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K. Jessica Doyle

A mysterious artist infiltrated New York City.  Statues were carved into the trees of Central Park; bronze people littered gardens and schools.  For six months it was a media sensation.  Who is the mysterious artist?  How dare he use the city as his own personal museum?  How dare he shy away from the glory of his accomplishments?  How dare he refuse others the chance to own a piece for themselves? 

In March, the artist made his first and last mistake.  He broke into a public library and left a ten-foot copper statue of William Shakespeare.  The security cameras, installed earlier in the year, captured his staunch figure.  A “friend” called the news station and revealed him as sixty-four year old retired math teacher Benjamin Haze.  This “friend” was someone that Ben did not know.

Ben’s face became unavoidable.  His carved features and prominent square jaw covered magazines and newspapers.  His purplish thin upper lip and thick lower lip drew into a painful, confused smile on billboards.  The dark puffs under his chocolate colored eyes and his road map of wrinkles were shown in crystal clarity on high-resolution television.  His story became an American fable.  He became, without his consent, a celebrity.

As for his art, everything changed.  Entrepreneurial thieves, predicting the market’s supply and demand, stole the thirty statues accumulated throughout the city in hopes that they could sell them to the highest bidder.  Those in desperate need to own a Haze original ripped out the carved trees in Central Park during the dead of the night.  The art was no longer a thing to be enjoyed by all but instead something that needed to belong to someone.  At least that seemed to be the consensus among the rich and affluent.  And thus, the public statues were brought inside for a select few to admire.  It began –

A man on eBay purchased one of the stolen trees from Central Park for over a million dollars.  The thief was more than happy to part with it for such a fine price.  The buyer was thrilled, for a Benjamin Haze original was the new thing to have.

Ben signed with a manager who pushed him to do interviews and appearances.  Ben would shift awkwardly, tugging at his shirtsleeves and blinking past the bright lights.  He was muscled into make-up.  They colored his grey hair black.  And with the recognition of his name, the demand for new material grew.  Yet, with all of the publicity and fame and talk shows and appearances, Ben had no time to construct the additional art pieces that were now in such high demand. 

And Ben hated all of it.  His time was no longer consumed with making art but talking about it.  A past time that was not only philanthropic but also his medium of zen was slowly flirting with the ideas of a production line, of commercialism.  What was once his own little secret self was exposed and shot outward into the public and chewed apart like a raw piece of meat among the wolves. 

People sent him flowers and chocolates.  He gave them away.  So much had changed, he could no longer go to the store for coffee without someone trying to befriend him or ask for an autograph.  People carried sketchbooks with them and tried to give Ben money so that he would doodle in them.  People oblivious to his work asked him to make statues of them.  What little and distant family he had left drew forward like beacons in a fog to explain to the media, for a price, just what kind of man Ben Haze was.  Their stories were inconsistent.

When winter unpacked her bags, Ben made a public announcement that he was retreating to work on the much demanded gallery show.  The public cheered and drew back.  He gave up his studio apartment, which was now frequented by visitors, camera crews, and houseguests, to rent a shabby place in the Bronx with no central air or heating.

Ben spent the next five months in mittens and earmuffs carving his new sculptures.  Though he felt forced into creating, he was content in his ability to lose himself so completely in his work.  He took care with each, perfecting their faces, their emotion.  The statues were finished by May’s end and moved into storage.  The showing was scheduled for June 10th.  The bid for the gallery began.

The winning gallery was located on the Upper East Side.  They had won the long awaited Haze exhibit by canceling their other, more loyal artists’ shows.  And they made a handsome donation to Ben’s manager. 

Ben refused to show the gallery owner or his manager his work.  The secrecy created even more of a buzz.  He used his celebrity status to insist that no one see the sculptures until they were unveiled.

“How can I price them?”  the gallery owner asked, distressed.

“They are all worth twenty,” Ben said.

“Twenty thousand?  But, Mr. Haze—”

“Benji, we could easily get over six figures for any of your—” the manager interjected.

“Twenty dollars,” Ben said.  “I want them priced at twenty dollars.”

The gallery owner fidgeted and made small circles around the floor like a dog finding the perfect spot to sleep.  The manager pulled the tiny nervous man aside.

“Relax, man, the way this shit’s selling, you’ll have a bidding war in minutes.  Guaranteed.”

On June 10th people began a line outside the gallery at five in the morning.  They sweated the record-breaking temperatures of the summer in tank tops and shorts.  Many of the people outside were hired by the elite to hold their place in line while they arranged themselves for the evening.  The gallery owner arrived at three in the afternoon to see the staggering line of people outside fanning themselves with newspapers.  He decided to charge a twenty-dollar cover to add to his profits. 

At seven, the elite arrived in furs and heels to replace the sunburned Nobodies holding their spot in line.  They did not tip the placeholders.  At 7:15, the velvet rope clicked aside and a man with a ticker collected the cover charge before allowing anyone to enter the gallery.

The space was cold and crisp.  Many sighed with relief that they were no longer in the sticky hot streets of New York as if they were refugees of their own city.

An exoskeleton of a woman in leather boots fingered her pearl necklace as she scanned the room for Ben.  Her breath puffed before her, and she twisted her hands to warm them.  In the center of the gallery was a circled entourage of blondes in identical black cocktail dresses speaking in bubbly, singsong voices.

Entertainment Weekly calls him a genius,” the blonde with curly hair shrieked as she pushed another blonde’s shoulder back.

“Well, all I know is Jared is buying me at least two of them,” the blonde with the straight hair and pink fingernails said.  She rubbed her arms.  She was already on her third glass of cheap, boxed wine that the gallery owner had poured into labeled expensive bottles.  Her nipples were noticeably hard through her tight dress.

The gallery owner buzzed through the crowd.  He replaced their empty flutes with fresh ones.  He rubbed their backs as he spoke.  Already offers were being made.

“Could you could turn the air down?” a woman in a black pantsuit huffed.  The gallery owner nodded and patted his cheeks.

There was a backroom hidden by a black curtain.  Ben pulled it aside to watch and listen to the guests.  They chatted furiously.  Their noses and chins ascended higher as their shoulders drew back more and more.  Ben shook his head.

But there was one; a girl not even seventeen.  She stood away from the crowd and stared at the covered statues.  She held only a small canvas tote as she shifted from side to side in the cold. 

A man with a diamond encrusted watch walked past her and threw a glance to his wife who, in turn, shrugged her tan shoulders and snickered.

“I want one, I don’t care how much,” a man with striking red hair said to the gallery owner near Ben’s holding room.

“Sir, I mean, I understand, but sir, don’t you think that perhaps you would want to, I don’t know, see them first?”

“No.  The way this artist is selling, I’m guaranteed a generous return on my investment.  It’s better than real estate,” he told his wife.  The gallery thawed as the air conditioning had been shut off.  

“I’ll offer you six thousand,” a woman in a red fur coat said.  She bounced up and down.

“Twelve thousand,” a person from the front interjected.

And so it began.  Within the hour, all of the unveiled statues were sold.  The buyers wanted to shake Ben’s hand, but the gallery owner could not find him.  The gallery became stuffy and sticky with the excited hot air expelled from the guests.

It was time to unveil the statues.  The gallery owner found Ben hiding behind the curtain and pushed him onto a small platform.  People cheered.  Ben refused to look at them.  He found the girl and stared at her.  She looked at the floor.

The covers were pulled to reveal deliciously carved human statues.  The detail was marvelous.  A haughty ballerina stood on pointe at the barre; a proud man with his hand in his breast pocket; a smirking woman in pearls and diamonds; a playful child cross-legged on the floor; a screaming boy with his hands on his head; an apathetic girl with a fashion magazine pose; a smiling man and woman.  Each emotion, each feature, was captured in perfect replication.

They gleamed under the searing gallery lights.  But they were not made of marble or ivory or wood or bronze.  They were exact imprints of people carved into some unique kind of dark stone.  People clapped and cheered and fell over themselves to get closer.

“What are they made of?” The not-yet-seventeen-year-old girl in the back asked.

“Stupid girl, it’s a rare breed of metal,” one man said pushing her to the side to get a closer look.

 “Stone.  Onyx stone.  It can only be found in the remote jungles of Africa,” a man guessed as he lit a cigarette.

“How much?” a desperate voice brayed.

“They, they, they are all sold,” The gallery owner muttered.  He wrung his hands.  A cacophony of new bids filtered up through the gallery as people tripped to hand over their money.  The gallery owner was beside himself with pride and the riches would acquire from his hefty fifteen percent commission.  Checkbooks were drawn like swords and the gallery owner could no longer sustain his loyalty to the original buyers.  The manager collected the checks while the gallery owner certified the sale.  Ben just stared at his statues.

The blonde with the straight hair was the proud owner of the ballerina sculpture.  She stood admiring at the new addition to her collection. 

“They’re moving,” the blonde screamed.  Voices subsided.

“No. Look,” she said, pointing a pink manicured fingernail at the ballerina.  The ballerina’s proud eyes sagged into an expression of sadness.  The upturned edges of her sculpted mouth were now in mid frown, no longer the confident young dancer.

“Mine is too,” the man with the diamond encrusted watch said.  The guests broke off into small groups to gather around the statues.  It was clear now that the sculptures were, in fact, moving.  Their features became flaccid.  The tight, smooth, lines of muscles atrophied in front of them.   The statue of the screaming boy’s mouth hung by a gooey, extended jaw.  His eyes were long and piteous.  A sweet, thick smell pervaded the air.

“They’re melting,” the teenage girl said, hiding a smile.

The exoskeleton in leather boots ran up to her purchase of the proud woman in pearls.  She paid over a million for it.  The arms of the statue dripped to the ground.  The smooth, slender shape of the statue’s arms drooped.

“Make it stop,” the exoskeleton woman commanded.  Ben stared off at the distance.  “Make it stop,” she repeated.

But no one knew what to say.  The exoskeleton woman lifted her small frame onto the podium and desperately tried to stop the statue from melting.  Her hand plunged into the woman in pearl’s mouth and came out covered in the sweet gooey stuff.  She shrieked in horror and wiped it on her dress spreading it around.  She stepped down from the podium and slipped in her own purchase.  A man in a grey suit tried to help her catch her balance, but the exoskeleton clawed at him and pulled him down into the puddle with her.

“Chocolate,” the exoskeleton screamed.  “They’re made of chocolate.”  Her voice filled with the pitch of frustration and anger.

“Can’t you do something?” A voice cawed.

“Do something,” another voice echoed.

“Turn on the air,” another suggested.

“It’s too late.  They’re ruined,” a raspy voice chimed in.

The gallery owner stomped up to Ben.  “What is the meaning of this?”

“I told you to sell them for twenty dollars,” Ben said.  He looked at the scene before him.  The buyers turned from confused to angry.  The hive upset.

“I want my money back,” the chocolate covered exoskeleton said.  She stamped her spiked boot heel on the gallery floor leaving a small pockmark.

“All sales are final–”

“Of course,” Ben interrupted the gallery owner.

“You can’t be serious,” the manager whined near Ben’s elbow.

“I am.  Do it.  These people deserve to have their money back. ”

“I want you out in an hour,” the gallery owner said, wiping his chocolate covered hands on his neat slacks.  “You’ll, you’ll, you’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”  He stomped to the back.

“I can’t be connected with this.  You understand don’t you, pal?  No hard feelings?” the manager said, but he was talking over his shoulder heading for the door.

The faces of the statues accelerated their defiant melting as the guests collected their things, muttering under their breaths, and stormed toward the exit.  The sculptures sallow faces dripped into grotesque screams.

The buyers collected their checks and shredded them up in Ben’s smiling face.  They fluttered to the ground like abstract snowflakes and floated in the layer of chocolate coating the gallery floor.  Then they were gone.

Ben stood on the small platform alone watching the skin of his art melt and puddle.  But she was still there.  The girl.  She stared at the melting ballerina.  Her hands shoved comfortably in her pocket.  The ballerina’s nose peeled and fell to the ground.  It splashed by her feet, but she did not step back.

“I suppose you want your cover back,” Ben said.  He stepped off the platform and waded through the chocolate.

The girl turned and shook her head.  “Nah. It was worth the price of admission.”  She rubbed her nose on her sleeve and sniffed.

Cocking her head to the side, she said, “what’s that?”

She walked over to the lump of chocolate that was once an inspired sculpture of a playful child sitting cross-legged.  Something glinted under all that chocolate.

“May I?” she asked, but she did not wait for a response.

She plunged her hand into the mound.  Swiping her hand back and forth she uncovered a smooth surface and wiped away the chocolate.

Underneath the melting sugar and cocoa was an exact marble replica of the sculpture, only two feet smaller.  The girl grabbed the wine off the bar and splashed it on the sculpture, washing it clean.

“Nice,” she said.  Ben looked at her.  “All of them, huh?  Clever.”

“You want to buy them?” Ben asked.


And then Ben said, “you can have them.”  He waved his arm around the room.

“Really,” she said.  It was more of a statement.

“I have a truck out back,” Ben said, “just tell me where you want them.”

She bobbed her head and said, “Central Park.  I think we should put them in the park.”

“That sounds fine,” Ben said.  He watched the girl reach up and lick his art off her fingers.







The Erosion