1: the explosive nippled
A long time ago there lived a skilled sculptor — Pygmalion was his name — who chose for many years to remain single. He told himself that he was sick of the vices with which man and woman alike have been so richly endowed, and this was partly true, but the real reason he was single was that no woman, and no relationship, ever quite lived up to his expectations of what love should be. It always started out well enough, but it soon became clear to him that he’d yoked his fortunes to an alien entity, someone who didn’t really understand him, who he didn’t really connect with. What began with romance and excitement always ended up with boredom or pain.
Pygmalion gave up on love but he still yearned for a woman, and, as is always the way, his desires manifested in his art. In the course of time he successfully carved an amazingly lifelike statue in ivory, an image of — in his eyes — perfect feminine beauty; and then he fell in love with his own creation.
He would run his hands over the beautiful form he had made and imagine his fingers sinking into her flesh. He would bring her the gifts which he believed give pleasure to girls, such as shells from the shore, smooth pebbles, lilies and painted balls. He spoke to her at night, whispering his secrets and his hopes, and when he had a bad day he clung to her and wept. It was kind of pathetic, and he knew it. He was ashamed of himself for loving a mere statue and his shame went with him, causing him to fear real women — in fact fear the world — and he slowly withdrew from society.
Normally such cowardice would be punished by the gods. But Hera, the Queen of Olympus saw that there was some sincerity in his love and a germ of greatness is the force of his desire. She took pity on Pygmalion, and sent Eros down to bring his statue to life. While Pygmalion slept the God of Love fluttered into the workshop, landed on the statue’s shoulder and kissed her softly, bringing human warmth to her lips, then colour to her cheeks and then radiance to her living face. The ivory gradually lost its hardness, softening, sinking, yielding. Imagine beeswax from Mount Hyméttus, softening under the rays of the sun; imagine it moulded by human thumbs into hundreds of different shapes, each touch contributing value… Yes! she was living flesh!
Pygmalion’s dream had come true. This, the perfect woman, was now his — and how lovely she was, how gorgeous to look at. True, the explosive nipples and whippet-thin waist he had originally carved were now lost in the translation to reality, but she was still phenomenally beautiful. And how sweet and gentle she was, how wise too and perceptive. The talk between them flowed easily, but Diana — for this was her name — seemed to understand him without speech, on some strange frequency new to Pygmalion, a world behind the world.
Indeed it was from the underworld that Diana had come. Pygmalion discovered that he hadn’t created her but, through the instincts of his art, has summoned her up from the void where she had, for many years, been imprisoned.
Diana told him that she was once a real woman but her body had been turned to stone, and her spirit thrown into the land of shadows, by being casually loved by a litany of weak men, strutting young thrusters, excitable adolescents posing as men, jelly-jawed drips, autistic mythomaniacs, bores, bastards and cowards. Her intellect had been the first to go; once lightening fast and free, soft and flowing; but slowly hardening into a chaotic river of chatter, data-banks of poetic images, pop concepts and facts, all brilliant, but all hollow. Then her emotions became brittle and spiky, punctuated of course with good feelings; but these left her heavy of heart, discontent and dissatisfied. Eventually her body hardened — first her sinews stiffened, and the tiny muscles around her eyes, then her movements became studied and polished, her lips contorted oddly, before finally her muscles and her flesh turned to cold ivory and her soul drifted down to the underworld.
Pygmalion had brought this unfortunate woman back up from the land of dreams and, through his artist’s skill and devotion, back to life; but this was just the beginning. In fact the kiss of Eros was the easy part. She was flesh now, but all that hardness and hollowness was still inside her; all her old hurt, her ingrained suspicion of men, her plausible ideas, her erratic moods and her hellish outbursts of irrational pain. There would be peace and intimate tenderness and they’d both thank the gods that all was well, before another storm would strike. At first he tried to reason with her, then to explain, then to bargain — he even sank to subtle threats; but all this made her worse. He wondered what he’d got himself into. His mind whirled and reeled like a blind man attacked by bats.
The few days before her period were the worse. She became quiet, withdrawn, tense and dark. But what was most disturbing was not that her mood was altered, but that her face, the very fabric of her matter, now seemed deformed. Just as, in the depths of winter, it is impossible to believe the summer exists, or, in the depths of sadness that you could ever be happy, so Pygmalion found it impossible to believe that this woman had ever been beautiful or ever could be. He didn’t say anything though, he just sat eating his breakfast in the slough of despond, morbidly turning over in his mind the sad fact that, once again, he was imprisoned with an unrecognisable fiendess.
Such dark times didn’t just strike while she was menstruating though. They could be having a wonderful day, drunk on the ambrosia of togetherness, and he could say something, perhaps just a joke, or a comment about his plans for the weekend and suddenly, weirdly, all the warmth would be sucked from the moment, all the softness gone and he’d be skidding around wondering what the hell had happened.
Worst of all though was the sex. What had begun as cascading sheets of loving plasma, washing over their transparent selves, revealing a mysterious and nourishing otherness, slowly became a forms of wrestling. He stopped pouring himself into her eyes and began grasping at her, or manoeuvring her into sexy positions — but never somehow quite sexy enough. Her body became oddly fleshy, uninteresting, bags of fat; meat. He would find himself thinking the strangest things during sex — old girlfriends, where pineapples come from, the word ‘zoon’…
What was going on? Was it that something definable had changed, or was it that the indefinable had evaporated and there was nothing left inside to notice the difference? And what could be done? Should he stay and try to live with things as they now were, or should he leave?
In the end she became moody all the time, needling, suspicious or ‘impossible’. Sometimes she just sat sadly staring out of the window and then, when he tried to cheer her up, she’d snap at him — for being nice! As if he was the problem here! They would have long, grim arguments about nothing at all, stupid things. One time they had a fierce argument about toothpaste. Or they’d go out together and she’d snipe at him in public, put him down. It was all so unfair.
2: the default setting of you is ‘lost’
‘I’ve had enough!’ cried Pygmalion.
He was on his knees in the temple of Hera.
‘Please help me!’ he cried, ‘I just don’t know what to do! You gave me this woman, and now I’m in a kind of hell. I’m flapping about in a reality I neither understand or recognise.’
‘Hello Pygmalion.’ Hera’s serene voice drifted down from above and her golden form shone before him.
‘Hera, my Queen.’
‘So, all the sweetness and mystery has gone has it?’
‘All the strange and delightful togetherness?’
‘And you’re dying to get away?’
‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’
‘It’s all your fault.’
Pygmalion’s heart squeezed in his chest, the old feeling of readying himself for a criticism which may be just, of looking around for an excuse, a justification.
‘You are a child, a chicken, a pool of oil. You don’t deserve a woman, let alone the goddess I sent you.’
‘Goddess? But she’s full of problems, she’s nuts, she’s irrational.’
‘You child, you mouse, you half-a-man — you understand nothing.’
‘Well then, explain, help me.’
‘I’m inclined not to.’
‘There you go again, please. Or sorry. One or the other. Why don’t you front up like a man — a real man — then you might find yourself with a real woman.’
‘So she’s not real?’
‘Do you ever wonder why women seek to be sculpted? Why they yield to the pressure of your desire, encourage it even? And then, why they regret it afterwards, why they are overcome with sadness?’
‘No. I’ve never wondered those things.’
‘Things unsaid will speak in bed.’
It meant nothing, gnomic, foolish — and yet something in him reeled at these words, a quaking sense of vertigo.
‘But what do I do?’ he said, clutching for some procedure, some protocol, ‘I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried worshipping her, reasoning with her, ignoring her, arguing with her…’ he counted off his efforts on his fingers, ‘threatening her, impressing her, blackmailing her, being nice and being kind, giving her what she wants, giving her what she doesn’t want, making her feel jealous and making her feel needed. I’ve offered marriage, kids, money, comfort, prestige and fun… I have tried literally everything.’
‘Well, you’re a literal man, what else can you do?’
‘I don’t understand. I’ve tried to love her.’
‘Trying is the opposite of love.’
‘Then I should give up?’
‘Giving up is the opposite of love.’
‘This makes no sense! How can two opposites be the opposite of something else?’
‘Did you try to bring her to life?’
Pygmalion cast his mind back to his devotion to the stone, the feeling that summoned Diana.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I mean no… but it’s so hard now. It was easy when she was a statue. I loved her then — at least, I think I did. I don’t know. I don’t know if I love her any more.’
‘Well then she’s already lost, and so are you.’
And with these words Pygmalion saw, in the eye of his soul, Diana leaving him. He saw their final argument. He saw her say, ‘well that’s it then,’ and walk out the door. He saw himself watch her leave. He saw all this but, terribly, he felt it also — the helpless plummeting loss of it, the rage of it, the anger and self-pity, the distant sense of ‘what on earth is going on here?’ and ‘is this really happening?’ and, deep in his heart, the sickening world-ending horror of it.
‘I am lost,’ he said.
‘I have given you the gift of heartbreak Pygmalion,’ said Hera.
3: things unsaid will speak in bed
Pygmalion rushed home, simmering with panic that it could still be too late, that she might not be there, that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to bring her back.
He ran into their bedroom. She was there, facing away from him, sitting on the bed. She didn’t look up — not a good sign. Her form, the back of her head, the atmosphere emanating from her flesh was hard, cold, hateful, but Pygmalion was determined.
‘Diana?’ he said.
She didn’t move. He stepped towards her.
She turned her head slightly and shot a gut-wrenching glance at him, her eyes red and narrow. Pygmalion faltered — could this really be his adorable wife? It was hard to imagine such a creature could exist outside of hell. Again he felt, deep in his core, that he had made a mistake, that this was her true self, that he should run, be free — oh, freedom, how good that would be.
But the silent voice of Hera’s heart-broken wisdom whispered to him; forwards.
He stepped towards Diana, and she turned to face him. She was naked, slumped on the bed, ungainly, unfeminine.
‘What do you want?’ she asked. Again, the vibration, the menace behind her words, rattled his heart.
‘I just want to love you,’ he said, pushing away the urge to smuggle a feeble, imploring tone in with this words, the undermessage that she was being unreasonable, that he was the victim here. No. Speak straight, that was the way.
‘Bit late for that,’ she said.
‘It’s not too late,’ he said, distantly aware they were following the same script as every couple on earth. The characters change, the set and the costume; but it was the same dreary play, ‘but of course I love you,’ ‘but you don’t trust me,’ ‘but what about me?’
Yes, the same script — but did that really matter?
He stepped towards her. She really looked ghastly. Oily, lumpen, like a man or a monkey or a witch or god-knows what — but not a woman. Her eyes were beady, her hair lank, her cheeks swollen. Even her smell, once so intoxicating, was fetid, repellant.
‘You don’t love me,’ she said, ‘you don’t love anyone but yourself.’
‘That’s not true.’
Another line from the script, another step forward. Diana’s lips curled into a sneer, her teeth yellow. How is this possible? Her hair — was it falling out? was the fat around her hips growing? were the whites of her eyes turning dark?
Pygmalion reached her, bent down and embraced her. Her body was tense and hard, a revolting dank mulchy smell pulsed over him, folds of fat oozed between his fingers, black pus dribbled from her vagina. It was revolting. Every manifest sense, every sign and signal, said ‘run, run,’ but Pygmalion pushed past them.
‘I love you,’ he said, ‘I love you.’ The words didn’t matter, yet somehow they helped him reach into the empty place, reach past this monstrous form. Somehow they dissolved the what about me, the urge to get, to have her there for him, somehow they softened the woman-shaped screen that he pulled over her, the invisible film that had come between them.
Tentacles slid from between her legs, rancid polyps rippled over her face, a thick black lizard’s tongue lashed out of her mouth as her skin began falling away, revealing worms and slime and all imaginable foulness. Diana’s skeletal fingers dug into his back, her scrawny, scabby legs clasped him and her toothless mouth whispered in his ear, ‘it’s not me’.
And with those words, a surge of courage reached up to meet Pygmalion’s shrinking heart — something inside him that said the same thing. Lifted, from nowhere, he felt himself pushed through to the void at the heart of Diana, and flung, his full being, into it. Compelled, despite every repelled thought, to give up completely, to reach into the abyss.
And then, for a moment, everything stopped. There was no Pygmalion, no Diana, no sense or thought, no here and no there. For a moment he and she were in deep dreamless sleep, withdrawn completely from the world, yet utterly one with the black matter of it. For one timeless moment he and she here were you there aren’t I?
4: and it happened every day
Diana came out of the bathroom with a cotton pad and began rubbing Pygmalion’s nose.
‘What is that thing?’ he asked.
‘Skin,’ she said.
‘But what are you rubbing me with?’
‘Toner. Is that okay?’
‘Do we need to do the shopping today?’ he said.
‘No, I don’t think so,’ she said, ‘unless you want some peanuts?’
‘No, I’m okay. We’ll go tomorrow.’