Jac Jemc

My Wife, the Weight

Caryatids fascinated my wife.

Admiring the weight on their shoulders, she wandered museums, her favorites those that appeared close to being driven into the ground by their burdens.

In a sculpture court of salvaged caryatids, she composed extemporaneous bad poetry. "Oh caryatid! Crumpled from your contrapposto! Hair flung free and body cramping from resolution!"

She affected faints and melodrama for these ancient women and I laughed, knowing it's what she wanted of me.

She latched onto my arm and we walked, her hand tightening when we passed one she particularly liked. It had recently rained. The pavement was still damp in spots.

We sat on a cold bench and my wife smiled at an old man passing by on a cane, stooped a bit into his leaning.

"Look at that smile," he said. He stopped and turned to me, "You see that smile everyday?"

I smiled now, as well, "I most certainly do, sir."

"Sir?" He huffed. "Is my father around here somewhere? I've never been a sir, and I'm not going to start now." The man looked at least eighty years old.

"My apologies. Just trying to be respectful."

"Age shouldn't immediately demand respect. Let that be your lesson for the day, boy." He frowned merrily, looking past us to a caryatid, then turned again. "May I sit down?" My wife raised her eyebrows at his forwardness, then scooted enough for him to take a seat next to her. "These statues are lovely aren't they? An entire garden of caryatids, can you imagine? Did you know that? That they were all caryatids?"

My wife nodded, "That's why we came. I love caryatids, the idea of a form made to bear all that weight."

The man was out of breath from walking. His chest rose and fell laboriously; he coughed when he tried to slow himself. "Magnificent, aren't they? People always obsess over the strength of men, they retell the story of Atlas holding up the world, Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain, but look at these women. Show me the man who could so elegantly hold up his half of a lintel. Look at the pyraxilean s-curve of that torso, how one hip juts out, how she tucks one shoulder. The substance of her, how could anything be more beautiful? You know, my wife was like that. Never asked me to open a jar for her, always got a stepping stool if she couldn't reach something. When we were first married she carried a child on each hip for months at a time."

"They're very real figures, aren't they?" My wife said. "Women strong enough to hold up buildings need mass, some curve for balance." She looked at me, then back at the gentleman. "Which is your favorite?"

The man thought. "Definitely the one crouching in the corner. It's the most honest. It says what the rest avoid. Eventually a woman collapses under the weight. No matter how strong she is, she'll be overcome. You probably think me pessimistic, but it's the end of this kind of story." He rose and walked toward the far corner of the courtyard. When he was a few steps ahead, my wife stood to follow him. I sat on the bench a moment before I followed them both.

Once caught up to the old man, my wife said, "This one, huh?" She made a slow circle around the statue.

"Absolutely," the man said. "See the twist of her neck? Her arms have given out, and now the stone grinds against the delicate bone of her clavicle. Every second she wonders if she should let the weight drop, but she suffers on. Out of pride, perhaps, or duty at any cost."

My wife examined the statue as if evaluating weak spots on the woman's frame, wondering what would give next.

"What's tragic is her only escape now is to collapse, and it's sure to crush her. She hasn't the strength simply to set it aside. She's waited too long. She'll become a victim of her pride."

"So you think she should have given up?" my wife asked.

"Well, for the sake of her survival? Yes. Who cares about pride when you're dead?"

My wife walked to my side, took my arm. She was still smiling. "Not pride," she said. "Honor." As we walked away, she called back, "Pleasure meeting you. Stay warm out here."

She guided us through the double glass doors and the old man called out, "I see it now. It's a tricky smile, fella. Watch out."

My wife pulled the door shut behind us. "He's right," she said. "Age shouldn't immediately demand respect."

Jac Jemc's work has appeared or is forthcoming from Caketrain, Opium, No Colony, Hotel St. George, Sleepingfish, A Handsome Journal, Bird Dog, Circumference, Tarpaulin Sky, Zoland Poetry, 5_trope, The Denver Quarterly, Lark Magazine, No Posit, Prick of the Spindle and elimae. She completed her MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. You can view a blog of her recent rejections at jacjemc.wordpress.com