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  • Writer's pictureAlan Allinger

Sculpted by Committee

Sculpted by Committee

We had gone to see a Banksy exhibit, and it took a little time to go through because it was large and semi-interactive. Afterwards we began drifting through the industrial park outside the gallery, talking about why we’d enjoyed both the work and the sentiments expressed by the different pieces.

“I love the bite,” Mother was saying as we made our way back out onto the street. I nodded in agreement, knowing what she meant. We stopped suddenly, because something felt off. My eyes immediately went to the odd thing we were passing.

“Is that really a tree?” I asked. I didn’t need to point to it. Mother shook her head.

“No,” she said decisively. She stared for a few seconds, and then turned to face me. “Are we in Culver City?” she asked.

“Technically, yes.” Los Angeles was a couple of blocks further south. She nodded.

“Then… well yes, it is a tree now. But as you can see,” and here she gave an small gesture, “it… didn’t start out as one.”

At first glance you’d think it was a tree, but it looked more like an art student’s project, something that was more an interpretation of what a tree might look like. Mostly it looked alright, but there were subtle issues of proportion and placement that critics or teachers might take exception with. I glanced at my watch.

“It’s a holiday weekend, so we have some time before it will get crowded at the Nickel,” I said. That was our usual breakfast stop on Sundays. “Do you want to tell me the story? Because I think I should like to hear it.” Mother was now looking at the tree with narrowed eyes, as if it had said something to annoy her.

“One of the problems of getting older,” she remarked, “is that you don’t always remember exactly why you made certain choices.” She gave her lips a little twist, the one I’d seen thousands of times. In a way it was reassuring. “But this one I remember too clearly, and why. There was a man, someone like us, who had… well, that’s not relevant, especially.” I waited for more. She tapped her fingers against one thigh, staring at the tree, and I saw it unfurling. “But I decided to get your aunts involved.”

I could see the event, now, my mother and two of her sisters standing to form a triangle around a solid, bearded man who looked angry and was saying words of power and making meaningful gestures that should have channeled his energy outward, but nothing was happening. His eyes widened as he discovered his powers were sluggish and immobile, not under his control and certainly not projecting from his body. His face began to show his shock at the lack of response. Looking past his shoulder I watched my Aunt Clementine give a little whirl of her arm and saw the man sink into the ground up to his knees. Aunt Ravinia planted her cane in the earth and closed her eyes for an exhalation, and his skin turned to bark. Leaves and twigs began to pop out along his arms, ripping their way through flesh in such a way that they must be causing horrible pain. The skin on his face was lined and rigid, freezing into a shocked mask of horror, and then my mother stepped into his line of sight and locked eyes with him. When she snapped her fingers, he no longer resembled anything like a man. The vision faded into the present reality.

“Tell me what he had done,” I asked. Mother shook her head, but gave me half an answer.

“He did something… that involved a child,” was all she said. I understood her meaning well enough to give the tree a glare. “It would take the three of us acting in concert to undo it, and that will never happen.”

She gave a little snap of her fingers, and a small fragment of fire struck the tree, scorching the bark. The whole thing gave a visible shiverer. She nodded in satisfaction.

“Let’s go downtown and get that brunch,” she said. “A mimosa sounds very good right now.”

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