How to Become a Perfect Living Statue
Step 1: Learn to talk with everything but your voice.
Xavier couldn’t get Andrea’s bra off. She tried to ignore it, but it had been almost five minutes since he slipped his hand up her back and started tugging at the clips.
On top of the unrehearsed and stuttering foreplay, Xavier’s breath stank of grease and marinara sauce. She couldn’t avoid the smell – the one that now must be all over her neck and lips. She wanted to tell him to go brush his teeth, but they weren’t really that sort of couple. They weren’t really any sort of couple, Andrea realized. Couples did things other than fool around and get lunch together.
She’d only known him for a week and in that time discovered he couldn’t remove bras and Xavier probably wasn’t his name.
“Just let me get it.”
“That isn’t as romantic.”
“Neither is whatever you’re trying for.”
“Stop that, Andrea.”
“You’re being mean.”
“You’re right. Sorry. Just let me do it.”
Andrea felt the grasping hands slip away from her. She heard Xavier push the air out of his chest and pull the blanket to his chin.
“Don’t be. I shouldn’t have snapped your bra.”
“You didn’t do it on purpose.”
She avoided the argument by pulling back the heavy blinds and letting in the sun. She put her bra back on correctly and looked for the rest of her clothes.
“I thought taking off bras was something boys practiced in middle school.”
“I was in an all-boys Catholic school. Really wasn’t an opportunity.”
“I guess not.”
“I’ll practice while you’re at work. By the time you get back I’ll unclip that thing one handed.”
“That’s weird. You’re weird.”
“Oh, I won’t and you know it,” Xavier said.
Andrea found her skirt under the laptop case and slid it on.
“When do you work today?”
“Soon,” Andrea said, though they both knew she set her own hours.
“Mind if I stay here?”
“I do, actually.”
“No, no that’s fine. I’ll go home, then.”
Xavier stood and stretched his slim arms towards the ceiling. Andrea didn’t find him attractive. His hair was too long and he couldn’t possibly weigh more than she did, which bothered her. She’d met him at a show and he’d seemed willing enough to build a relationship off of whatever she offered.
“I just thought we were at the step when I could stay over, meet your parents, that sort of thing.”
“I don’t think you’d want to meet my mother. We aren’t exactly close.”
“It wouldn’t have to be a dinner or anything – hey, I could just bump into her at one of your shows,” Xavier suggested.
“She doesn’t come to my shows.”
“You guys are that far apart?”
“No, she’s blind. Kind of tough to enjoy a silent performance.”
“That’s a good reaction.”
“I’m sorry. I mean I’m sorry. Well, maybe something else? I could come over and make you two dinner at her house.”
Andrea said “it isn’t that easy” by holding up her hand and waving it between her face and his.
“I’ll call you after I’m done at work,” Andrea said.
“Don’t bother. I’m heading out to work myself.”
Andrea thought about kissing him but instead held open the door.
“Have a good morning.”
She shut the door behind him. She locked it. She wondered if he heard her lock it and unlocked it. She wondered if she should actually go to work or just stay home.
Andrea decided to braid her hair and stare at herself in the hallway mirror.
She put her toes against a thin strip of blue painter’s tape ten feet from the mirror. She opened her mouth and tried to say “what are you doing” with her eyes.
She pulled out the tangled brown hair behind her ears and twisted it against itself.
She tried to say “Xavier, you’re lying about your name,” by furrowing her forehead and puffing her cheeks.
Pulling her hair into a quick braid she looked at how it hung over her shoulder and decided to do pigtails.
She said “I could never love you,” by relaxing everything on her body except for a frown.
She said “I don’t need you” by pulling her lips tight and putting her hands on tilted hips.
Andrea said a dozen other things, but the mirror got too cloudy for her to hear them.
Step 2: Always acknowledge a tip, even if it’s in the middle of a routine.
Andrea felt the makeup coming off of her face. She had too much on, and the combination of her sweat and the sun made the silver face paint run.
She’d been in the same pose for over fifteen minutes and decided this was the last time she’d ever used a sign that read “Tips wind me up!”
The metallic crank on her back pinched between her shoulders, and people loved to call out when they saw her twitch or breath or blink.
Next time, she’d just keep moving.
The music box around her was also acting as a thermal oven. June was not the right time for this act.
Only a few people paid – an elderly woman who clearly did so only out of pity, a group of school children who thankfully egged each other on, and a college student who whispered that he’d pay an extra ten dollars if she’d bend over.
Andrea told him to screw himself by lifting her eyebrows and putting a hand to her mouth.
He didn’t get it.
After he left, Andrea’s only focus was on the paint running down her face. She promised herself fifty dollars before taking a break, but she guessed only thirty was in the tip box.
She had just decided to go home and come back as a ventriloquist’s dummy when her aunt Stephanie appeared. She was standing to Andrea’s left, looking out where an audience would be if it weren’t so hot. When she knew Andrea saw her, she walked to face her directly and threw a wad of bills into the tip box.
“Your mother needs to see you,” she said.
Andrea responded by bowing mechanically, making sure to stay down long enough that whatever expression her face was showing remained between her and the sidewalk.
Her aunt helped pack up the oversized music box and walked ahead of Andrea to keep some of the eyes off of her. Andrea’s apartment was three blocks away and Aunt Stephanie didn’t say a word until they reached the elevator in Andrea’s building – and that was just to ask what floor she lived on.
“You don’t have to follow me home. I’d meet you at her place,” Andrea said.
“She’s not at her place,” Aunt Stephanie said.
“It will just take me a few minutes to get cleaned up,” Andrea explained, throwing her keys on the living room table and walking towards the bathroom, “there is soda in the fridge if you want some.”
“No, thank you.”
Andrea left the bathroom door open and began to wash the silver makeup off her hands.
“What are you supposed to be?” Aunt Stephanie asked – her voice had moved to the bedroom, which made Andrea frustrated.
“I’m a music box toy.”
“Why are you silver, then?”
“Tin. I’m supposed to be tin. It looks better that way.”
Andrea heard her aunt move back into the living room and sit on the sofa there. She looked at her hands in the sink and decided they were clean enough. Filling the basin, she splashed some water on her face to lather soap.
“Your mother doesn’t have very long, as I see it, and it’s not right.”
Andrea looked at herself in the mirror. She looked at the silver bubbles running along her cheeks and down her chin.
“I said it’s not right, Andrea.”
“I know it isn’t. I wish she was better.”
“That isn’t what I mean,” Aunt Stephanie said, “God – what a stupid thing to say. You wish she was better. Of course you do. We all do, Andrea. You should have seen her sooner. She might not have been a good mother, but she’s a good woman.”
“She was a good mother.”
“Is that why you’ve never come to see her since you struck out on your own?”
“A good mom would be visited by her daughter, seems to me. So either she’s a fuck-up of a mom or you’re a fuck-up of a daughter.”
Andrea shut the bathroom door. She used her fingernails to tear off the layer of face paint. She didn’t want to wait for the soap to loosen it. She looked in the mirror. She looked at her fingernails pulling herself apart.
Step 3: Practice as much as you can when you’re alone.
Everything in the home smelled like urine. Andrea had a hard time disguising her reaction to gag, though it didn’t seem like her aunt cared either way. She opened the front door and kept walking towards the kitchen, leaving Andrea to decide on her own what reaction to have.
“She stopped eating solids a few days ago,” her aunt called out.
“Are you taking her to the hospital?”
Her aunt returned with a glass of lemonade for Andrea, “Don’t see why I should.”
“You don’t know for sure.”
“Andrea – don’t be so childish. She’s been dying for a while now.”
“I’m worried about the pain she’s in.”
“No you’re not. If you worried at all – anyway, I was given plenty of drugs to keep
her numbed out.”
Andrea wanted to yell at her aunt but took a sip of the lemonade instead. A piece of ice ran across her lips and pulled some of the missed silver makeup with it.
“I’m sorry. That wasn’t how I wanted to say that.”
“She’s in the guest bedroom,” her aunt began, pulling her hair into a ponytail before letting it fall back into place, “she’s in and out most of the day – but I don’t know if you’ll get another chance.”
“You just need to straighten some things out, Andrea. I know she wants to do that.”
“Go on,” her aunt said, taking the glass from Andrea’s hand, “you go talk with your mother.”
Andrea walked down the hallway. Her feet felt mechanical. Her hand almost forgot how to open the door.
The room smelled of antiseptic and old clothing. Andrea stepped past the doorframe but stayed close to the wall. Her mother’s eyes were closed. Every breath sounded like a fight barely won.
Andrea recognized the straight, slender nose they shared. She knew the full bottom lip and long slim arms. Andrea wondered if her mother would be happy knowing that she saw all of these things. Andrea wondered how to start.
Her mother’s voice startled Andrea. It froze her to the wall.
Her mother turned her head towards the door. Her pale eyes opened. She looked like something that shouldn’t be in the room. She looked removed from it – something that was placed there by accident or bad luck. A forgotten piece to another set.
“Are you in here?”
Andrea did not move.
Andrea wanted to tell her that she was here – that she’d be here until the end. She wanted to tell her mother that she wasn’t really running away. She wanted to hold her mother’s thin limp hand and tell her about what’s happened over the last two years. She wanted to tell her about Xavier and how his name is probably something else – who’s given that name anymore?
She wanted to tell her mother that she didn’t visit because she was a bad daughter – because she thought there’d always be time. She wanted to say how she wasn’t angry that dad left them both for something else – how she didn’t blame her for it.
Andrea wanted to tell her mother how wonderful she looked – how they looked like the same person and how wonderful that was.
Instead, she relaxed her breath. She made her body lock.
Andrea said “you do not hear me,” by breathing silently through her mouth.
She said “You do not hear me,” again by closing her eyes.
“Your daughter isn’t coming to visit,” Andrea said, by moving for the door only when her mother was breathing in.
Andrea begged “You forgive me. I’m not here,” by closing the door quietly behind once she reached the hallway.
Andrea walked through the hallway and passed her aunt, who had risen from the kitchen table when she heard Andrea’s steps. She only heard the beginning of her aunt’s sentence – which stopped at “coward” once Andrea closed the front door.
She walked the distance between Aunt Stephanie’s house and her own apartment in the city, which took longer than she expected. It took long enough for Aunt Stephanie to find out that Andrea didn’t talk to her mother. It took long enough that her aunt should have driven by Andrea walking on the sidewalk and pulled over to yell at her.
When Andrea reached her apartment, she was surprised that her aunt wasn’t there waiting for her in the hallway.
Andrea went into the apartment and crawled into bed. She closed her eyes and thought of her mother. She reached out her hand towards the door and called out for Stephanie. She listened for a noise – a creak or a breath or a shuffle.
Andrea tried to make the face of someone who wanted so horribly to be with their daughter.
[BIO]: Matthew is a student in the Arcadia University MFA Program in Creative Writing.