Typically Brittle and Optically Transparent

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December 15, 2013 by The Citron Review

by Erica L. Kaufman


Her hands and fingers were always covered in cuts. Scars, too, underneath the cuts. She was an artist, working primarily in glass.

And not the smooth type of glass, weathered by years of being tossed around angrily by waves, the type that you find on beaches, like you can find if you comb for long enough down at Craven Beach.

Rough, sharp glass that she gathers herself, smashing empty bottles in the smoky alley behind her house. Clouded brown forties from her brother, sickly yellow-green wine bottles from her mother, rich blue sparkling water bottles from her sister. Collected from them on trash day from recycling bins, no knocks on the door from her. Why bother asking when you can take take take? And from the artist? What sort of glass? Ruby red soda bottles, imported, expensive, beautiful, glittering, contents poured down the sink.

That’s not to say that she doesn’t comb Craven Beach. She uses the foraged beach glass to make chairs and couches for the slugs in her garden.

Not that she gardens. But she lets things grow.

“You can’t wear gloves,” she says when someone asks her about the scars. “You’ve got to feel to create.”

This is her at work: fingers scarred, calloused, plump with blood. These are fingers as instruments, fingers as vessels.

She makes ships out of glass and wrecks them on deserted islands.

She covers her house with these creations, up high, on shelves and in shadow boxes, encased in un-shattered glass, far out of the reach of her big tabby cat, Alabaster, whose soft supple paws had long ago learned not to bat around the tops of tables, but still, could not help but be intrigued by the shining objects.

“You put glass in the sunlight, it sparkles,” she says. “You put it in the shadows, it mirrors.”

She says, “An enviable marriage.”

An art collector put her in a show once. Her whole family came to see her, to widen their eyes at her work, to pretend that they understood the abstract mosaics, to claim that they saw themselves—an inspiration to the artist, they were, of course—in the jagged faces she mounted on white canvasses.

White canvas really was the perfect base. She knows that some people might say it’s a little cliché, all those white canvasses, but she’s never concerned herself with other people. That’s why she bought the one-room cottage. People stopped asking her when she’d marry, if she’d have kids, once she did.

She’d put on a neat black dress that night though, to please her mother. Her mother was fond of neat boxes, check marks, hair-free-lint-free-pressed clothing. But the artist’s shoes—because she could, after all, argue that her shoes were a part of the exhibit—were white canvas tennis shoes, covered in the tiniest shards of the expensive red soda bottles. Her mother grimaces.

“Dorothy,” the artist says when someone asks her about them. “Would be proud.”

She stood in the corner and drank red wine from a clear glass and resisted the urge to smash it. She smiled and she looked pretty and she thought about Alabaster and how she wished he were there. One of her pieces is an homage to him—big green cat eyes placed high up. Watching.

She sipped the wine. She held the glass. The stem: delicate, expertly crafted.

But if it were to slip? What then? If she gathered it up under the guise of cleaning, what then?


Erica L. Kaufman lives in Providence, Rhode Island in an old, tilted red house with her needy cat and her less-needy husband. Originally from New Hampshire, she earned her BFA from Emerson College in Writing, Literature, and Publishing and her MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University. You can find her tweeting @ericalkaufman.


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