The Gift Shop

by Marc Berley

She used to paint oils and do some of the glazing. Now she just runs the gift shop, selling the pottery that he is supposed to make. Before she tries to push objects for sale, she sends visitors on unguided tours of the studio so they can, as she says, witness the process. He feels like a zoo monkey when they barge in, him sitting there at the wheel, hands between his legs. He is careful not to make faces, those faces of a masturbating zoo monkey laughing because it can do whatever it wants in front of whomever. He loves, still loves, the feel of the wet clay.

The rule, they have agreed, is that he does not have to say anything to anyone. He does not like people looking at him. He does not like glazing, the care and decisions involved, or the chore of placing things for firing in the kiln, for their transformation from his cool clay into final breakable objects, trinkets for sale. She loves the smell of the air when she can step out of the closeness of the gift shop and just breathe.

Newlyweds, a cute, bubbly couple, are walking through the studio.

"Look," she says, pointing at a large recently-fired urn.

They are holding hands, hands that are sliding naturally in and out of a fierce bond as she leans into him and he falls against her. She pulls away toward something she sees without letting go of his hand, their fingers still touching, as if sticky, like strands in a stretching web, until his fingers curl and catch hers, draw her back. He kisses her on the side of her neck. She giggles, her sun dress vibrating as her body shakes out some of its bliss.

What, he wonders, do they not see him?

He looks down, trying to concentrate on his lump of clay. He lifts his hands, distracted, still managing to raise his arms with smooth completion, much like Radu Lupo drawing his arms from the piano as the last notes are left to ring into silence. He remembers when she used to remark his technique, calling him her little artist.

He sees him standing behind her, pushing himself, he can tell, against her shapely gluteus. She giggles as he bends his head and whispers into her ear.

He exhales and lowers his hands back to his clay as they resume their aimless procession through his studio. She is looking at one of his urns and telling him something about it.

He is always making large vases and urns that nobody buys. They clutter the studio and overwhelm the gift shop and eventually the grounds, where they weather. She is always telling him to make more coffee mugs because they sell. Or at least small vases that people can envision putting flowers in.

He wishes they would move more quickly and spill out into the gift shop, hopes his wife can use her wiles to get them to buy more than they can carry home.

He is surprised to hear her voice speaking to him. "Do you do your pottery every day?" she asks.

"Most days," he answers. "Do you have any interest in pottery?" Sometimes he talks. It just comes out of him. After he speaks he thinks he has said what a zoo monkey would say.

"It must be amazing to make all these things with just the touch of your hands," she says.

He doesn't know what to answer.

"Of course," he says.

"Well, thank you for letting us look," she says.

They walk like one free being out of the studio, into the gift shop.

"You're newlyweds, aren't you," she says from behind the cash register, "on your honeymoon?"

"Yes," she says, and she turns and looks at him, her eyes a fiery request to be ravaged.

"Where are you staying?" she says.

"Nowhere," he says. "We're just driving the coast."

"That's very nice," she says. "I hope you are having a great time."

"We are" she says. "It must be paradise here, just the two of you, making things."

"Did you see anything you liked?" she says.

"Oh, yes," she says. "Lots. But what we'd really like to get is half a dozen coffee mugs, just like the vases, only mugs."

"He makes them sometimes," she says. "You can buy them now, and we'll ship them to you as soon as they're ready."

"That would be great," he says.

As he takes out his wallet and hands her a credit card, she sees that he has elegant fingers, beautiful hands.

She walks to the door and holds it open for them, then steps out after them, into the air. She usually looks at the treetops for a few moments before she closes her eyes and puts her mind to the rising and falling of her chest as it brings in soothing vapors from the ocean. But she cannot close her eyes. She cannot stop looking at them.

They are walking down the dusty path to their car. Her hips are swaying, her dress dancing in the wind. He is patting her ass as if it were a melon he is about to cut into. She stops and throws her arms around his neck, starts kissing him with fury. They are standing there embraced, rocking. She thinks they look like a piece of wet clay wobbling just as the wheel first gets going. She sees their hands shaping each other into one perfect form. She thinks they are going to drop and do it right there in her small parking lot, not even duck behind some foliage. She is hoping they will.  She wants to see it. She can close her eyes and breathe some other time.

BIO: Marc Berley’s fiction is published or forthcoming in The Collagist, Gargoyle, Lake Effect, LIT, The South Carolina Review, and other journals. He recently completed a collection of stories and is at work on a novel. Visit him at http://www.marcberley.com.