Henry Moore and the Bookstore Clerk
When the weather allows, Martha Carter goes there on lunch break from her job in the bookstore, a five-minute brisk walk across campus, across its Quad filled with students changing classes. She sits there now on the rectangular knee-high stand which supports the weight of the sculpture Reclining Figure: Angles, the name given to the work by the artist.
The security guard is on rounds, she thinks, since he is nowhere in view. She inspects the figure’s smooth curves and the shadowy sacks of bronze. Soon, she wraps her arms around the woman’s massive thigh, the monument cool to the touch and silent. It stirs Martha’s intellect in ways she cannot describe; she takes comfort in its presence.
She has brought her flute with her, as she often does, removes it from its case, deeply inhales in readiness, and plays Mozart, her favorite. The students in the lobby slow their pace to listen. They seem indifferent to the Henry Moore, or perhaps they are accustomed to it, but are attentive to the music. She plays for the pleasure of the sculpture, and she plays for herself.
The guard, suddenly in view, taps Martha on the shoulder and gets right into her face. “You can’t sit on the statue,” he says, turning one-syllable words into two. “I’ve told you that before.”
“Sorry.” She smiles, slips off the base, and moves to a bench by the entrance.
She places her flute case on the floor beside her. She smoothes her frizzy lemon locks away from her face, sets up her lunch on the bench and eats.
Here is the result of this man’s vision, she tells herself, observing the reclining figure and its lazy garb fashioned to service its conceptual nature. Here is his view of the world.
She is struck by the visual intoxication of Angles. It’s in the lobby, the first view upon entering the business school, the last upon exit. What was the school’s aim in borrowing a sculpture by a famed artist, she wonders. That art and commerce can coexist? That commerce can be a creative art?
When she’s had a satisfying lunch break, she tells herself it’s been a good day.
It’s the next day at the bookstore. Martha takes a final wedge of books from its carton, places them on a shelf, and then looks at her watch. Janine, her flighty co-worker and friend, has just finished helping a customer.
“Bring your lunch and come with me,” Martha says to Janine.
“The lobby of the business school. I want you to see something.”
“Business students, I hope,” Janine says, laughing.“I need a date.”
“You’ll expand your intelligence.”
“You’re saying I’m not intelligent?”
“Just come on,” Martha says, pulling her arm.“It’s lunch time.”
“This is too long a walk.” Janine hyperventilates on a level walk as they cross the Quad.
“Eats up half our lunch break.” They enter the lobby of the business school.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” Martha says.
Janine glances around the lobby, puzzled.
She pulls Janine to the Henry Moore. “This,” she says.
Janine studies the sculpture, slants her head, perplexed.
“Outstanding, isn’t it?”
“We walked from the bookstore for this?” Janine’s gaze shifts to the students in the lobby who carry books, await the elevator, enter and leave the building. “I’m here to meet cute guys who will someday be rich and take me away from the bookstore.”
Absurd, anachronistic young woman, Martha is thinking. She stares at the bronze. This takes me away from the bookstore. Not a boy or a man or any human being.
“I don’t see any cute guys,” Janine says. “I’m outta here.”
Martha gives her a kid’s wave and Janine leaves.
She stays behind, sits on her favorite bench facing the sculpture, removes her flute from its case, and plays. The guard watches her and listens and he allows it. At least she isn’t climbing on the statue.
Martha was raised in the projects, six miles away. Her parents, lacking funds for college, bought her an instrument, instead, a flute, and lessons, hoping it would lead her to a good life. In years past, she daydreamed she might somehow find the money for music school, get a degree, and teach, but she lacked ambition. She’s vaguely content working in the bookstore, reading short paragraphs from the books it’s her job to place on the shelves.
Art surrounds her. She is drawn to employment with books, although having no literary talent; or lured to the art of Henry Moore, to its visual impact, despite a lack of artistic abilities in herself. Why drawn to Moore’s art? She thinks she knows: For a moment in time, like an illicit drug, it places her, the observer, in the present tense, with no thoughts of the past and its burden of regret, and no fear of the future, with its heavy heart. Perhaps it started with her music, the flute, she thinks. She plays the music another wrote, reads the books that others write, stares at the work of a master sculptor. It leads to her awareness of something inside her that she didn’t know she had. It makes her feel like a useful citizen.
She signs out at the bookstore for the day, waves to Janine, and makes her way to the subway. Her flute and case aren’t heavy and she never minds toting it from home to work and back. The subway car is crowded when she first enters and she’s forced to stand, but after a few stops, she finds a seat next to a door.
Two teens, one taller than the other and both neatly dressed, stare at her from their seat directly across from her. They whisper to each other and stare at her flute case. Martha shifts her weight, glances away, and then looks back to the boys. They’re still staring at her. She knows this to be a threatening look. She witnessed it once before, a year ago, when a group of kids mugged an elderly man right seconds before they exited the subway car and the doors closed. Here it was again. She fears losing the flute, even more than she worries for her own safety.
The boys continue whispering to one another, stand, then plant themselves in front of her, each holding on to an overhead bar. The subway stops, the doors open, but neither boy gets off. They had a seat; they should’ve kept it unless they meant harm. The two boys sway in place and look at each other and they are ready for it.
Martha’s heart races. Quickly, she removes the flute from the case, places the lip plate just below her lower lip, and purses her lips. She takes a deep breath, blows into the mouthpiece and plays Mozart. She sweats and her fingers slip, but the tune is still soft and lovely. The two boys listen for a long moment; one wavers and steps back, followed by the other. They grasp the opposite pole and listen to the music. Conversation stops in the car and the other passengers eye the flutist and they, too, listen to Mozart.
The cars come to a stop. The two boys return to the door beside Martha and wait for the door to open.
“That was nice music, Miss.” It’s the tall boy who speaks.
She looks at him and says nothing and then they exit.
She places the flute back in its case, and takes a breath.
“Play some more,” a heavy woman says.
“Yes, please.” Several passengers insist, and she considers that she will do so.
Gerri George, WRR Literary Editor, writes stories, which often portray the human side of outsiders, have appeared in Literal Latte, Penn Review Literary Magazine, The Bucks County Writer, Quiddity International Literary Journal, and elsewhere. “A Rose by Any Other Name” was a Pushcart Prize nominee. “Night,” read by a professional actor before a literature-loving audience in London, Soho, also appears on the Liars’ League website, under the Sex and the City theme. She received a Barbara Deming Memorial Fund writing grant for women artists. Her article, “The Benefits of Chocolate,” appeared on Futurehealth.org. WEBSITE: www.futurehealth.org
Penn Review Literary Journal reprinted her story “Watching Belle’s Daughters” in an anniversary issue, chosen as a staff favorite, and read aloud at a University of Pennsylvania event. The story, a woman stopping her car for children in a crosswalk and deciding whether she and her husband should have children, was acknowledged by the listening audience as an important issue.
She worked a stint in California, long distance, as Associate Producer on several award-winning short films and web series, She studied screenwriting techniques and texts via the cyber world including theory by Robert McKee, Aaron Sorkin, John Truby, and Hal Croasmun. She’s written screenplays such as an adventure for children, and dramas for grown-ups, and a short script adapting one of her stories, A Rose by Any Other Name. In this story, a man struggles to come to terms with his grandchild’s gender reassignment decision. Screenplay and other awards along the way. She co-wrote with William Eib a TV series bible which was optioned by a trio of Hollywood producers.
As Literary Editor of WRR, she solicited both original work and reprints which included unique content by talented writers. A few examples: pieces such as “Three Myths About Art and Success” by singer-songwriter Carsie Blanton; a rare interview with the Dalai Lama by Edie Weinstein; and “Our First Language: Why Kids Need Poetry”, a wonderful essay by Jade Leone Blackwater, a Washington state poet.
FACEBOOK: Gerri George