Mrs. Porter glared down at the statue. Lately, it seemed to be mocking her, fixing its stony gaze upwards towards this bathroom as if it hated her.
“Well,” she said, “I hate you too.”
She turned from the window feeling a little childish for speaking aloud.
It was only a statue after all, she reminded herself as she stared into the gold-framed mirror.
Tanned hands on either side of her face, she pulled back the skin until her eyes slanted and lips spread exposing her top teeth like a cartoon rabbit’s.
“I can afford a face-lift,” she said to the reflection.
“I can afford a lifetime of face-lifts.”
She scoffed at the thought of permanently protruding teeth. Her husband Rex had given her the nickname Bunny and while everyone called her that, she wouldn’t want to give them reason to think it fit. Or that it was funny. Because it wasn’t. Nothing was.
Her fortieth birthday was a fading memory. In the past year, Rex was frequently away on business. And last month she found the photograph of Carly sticking out at her from Rex’s filing cabinet like a black and white tongue.
Okay, she’d been snooping but good thing she did otherwise she would never have found the photo of Carly posed tastefully in a bathing suit. The same way (although without the bathing suit) that Bunny had posed for Rex’s statue, her statute, the one that now mocks.
She remembered how Rex and she first met twenty years ago on the Italian Riviera, and how he created the statue in her honor. He said it would be his masterpiece, his triumph, and that there could only ever be one statue like it.
At first, she was surprised that he wanted to sculpt her. As a girl she had been average-looking but came from money which meant she could afford the best clothes and finest shoes. And she had a way of gliding into a room that made her look stunning. She acquired this ability from the all-girls’ Boarding School her mother had packed her off to.
Bunny never got along with the other students. She had always disliked girls. She preferred the attention of boys and would make up little stories about herself as a damsel in distress crying for help from her tower window. She dreamed of the day she would find her true love. There were many boyfriends; a half-hearted love affair, a casually broken engagement, but no man had ever taken as much interest in her as Rex.
She opened a drawer and pulled out a rhinestone-covered hair clip, gathered handfuls of dark hair and clipped it into place towards the top of her head.
She had been in the Riviera for two months that summer, staying in a villa owned by friends of the family. Rex lived in a small rented flat in the center of town, toiling as an apprentice to a well-known local sculptor.
She took him to dinner in an intimate, out-of-the-way restaurant. Over candlelight and across the white tablecloth, he held her hands in his, long fingers closing over hers like a protective shell.
“You are my Venus de Milo,” he said and kissed her fingertips.
They spent a blissful summer together under the scorching white sun. They drank wine and strolled along pebbled beaches holding hands, gazing at one another through squinted eyes when the sun rose above the hills. They swam naked in the sea, something Bunny always wanted to do. They talked and laughed and on Rex’s days off slept until noon.
Bunny became his muse, posing while he honed her body, and caressed her likeness from the finest Italian marble. Accentuating her curves, chiselling her delicate features, the lustrous dark curls framing her face made to cascade across her strong shoulders and down her slender back.
Rex was a genius. He transformed her into a goddess. She loved the way he flattened her stomach and added the ridge of muscle. The way her thighs looked as if she could crush a man between them. How her image, so young and perfect was frozen for all time. Eternally beautiful.
But it was just an image, wasn’t it? I never really looked like that, she thought. I was never goddess material. A part of her wondered if the statue had been a little hint from him. An unspoken request.
She crossed the oiled oak floor and tested the bath water. She would not be going to Ima today. Her nerves were shot. She needed quiet. She needed to sit and soak herself calm, cradled deep in her white serving bowl of a tub.
And she needed to think. Of what to do about the photograph and how to deal with Rex. He occasionally slept in his studio. He insisted that it was because he sometimes worked late and didn’t want to disturb her. But ever since the photograph, she’s sure it was because Carly was about to become his new muse.
Carly. Whose only reason to set a size-six, middle-class foot inside Ima was a three-month trial membership. If only Bunny knew who signed her up. She hated betrayal almost as much as she hated cellulite.
And Carly was certainly using her temporary situation to full advantage, availing of every beauty treatment offered, taking every class.
Outside, the light was fading. Wisps of cloud gathered and thickened, clotting like cream in the sky. She eased herself deeper into the tub. She hoped it would rain.
She hadn’t mentioned finding the photograph to Rex. She was not usually the kind of person who reacted. No need to explode, exploding was messy. She needed to calculate. Weigh. Measure it up before responding. That was more her style.
She thought back to last night, how she sat on the end of the bed watching as Rex carefully smoothed, folded and packed in his organized way. Off on another business trip. She occasionally reached out and touched a shirt or sweater while recalling Carly’s first visit to Ima.
The other members seemed to like her but Bunny didn’t. She came from some small town up North, ‘The Sticks,’ as she called it. She was hardly the Ima type. Bunny thought there was something vulgar about the way she flitted around the changing room, long red nails snapping against the metal locker, her cheap perfume leaving a vapor trail.
It was as if she thought she belonged there. She had an over-confidence that Bunny hated. She complained about her to Janine, Ima’s best beauty therapist and a specialist in the Spa’s most popular and relaxing facial, the revolutionary Microderm Plaster Peel.
Janine told her that Carly’s husband, a plastic surgeon, had money and asked Bunny to consider that possibly the woman was seeing if she liked Ima.
“Who wouldn’t like Ima?” was Bunny’s response.
But it was Carly’s body that Bunny really despised. Ribbed stomach muscles. Thighs like rock. Smooth, alabaster skin and tight B-cup breasts. And, those well-developed biceps, small mounds of sculpted muscle that Bunny wanted to pummel flat with a shovel. She remembered thinking that Carly’s body bore more of a resemblance to her statue than she did.
She looked down at her submerged body. She never put bath bubbles in the water, nothing to obstruct the view, preferring to marvel at how perfect she looked underwater. She noticed that a long time ago. How seeing the body in water seemed to magically smooth the wrinkles, the imperfections, the lumps.
As she slid a lathered hand up and down her arm, she thought how Rex’s lack of success in the world of fine art had been turned into a thriving business. She reminded herself that it was through no effort of his own. It was only because of her help.
He owned Jazzy Art, a company that manufactured what some people referred to as ‘tacky art’. Art for the masses they called it. Mass-produced pieces of crap. Call a spade a spade she always said. It was tacky. It was crap. But people bought it so she invested.
Rex didn’t seem happy even with all of the money. She didn’t understand his attitude. After all, who wouldn’t be happy being rich? She certainly was.
“But then, I grew up rich. Rex was dropped into it and besides, all he really wants to do is sculpt.”
Marble busts. That’s what Rex was holding onto. He still received commissions, despite Bunny’s disapproval. He ordered small quantities of marble from a stonemason and second-rate sculptor named Lars.
“There is no market for marble sculptures anymore,” she would argue each time Lars pulled up in his delivery van.
She would stand, arms crossed, watching Lars bend and haul the marble into the garage, muscular arms gleaming with sweat beneath the hot sun.
The statue was still visible so she slumped further down until the water reached her chin. The sky was dark and menacing; the clouds looked heavy enough to drop to the ground. Maybe she should have someone take the statue away. Rex wouldn’t care now if anything happened to it.
There was a knock at the bathroom door.
She jumped but a second later realized it was the maid; a girl who had recently returned to Florida after a messy divorce and disastrous six months in New Mexico. The poor thing was hopeless, couldn’t even manage to tuck the military corners of a bed sheet properly. Bunny wasn’t sure why she had hired her. Maybe she felt pity.
“Come in,” she sighed.
“Mrs. Porter, Mr. Porter called to say he won’t be back from Philadelphia until Monday.”
“Fine,” Bunny said and waved her away.
“It looks like rain. Would you like a late lunch in the conservatory?”
Bunny thought of the conservatory with its stone floor and how she could see the statue. Close-up.
“No lunch today. Bring me a glass of water. And turn the lights on over the sink.”
By the time the maid switched on the light, gone down to the kitchen and back, Bunny had come up with an idea. She sent the maid home telling her not to return until Tuesday. She made her first phone call.
She reached forward and turned on the hot tap. She settled into place and sipped some of the water the little horror had left.
Hard rain began to crackle against the glass. She could barely make out anything except the statue’s blurred silhouette. The lights over the bathroom sink glowed in contrast to the dark sky outside. Steam and the smell of magnolia rose off the bathwater.
She thought back to the day after she found Carly’s photograph. Rex was working on a large order for what he called Slap Up paintings. The Jazzy Art employees, mostly eager college students along with an occasional out-of-work artist painted the same blobs, lines and colors onto hundreds of canvases to be shipped off and hung in corporate lobbies and hotel rooms across the country.
Carly arrived at Ima early dressed in tiny workout shorts and a jog bra. She took a spin class, a yoga class, a fourteen-minute sauna (Bunny timed her) and at the juice bar sipped a Beetroot Surprise.
Bunny kept an eye on her for the rest of the day. She followed her into the changing room under the guise of ‘checking for items for the Lost and Found’ and when Carly stepped into the shower was tempted to toss in a bar of soap.
Carly left at three p.m.
This made Bunny suspicious because Carly always free-loaded until at least five. She thought about following her, positive she was having a whole string of affairs. Women like Carly just couldn’t say no. Maybe she would catch her in the act and then she could tell Rex he wasn’t the only one.
But, what if she were caught. Her personalized plates ‘Buns One’ stood out like a bad nose job. Instead, she drove to Booshoo, an exclusive boutique on Atlantic Avenue to self-medicate with Hermes.
The bathwater was cold now and Bunny could feel her skin puckering. She pushed herself up to a seated position and looked at her watch lying on the table next to her glass. She would have to get out before her skin turned to sandpaper. She made her second phone call.
Water and suds slid down her shivering body as she wrapped herself in a fat beige towel. She stepped out of the tub and into the sauna feeling exhausted and lay on the slatted wooden bench. She dozed and had a vision of hoisting the statue up with a huge crane and dropping it on Rex and Carly.
When she woke it was still raining. Not as heavy but the wind had picked up.
In the master bedroom she changed into Egyptian Cotton lounge pants and a sweatshirt.
She checked the clock. Carly would be on the table now waiting for Janine to begin the complimentary Microderm Plaster Peel Bunny had secretly arranged for her. She wouldn’t suspect a thing and once Janine had the impression of Carly’s face in plaster, Lars would take care of the rest.
A while later Janine phoned.
“It’s done Bunny.”
“Did she ask anything?”
“No. But there is something I should tell you. She told me about her husband and how he had spoken to Rex about a…”
Bunny cut her off saying, “I don’t want to hear it”.
“Okay,” Janine’s voice rose. “So what should I do then?”
“Someone named Lars will be there first thing tomorrow morning,” she said. “Give it to him.”
On Saturday Bunny packed two bags and arranged for a limo to pick her up early Monday morning. She had booked herself a week’s holiday, to the Riviera. By the time she returned Rex would have learned his lesson.
On Sunday morning, the sun was shining. Bunny floated in the pool, eyes closed, the heat from the sun and the cool of the water a discomfort and relief.
She thought about Rex, wondering what he was doing when a shadow crossed over her. She stood shielding her eyes. It was Lars.
“Do you have it?” she asked.
“I do,” he replied.
She walked up the steps, arms hanging by her sides, and strode over to her lounge chair. She wrapped a robe around her, tying the belt at the waist. She followed him to the van and watched as he pulled out the box.
“Wanna peek?” he asked moving closer to her.
“No. You know what to do,” Bunny said as she leaned against the side of the van, crossing one tanned leg in front of the other.
Lars looked at the sky, squinting.
“Lucky break with the sunshine. Supposed to get a bad storm later.”
“How long will this take?” she asked hand on her hip.
“Depends on how it sets but I’d say an hour or two.”
“I’ll be inside. Come upstairs when you’re done.”
As he dressed to leave, Lars asked Bunny if she wanted to see the end result. She said no, she was sure it was fine. He left shortly before dark.
She stood at the kitchen window watching him go, thinking of how surprised Rex would be when he saw Carly’s head instead of hers on the statue. Now, she thought, there would be no need for him to sculpt her. It was all taken care of. She poured herself a glass of champagne and went back upstairs.
The rain began again, this time the wind was so strong that eventually Bunny had to pull down the storm-shutters. The aluminum rattled.
She fell asleep to what sounded like a freight train pounding by the house. She dreamed that Rex had carved a million busts of Carly and placed them in every room. She woke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat to the wind bashing against the shutters.
She threw back the covers of the bed she had shared with Rex all these years, through tears and happiness, arguments and discussions about his career. The fights they had about an affair she had years ago with one of Rex’s employees. The time he left her only to come back because he loved her too much.
He hadn’t phoned since speaking to the maid, not that she expected him to. He seldom phoned from a business trip anymore, but now she wanted to speak to him.
Maybe she had made a mistake. Perhaps if she got a hammer she could smash the statue’s head before he came back. The trip could be cancelled. Lars meant nothing to her.
As she reached for the phone, she heard a clank and a thud coming from outside. She went to the bathroom, rolled up the shutter but couldn’t see anything in the watery dark.
Downstairs she threw on her raincoat and sneakers. Outside she pushed open the swinging wrought-iron gate leading to the pool and the statue. She felt a sharp crack as her foot struck something hard.
“Shit!” She shrieked into the wind while instinctively looking down.
In the dim light of the security lamps, cradled by a bed of flattened daisies at her feet lay Carly’s head, the serene face turned upwards, the eyes gazing blissfully towards the storm.
‘Statue’ originally published in ‘So Long Polyester’ Labello Press (c) 2013
Revised version (c) 2022 Deborah McMenamy
All Rights Reserved