Contest #225 shortlist ⭐️

21 comments

Sad People of Color Contemporary

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

The newborn skull is made up of 5 bones.


By adulthood, it is 22, the face 14.


If I were to build a human, I would begin with the skull (occipital, parietals, ethmoidal, etc. etc.). I would build down the spine in individual pieces. I would create a nasal cavity wide and straight enough to breathe through, a cranium large enough to house the brain.


But, sitting in front of a linoleum block which is sitting on a chalkboard desk which is sitting on Maine soil on the planet Earth, I am acutely aware that I can not begin from the inside-out of the human body when it comes to carving. You must build outside-in. I am so aware of this, in fact, that I am not so sure I am grateful anymore for the opportunity my mother gave me by paying my way into a sculpting class while I try to finish my residency.


Learn to view the human body as art, Paige, my mother had said to me in Hindi, All you need is a new angle to fix the rut you're in.


I am not, in fact, in a rut. I have never, in fact, ever been in a rut. My mother just enjoys seeing everyone else as damaged; if she can fix all of them, maybe somewhere along the way she'll fix herself. If I really tried to break it down, there's probably a lot of cultural guilt related to it, the fact that we made it out and all our ancestors didn't, or something. But my mother almost takes pride in being a part of the lower class, as if our struggles make us shinier and set us apart from all the people who live easy lives (Diamonds are made through pressure Beta, she loves to remind me). She's full of irony, really: Unlike most immigrant parents, when I told her I wanted to go on the pre-med track she scolded me for not being happy with the life we already lived and jumped to the conclusion that my only motivation for it was the money I would maybe-possibly get if I made it through. Sometimes, I even go as far as to think that she gave me a white-girl name just so that the only comparison that could be drawn between me and them was my skin.


But, the brick thing across from me and the young-adults who look like they all probably majored in psychology and the teacher who looks either under or over-qualified (I can't quite put my finger on it) are reason enough for me to not belong. My mother has effectively taken me back to middle school in her attempt to fix my mind, which is also ironic because my mind was probably the least sound throughout grades 6-8. But I suppose that was her whole point, really: She wanted to remind me that, no matter how much work I put in, I would never be like them.


It isn't so much that I "don't do" art, though, it's more simply that I do other things better. I am very soundly aware of the things I can do better: I'm a master of memorization, I can point out an iron deficiency from a mile away. I'm a karaoke wizard, I can cook eggs nine different ways. I clean with the speed and efficiency of a Michelin-star-grade dishwasher and, if you asked me to, I could lie my way out of any situation. I am the friend who is called when your date gets boring, I have seven dead grandmothers, four cats who have been run over by cars, and have been broken up and cheated on more times than I can count. I am Paige-bot, I run on a well-oiled set of gears and compliments. All that to say, I am not used to not being good at things.


And that brings me right back to this table.


The teacher-lady says Create yourself. The teacher-lady says that We cannot begin analyzing the workings of the world around us before we are able to analyze the workings of the world inside us.


Little does she know, I know the workings of the world inside me even better than I know the bones that make up the back of my hand. I know how many times my heart will beat in the next minute and exactly how many ounces of blood my muscles will need to keep me upright in this seat and my fingers will need to hold this block and make outside-art. I have settled, in fact, that she just doesn't get it. I am above these psych-young-adults, I am above them and their flared jeans and cat eyeglasses.


But, while I know this, the man seated directly across from me now does not seem all too aware of the way I exist on a plane fully separate from theirs.


"Hey." He's all disheveled hair and long eyelashes. Conventionally pretty. He's wearing a purple hoodie and holding the carving knife like a weapon, like the block might attempt to attack him if he doesn't act fast or first or well enough.


I nod in response, it's curt and it's small. I have learned in my many years of interacting with "art people" (my mother included) that they have such an overflow of personality that, really, all you have to give them is baseline responses and they will be happy.


"Why are you holding it like that?" It is now his turn to nod, which he does at the carving knife poised above the block in my hand like a scalpel. Oh, how I want inner-workings and bones and arteries. I want tissue and muscle. In my (well-educated) opinion, the art of the human body happens all below the skin; the real beauty is found only when you peel back the outer layer and look within. It is a mechanism, it is harsh and cold and soft and warm and it does all the magic of keeping you alive without you even asking for it. Art-boy does not get this, and so I can't explain to him exactly why I hold the knife the way I do, that my body is subconsciously preparing to make the only kind of art it knows how to.


I cannot explain to him that I once gave birth to a child who would never have more than 5 bones in her skull, the insides of whose body was poorly made. That she had appeared, on the outside, to be perfect, although not white or glowing. That I knew Jack (father, man who has since absented himself from my life) would never love her as much as I did because, to me, she was everything I had wanted her to be.


That from the first moment I saw her I was convinced I would give her a life in which what she was-not did not matter. I was so convinced that she could be anything.


That she could, at the very least, be alive.


I cannot explain to him that her insides just stopped performing and maybe that's why I am so determined obsessed reliant needy dependent invested interested in how one might create a person correctly, with art that will never cease to be beautiful.


"Muscle memory," I shrug, "I'm a doctor."


"Oh, seriously? That's sick. What kind of doctor?"


"Cardiovascular surgeon."


He doesn't say anything back to this, people usually don't. Instead, they spend the next few minutes calculating how much money I make/wondering where their lives went wrong/how many lives I've saved/why I'm here and not saving more lives/if being friends with me is a good/bad idea.


"I'm still in residency," I clarify, which really shuts that whole line of thought down. The reality is, you don't need to be a doctor to understand that residency sucks, you just need to have watched Grey's Anatomy or read a single Ali Hazelwood book; residency is what you to do to get where you want to go, even if you don't want to do it because the result on the other side is so so worth it. Or so I'm told; I have yet to be on the other side.


It is only after I tell people I'm a resident that they feel they have a little bit of a chance to match my career: "I'm kind of in-between jobs right now," he says and it seems he's trying very hard not to hate himself or the fact that he chose to speak, "I majored in psychology in college."


"I can tell."


"Yeah? My mom always said I looked more like a liberal arts kind of guy," he almost laughs, as if he's unable to separate what he looks like from who he is.


"Honestly, you all look the same."


He makes a face at this, like in drawing that comparison I had solved one of the biggest mysteries of his life.


"Do you ever think you look like you're meant to be someone else?" he asks me, carving knife working slowly on the block as his gaze shifts between it and the mirror sitting on his side of the desk.


I look at my own reflection before responding; I can make out the veins cutting up my forehead and making it look like a city map, the defined cartilage in my nose. Cheekbones, pores, the thin skin of my eyelids. There are only so many things that can be observed from the surface. I want to tell him that he should ask me the same question once I've carved the top layer of my skin off and we can both look inside. Inside, I am a blank canvas, I am free to be anyone. I will not look like a mother or a not-mother or a doctor or a student or a disappointment or a POC. That, as much as I hate this face and everything it is supposed to mean, if you peel it all back there will be nothing to separate me from him or the rest of them with their cardigans and reusable straws and pale skin.


I will be muscle-tissue-arteries-ligaments-nerves-blood-bones.

November 23, 2023 16:45

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

21 comments

05:33 Nov 29, 2023

Reading through, I realize that while the protagonist wants to break out of her mother's clutches about life, she's still knee-deep inside. Every word, every thought brings her back and perhaps this isn't intentional but it gives the story an added meaning. I'm especially intrigued by the descriptions of the character about the human body, and skin color and how, in the end, everyone looks quite the same. It raises the question of why she really is at the class or, better put, what reason takes dominance: her mother signing her up into the...

Reply

Noa Garcia
15:25 Nov 29, 2023

I really appreciate you taking the time to read and allowing me to see your perspective on Paige and her story! I think there are definitely a few reasons for her to be in the class, which I would love to explore in upcoming pieces if I can get around to it. The idea of losing a child impacts so much, you know, INCLUDING one's relationship with their own parents because they project their grief in many cases. I'm so glad you enjoyed it :)

Reply

17:25 Dec 01, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist. Well deserved!

Reply

Noa Garcia
18:47 Dec 01, 2023

Thank you lots!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
AnneMarie Miles
14:34 Nov 26, 2023

Wow, Noa. This is incredible. I always enviously admire those who can nail a first submission like this - welcome to Reedsy by the way! I love that you chose to go inside a person when the prompt is to create an exterior image. Very cool twist, and such a deep and meaningful way to approach it. You contrasted this well in the end by bringing it back to the judgments we make about people based on their appearance, only to make an even more significant point that we all look the same on the inside (physically) and we would not be able to judg...

Reply

Noa Garcia
17:08 Nov 26, 2023

Thank you so much! I feel like you really got what I was trying to communicate with the piece which feels great for me as I was worried the point would be lost on people haha. But I'm really glad you enjoyed it thank you for the kind words!!

Reply

AnneMarie Miles
17:11 Dec 03, 2023

Congratulations on the shortlist, Noa!

Reply

Noa Garcia
03:18 Dec 04, 2023

Thanks! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
07:37 Dec 08, 2023

Now that's a self-portrait. You brought every inch of Paige to life- body, mind, and spirit. Her frustrations were artfully represented by your experiment with syntax, each backslash and strikethrough like another stroke of the clay. Beautiful work!

Reply

Noa Garcia
14:24 Dec 09, 2023

Thank you so much for the kind words Nicholas!! I'm so happy you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Philip Ebuluofor
17:37 Dec 02, 2023

Congrats. Fine work here. What is it with drafting first short story and subsequent ones?

Reply

Noa Garcia
03:54 Dec 03, 2023

Thanks! Not so sure i get your question, though :/

Reply

Philip Ebuluofor
17:24 Dec 03, 2023

Many first-time writers here always surprise me with their first work. So well crafted and enticing but from the second submission upward, it looks like mine. Why?

Reply

Noa Garcia
03:17 Dec 04, 2023

Ohhh, I see. That's defnitely an interesting thought, though it may just be coincidence. I suppose I hope to keep creating work as well-liked as this piece, though. Given I've done lots of previous writing off of this site, I may just be based in practice? I would say that's much of what it is for most authors, although that doesn't explain why you've seen many plateau after their first pieces. Definitely an interesting observation, though.

Reply

Philip Ebuluofor
12:14 Dec 06, 2023

Yeah.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Kristi Gott
20:53 Dec 01, 2023

This story weaves together many threads into one fabric and creates a unique and meaningful tale. I love the ending where there is nothing to separate us from each other when the surface is peeled back. This short story has many elements and is written with creativity, uniqueness and great writing technique.

Reply

Noa Garcia
03:18 Dec 02, 2023

Thank you for the kind words! :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
17:06 Dec 01, 2023

Whoa! Way more than skin deep. Lots of layers. Well done. Congrats on the shortlist especially on first entry! Welcome to Reedsy.🥳

Reply

Noa Garcia
18:47 Dec 01, 2023

Thank you so much for reading! The shortlist was definitely a pleasant surprise, given this was my first as you said :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Lyle Closs
10:13 Nov 30, 2023

Sweet. The doctor struggling to become the artist but still locked on the flesh and bone, the inside structure but not the emotional structure. The emotional structure she thinks she has under control but which leaks out occasionally - mother, lost child. Her apparent strength (focusing on the medical structure) is actually her weakness (unable to address the emotional).

Reply

Noa Garcia
14:05 Nov 30, 2023

Thank you for reading! Grief and loss leak out and really do affect all parts of life, including how one views oneself, and I'm glad you saw that in my piece. I hope you enjoyed it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.