They met in a country western bar, she in a red plastic hat, he with sawdust in his socks. They smiled, he smiled, she smiled, they left and they came back again and they outgrew it when the crowds got bigger. The new place they found was a sculpture garden, green and gray and occasionally rust brown. They walked together past the man with the discus, head down, legs twisted with effort. They lingered on the bench made to look like a giant toothy grin, he perched on the bicuspid, she reclining on the molar, her feet crossed at the ankle and resting on the sign: Do Not Touch Sculptures. When it rained they caught each other by the arm and moved with quick and loping steps to hide under the ironwork hair of the Furies. The Furies had large feet sticking out under their robes and they laughed at these as the water dripped from the angry flowing metal hair.
Once, the sculpture garden was closed for a private reception honoring an opera singer, so she waited on the street for him. She was too early and her jacket was too short so she stood and stamped her feet and tugged at her sleeves to get them to cover the bases of her palms. He was on the other side, by the gate, waiting for her.
She didn’t come and he didn’t come because the garden was between them and not around them like before, and when he called later to find out where she had been she didn’t answer. Later she saw him at the produce stand in front of the nectarines and pursed her lips angrily but they wouldn’t stay closed. They went back together to see where they had missed each other, each standing on the other side, looking across parallel streets, listening to opposite sides of an aria.
The next time they went to the sculpture garden the opera singer had closed it again. This time they walked in like they were invited and mingled with tuxedos. The tuxedos got in the way of the sculptures, obscuring the tooth bench and crowding around the Furies and sitting on the edge of the fountain that never ran. He hid among the marble lawn bowlers while she stole two drinks from a tray. The opera singer got up on her opera shoes and they listened without looking because if they looked she would see them and sing out their names and shatter the glass globes hanging from the tree with her voice. When a man detached from the crowd and came toward them, they posed like the stone lawn bowlers, but this was not a cartoon and the ruse didn’t work. They fled the party, walking together with synchronized steps to the fading sound of the opera singer’s warble. They got away quickly because each of their legs was exactly the same length.
He didn’t have a problem and she didn’t have a problem, so they ate and they watched the news and sometimes they sat and stared until they realized they were boring. The bar where they had met burned down and he took her to see it. He thought they would stand in the rubble, but it was blocked off and official sifters were sifting through it so they stood across the street and watched, pretending to be solemn.
He did not meet her mother when she came to town, and she did not meet his, and when he needed milk he didn’t call her to see if she had some, which she did because she always bought it and forgot to drink it. Instead he went to the store and bought more for himself and forgot to drink it. She watched the news with her mother while he was forgetting about his milk, and when her mother left she turned off the TV and didn’t watch the news for a month.
When he went to the sculpture garden alone, the tooth bench had a sign near it dedicating it to the opera singer. Plaque, he said, pointing to the small gold sign, but an old man passing by didn’t hear him or didn’t get the joke.
The opera she went to was about a man and a woman who loved each other but couldn’t be together because their parents were at war, probably. She wasn’t sure because she spent most of the time trying not to fall asleep. She wondered why she had spent so much to dress up like a display store mannequin just to sleep sitting up in a folding chair while a woman screamed at her from sixty feet away in a foreign language. Later someone told her that the opera was in English.
When they met again at long last under the Furies, he asked her if the opera had starred their opera singer, but she couldn’t remember. They laughed about this and then he showed her the plaque by the teeth and they laughed about this too. They hung their jackets on the stone lawn bowlers and forgot them there. The jackets stayed and were still there when the opera singer returned with her guests and sang at dusk for them again. A waiter tried the jackets on after, but one had sleeves that were too short and the other fit the bowler better than the waiter so he left them both.
In the sculpture garden there are classical sculptures and abstract sculptures and postmodern sculptures and things which hardly qualify as sculpture, but there are no lovers captured in stone. The tourists don’t notice this, but the opera singer did and so she began to hold her parties in the orchestra pit after hours, to be near her stage, a place where love acts itself out every night. She has not returned to the sculpture garden, so she doesn’t know what happened to the plaque dedicated to her: two performance artists removed it one night from beside the teeth using a sturdy rope made to look like a huge piece of floss.
Ben Black is an MFA candidate at San Francicso State Universtiy. His story, “The Wolves” is forthcoming in New American Writing.
This piece was read as part of the inagural production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket. Other pieces in the series include:
Die Brizl!, by Scott Lambridis
The Fix, by Benjamin Wachs
The Rape Parade, by Carolyn Cooke
Look at Murphy, by Cary Tennis
To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page