was a girl sitting on a stump. Her father said wait here, so she waited
in a patch of sun at the forest’s edge while the thickets darkened. Now
we can say there had to be things eventually, but back then there weren’t
any things. There was no stuff. They did have a number of specifics:
flint, bone, brother, hunk of meat, rat. And they had not-a-thing. They
had missing tooth. They had hole. The girl demonstrated
this by poking the mud over and over with a stick. While she perforated
the ground she was thinking about how much the gods must want to fuck
her. She thought about how intensely the gods must love her, to send her
such a warm day, with lusty breezes that swirled around her body like
hands. She touched her chest. God I’m stacked, she thought.
girl bent down and started to squish the warm mud between her fingers.
She mashed it around and picked pebbles out of it until it turned into
a springy dough that she could thumb into different shapes. After a while
it started to resemble her—although with a blobby head and bigger boobs
than she actually possessed, plus a swollen butt. She turned it over in
her hands. It reminded her of a very small baby. On second thought, it
was more like something that had come out of her ear.
The girl almost loved it, but
it bothered her. The more she stared at it, eyeless and brown, with a
light tack, the more she thought it must have something inside it. Something
very good or else wrong. This gave her a weird feeling, like someone was
watching her pee.
Anyway, she put the thingy
on the rock and leaned back to soak up the last delicious drops of the
afternoon. But when she let her mind drift, she found that instead of
thinking about how much the gods wanted to fuck her, she thought about
how much they wanted to give it to the voluptuous little figurine instead.
They were all hot for that mud tart! Under these circumstances, it seemed
obvious that the best thing to do was to squish it back into the ground.
Bye bye, she muttered (acidly), her fist raised, but at that exact second
her father walked up and snatched the figurine away.
“Holy moly!” he said. His big
jaw sagged in shock. “I almost thought of this once! This is like one
of those things you almost think about—like when you’re looking for something
for so long, you forget you’re even looking for it. That’s just so weird.”
Then the father strode off
in the direction of the encampment, marveling at the little figure in
The girl began to scream with
rage. Ahhh! She grabbed another lump of clay from the earth and set out
to make a second figurine—the same globes for breasts, the same ripe and
clefted butt, the same football-shaped head. Immediately upon finishing
it she destroyed it. She punched it, and kept punching it until her knuckles
bled and swelled, but she was still sobbing and she still had a feeling
that she could never get rid of it, like some bug from a dream you can
never permanently kill.
When the girl returned to the
encampment, she wasn’t all that surprised to see that the other members
of her tribe had started to model their own mud figures. There were a
half dozen voluptuous dolls on display in front of tents. It was like
an infectious disease. And with each figurine she discovered, the girl
felt a bit of herself devoured. Each was a piece of her that had been
kidnapped and then reduced to a form both simpler and stronger than she
“This is gonna make me pregnant,”
bragged one lady, a mean aunt without teeth who the girl didn’t like the
“It’s only dirt,” the girl
pointed out, choking back snot.
“But,” said the aunt, “she
looks fertile. She’s mine. She’s going to make me have a baby.”
The girl wandered from tent
to tent, making sure. Yeah, they were everywhere. Then she crumpled in
the middle of the camp and wept. By now she was covered in mud and dust
and had begun to resemble the clay figurine herself, but it didn’t matter,
she wasn’t one. She couldn’t be turned over or owned or clutch some nugget
of magic inside the way the clay girl could. She could never be both so
complete and so mute. Now the question wasn’t when the gods would
descend from the heavens and fuck her silly, but if, given the
competition, they’d bother to do it all.
Later there was a different cave girl who didn’t have any parents. They
had been trampled in a hunting accident when she was a baby. She lived
with a heartless crone who made her sweep out the cave everyday, and chew
hides, and collect armloads of spider-infested wood. All this in order
to earn her keep. The crone was silent and ugly and fed the girl half-rotting
meat. She didn’t love the girl. No one did.
One day when the cave girl
was gathering roots on the plain, she happened upon a handsome young cave
man with beautiful, strong arms. He was hunting giant ground sloth with
a spear. He had a half-wild dog named Flower who helped him hunt, and
when Flower saw the cave girl he barked and barked until the handsome
cave man told him to shut up. When the dog wouldn’t stop, the cave man
He told the girl he was real
sorry about that and touched her hand. Then he stared off into the distance
while he asked for her address.
The cave girl was elated because
the hunter was ruggedly handsome. When she looked at his arms, so lumpy
with muscles they were like snakes digesting rodents, her mouth started
to water and her mind became absolutely empty.
Once she was back home with
the crone, all she could think about was the hunter. She stood at the
lip of the cave, scanning the horizon, possessed of the clear and certain
knowledge that at any moment he was going to come over the rise, and walk
into the cave, and crush her against his chest while the crone huddled
in the corner because that mean dog Flower would be slavering and growling
at her. The cave girl knew this was going to happen, even though
day after day, it kept not happening. It was depressing. Finally she decided
to do this new thing she’d thought up earlier, during the long, boring
days when she sat in the back of the cave chewing on stinking hides. It
was a very powerful and scary thing, but she decided to do it anyway because
she had one of those crushes on the hunter where she couldn’t stop thinking
So she made the world on the
wall of the cave with charcoal, ground rock dust, and the powdered husks
of beetles. She made horses and rivers and foxes and trees. She made the
birds that sing. It wasn’t their full shapes she made, but the shadows
they’d cast at dawn or sunset—just the basics, just the soul of the thing.
She made the hunter with arms and legs bulging with muscle tissue, and
beside him a little dog with his snout open, barking. She put him in the
center of the world. Then she made herself, comely and reaching towards
It took her an entire day.
She had to grind up the pigments in her mouth, so she went hungry while
she did it.
Meanwhile the vicious crone
was visiting friends, and smoking a pipe, and eating fresh meats rubbed
with fat and herbs. When she returned in the evening, the crone saw the
world the girl had made. The bright animals, illuminated by the light
of the fire, seemed to prance upon the rock wall. The trees of the plain
seemed to sway in the wind. The crone panicked. She’d never seen a representation
of anything. No one had. She quivered with fear in the corner. She was
particularly afraid of the picture of the dog, with her gleaming fangs.
But in essence she was afraid of all the things the cave girl had
drawn on the rock. They weren’t real, but they weren’t fake either—they
inhabited some phantom realm in between that had the power of the invisible
The cave girl was overjoyed.
She had made the world! Yes! The next day the hunter came to see her and
they played a game with bones on the floor of the cave and groomed each
other shyly. The cave girl was so happy that it took her a while to notice
that she was still dissatisfied. Because she was more fond of the likeness
of the hunter than she was of the man himself.
In the morning the servant girl woke up, pulled on a sackcloth dress,
and limped into the kitchen. The girl was known in the village as “La
Putrella” because she was homely, and one of her legs was shorter than
the other. Even so, she was good-tempered and faced the disappointments
of her life with a bright smile. She put the kettle on and wiped the soles
of her feet with a rag. She could see that the weather was going to turn
warm, and she thanked God in heaven for sending the world such a beautiful
One by one, the other servants joined her in the kitchen. La Putrella
cringed when the scullery maid known as Gina sauntered in, straightening
her little bonnet. Gina was a pretty girl with fine, strong limbs and
white teeth. It was obvious that her greatest pleasure in life was to
taunt La Putrella. Every day Gina reminded the servant girl how stupid
she found her, how overwhelmingly insignificant. “The way you cut bread,”
Gina pointed out (in Italian), “is remarkably awkward. You are disgraceful!”
Then Gina limped heavily around the kitchen, with her thick hair swinging
behind her, in an impression of La Putrella. The others laughed.
La Putrella sawed away at the loaf, and said nothing.
Later they carried sacks of linens to the river and started plunging dirty
sheets into the water. La Putrella tried to situate herself far from the
sharp-tongued Gina. There beside the river, La Putrella found herself
overwhelmed with the beauty of the day, despite the insults of her comrades.
She thought (in Italian): Oh, but it’s lovely! Someone should bottle this
and seal it with a cork, like wine!
Even so, it wasn’t enough. Though God had made the day, and tossed it
to her like a jewel, her instincts told her that something was lacking.
Now we might say that La Putrella felt that such loveliness needed to
be recorded in some way. It needed a vantage point from which to be seen.
But at the time she just thought (in Italian): This day could use a little
“Look at her,” Gina said. “She’s so stupid she can’t even keep her mind
on something as simple as the washing. She stares up into the heavens
like an imbecile.”
La Putrella renewed her fervently held hope that Gina would be discovered
stealing vegetables from the master’s larder. She would be lashed to the
wheel and dismembered while everyone jeered.
“Stupid slut! You’re doing it wrong!” Gina shrieked. She grabbed the linen
from La Putrella’s hands and slapped her across the check with the wet
It was outrageous! Yet no one stood up for her; none of the other girls
so much as blinked at her. The only one who cared for her was God.
With tears in her eyes, La Putrella limped away from the river, towards
a small chapel. The church was closed, as the Bishop was having it redone,
but on such a beautiful day the workmen had naturally flung open the door
to admit the breeze.
Once inside, she could only make out a few dim forms: a cross, the altar,
the workmen standing on scaffolding daubbing pigments on wet plaster.
As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she found herself faced with a dazzling
sight: the plaster was soaked with colors so bright and true they seemed
lit from within. The pictures themselves were an amazement—it was as though
windows had been cut into the walls of the church, little frames of space
and light with the Holy Family crouching inside like chipmunks on a ledge.
She’d never seen anything like it.
She drew closer. Wherever she looked it was as though she was at the center
of it, looking in—like she was the divine eye that sees all, even Gina
being a bitch. La Putrella felt that if she were to stretch out her arms
toward a picture, she’d be within it.
She reached towards a fresco of Jesus, naked and bleeding on the cross.
Behind him were beautiful hills studded with olive trees. Within, the
sun was bright. Her arms disappeared inside, smeared with pigment, and
the rest of her body followed. There was a dizziness. And then the world
A college girl sat in her seat during the Art History lecture. Slides
of Gothic cathedrals leapt up on the screen. She wasn’t paying attention.
She had just cut out a picture from a magazine of a famous actor whom
she wanted to be her boyfriend. He was rich, famous, and good-looking
but a little ravaged, like his face had been sandblasted by his bad-boy
ways. If he really knew her, she thought, he’d probably love her, and
she could clean his stylish apartment and prepare food for him while he
was off making movies during the day. (No! I won’t tolerate a maid in
here! she’d protest.) Then, without exactly knowing why, she took her
scissors and cut off his head. Something clawed at the pit of her stomach
then, some sharpened sense of dread. She felt guilty, as though she had
really beheaded him. Now he’d never love her.