by Clio Velentza
Maia’s studio was coated in ash and scum. Sawdust wedged in ossified dollops of paint. Cigarette stubs made a Christmas tree of the morose succulent. A pale greenish odor clung to the back of my throat. Maia was perched on her creaky stool, chewing at a lock of hair.
We gazed at the great shape dominating the room, covered with a worn floral bedsheet.
“She’s not ready,” said Maia.
I reached for the sheet and she slapped my hand away. It settled, billowing. Maia shook her head and cupped a heavy wooden breast through the cloth.
Summer was dwindling when Maia invited me back. She had lit candles. Beyond them a shapeless shadow was moving in an easy, swelling motion.
“Take down that bedsheet, or they’ll find our charred bones tomorrow.”
She just blinked through sunken eyes. I grabbed a fistful of the sheet.
“Don’t,” came a hollow voice. One could throw a pebble in it and wait for the echo. “Darling, don’t.”
My hand froze. A long sigh came, making the fabric flutter.
Maia smiled. “Meet Blanca.”
The body shifted and rustled underneath, wider, taller than myself. Wooden muscles coiled and uncoiled. I let go.
Blanca insisted on covering her face whenever I visited. She was rooted to the podium, feet transmuting into mute timber. The two of them leaned into each other. A stiff chestnut arm emerged from the folds, draping itself around Maia. Creaky fingers played with her curls. Maia would press her toes against the floor and stretch to meet something that eluded me, something absolute but lost in the dimness.
One night Blanca allowed the left side of her chest to be unveiled, head still hidden. The revealed flesh was dappled, wood grain showing like tattoos. Maia put her mouth on the inside of the elbow, on the armpit, the brittle collarbone, on the unyielding breast. I watched, aching to pull the bedsheet away. Blanca sang low, quiet notes until my ribs vibrated.
Loneliness shot through me and I swayed. When the darkness passed, Maia was standing above me, glistening with sweat. She touched my shoulder and asked me to leave.
I stumbled into the empty studio blind with hunger, toppling rusty tin cans that vomited their sharp-smelling innards.
“Don’t,” said the voice from the shadows. I found the lighter.
Blanca stood utterly exposed. My heart convulsed. The flame flickered and fell.
I knelt and put my lips on the border where wood grew into ankles. I kissed the bitter, lustrous skin. I buried my face in the resin-scented thighs. My fingers met the soft hollow behind the knees and the world was suddenly trivial and frail.
Here was truth. Here was everything.
We were enveloped in warmth. Pillars of searing light bloomed around us. And I could still hear her song, coming from deep inside me.
Clio Velentza lives in Athens, Greece, and is a winner of Best Small Fictions 2016. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in several literary journals, such as (b)OINK, Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, Atticus Review and Wigleaf. Find her at @clio_v.