Wyld FLASH 11th January 2022
Bob’s Custom Welding was Dad’s dream. The best metal workshop in three states. I had worked there since I was ten, taking to steel, brass, and bronze right away. By the time I was in high school, I could make flowers with thin, delicate petals; fish and snakes with light, gleaming scales. Dad said I had a real gift.
I began to fancy myself an artist and perhaps I was one, but the world did not care. I couldn’t make a living selling sculptures, yet I didn’t want to do anything else.
Dad was delighted when I decided to move back home and work with him. He talked about changing the shop’s name to Bob and Son’s Custom Welding, about me having a family and leaving it to my boys. The more he talked about it, the more I felt a tightening in my chest. I wanted to flee, but I had no money, and the fear of repeated failure gnawed at me.
So I worked in the shop during the day, making small garden fixtures and crates for local stores, and I spent evenings on my art, even though I was convinced I would never sell it.
When Dad died, calmly and peacefully, the same way he had lived, I inherited the shop. Without him around, my weak will got the best of me; I could not bring myself to finish the projects for clients, and, soon, they went away.
I had all the time in the world to work on my art, but I was crushed by the guilt of destroying Dad’s legacy. I spent my days paralyzed, waiting for the money to run out, feeling helpless against impending doom.
Mr. Odolegarria came to the shop near closing time. It was dark outside, the days of early spring still short. I had been drinking since morning and wasn’t sure if he was real when he showed up at the door.
“I hear you are a talented sculptor,” he said after he’d introduced himself. “A true artist.”
“Maybe I was, once,” I said. “What do you want?”
“I would like you to do a custom job for me.”
“I don’t do garden fixtures anymore.”
“That’s not what I had in mind. I need a true artist’s touch.” He looked me right in the eye. His irises were black, like a shark’s. “And I need a true artist’s discretion. I am prepared to pay.”
I swallowed hard as excitement rose through my chest. My head cleared in an instant.
“What is it that you need, Mr. Odolegarria?”
“A life-sized sculpture of my wife.”
“Oh! Yes, of course. I’m not sure why discretion would be needed, though.”
“Because she cannot know about it. It’s a surprise.”
“Hmm.” I placed a finger on my lips, thinking. “That will be a challenge. Ideally, she would sit for me… But I might be able to work from photographs.”
“No. She has to be in the nude. And it needs to be as detailed as possible, exactly to scale.”
I winced. “Mr. Odolegarria, I don’t understand… You want the exact shape of your wife, in the nude, without her knowing that I am making a sculpture?”
I stared at him. “How?”
“I’m sure you’ll think of a way.” He smiled on one side of his mouth. “Do whatever you need to do. I am leaving town for six months. I need that sculpture when I get back.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick envelope. “Consider this an advance for your efforts.”
It took me several days to sober up and make myself presentable before I arranged to run into Mrs. Odolegarria on one of her outings to a local art gallery.
She smiled when I approached, and I was taken aback. The photographs did not do her justice. Still a striking beauty in middle age, a few gray strands giving her thick hair extra sheen.
We met several times at the gallery, then for coffee. We spoke of the weather, of the arts, but mostly sat quietly and observed passers-by. There was an emptiness in her eyes, a despair that her smile couldn’t erase.
As the weather got warmer and she started wearing light floral dresses, the outline of her voluptuous figure drew my gaze. I lied to myself that it was just research for the sculpture. When she noticed me ogling, I was ready for her to slap me and leave, but instead she paused, drew a long breath, and invited me over. There was a weariness in her voice.
She went along with my clumsy advances, patiently, absentmindedly. She was not really there with me, not when I parted her lips with my tongue, not when her soft bare arms drew me close, not when our bodies swayed, faster and faster, our breaths growing shallow, not when her fingers dug into my back as her moan became a scream.
I never felt she really wanted me, not for me, anyway. Her eyes grew darker, emptier, whenever we were together.
But I kept going back.
Within weeks, I could trace every curve and crevice of her body with my eyes closed. And, for the first time in a long while, I really wanted to sculpt.
Mr. Odolegarria had said to do whatever I needed to.
“It’s perfect,” said Mr. Odolegarria as he traced the bronze sculpture of his wife with the tips of his fingers. “Here is the rest of your money.” He handed me another envelope, twice as thick as the first one.
I smiled. “I’m glad you like it. When do you want it delivered?”
“That won’t be necessary.” He looked me right in the eye. “You can keep it. As a memento.”
I swallowed hard.
“But now that you have a perfect mold,” he continued, holding my gaze, “I want you to make a thick iron coffin that will fit snugly around it.”
Author Bio: Maura Yzmore writes short fiction and long equations somewhere in the American Midwest. Her speculative flash has appeared in Flash Fiction Online, The Arcanist, Utopia Science Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. Find out more at https://maurayzmore.com or on Twitter @MauraYzmore.
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