The bell on his studio door jangled cheerily, and, when Josiah looked up, there were two girls, the oldest maybe 17, but with a stressed look of haunted avoidance in what might have been bright blue eyes. The other, a Polynesian beauty, was maybe a year younger, and focused directly on him.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said, before Josiah even got his mouth open to give a greeting.
“Good morning”, he said, with a smile. “How may I help you?”
The fair girl stared around the room, almost as though seeing none of it; maybe she didn’t. The other held to her arm, propelled her forward gently. “Come on, Marilyn – you said this was what you wanted.”
“But if we talk to him – then it’s real.”
The words struck Josiah uncomfortably, as though they held a deeper message; one she hadn’t intended, and one he’d rather not hear.
“It’s real whether you ask him or not -”
“Ophelia, please don’t – ” Now, she spoke as if pained, putting a hand up between them as though to ward off the words. She tugged her arm, but not strongly enough to free it.
“Will it help Mauve to pretend that you’ve got no reason to be here, Marilyn? Will it help you?”
The blue eyed girl looked at him in a flinching way. “I like your sculptures,” she said, in little more than a whisper, then bowed her head and stared at her feet, clad in scuffed suede sandals.
“Thank you. Feel free to look around, touch, and ask me anything.” He gestured to the refreshment table set in a corner. It was ringed with plants and his garden art. It was a refuge, a place where people could take in the sculpture, consider special orders, or just rest and relax. Most businesses here at Kifo had something like this; many of their guests needed both space and special attention. “Help yourselves to coffee, tea, or juice, if you’d like.”
The older girl almost pulled the other now, and they murmured softly to one another as they settled, going about the small business of pouring, sweetening, and stirring.
Josiah thought that it would be better to move about the shop than to settle back to work. So he brought out his feather duster and lemongrass cleaning spray, and wandered here and there while maintaining a posture he hoped the girls would see as open and receptive. He made sure never to turn more than halfway toward or away from them – something Corinne had shown him, a way to neither confront nor ignore uncomfortable guests.
The fairer girl hunched over her cup as if in pain, her eyes darting here and there, as though she half-suspected someone or something would leap out of the greenery and attack her. The other sat, calm, but also poised for motion, too.
He was wondering if he would run out of things to fuss over when the older girl said, in a softly broken voice, “I was told you made sculptures to order…”
Josiah nodded and came a half-step closer. “I do.”Instinct told him to say nothing more, to let her decide what to say, and how.
“I have a baby daughter.” It was almost fierce, the way she said that, with the most energy she’d shown since she walked in, and, now, she looked at him directly.
Josiah wondered how he was supposed to answer that, so he nodded and said, “May I sit with you?”
She nodded, biting at her lip, then almost hid behind her hair and her teacup.
He pulled his chair a little away, so that he could sit sideways, and not confront her. The dark girl mouthed, “Thank you,” but stayed still and quiet – waiting, now, to see what Marilyn would do.
“Mauve is dying.” A catch in her throat, and tears in her eyes. “Will you sculpt her, while she’s still alive? Will you make my baby an angel?”
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