issue twenty-nine

art gallery
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(3740 words)
Brianne M. Kohl
The Art of Broken Pieces
       The first time Katie hears the growling, she is doing dishes and listening to old country music on the radio. Patsy Cline and Jimmie Rodgers. A little Tammy Wynette. Her fingers are slick from using too much refreshing-rain scented dish soap. The water has gone silky like diluted oil paint and is tinged bluer than water should be. On the color wheel, it would be Manganese Blue or something unnamed, something lighter than that.

In the summer, everything feels like it is rotting, especially since the move to Dallas. The air is muggy and bread goes to mold on the counter after just a few days. The bananas and lemons she leaves in a pretty white ceramic bowl over-ripen, black freckles forming on their skin. Now that it is summer, everything goes straight into the refrigerator, even the tomatoes despite how her dad used to say the low pressure cool air destroys the flavor. 

"You ruin their ripening potential," her dad would say. If he were alive in Dallas and not dead in Michigan, she'd tell him, "The mold ruins more."

She plunges her hands down through bubbles, mindful of the steak knives resting sharp on the bottom of the sink, and grabs her favorite coffee mug. Jerry went to the Virgin Islands a few years ago on his annual "guy trip" and he brought the mug back for her because of the lizard embossed on the front.

Katie loves lizards. She even thinks, sometimes, about getting a tattoo of a blue tailed skink on her right hip although Jerry says she'll never do it.

"You change your mind too often," he told her once. "You'd get the tattoo and end up hating it a week later."

But, she's drawn the lizard up in a dozen different ways: with a swirling tail or a playful tongue. A white tattoo against her tanned skin or something with lots of color that pops from her flesh. She isn't sure what she likes best so she keeps drawing it over and over. When she should be working or answering requests from her Etsy shop, she's drawing up lizards.

She is leaning down over the dishwasher when some tricky movement of light catches her eye. The mug slips from her soap-slick fingers and hits the floor, breaking with a crash.

"GOD DAMMIT," Katie yells.

Katie has always been ceremonial about her mornings: up at 7:00 every day when Jerry leaves for work and then two cups of coffee while she sketches or checks her email. The lizard mug was the perfect size: not too small, not so big that she'd get the mid-morning jolts. She drank from it every morning. Now, the mug is just hewn pieces of broken pottery on the tile floor.

She cries as she starts to pick up the pieces. On her knees in the kitchen, she holds them in an open palm and imagines gluing the mug back together. But, she knows, it will never hold liquid again.

Then, she hears the growling. It sounds like a dog just behind her, hackles raised and teeth bare. Katie whips around. Shards of pottery anchor into her knee and draw blood. She expects, somehow, to find a German Shepherd. Or, a Rottweiler. As if some big deadly breed has sneaked its way into her home, unnoticed. But, there is nothing there, just the echo of a growl.

Katie searches the house and when she finds nothing, she goes outside. The front porch opens up into a normally very busy neighborhood with kids on bikes and pets running amok. But, on this Tuesday afternoon, the block is silent.

She goes back into the kitchen and picks up each remaining sliver and hunk of mug until she finds the sad, broken lizard. She gathers all the pieces together and sets them on the counter in the laundry room. She is stupid for dropping it, she tells herself. She is stupid for being so upset.

Behind her, she hears a low, mean moan.

The growling comes again, days later, in the middle of another stupid fight with Jerry. For days, there has been a shortness between them and today he is angry because she has accidentally left the back door open and all of the air conditioning has seeped from the house. Except, she can't remember leaving the door open and the fight isn't really about that anyways.

It is about how they haven't had sex in over two weeks and Jerry gets cold and waspish when he hasn't had his clockwork orgasms. And, Katie is aching inside for something to love but Jerry doesn't want the inconvenience of a pet and he definitely doesn't want kids. All Katie knows is that there is an ache in her and he won't heal it.

They take turns sniping at one another and Katie can feel an ugliness rise up within her. That is when the snarling starts again. This time, it is so loud, it makes her jump.

"Did you hear that?" Katie asks.

"Hear what?" Jerry says and shakes his head. He walks away.  The growling quiets by degree, lulled by Jerry's retreating foot steps.

"Nothing," Katie says to his back.

"Forget it," he tosses out from the top of the stairs. "I'll just keep paying the bills and you just keep wasting our god damn money. That's a fair division of labor, right?"

"Where are you going?" Katie calls out to him. She thinks he wants her to chase after him but she settles further into the couch. When they were first married, they'd fight. He'd storm off. She'd run him down and then they'd tumbled onto the bed and maybe she'd bite his back a little. Maybe he'd hold her down until they were sweaty and laughing. But, now, she doesn't know her way around his body.

"I'm going to the shitter, Katie, do you fucking mind?"

Katie feels something breathing against her hair, nuzzling into her neck, probably the air conditioner kicking on, working over time because she (maybe?) left the door open. She imagines Jerry's angry posture upstairs, a gargoyle of a man hunched over the toilet, texting his buddies about his bitch wife.

That evening, the house is silent when she hears a knock on the front door. Jerry has gone out to Wednesday Night Trivia with his new friends from work. He did not invite her to go along.

When Katie opens the door, no one is there. She stands in the darkness and feels a cold sort of static in the air. She hurries to shut the door.

As she turns to walk away, the knocking starts again. Three knocks: boom, boom, boom. This time, she flips on the overhead porch light and peeks through the narrow sidelight windows. As she is scanning the porch for movement, the knock sounds again. She feels it reverberate against her hand on the wood but she is looking and no one is there.

She whips the door open and steps out onto the porch thinking it is some elaborate ding dong ditch. She feels something slick beneath her bare foot. A rabbit has been laid out across the welcome mat, turned inside out, its entrails bleeding through the palm fiber of the mat.

Katie shrieks, hopping on one foot as she stumbles back into the house and bolts the door. From deep within the house, she hears a cackle like the broken prattle of a goose, laughter so ugly it makes her wince. She runs to the bathroom to clean herself up, leaving bloodied footsteps throughout the house.


       Jerry finds Katie's mug, broken into a handful of pieces, on the counter in the laundry room. She's squirreled them away, maybe to fix it, maybe to use the pieces in some art project. When they were in college, Jerry took an art history class and he remembers learning about a Japanese art form that mends broken pottery and glassware with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum. He can't remember what it's called but he does remember the basic theory: recognize an object's history. Don't hide the cracks. Fuse the weakness with some new alchemy. When repairing some expensive dinner plate, or even a $7 mug from Saint Thomas, highlight the cracks in metal. The art is in the pieces, broken and repaired.

Katie is the artist, obviously. She used to put a lot of work into her craft site on the internet. She'd make baby quilts and stuffed animals out of old tee shirts. For a while, it was specialty jewelry. She made brass bracelets decoupaged with book quotes, sealed and polished with museum quality wax. Then, it was picnic blankets that rolled up to look like handbags until she started making elaborate baby hair bows. She can never seem to light onto anything that sticks. Jerry can't remember that last time he saw her get excited about a new project.

Katie stays home, alone, every single day. She tells him she is working and for a while, her crafts store did pretty well. She mailed her packages out all across the country, some to Europe, even. Especially the hair bows. People are always telling him how talented she is but it just never seems like much to Jerry. Why would anyone pay $18 for a single hair bow even if it does sort of look like a mermaid?

He considers, for a moment, just tossing the broken pieces of mug away. Something stops him. Part of him thinks it is Katie's mess so let her clean it up. But, he takes note of the large bits of pottery. How it broke clean and maybe it wouldn't be so hard to fuse it together again. 

When he first met Katie, he liked that she was an artist. She'd walk around town in big, loose tank tops without a bra, her thick dark hair piled high on her head. She always had oil paints laying around, thick and slimy, oozing out of the tube because she could never remember to put the lid back on.

But, they are both moving uphill to forty and those loose tank tops don't seem to fit the same anymore. He liked that she was a free spirit. When they were young, she fucked like one. But he should have been looking for someone that had enough sense to shut a God damn door behind them.

When he was little, he wanted to be an astronaut. His parents would say, "Yes, of course. You can be anything you want." But, as a kid, he never realized how big the heavens were or how very few ever really make it there. Someone should have told him the truth. Someone should have told her, too.

Jerry knows Katie has been acting odd since the move. He works all day so she can stay home and do whatever it is that she does and she is still unhappy.

He looks up that Japanese art form, just out of curiosity. Kintsugi, it is called, and doesn't really look all that hard. He finds a Kintsugi kit for 100 bucks online and orders it. Maybe he'll be an artist, too.

He tells himself that he'll teach her something by fixing her mug, by showing her the value of something so hopelessly broken. But, too, he wants her to hold the mug in her hands and be happy again. He wants her to grip his hand at night while they watch television together. To let him lay his head on her lap while she runs her fingers along his scalp. He wants to mend the rift between them with some metal stronger than either one of them.

And, maybe then, she'll see how desperately she needs him.


       Katie has to get out of the house so when Jessica, their neighbor, asks her to lunch, she goes. She's only known Jessica a couple of months, since they moved to Dallas. As they sit down to order, Katie thinks about telling Jessica about the growling. But she holds back.

In Michigan, Katie had friends -- real friends. Say-anything friends. Now, she has a handful of acquaintances that are sometimes friends when alcohol is involved. So, she waits until after they've each had a couple of glasses of crisp mid-day Sauvignon Blanc before bringing it up. By the time she's ordered her third glass of wine, she's forgotten that she and Jessica aren't really that close.

She should have waited to eat more before drinking because she can't stop the words from spilling out over her garden salad. She tells Jessica how she's been hearing some menacing growl in her house and she's afraid to go home. She hasn't been sleeping and if she does, she dreams she is a broken lizard and her tail has come loose. In the mornings, she still feels that fractured plane in her back. No amount of stretching can work the kinks out. It is as if she has been beaten in her sleep.

Jessica is silent for a moment. Just as Katie is opening her mouth to take it all back, Jessica leans forward and grabs her hand. It is an awkward gesture because Katie still has her salad fork in her grip.

"Does it happen when you're angry?" Jessica asks. "Or really upset?

Katie thinks back. "Yeah, I think so."

"Have things been moved in your house, like knick-knacks? But, neither of you remember doing it?"

"Well," Katie says. "Sort of. Little things have been happening, I guess. Doors left open. Or, the one day, I know I moved Jerry's clothes from the washer to the dryer but when I went to check, they were back in the washer and mildew had started to grow."

Jessica squeezes Katie's hand one final time before dropping it to pick up her sweaty wine glass.  "I think it's pretty obvious, don't you?" she asks.

"No, nothing is obvious," Katie says and drops her fork onto the white table cloth. She's let a glob of dressing spread out through the fibers, oil and vinegar bleeding down to the wood beneath.

"You're being courted," Jessica says.

The waiter pops back to the table and brings them their entrees. Katie has gotten an uninspiring lemon chicken breast but Jessica has ordered something called Voodoo Pig Bread. Pulled pork with goat cheese and cilantro on crusty ciabatta. The two women lean back as the waiter sets the plates down murmuring to be careful, the plates are hot. The smell of pork makes Katie's stomach ache.

When the waiter steps away, Katie leans back in, her elbows clanking against the silverware. "What do you mean, I'm being courted?"

"Come on, Katie," Jessica says and slides a knife through the bread. "You're being courted by something, obviously."

"What do you mean?"

"Something," Jessica says. "Something Other."

"I don't know what that means, Jessica," Katie says as she looks away.

"You have a choice," Jessica tells her. "Jerry. Or, the Other."

"I don't know what the other thing is," Katie insists but she understands exactly what Jessica is saying. The Other, a daemon, a spirit of temptation to be conjured and controlled.  "I don't even know where to begin."

"My cousin," Jessica says as she licks her fingers clean, "had this exact same thing happen to her a couple years ago."

"What did she do?" Katie asks.

"Well, it was hard, I think," Jessica answers. "But, she'd just gotten married. Spouses and Others don't really mix, you know? So, she had her Other exorcised."

"If she hadn't exorcised it?" Katie asks.

"I don't know," Jessica says. "I never had an Other. I never had that kind of choice to make."

They sit in silence for several heartbeats. Katie ponders the possibility of something new, something fiendishly alien. She'd heard of this sort of thing happening to other women. It was an open secret, especially in Dallas with its big mansions and cultivated lawns. Others that will give you anything, do anything you want.

She'd heard the whispers so she knows the cost: blood and tears. But, Katie wonders, what fun has ever started for a woman without a little blood first? What woman doesn't want that kind of love and devotion? A spirit to do your bidding. A body makes blood from air and marrow. Blood is no finite resource.

"You know what this means, right?" Jessica asks. "You need to figure out what you want to do about it." Jessica leans in, her elbows resting on the table. "You don't get to have both. Either Jerry or the Other. But, one of them has to go."

"I need to talk to someone," Katie says. "An expert."

"There is a lady who handles this sort of thing," Jessica says. "I'll ask my cousin for her number."

"Yeah, OK," Katie's mind is spinning with what this could mean. Choosing between right or wrong. Between Jerry and an Other. Between the life she has or the life she was supposed to live. More than anything, pathetically, Katie is relieved to finally have a choice.


       Katie has started talking to herself. Jerry will come around a corner and catch her doing it. She'll stand in the shower, water running down her body and he swears it sounds like she is arguing with someone. She's forgotten to turn the fan on so the bathroom is full of steam. Katie likes the water so hot it turns her skin red.

Another time, he hears her laughing to herself while she's folding laundry.

With this new turn, she's gotten some creativity back. She's painting again, her eyes wild, mixing blue and red paint to purple like blood. She has it rubbed across her cheek and down her arms, soaking into her smock. When she isn't talking to herself, she's growling under her breath.

Jerry is getting really sick of her shit.

One hot Saturday morning, he comes in from mowing the lawn and finds her sitting, cross-legged in the living room, candles lit everywhere. The heat index says the real-feel is 107 degrees outside and it doesn't feel much cooler in the house.

"What in the hell are you doing?" he asks her. Her head pops up and when she spots him by the back door, her shoulders slump. He gets that she isn't always happy to see him but the disappointment seems a little over-done.

"Nothing," she answers and stands. Her movements are fluid and lean like she's dancing. Like she thinks she is Stevie Nicks.

"Nothing, huh?" he repeats.

"Look, I just thought I'd try meditating. It isn't a big deal." The air smells like perfumed candle wax, a mingling of every scented candle she owns. Spiced pear, pumpkin and fresh cotton mingle with Christmas smells. He's hot and sweaty from mowing and the smell in the house makes his head feel light.

"So you meditate now?" he asks and even he can hear the sneer in his voice. He can't stop it. "So, are you a Buddhist now or something?"

"You're ignorant, Jerry," she says. "You know that?"

"Sure," he mutters and goes to the sink to get something to drink. Even a year ago, she'd bring him iced water when he worked in the yard. She'd do stupid little things like add a lemon slice or a sprig of mint. But, she'd stopped doing those things, stopped coming out at all.

He is so thirsty. He can barely stand how parched he is. When you are this thirsty, he tells himself, you have to find a way to drink.

He slips into the laundry room and digs around in the cupboard. He can hear her straightening up the living room, breathing funny: deep exaggerated breaths in like she's about to jump into water. Then, long noisy breaths out.

Jerry pulls out the lizard mug, now whole again, thick gold glue holding it together. There is a solid gilded crack that separates the lizard's tail from his body. Jerry's tee shirt sticks to his skin so he strips it off and uses it to wipe the sweat from his forehead and under his arms. He grabs a clean folded shirt from the top of the dryer and pulls it on. He could smell better, he thinks.

When he walks back out through the kitchen and into the living room, Katie is kneeling by the empty fire place, rocking and snarling. She draws another deep breath in, letting it out slowly through her mouth, the air eking out with a long guttural moan.

"Jesus," he mutters and rolls his eyes. "Hey," he calls out. She keeps moaning and growling.

"Hey, Gandhi," he says and she stops moving, her chest bent over her knees, her head and hair drooping almost to the hearth. The temperature of the air drops all of a sudden and he's glad the AC is finally kicking on. A man could die in this heat.

It took him a while to figure out the Kintsugi kit. It wasn't nearly as easy as they made it look on the videos he watched online. But, he'd gotten it finally. He wasn't so sure she should use the mug for her morning coffee anymore. Something about metal poisoning, he thought. But, it was pretty to look at.

Katie stands up, her hair hanging in her face and turns to him slowly. "What have you got there?" she asks.

He holds the mug up in his palm and smiles, nervous. She's going to think it's stupid, he thinks. Or, God, he realizes, maybe this was one of those things she wanted to do herself and she's going to be pissed. He just never knows which way she is going to take things.

But, she walks up to him, staring at the mug.

"How did you do this?" she asks.  He tells her about the Kintsugi kit and her eyes whip from the mug to his face and back again.

For a moment, he swears he can hear another growl forming in her throat but when she looks up again, she is smiling.
"You idiot," she says and his shoulders relax. Her hand whispers against his, touching the mug with a light finger. He leans down to kiss her. "You big stupid idiot," she murmurs against his lips.

Outside, he hears a dog barking, loud and angry.


M  C  R

This work is copyrighted by the author, Brianne M. Kohl. All rights reserved.