That evening, like so many other evenings, Jakob was alone with his work-in-progress in his studio above the Grove. She was lying there on a table, moulded breasts rising and falling as she breathed in and out, and out, exhaling a fog of androgynous Comme des Garçons parfum mixed with animal pheromones he’d purchased online from a scientific supplies company Anastasiya had recommended to him. Her resemblance to Anna-Sophie Zucker was no accident—Jakob had been paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Hollywood animatronics specialist and swapping works with an art-collecting plastic surgeon, in return for their help in making the sculpture look, and move, like her—but she was still missing some body parts, having only one arm, no back, a temporary ass splattered in paint from the studio, and legs made of polished glass that finished around the ankles. He was pleased that some of her limbs were missing. The absences made for a more interesting form.
In a moment of inspiration, Jakob had given her a marble phallus modelled on his own, but smoother and more tumescent. He’d played around with adding a smaller, more classical reproduction of his penis but had settled, in the end, for a significantly larger, more engorged variation. But wasn’t every artwork a self-portrait? He stood admiring her for ages. As he’d hoped, her affect was similar to that of the Borghese Hermaphrodite, a bronze of which had been acquired by Diego Velázquez in Rome in the seventeenth century, that resembles a sleeping girl from the back and a gorgeous young androgyne from the front. Jakob’s dream was that visitors coming to his studio might feel like Velázquez wandering into the Villa Borghese, up on the Pincian Hill, amongst the umbrella pines.
He often wished he could experience what it felt like to really be desired, and attract the attentions of strangers. Sometimes he lay there on his photocopier daydreaming about this until he fell asleep. Jakob would read, in the pages of magazines, about figures from the LGBTQIA2 community that were described as “beautiful”, and “inspiring”, and he would think, “Why can’t I be described as beautiful, why can’t I be described as inspiring for a change?” But, of course, there were many reasons for this.
He paced up and down through the room, stopping only to dress and undress the automaton in clothes he had borrowed from Nordstrom, the boring department store on the other side of the mall, including some tasteful cream maternity wear designed by the President’s more attractive daughter. He also tried some of the more conservative nightgowns from the Victoria’s Secret store. Jakob liked to break into these stores at night, when they were cloaked in darkness, and admire the mannequins and try things on. At moments like these he would often think of Rainer Maria Rilke, whose mother used to make him act out the role of his dead sister, and would dress him in sweet pinafores and blouses throughout his childhood: “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror”.
This was going to be Jakob’s masterpiece. He could tell. Finally, it was happening. He looked at the glassy backs of her knees and wanted to come onto them, to piss on them and spit on them and bleed on them and smear everything around with his fingers and palms—which might, indeed, magically help turn her into a real person—but refrained from doing so, in case it shorted her circuitry. He was concerned about the waterproofing along the seams, as he had no trust whatsoever in the competence of any of his assistants, who were not successful artists like him, and frequently had weed delivered to the studio when they were supposed to be working, or helped themselves to his boxes of LaCroix sparkling water without asking. The happiest times were when they were not there.
Jakob carried her unfinished, deconstructed body out to the balcony, and did not care who could see them up there. In the moonlight she really looked like Anna-Sophie Zucker, he thought. Someday he would ask Young Mmoon for his opinion on the resemblance, but he was waiting for the right moment, knowing from experience that these things could become awkward between friends.
He took the sculpture into his arms and kissed her. Her lips were moist, her cheeks dewy, her silicon flesh was more ripe than before. He felt that she was kissing him back, mouthing something—wanting to say something, but not having a tongue. He placed the tall chestnut praline latte that he had purchased for her on the coffee table. At his request there was no name written on the red paper cup. The baristas had become very angry about this.
At last, the pair of them could embrace: the real, and sculpted, and missing parts of their bodies now interlocking and folding together as one. How long had he waited for this moment?
It began to snow. Not to snow, exactly, but the snow machines above the outdoors mall began to blow on the stroke of every hour, in the evenings, from November onwards. From concealed vents on top of the cinema, on top of the Barnes & Noble, the Starbucks, the Cheesecake Factory and the faded copper roofs of the other façades, they were blowing a warm tempest over 1st Street and the Grove below. The air was rich with smells of nutmeg and gingerbread and sexless Japanese fragrance. The night was merry. Looking into the automaton’s glassy, hazelnut-brown eyes, he thought he saw the embers of a soul, and felt in his heart all the wonder of Christmas.
Farther along 1st Street of the Grove, which was a sort of candyland fantasy of forties Charleston, there was a column supporting a bronze of two winged and Icarus-like youths, a boy and a girl, holding one another up closer to the stars. At the other end of the street stood the tallest Christmas tree in Los Angeles, and under the tree a circle of dancing, choreographed fountains. Sometimes the jets would fall quietly back into the lights in the pool below. The pool was shallow so that nobody drowned there. Other times, a second jet would shoot upwards into the first as it began its descent, and the two would explode into a prismatic bloom and fall together through the rippling evening. There was a pattern to this.
“I love you”, Jakob told his artwork as he stroked her glossy hair, picturing her coming to life.
Everything was alive in the new American mall. Even the fountains and the trees were alive. Along the avenue, trees were singing songs to them from speakers hidden amongst the leaves, lovesongs and big band numbers that wafted into Jakob’s studio many times over the course of an evening as he performed his experiments.
According to the Judeo-Christian tradition in which Jakob had been strictly raised, the last time a tree, or an apple, or a snake or any sort of animal had spoken to a person was in the Garden of Eden, and even then it was probably the Devil assuming another form. Following that conversation, animals had no longer spoken to us. Maybe once, in the Book of Numbers, Balaam’s donkey had said a few words, but only as a ventriloquist’s puppet, asking, on behalf of god, “What have I ever done to you?”
This was a question that Jakob was often asked as well, by his exes.
We had continued to speak to the animals, but they never spoke back to us in words we could understand. But the property developers behind the Grove wished to evoke a happier time, a more magical and animist time, when all of the plants and animals would sing in unison, like the nativity plays of Jakob’s childhood—which reminded him, his automaton wasn’t speaking. He connected her voice box to the main circuitry and loaded the various scripts he’d commissioned into her memory and waited.
He touched her knee.
She began her recital of eroticised art world fan fiction. This sculpture spoke rather differently to how the last incarnation had done (and continued to do so, in a collector’s winter house in the frosty woods by New Canaan). Sampling pharmacopornographic capitalist theory in stern, admonishing tones, her delivery had a pounding meter and was full of hard, compound, many-syllabled words; he wanted the act of listening to her speak to feel like being fucked. “Mimesis.” Was her first word.
She continued, “Flowing across the dance floor like information through a Swedish server cave. Violent. Disjunctive. Anti-Oedipal. In the underground library of ice, glowing racks. Leaping from mountaintop to mountaintop. Restrain. Transform. Tighten. Asphyxiate”. She smiled, and began to speak at half the speed, in a much lower register. “Subordination. Self-intoxication. The phallus-and-castration of the great paranoiac king. Disciplinary heterosexuality, the necropolitical—”
“Oh”, he sighed, and pulled her towards his mouth and she took him instead in her arms, and in this balletic movement Jakob could sense the power dynamic shifting from under his feet and her marginally concave glass calves. Examining his sculpture’s hermaphroditic form in one of his floor-to-ceiling mirrors he saw a supple echo of himself dressed as a comfortably wealthy, emotionally constipated Calabasas schoolgirl, and this bothered him not at all. They left the balcony arm in arm.
Through the French windows, inside the studio she picked up an emaciated, translucent leg in a black sheer mid-calf stocking sock, and swung at him with it, breezily. These sorts of things were everywhere, most of them drawn from the memories of Anna-Sophie Zucker’s unlicensed cosmetic surgeon or cast from the bodies of ex-girlfriends, or strangers; one of his more successful pick-up lines was: “Come to my studio upstairs so I can cast you, come to my studio upstairs, I live above the mall”, (although the mall cops had politely asked him to refrain from doing this, and later, for unrelated reasons, Pickle threatened to kill one of them and was briefly detained on charges of terrorism). She picked up a silicon breast and made a playful, sort of, attempt to stuff it inside his mouth, teasing him with the prospects of autoerotic asphyxia and/or death. He hoped it was playful.
Yes, these things were everywhere. On the floor of the studio were body parts and prostheses, tests for the work-in-progress. Those parts that didn’t chime with everything else were discarded in a pile in the corner, and would later be made into by-product sculptures by one of Jakob’s stoned assistants and sold by one of his gallerist’s assistants to one of his more unimportant collectors, or else consigned to a gallery in a different place, somewhere like Berlin (his gallerist would shudder at the thought).
As she sauntered around the past and future parts of her dream body, the many variations on her own face, and clavicles, and hips, and discarded bottoms, Jakob’s automaton looked to be searching for something amongst the ruins. She fantasised aloud of taking one of her spare arms and fisting him with it, working her way up towards his intestines and eventually his heart.
“Dismantling the master’s house with the master’s tools”, she said and with her hands, incomplete though they were, clumsily began the process of binding some of her unattached limbs to his with ribbons, and hanging other spare body parts around the room with more ribbons, and from harnesses strung to the light fittings. He was astounded by what the Hollywood animatronics specialist and the programmer he’d hired had achieved this time. His sculpture was deconstructing herself and dancing lazily as she went.
“This is the year of realising things”, she said.
And stopped. She tried on a dinosaur mask that was lying around, a prosthetic from one of the Hollywood studios, and, approaching him, began to massage the knots in his shoulders.
“This is why we can’t have nice things”, she said.
Placing one finished hand tightly around his throat and the metal fingers of the other inside his mouth, she began to sing “Bad Blood”, an old Taylor Swift song, in a rasping, whining male country singer’s voice.
Jakob’s breathing was shallow. He was floating in the clouds that separated pleasure and terror, as one so often was in the modern world. He wondered if he was going to be punished, and if he was about to have a penitential out-of-body experience. He heard a pounding sound upon the ground outside, a roaring over the singing trees, and down on 1st Street below a school marching band and a troupe of pompom-spinning cheerleaders in miniskirts came stomping through the Grove in confetti bursts of snowflakes.throughout their world of mice. Their entire mouse way of life has changed.
Dean Kissick lives in New York. He’s a Contributing Editor at Spike Art Quarterly and is working on his first novel, from which this is taken. He spends all his time on twitter: @deankissick