Darren studied the latest sign. He’d already dumped four of them into the woodpile. This one didn’t look too bad. He chose flesh-tone paint. His work was all about nature. He labored over each letter, because, no, he was not a painter.
He put the wooden sign and an easel in the back of his lawn mower he’d bought on Craig’s list for a damn good price. There wasn’t any grass in the desert. He used it to pick up mail, buzzed down the dirt road until he was next to the mailboxes on the side of the road.
Was this a bit premature? His teacher, Minnie Mensan, kept telling him, ‘If you don’t take yourself seriously, then who will?’ Darren had only taken two classes but had forged ahead. He got online and bought a ‘Clay Emperor’ set. It cost 600 bucks, but he was on his way to becoming a professional and now had all the materials needed. As he progressed the speedball glaze set would start to make sense. It came with an instruction manual he would read one of these days when he had the time.
Cars roared past as he smiled at the sign: “Potter At Work,” with an arrow leading to his dirt road from the one-lane highway. He also put up another sign to turn off into his driveway, which led to the studio. Well, not so much a studio as a shed that used to house ten chickens or so, until a few roosters blasted into the mix and neighbors complained. Darren had banked on that being his great money-making enterprise with the unending supply of eggs.
One night his girlfriend had loaded the feather posse up into cat carriers and left them outside of an animal sanctuary. Then left Darren. Other things might have been involved in her departure, but he didn’t need to go over that in his head right now.
He motored up his lawn mower and made his way back to the shed. The scene looked authentic and coarse, unrefined. He grabbed his apron from a fancy hook he’d bought at Home Depot and spent over an hour pounding and twisting into the side of the shed the day before. This shit didn’t work so well with Darren. Problems arose when raw material had to adhere to spatial terrain.
He had the clay set on the wheel. Beside it, all his creations were lined up. His first sculpture was based on the Sphinx. He’d never been to Egypt but had a postcard he used for his model. He rolled the clay, let it spin and molded it with carving tools. Dignified features slowly imprinted themselves out of the mass, but when it came out of the oven a week later, it looked more like a pyramid with the face of his bloodhound, George.
Minnie was always positive. “Weave a part of yourself into every piece, Darren.”
The feel of wet clay on his fingers as each piece spun on the wheel was a high. He molded with love until the sculpture took an envisioned form, usually not the form he intended, but such was the life of an artist.
Looking at the table now, Darren wasn’t as enthusiastic. The Raven looked like a lump of coal with a head smashed on it, the coyote resembled his hunched-over mother, the man on a pilgrimage to Chimayo with a cross on his back was nothing but bad decisions, and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range was a mottled woman with three breasts.
Whenever Darren felt discouraged Minnie had nodded her head at him and winked. “Look at it this way,” she’d say. “You’re telling your life story through a new medium. It’s like the first man who carved hieroglyphics in caves. I’m sure his efforts were scoffed but look at what he’s done for humanity now.”
Yes, Darren thought, that’s what it was. Each piece might seem flawed to someone who saw reality through the eyes of reality. Art wasn’t like that. It was a distorted vision of truth. He put on his goggles and started up the wheel. He was working Mt. Rushmore in his mind when a car pulled up. His nerves misfired for a few moments as his hands shook. He thought it best to keep the wheel turning. He was a potter at work, after all.
Two girls got out of a beat-up maroon Subaru. He noticed dents on the car. They had the look of artists, with torn jeans, boots, and one with hair that stood up on her head. He guessed they were twenty-somethings, but accuracy was difficult with the wheel spinning and clay flying. He needed to give them enough time to watch the artist in motion. He took off his goggles and let the wheel whine to a slow, high-pitched halt. He noticed duct-tape held the windshield in place on their car.
“Hey,” said the shorter girl with pink hair, a pierced lip and nose ring. “You the potter?” she asked.
Darren rolled his eyes and nodded. What the hell did she think he was doing?
“Oh, look,” said the taller one. Her head leaned to the left and her long brown hair threaded her face like bars on a birdcage. “These are interesting,” she said as she picked up the coyote. “Some kind of animal?”
Her friend moved in for a closer look. “It’s a penguin, can’t you tell? See,” she pointed at the coyote’s nose, “that’s the beak.”
These weren’t artists. Neither of them had ever been near a museum, let alone a metropolis. They were uncultured, like Darren’s girlfriend who laughed when he’d taken a guided tour of the city she’d grown up in on their last trip.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” she said, as he barreled off with a pack of elderly in an open car tour-bus.
“Yeah?” he smirked. “And who will know more about Topeka when we leave?” he said to himself.
The girls snickered holding up the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
“How much for the camel?” the short one asked, biting her lip as though Darren couldn’t tell.
“It’s not for sale,” Darren said and grabbed it. They held on together for too long and when she let go, Sangre de Cristo imploded on the table in shards; except for the three boobs that remained intact, but separate now.
“Oh, great,” said the tall girl through the bark of her hair. “Probably cost a damn fortune, you idiot,” she said to the short one. “Now what are you going to do?”
The short girl pulled out some rumpled dollars from her jean pocket. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I only have five.” She laid out the singles on the table. “I hope that will cover some of it.” She lowered her head.
Darren sighed deeply and nodded. He picked up the money and watched the girls get back in the cracked-up car and pull out as they waved. He waved back. He was a potter after all, and accidents would happen.
Minnie told him, “When someone exchanges money for one of your creations, yes, you are a professional, but remember, it’s never about the money and always about the process.”
Darren smiled, stashed the dollars in his pocket, just as another car was pulling into his driveway. He was a local artist now, and there was money to be made.
Meg Tuite is author of Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press), Bound By Blue, (Sententia Books) Meet My Haze (Big Table Publishing), White Van (Unlikely Books), won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from (Artistically Declined Press) for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging, Grace Notes (Unknown Press), as well as five chapbooks of short fiction, flash, poetic prose, and multi-genre. She teaches workshops and online classes through Bending Genres and is an associate editor at Narrative Magazine. Her work has been published in over 600 literary magazines and over fifteen anthologies including: Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good.
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