The plaster head has a bubbly, oatmeal texture, but hers is not a face you’d want to lick, like a spoon coming up from good work in the pot. Life-size, or nearly so. For six years it sat in a box on the top shelf in his bedroom closet, next to the airplane neck pillow (bought in a Berlin terminal, he used it exactly once). I can hear the head tumbling as I turn onto Texas. She was a kind woman, everyone used to say even when she was alive, the kindness that impresses cats, all tarot readings and exotic cigarettes. She saw the flinch at the heart of you but lied and shook out stories instead.
Mother was a sculptor he told me, early on when we were unpacking his diplomas. She had only one subject—herself. I admit, mostly I pile groceries in the back seat so I can hear Helda’s finest work spinning out in darkness. I change lanes quickly, slam brakes, listen for crunched bones or flaking nose. Yet I loved her, love her still. Like chewing ice, a pleasure you pay for.
He told me she took a road trip to California with friends in ’46, ’47. Later she took pictures of the pyramids—really, two dozen shots of her ear, desert, and blue sky behind. And they were beautiful, every ear untouched by shame. At Easter she’d pull them out, the shots from Egypt, Beirut, the Holy Land. And laugh, stroke their slickness.
Isn’t it a little weird, I once asked my husband, that Helda shaped only her own head, a hundred-odd pieces over decades? Mirror work mostly, in the studio shed out back, where we now store a lawnmower and ant poison. That’s what I liked most about Mother, he said. Not once did she have us sit. Every head she dropped in big cloth bags, hung from the studio ceiling. She never looked at them again, never shared or spoke a word in their interest.