inside her, aching for an answer:

Where are we going?