Black Petals Issue #103, Spring, 2023

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Editor's Page
BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary
All the Sky Is Waiting to Be Told: Fiction by Daniel I. Clark
Fire Sale: Fiction by Christopher Pate
Kregah: Fiction by Ron Capshaw
The Beauty of Machinery: Fiction by Hayden Seay
The Cold Sore: Fiction by Chris McGuinness
The Lake: Fiction by Harper Hargis
The Price: Fiction by Josh Hanson
The Tailbone Is Connected to the Hipbone: Fiction by Michael Fowler
The Thorn Tree: Fiction by Lawrence Buentello
They: Fiction by Tony Ayers
Work Experience: Fiction by Martin Taulbut
Burns: 3 Connected Drabbles by Hillary Lyon
Grandma Medusa: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
I'm So Sorry, Computer: Flash Fiction by M. L. Fortier
Invasive: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Jumper: Flash Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Personal Things: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
The Good Doctor: Flash Fiction by Ron Capshaw
Another Tomato Invasion, Again: Poem by I. N. Shimabuku
Curse of the Crazies: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Ghosted: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Meteor Moon: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Halo Around the Sun: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Maker's Image: Poem by Bindi Lavelle
Specimen: Poem by Bindi Lavelle
Blood-stained Jupiter: Poem by Meg Smith
Cat Science: Poem by Meg Smith
Mortician's Powder: Poem by Meg Smith
The Pinups of the Afterlife: Poem by Meg Smith
Dark Gate Park: Poem by Meg Smith
A turntable fabricates hope during the apocalypse in 3 parts: Poem by Dennis Bagwell
Reverend Mother Munchausen: Poem by Sophia Wiseman-Rose
Whispers of Winter: Poem by Ashley N. Goodwin
A Man Is Nothing Without His Wife: Poem by Ashley N. Goodwin

Michael Fowler: The Tailbone Is Connected to the Hipbone

bp_103_tailbone_jsowder.jpg
Art by John Sowder 2023

The Tailbone Is Connected to the Hipbone

 

by Michael Fowler

 

 

Marie admitted Grier into her father’s house, a small one-story structure near campus where she and he had lived since her mother’s death years ago. Grier, as socially awkward as only a college freshman can be, was rather relieved that the home’s owner, whom he understood to be ill, remained in a back room, though the malady in question, Marie assured him, was not contagious. Grier would have preferred to drive or walk her to a film this Saturday morning, or to join some student activity on campus only blocks away, but she had claimed paternal caregiver responsibilities and instead invited him over for TV and tea.

The living room, dimly lit so as not to irritate her father’s eyes that lately were sensitive, was a large display case of sorts. Low tables and bookcases were topped with sculptures of what were unmistakably small replicas of human spinal columns and pelvises, only they displayed hideous deformities. In some pieces a too-long spine descended to a shrunken pelvis, in others a shortened spine connected to an elephantine pair of hips. Also on hand were a few small-scale mythical monsters and forest creatures, fierce and threatening. Yet mixed in here and there were a few smooth and lovely normal backsides, clearly female by the lyrical shapes, that descended into uncarved blocks, preserving a maidenly modesty. Perhaps only these more reserved works suggested that the sculptor was an artist and not a gauche renderer of abnormal visions. 

The material of the works, a brownish-yellow substance, resembled aged bone, though Marie said some were of carved wood, and others of wax or molded clay. There was an odor of decay, Grier sniffed at once, not quite masked by a thin layer of incense. He didn’t know whether to attribute this ribbon of musk to the yellowed sculptures and old furnishings or to the sick man somewhere in the house. His queasiness, however, was more than offset by the attractiveness of the young woman.

Marie brought in cups of hot tea from the kitchen and sat beside him on the sofa, explaining that the sculptures were her father’s, an artist who taught sculpture at the college she and Grier had begun to attend. Professor Sturges was in fact known nationally for his distinctive if eccentric work, that some unkind critics compared to Halloween skeletons or trite medieval fantasies. She added that she was doing fine arts with a minor in psych at the college, and that she attended as a student her father’s class in sculpture, and had since high school.

 “I’m not the big fan of backsides that he is,” she said, laughing, “but I love gargoyles and dragons and such, and he’s a master at them.” Grier confessed that he hadn’t declared between psych and philosophy, but was happy to have met her in Psych 101. The two, laughing between sips of tea, declared that they would pursue their artistic and academic dreams to the full, the postgraduate employment picture be damned.

At some time before the couple even thought of turning on the TV, there came a hoarse cough from the hall leading to the rear of the house, and the artist himself shuffled into the living room. He was a very short man on crutches, whose enormous posterior, covered by a tightly stretched brown robe, projected so far rearward that Grier thought he might just have stepped  into a barrel in place of trousers. The way his spindly limbs and crutches angled away from his diminished spine, together with his enlarged pelvis, suggested an enormous spider on the prowl. Moreover, his  neck hung as if wrung or broken, causing his grizzled face topped by white hair to appear to Grier almost upside down. That he managed to ambulate at all was a miracle.

“Marie,” said the arachnoid presence, clutching the frayed brown robe about him while propping himself up by the pair of crutches under his arms, “I’m feeling stronger today, and perhaps can endure your intrusive guest for a few minutes.” His rudeness was unaccountable, and he shot Grier a most unwelcoming glance, one that almost dripped venom.

He did not give the impression of strength, however, and letting go his crutches, which toppled to the floor with a clatter, he fell into an armchair facing away from the couple on the sofa and toward the switched-off TV. On the wall behind the TV, which stood atop a bookcase, was mounted an antique-looking spherical mirror within a gilt frame. In this mirror Grier observed the sculptor making odd and suggestive facial expressions, apparently directed at him. These facial tics resembled leers and winks, but could they have been? Reflections in the bulging  glass were certainly distorted, as in a fun house. And what did they suggest, if they really were expressions of desire: the artist’s interest in him, or a mockery of Grier’s interest in his daughter? Grier quickly looked away, staring at the dark TV screen.

“Father, are you sure you’re all right?” asked Marie with clear sincerity. The old man sat in place smiling, or appearing to smile, perhaps as much as a recently sick elder with an evidently broken neck could. Then suddenly, his expression turning grim, he barked, “Take your visitor outside for a walk, why don’t you, and leave me in peace. It’s nice out and I’ll be fine alone. Take your time about it if you like.”

“He hasn’t been on his feet all week…some cold or allergy,” she told Grier as the pair walked slowly toward campus, Grier happy to get away. “But it seems he’s turned the corner and will be able to walk to his classes soon. He prides himself on that.”

Grier pictured to himself the odd spindly creature, shuffling across campus like a huge spider with a swollen lower body, his crutches projecting like extra limbs, amidst the crowds of students on their way to and from classes. He found it hard to think of anything else, and his conversation waned.

But as they passed through the blocks of restaurants and taverns that catered to students, another thought occupied him, and this he mentioned to Marie. He was looking out for a part-time job, as he desperately needed some supplementary income. He had loans and a tiny  scholarship stemming from his having studied Latin in high school, but was hard-pressed to meet all his student expenses. He told Marie she was lucky to be able to live at home, while he had to pay dormitory costs, and would likely wind up busing tables to make ends meet. 

Marie at once brightened and told him that her father was on the lookout for a new life model for his sculpture class, if he wouldn’t mind posing in front of a dozen or so students. She herself posed from time to time, she claimed, and Grier thought of the two or three graceful female torsos he had glimpsed in her living room. Had she posed for those, before her horror of a father? But he also considered the leers her father had aimed at him in a new light: had the artist been sizing him up, quite innocently, as a prospective life model?

Marie offered to show him the art studio where her father held his classes, explaining that she habitually tided it up for him. It was her job also to make sure it stayed locked when not in use, and she had the key with her in case he wanted to see the room, as he did. The two walked across campus toward the Arts Building, she mentioning that there had been a small scandal involving her father a year or two ago, when two students in the film department had used his studio to film what some described as a pornographic movie. Her father’s only participation, she pointed out, was to offer the early Sunday morning use of his studio for what he understood was a legitimate film project. The controversy quickly died down, but since then she and Professor Sturges kept the place under lock and key when he wasn’t there.   

The studio was lined with student desks, about twelve in all, most with large lumps of molded clay on top of them, the lumps vaguely suggesting the human form, if they suggested anything at all–Grier wasn’t sure they did. Most looked so off-kilter and otherworldly compared to the normal human body that Grier wondered why a human model was necessary, if in fact someone had posed for these shapeless abstractions. Still, there was one that recalled to him the elegant torsos in Marie’s house, only here it was a bust, showing what was unmistakably Marie’s long hair flowing down and upon her lovely nude breast.

“Would I have to take off my clothes for the job?” he asked, gazing at the bust.

“Not every stitch,” she answered. “Not at first, anyway. You can wear a thong until you get used to the feeling. Wait a moment.”

She vanished behind the studio into a changing area, and quickly returned wearing a robe. This she dropped to reveal her body, nude now except for her small white tennis shoes. “See?” she said, completely unabashed. “Nothing to it. I feel truly free when I pose, though I scarcely have time for it now. Besides art history and psychology, I’m enrolled in Father’s class…there’s no finer sculpting instructor.” After a brief moment, and without turning around, so that she kept concealed the exquisite buttocks he had seen only as they partly emerged from blocks in the sculpture in her home, she demurely backpedaled into the changing area, returning a minute later fully clothed.

Grier got the modeling job, for which he had to thank Marie. Her father, she told him with a smile, had at first opposed hiring him. After seeing him undressed down to a pair of shorts, Professor Sturges saw nothing unusual or artistically striking about his anatomy. He preferred little people, or the massively fleshy, or those with deformities to the usual run of the human form. That certainly explained, to Grier, the oddities in clay he saw upon the students’ desks. The life model before him, Grier leaned, had been a severely anorexic young woman with a prominent skeleton, and before her a male war casualty with two missing limbs and a burned face. But Marie had touted Grier despite his all-too-normal frame, and ultimately he won out.

Grier was allowed to approach full nudity gradually, standing first before the class of a dozen students, including Marie, in a thong. He was of course embarrassed when he took to the platform and set aside his robe for the first time, but as Marie told him, based on her experience as a model, all embarrassment or shame disappears in from ten to fifteen minutes. He found that to be true, and besides, all the students were serious about their work and in thrall to the professor, who returned to his class from his illness in full command, his barrel-sized backside concealed under a gray trench coat, thumping his rubber-tipped crutches on the resounding floor like Beethoven commanding time with a staff. He lurched around the studio like a giant arachnid, its abdomen swollen by ingested victims, urging and correcting his charges in a barking voice.

To Grier’s intense relief, when it came time to discard the thong and reveal all, Professor Sturges allowed him to pose with his face buried in his assigned course texts. Seated on or straddling a wooden chair, or elevated on a tall stool, or reclining on a padded bench, Grier did his required reading in the empiricists and the behaviorists, hardly giving his nakedness a thought. Grier was also relieved to find that the feature of his body that Sturges called the most attention to was his appendectomy scar, and that the professor no longer leered or made faces at him as he had when he sat with him and Marie before the mirror in his sculpture-filled home. Grier now put those facial contortions down to the artist’s illness he was only then recovering from, but had at last cast off. 

Still, Sturges never warmed to him as a person, in the studio or in his home where Grier occasionally encountered him when calling on his daughter. It appeared the sculptor felt a genuine distaste for Grier after all, one that, whatever its cause, probably had started with their first encounter. Grier noticed the same chilliness in the sculptor’s relations with his current students. He treated them not as talented novices, but as pretenders and interlopers, it seemed to Grier, excepting only Marie, whom he doted on, and who seemed not the least bit disturbed by her father’s haughtiness. Was the ill spirit the professor felt for his life model spilling over onto his class? Once, in advising a young sculptress on her rendition in clay of Grier’s masculinity, Sturges had gouged out the offending area with his fingers and dashed it to the floor, growling incoherently. What should Grier read into this?      

Grier continued to see Marie, though the two did not become as intimate as he had at first desired. Sturges’ coldness toward him, and his clear lack of interest in his life except insofar as he was a model for his class, cooled Grier’s feelings even toward his daughter. When Grier escorted her at night, or to a daytime campus activity, he felt this as an act of defiance against the father. In some young men this feeling of defiance might have led to a more heated pursuit of the quarry, but in Grier it cooled things down. He did not feel himself built for confrontation. This seeming animosity between the two came to a head when, due to a lengthy exam covering the intricacies of Leibniz, one of his least favorite philosophers, he arrived tardy for a modeling session.

“You are late!” bellowed the irascible Sturges, banging a crutch on the floor as Grier strode into the studio no more than ten minutes behind schedule. Grier wondered, not for the first time, what Marie must make of the sculptor’s long-standing hostility toward his model and students. Through timidity or defeatism, Grier had never probed her about it, though she knew her father better than anyone and, like himself a student of psychology, might have given him some insight into the man’s mind.    

“My apologies,” stammered Grier, and headed at once to the changing area behind the studio.

“Never mind,” said Sturges, “I have already informed the class that I will pose today. You see they are readying new mounds of clay on their desks–to capture my anatomy, not yours.”

The trenchcoated man disappeared into the changing area, and emerged moments later carrying a small satchel. He was also completely nude except for a pair of metal braces that supported his weak and bent back, and his crutches. At once he assumed a most undignified and immodest pose, turning his great, horny backside to the class as he bent over the very divan Grier had lain upon naked while reading philosophy. This revealed to his students a monstrous outcrop of crumbling yellowed material not unlike the matter of horse or cattle hooves, from which, at its center, the terminus of his intestines gaped, and below that his two testicles descended like grenades on a belt.

Moreover, the awful overgrown coccyx was not merely a medical anomaly, but an art work in progress, as the sculptor demonstrated by removing a small hammer and chisel from his satchel and, twisting his already skewed neck and back to look behind him at his own fearsome rump, began chiseling  away at it. Small crusty slivers of bony substance fell to the floor, and the work thus far completed presented something like the interior of an ancient Greek temple in miniature, with gargoyles and monsters in place of divine statuary. 

Grier soon had enough of this foul and unnatural diorama, which he stood by observing with dismay, and exited the studio for good. He avoided Marie entirely, whom as things stood he hardly saw anyway, feeling too affronted by her father to face her. She of course took note of that and evaded him too, most likely blaming him for their rupture and even despising him now. A week later, his suspicions were answered when he received a small package at his dormitory, unmarked by a sender’s name or address. Inside was a doll-sized statuette, done entirely in clay, of a lovely young woman similar to the ones Grier had seen in Marie’s house. The face was as vacant of features and expression as an eggshell, but the molded and flowing hair was unmistakably Marie’s. Moreover, the hips of the lady were not hidden within a stony block, but were entirely bared, and revealed a bony tail–crooked,  knobby, and yellowish–descending a few inches from her lower spine. Staring at the statuette, Grier wondered if she were really so unlovely.

END

 

Michael Fowler is a horror and science fiction writer living in Ohio.

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