Short story: The Terracotta Girl

Photo by Martin Klimas.  Click to see more of his work.
Photo by Martin Klimas. Click to see more of his work.

Each day she sits by the wheel, my girl of tears and clay, watching it spin lumps like her into pots and bowls of use and grace.  With fingers moist and nimble, a push, a nudge, a swoop, a pinch, transforms the soil into phoenix form, but she remains the earth’s favorite creation.

I watch her watch her father, sitting still, crouched like a frog as only his hands dance, and the hired boy’s feet gallop on the petals like mud-covered catfish dancing for a fly.  He hums a song to himself to keep the time, his vacant eyes barely watching the master at his art, the extraordinary turned mundane by long hours waiting for his bones to grow too long for such a simple task.  He is not the first, and he is one of many, and his life will trace a circle like the lives of his fathers before.

It’s the girl who is special. The fine arch of her brow; the delicate tracery of a tendril of hair that curls around her ear like a whisper, and her almond eyes that watch her father, cool and unblinking, as he watches his fingers and the curve of the clay, minutely adjusting, pressure and light and a flick of his wrist.

I love my terracotta girl.  The fall of her robe over her shoulders, the straightness of her back as she waits with infinite serenity, hands folded, patience and contemplation written in the soft arch of her brow.  She does not watch me.  I am not a creature of tranquility, and I hold no interest for her.  She does not feel my love.  What she feels is rain and wind and curiosity, a nod of approval or the tap of a fingernail that cannot believe her before a man wanders away.

She learned her ignorance from her father, who pays no mind to anyone who comes near her without a coin.  The boy must eat, and so must he, but my terracotta girl abstains.  She hungers for nothing; she consumes only my heart.  I watch her, unperturbed, as her father cleans his hands at the end of the day, the water flicking onto her flinchless face and running down her cheeks as she mourns her nightly solitude.  She will wait for him, and I will go inside my house, waiting for the day my terracotta girl will learn to smile.

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