Warts and All

Christian Tempère’s hands had the softness of someone aristocratic, someone who had never done rigorous labor in his life. Yet he was a sculptor, every day in his studio with chisel and hammer in hand. It was a wonder Marie ever managed to encounter him considering how seldom he left the confines of his workspace. But he needed to eat like everyone else, and The Ditch Diner was the quickest, most pleasant place to eat alone. Situated in the center of town, at the edge of Warren Street where the Hudson flows with modest grandiosity, The Ditch, as locals called it, was the best place to discern what Hudson had to offer, romantic dalliance-wise. Marie had only just started working there and didn’t exactly fit the bill of what an upstate “waitress” should look like in that she didn’t have a giant mole on her nose, graying hair or some other such unsightly characteristic common to the wizened diner server. In fact, Marie still had the shimmering sheen of a girl who hadn’t lived in the city for five years, and bartended at a soul-sucking nightclub no less–one might say the last club in New York that even vaguely channeled Ibiza-level partying. Her black shoulder-length hair and olive skin was in contrast to a predilection for a rotation of key pieces from the “Basics” line of H&M. This is the first detail Christian noted about her, as he felt her fashion sense didn’t complement a body and face that he felt the urge to start sculpting right then and there.

“What can I get for you?” she chirped to him after he had been sitting at the counter with a menu for ten minutes with his mouth agape–a menu he hadn’t so much as touched let alone looked at. He stumbled over the words of his impromptu order, requesting, “Uh, pancakes, the silver dollar kind.”

She smiled as she took the menu, “We don’t usually let adults order from the kids’ section, but lucky for you I’m not ageist.” She winked and poured him some coffee, and as he watched the steam emanate from the top of his mug, he could see the visual manifestation of what was happening to his heart in that very moment. When she brought out his order, he still hadn’t thought of the best way to proceed, of how he could see her again in a non-diner setting. It was in this way that Christian became less and less of a recluse, ceasing to focus so much on the creation of his art and more on his daily trips to The Ditch, where his conversations with Marie were starting to get evermore intense and personal. It was about one month in, when Marie detailed the violent end of her parents’ marriage, that Christian thought he might have enough of an in. As she told him of how her father threw her mother against the wall of their living room in just such a way so as to paralyze her, Christian felt at once that Marie must have trusted and felt close enough to him to rehash this story. And just when he was at last building the courage to ask her out at the end of his now usual silver dollar pancake order, Marie concluded her tale with: “It was then I knew I would never let anyone get to me like that, never let my guard down long enough to love someone to the point of despising them.”

Christian turned almost pallid at this declaration, his hopes all at once dashed until Marie added, “Until I started talking to you.”

*****

Months later, you couldn’t turn your head anywhere without seeing Christian and Marie together at some local haunt. Christian, who had lived in Hudson for three years without getting to know anyone, was suddenly the most social guy in town. His art, accordingly, began to become less and less of a priority. And it was around this time that the wart on his hand started to form. Perhaps his skin had felt infected from not handling clay or marble for so long, an existential crisis in the hand culminated in this increasingly visible wart.

It was actually Marie who mentioned something about it first, as she was a known hand holder. And though Christian had typically written off this sort of display of affection as a trite emblem of movies starring the likes of Zooey Deschanel, he suddenly became a grand proponent of the intimacy of the gesture. So when Marie began to complain of how gross the feel of his hand now was to her, Christian took swift action by going to the drugstore to purchase a garden variety wart removal kit. The last thing he wanted was to deter Marie from touching him, ergo signaling the very concrete coda to the honeymoon period. And yet, mustn’t this era in coupledom always reach its denouement, giving way to something even realer and more deep-seated?

However, Christian, who hadn’t grown out of his ugly duckling phase until his late twenties, hadn’t apprehended this lesson about relationships, himself having never been in a long-term one–unless you count Clarissa Clementine for those six months in high school when his popularity had a spike after winning a regional art contest and being featured in the paper. Now, at thirty-one, it was somehow unheard of to him that a woman could love him, literal warts and all. But every day, Marie held his hand regardless of her original verbalization of disgust. And every day, he applied his wart removal solution to no avail.

Marie, nonetheless, had seemed to grow used to–even comfortable with–its feel. It got to be so that Christian stopped bothering to apologize for it every time they touched or to conceal his daily removal regimen. Marie, meanwhile, had been making enough money from her tips at The Ditch to take up painting–all art fundamentally being a rich man’s pursuit. It was when she asked Christian to sit for her as her first subject that she, in a tone of enragement he had never heard before, demanded to know why he hadn’t made a sculpture–other than the one of her–since they met. Christian froze, which was ideal for his current model status, but not so much in satisfying Marie with an explanation.

He supposed it hadn’t really occurred to him that his output had waned. Maybe he was too busy being happy and coasting off the money he had earned from previous sales to care enough to keep suffering–to keep giving of himself to the art instead of to another person.

“Well?” Marie asked in anticipation of a reason for his essential laziness.

Pausing for a beat, Christian shrugged and said, “I guess I’ve been putting all my passion into us.”

Marie stopped in mid-brushstroke and returned, “Don’t.”

The next day, Christian entered his studio for the first time since completing “Marie.” It was expectedly dusty and cold, seemingly grayer as a mood reflection of its abandonment. He stood amid his massive, overpowering sculptures, contemplating how Rodin wielded the muses in his life for his own artistic purposes rather than simply loving them (see: Camille Claudel). Maybe that’s what made a muse a muse. For you can’t spell it without use. Maybe that’s what made Rodin great. But Christian wasn’t of that incubus nature. He loved Marie, and that love was too strong to be distributed equally between her and sculpting.

Nonetheless, he heeded her advice in trying to work on something new. Hunched over on his stool, he began. About twenty minutes in, he noticed his wart had fallen off. And when Marie went to lock her hand in his later that evening, she instantly felt a pang of bittersweet cognition upon feeling that something was missing–something more than just the wart. No, what she had intuited from the shock of holding his wartless hand was that it was also Christian’s commitment to art that had dissolved.

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