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The Thought Collector

I am tense. I am bent over. I am contemplating the human condition. My elbow is on its opposite knee, my chin rests on the back of my hand. I am always that way.

I have a large family. I have twenty-two twins scattered across four continents. I have hundreds of other siblings but no mother.

My father, Auguste Rodin, was French and born in 1840. He died at seventy-seven; a ripe old age at the time. He wore a beret, of course, and pince-nez glasses. His long beard looked as if it were pulled from the fleece of a Mongolian sheep; thick, long and crimped. His forehead bore a profound frown and his nose was prominent, hooked. We all loved him without condition. He was our father, a dreamer and a creator. I share his knitted brow. I am made in his image. I was born from Dante’s ‘Inferno’. I sat at the gates of Hell.

Right now, I don’t know where I am. Nobody but him, my thief, knows where I am.

It’s ten years today since Laura touched me, on her first day at work on a reception desk in the World Trade Centre in New York City. As her finger caressed the curve of my bicep she thought about beauty – mine and that of the view she saw from the window on floor 101, out across Manhattan. She was overwhelmed by it, thrilled to have landed this job fresh out of college. Laura was really happy in that moment. She was also just a few weeks pregnant, and was worrying about how her new employers would take it when it was time to share the news with them.

I have no working eyes or ears myself, no sense of smell or ability to taste, but when a human touches me, I collect their thoughts.

I was then considered the property of a company called Cantor Fitzgerald. I may still be. But I was more than just another piece in their collection; I was their symbol. Despite this I was mostly unseen, certainly rarely touched, even though I had a position of prominence in their lobby. The bankers in the sky were often too busy to stop, and think.

On Laura’s second day she stood once again marvelling at the view and her good fortune, rubbing a taut tendon in my shoulder. Abruptly, her mood changed and thoughts tumbled out of her so fast I had to grab them quickly before they were lost. She had felt the building shake as she heard an enormous explosion, she smelled smoke and gasoline, people were running around her full of fright. She thought about her lover, the father of her unborn child and recalled a row they’d had the night before. She had casually suggested that since they were having a baby together, perhaps he might want to rethink his job as a fire fighter. She was concerned it was too dangerous, was scared that she might lose him. She did not want to be a single mother. He had been upset. Fire fighting was his life. He did not want to give it up. He was offended. He had suggested that maybe he wasn’t good enough for her now, now that she was living in the world of high finance. His pager had bleeped and he’d left, to go do his job. She was asleep when he’d returned. He’d been asleep when she’d left their apartment less than an hour earlier to come to work. She disappeared and my world went black.

Seconds later she was back and terrified, gripping my knee for support. She was willing him to pick up the phone, railing at him for failing to do so. She was listening to the rings and the voices shouting that there was no way out. She was watching the colleagues she barely knew jump from the windows. She thought, without any uncertainty, that she and her baby were about to die and that she had failed to speak to him, to Joe, to tell him she loved him, tell him she’d always love him, tell him goodbye. I was at the gates of Hell, in an inferno.

It was days before I collected another thought. The thought was:

“What the hell is this?” A glove was touching my hand. It was brushing the ashes off me with relief that I wasn’t another human body part, wondering what I was, how I had survived in one piece a fall of around quarter a mile. I was hot apparently, but he lifted me and placed me upright. Then he remembered something. Something that Laura had told him, when she described her new workplace to him as she’d sipped on a glass of iced tea he’d brought her, before they’d started to row. She’d told him about me, about how when she looked at me she felt she could solve any problem, work anything out. She’d said she’d loved everything about her new workplace but that I was her absolute favourite thing there. He’d made a joke about his only rival being made of metal.

He recognised me, through her. He knelt and hugged me until the heat from the smouldering debris was burning his knees and in one heft he lifted me up and doggedly began to carry me, a twenty-eight inch high lump of crafted bronze.

He remembered how, the first night he and Laura had slept together, he had heaved her up and carried her to his bedroom. Laura wasn’t one of those half-starved things that populated Manhattan. She had proper curves. Joe liked that. He had a few himself. She’d liked his show of strength, said she found it really sexy. She called him ‘Bear’. Her big, cuddly, brutally strong Bear. He was surprised to find himself crying, the tears streaking the dirt caked onto his face. They had been slow to come, but through me he felt her again.

He greeted his friend and colleague, Chuck and when he was asked what he had there, he hesitated. He had part of Laura. He’d wanted to keep it to himself. Chuck thought I looked important. Joe thought Chuck meant valuable. Chuck was always after money. Chuck took a photo of me and Joe together, Joe uncomfortable, wanting to hide me away. Thinking he wanted to find my rightful owner perhaps, definitely that he wanted to keep Chuck away from me. They left me in a shed. They had work to do.

Later, I was in Joe’s arms again. He was finding it difficult to see in the dark, dropped the keys to his van in the dust, balanced me heavy on his knee as he carefully wrapped me in a blanket.

Then we were here. He spent the first month polishing me. Almost every thought he had was about Laura and their baby. How they had met, all the things they had planned to do together. Would it have been a boy or a girl? What would they have been when they grew up? Would they have had children of their own? He cried as he touched me.

He went out to work, clearing Ground Zero. One day he was even shown the picture Chuck had taken of the two of us together. He was told that I had disappeared and asked if he knew anything about it. He had said no, art wasn’t really his thing. Everyone knew how little Joe cared for money, so Chuck became the main suspect. Chuck told him he hadn’t taken me, but he had wished he had. He’d found out how much I was worth. But he confessed he wouldn’t have known how to sell me. Further investigations were barely pursued. Cantor Fitzgerald had lost two thirds of their workforce and their business was on the verge of collapse. Everyone had bigger things to worry about than where I’d got to, Joe concluded as he sat, buffing me with an old t-shirt one night.

Ten years have passed since Laura first touched me. Since she left, there’s only been me and Joe. He takes my little hand, big for my body, but me scaled down and he talks to me, even though I can hear his thoughts anyway, I savour and save every one. There have been many times when he hasn’t wanted to carry on, when he’s failed to see the point. But he hasn’t wanted to abandon his mother, who needs him more and more. He has been told over and over to get out there, meet someone else, but he doesn’t want to and when he’s tried to, he’s found he only wants Laura. Every anniversary he has sat with me and wept for what he has lost. He has never told anyone about me. I am not lonely, but Joe is. I will be around for hundreds, maybe thousands or more years. But Joe only has one short lifetime here, but I can only collect thoughts, I cannot project them, even though he is sensitive enough to feel that I have some of Laura’s, some of Laura, held within me. I despair for him, but I cannot help him. All I can do is listen and be his link to his lost love.

On this though, the tenth anniversary, a hand is resting on my head, thoughts dripping into me, this receptacle for ideas, emotions, arguments, theories.

“Will he mind? Or will he think I’m snooping? This is amazing! What’s it doing here – it’s completely out of place. Sat on the coffee table in the middle of this tiny room, only big enough for one chair. It’s beautiful though.” I like it when they think about me. They usually do a lot to begin with, but then I fade into their backgrounds. Not with Joe though. Joe always finds something new in me. In ten years you’d think he’d have found every part of me, but no, there are conjunctions and symmetries that Auguste designed into me that still surprise him.

She’s cold, and she wraps Joe’s shirt tighter round her body, breathing in his scent. My big hands remind her of his, how they felt on her small breasts as they had drunkenly made love last night after burritos and tequila. She’s ecstatic, buzzing, still drunk she thinks. She’s been waiting, hoping for this for weeks. Was convinced in fact that he wasn’t attracted to her in that way, that they were just going to be friends. She thinks of how warm it must be, next to him in bed upstairs and she slips away.

Joe is conflicted. He cannot imagine his life without me in it. But he thinks he has to let me go. His last tie to Laura. He is at last heeding the advice he has been given. Her name is Nathalie. She has two children and an ex-husband. She could have more children though, maybe one or two of Joe’s. That’s what she’s said anyway. He picks me up and takes me down to the garage, wrapped in a blanket. He doesn’t know where he’s taking me. He’s just going to drive.

He’s struggling down the steps. It’s quiet, like he’d hoped. The lighting’s bright in here but he’s pretty sure nobody saw him take me out of the back of his van. He’s standing on the platform. There’s a homeless guy flopped against a wall, an empty whiskey bottle by his limp hand. He resolves to leave him the blanket I’m wrapped in when he’s done.

This is where he first met Laura. She was stood right there. The platform was busy, mid afternoon. He was on his way to his mother’s house, to clean her gutters. Laura was on her way to college, clutching a pile of papers. It was early spring and she was wearing a lemon yellow dress, her bare legs always brown, her dark, tumbling curls obscuring her face. A fight broke out a little further down the platform and after a short tussle, Joe on the precipice of intervention, a teenage boy shot past, weaving, through the crowd, heading for the exit, knocking into Laura as he passed as the train pulled in. Her papers, loose, flew up in the air, then scattered around her as he watched in slow motion, further disturbed by the slipstreams.

In a couple of lopes he was crouching next to her, grabbing papers as people stepped off and on the train which then pulled out. Joe rescued the last sheet from where it threatened to land on the tracks. The writing on it was neat and curved like her. The few words he caught referred to revenues and forecasts; business language.

‘Shit,’ Laura said and then gave him a lopsided smile in apology. ‘I was already late. But thanks, thanks so much for helping me.’ She put her hand on his arm and he felt a shock run up his spine. She gazed up at him, her dark brown eyes friendly and full of gratitude. For a moment he couldn’t find the words, he wasn’t practiced in the art of pick up. But he asked her for her number, if she’d like to go for a drink sometime. She wrote it on his hand and said she’d like to see him that night. And that was it. That easy, that certain, that start to a life together where neither of them had imagined for a moment they wouldn’t grow old together.

Joe’s last thought as he left me on the station platform to be admired by the commuters on their way to work on the anniversary of Laura’s, and five thousand others’, death the next morning was;
‘Goodbye, Laura. I’ll always miss you.’


About Helen J Beal

I love writing, reading, sailing, water, beaches, knitting sometimes, cakes, cashmere, silk and prosecco always and the odd pork pie. Give me fresh air and a good night's sleep and I can win the world.

One comment on “The Thought Collector

  1. Peronius
    July 21, 2012

    This is another really fine story. There seems to me a link between this and The Sculptor’s Muse in that both employ anthropomorphism to extend the human experience beyond the human. The sculpture is a clever choice because of its ability to survive the catastrophe that kills Laura and to symbolize the lasting love between her and Joe. Brilliant.

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This entry was posted on May 22, 2012 by in Short Story and tagged , , , , , , , , .


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