Once again we’re pleased to present some of the writing coming out of our Sunday creative writing sessions. This time one of our regular writers, Connie Phlipot, has explored a prompt for a surreal story. We hope you enjoy reading it!
A Caryatid Comes down from a Building
by Connie Phlipot
She rubbed her neck with the strong stubs of her arms. For so many years — was it centuries?— she had longed to get out from under the cornices and quit supporting the weight of this building. Years watching people scamper out from under the arched doorways — so lithe, so flexible, so unencumbered. She hated them; she envied them; she wanted to follow them. But she stayed in place, holding up her share of bricks and stucco.
Sometimes, she glanced to her side at the other caryatids, trying to glimpse a sign of fatigue in their faces, but they stared stolidly forward. How about the minotaur across the street? Did he seem to be straining to jump down on the pavement and gallop away? She concentrated hard to make her eyelids flutter a bit at the horse-man. Not quite a wink. That would take hours of concentration and then it would be dark. No, just a little flip of the chiseled stone above her eye. Did he notice? She stared ahead, looking for some hint of movement on his part. Nothing. Then the shadows of the early evening draped his features.
She could endure it no longer, the immobilization, the inability to affect anything that happened in her building, on the street, anywhere. She still wept, the dew glistening on her molded cheek when she thought of the small boy who had sped down the street on his scooter, knocking over a woman holding a cocker spaniel. The woman struggled to get up, clutching the dog as if afraid he would run away, unable to get purchase on the rain slick pavement in her high-heeled shoes. If only she could have helped her get up, or run after the boy.
The tipping point, though, was a personal affront to her body. For decades, people had been looking up at her and her statuary colleagues, marveling at their immobile beauty. But then they would comment on their dirtiness. “How sad,” they would say, “that the city doesn’t clean off this filth.” She was embarrassed to be dirty. She always welcomed the rain, even the storms, because she would feel her surfaces getting cleaner, renewed. She had begun to notice, though, that in the past years, the rain only smeared the soot. Her neighbors — even the lovely, plump cherubs — were grimy.
Then the city took action. Trucks brought huge metal structures, tanks of water, and powerful hoses; men in yellow plastic coats blasted them with the water — even the angelic babies. Such a fury of water, worse that the most fierce storm. She feared she would topple from her perch. When the barrage was over, she was white again, but she felt so tender, as if a layer of her being had been sanded away.
The humiliation was overwhelming. She decided the time had come to leave her post. No more would she worry that she would be letting her fellow bearers down if she left. So what if the passers-by noticed that a piece of the elegant facade was missing. She could not bear to stand here another century. And even worse things could happen. A block down the street, a steel ball the size of a church dome had struck a building even older than hers. The griffins, cherubs, caryatids tumbled onto the ground. Their anguished groans resounded in her dreams. She could only imagine where they now lay — a junkyard or crushed to make highway pavement. If she knew where they were, she would visit them — when she was free.
Free she would be. She concentrated for a month, getting enough power to turn her head; another month and she bent a knee, after a year she was exhausted but ready. She still had to wait for the right moment — the arrival of a truck to break her fall.
The sun slid over the top of the apartment building across the street lighting the centaur’s face. She was certain that his expression had shifted from a scowl to a faint smile. With her newly mobile eyelids, she looked down at the street and saw a truck full of mattresses right below her.
The time had come — nothing could ever be as lucky as this. She held her breath, bent both knees, ducked her head and leaped right onto a blue striped Sealy mattress. She exhaled, and let her stones relax into the softness. She was drifting into sleep when the truck rumbled forward. The mattresses slipped and rolled in the truck bed. She had to concentrate once again to keep from sliding off onto the road.
The truck continued through town; after she managed to wedge herself into a secure position, she could take a look at her surroundings. Tall buildings devoid of any statues loomed on each side. How lonely, she thought, without our lovely sculpted bodies. Then the buildings became shorter and further apart. One small, rather ugly statue stood at the edge of a garden. She waved the end of her arm at it, but it didn’t respond.
The truck stopped at a squat dun colored building surrounded by barren fields. Men in work clothes wearing heavy gloves and pulling pallets on wheels unhinged the end of the truck bed and began pulling out the mattresses.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” One of the rough gloved hands had touched her breast. “How the hell did this get in here?”
“Beats me, “ the other grunted under the weight of a box spring. “What should we do with it?”
“Let’s put it up against the warehouse and ask the boss when he gets here.”
With surprising tenderness for which she was so grateful she would have wept had it been raining, they lifted her up and set her by the door. The men continued unloading mattresses. She rubbed her neck again and waited for the boss’ arrival.