By Lynne Nugent
The couple’s corners are worn and gray, like those of a favorite trinket carried around in a pocket for too long. They sit straight as royalty, gazing through the glass at a point somewhere over our heads, and are holding hands—or would be, if they had hands. Her right arm, broken off at the wrist, lies demurely in her lap; his stump of a left forearm hovers above it. As if time were saying, “No more holding hands for you two.”
The voice in the headset informs us they are not meant to be individuals but the ideal Egyptian form, circa 1350 B.C. Their limestone curves and planes are as cool to the sight as they would be to the touch, perfectly smooth except for the tiny pleats in their tunics and a single embellishment—a whimsical bow—under her right breast (breasts also broken off). Nothing like what awaits around the corner and nine hundred years later in the museum: the human and animal procession straining its way across the Parthenon frieze, supervised by reclining gods whose torsos twist this way and that as they consult each other, each muscle outlined in wet drapery.
But this couple’s affectionate pose, plus the space between the big and second toes in the feet that peek out from under her hem, make them seem individual enough to me. Plus, there was a real couple, who died, and for whose tomb this sculpture was commissioned. No one knows if they were young or old, if they had lived a full life together or were robbed of it by disease or accident. All we have are these unlined faces, their almost-smiles almost smug, as if they have full confidence they will be together forever.
Lying on your back, you stretch out your left arm. Like I do every night, I pull myself in. My head fits in the hollow of your collarbone; I breathe the warmth of your neck; my left hand lies across your chest, not in the reaching or grasping or writing of everyday use, but simply resting. I’ve never had someone whose pheromones reached into my brain and flipped a switch—like smelling a baby’s head—making me forget whatever it was I thought I wanted from life before. Making me relax my grip on the world I’m trying to shape. Never someone who, when we pass in the hallway, is just the right height for the perfect hug, no tiptoe-standing or neck-craning. We fit.
One night, as we lay in our usual configuration, I panicked, realizing that it will have to end sometime. You will die first, or I will; eventually we both will die. This touch will be gone from the earth. I wished we could fix ourselves in this position, and toward that end I decided to stay perfectly still to preserve it as long as I could. But after a few minutes I got tired and my leg muscles grew restless; I turned my back on you, and we both curled into our separate sleeps.
Lynne Nugent lives in Iowa City, where between learning to sew, planting tomatoes, and going on bike rides, she hopes to find time to write a dissertation.
photo by Leslie Miller