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MY BOYFRIEND AND I are stumbling from our favorite bar after too many Manhattans when it happens. Abruptly, I stop mid-stride and raise my arms to mimic angel wings. For one whole minute, till Buzzy forcefully pushes my arms down, I am an angel. My hand in his, he drags me to the tiny park across from the bar. We sit on a snowy park bench, sparrows pecking at the frozen ground, streetlights blurring our outlines.

“I thought you were kidding about the elf,” Buzzy says, his breath a plume of concern. Two days ago I described how I was about to get off the subway when I stopped three feet from the doors and became an elf. I felt tiny, mischievous, elf-like, but no one knew I was an elf because I wasn’t wearing my elf costume, and no Santa was nearby to claim me. Slowly, as people pushed past on their way to Soho or Chelsea, complaining that I was holding up traffic, my elfness began to disappear. A small boy asked, “Do I know you?” and broke the spell.

A human statue by training, entirely covered in white paint, I stand stock still on a street corner or in a busy marketplace—dressed as an Egyptian handmaiden in Nefertiti’s court, a Victorian suffragette holding a manifesto, an elf. I tell Buzzy how lately a frozen feeling takes over my arms and legs, my hands, the tilt of my head.

“Maybe you should see someone,” Buzzy says. “You know. A shrink.”

“And tell them what?” I ask.

He shrugs.

“What’s the harm?” I say. “I just stop moving.” He looks dubious as I describe how my academy training clicks in. I met Buzzy in the academy cafeteria where he was taking a course on the Method and I was learning to be a human statue. He dropped out of his program early on, saying the only thing he learned was “there’s a method to all madness.”

Tonight he says, “Don’t you need the costume and face paint?”

I agree that they help. “Plus my tin bucket for donations,” I say. “Don’t forget that.”

“Donations” hits a chord for both of us, because I had to pick up our tab again tonight. Last week he lost another bartending job because, he says, “I don’t take shit from no one.” “Anyone,” I say each time he takes no shit from no one.

It is getting cold on this park bench when it occurs to me that as a human statue I’m always standing, holding a starkly upright pose. Never kneeling, or reclining on a low brick wall, or sitting on a park bench.

I feel a spell coming on. I give in to it. I am a wheelchair marathoner. A rodeo queen on a stately horse. A soloist at a Steinway grand—that, yes. My back straightens, then curves over the keyboard. My wrists float above the keys. My cold fingers anticipate the warm notes.

“Whoa. You’re kidding, right?” Buzzy says, skittering down the bench away from me.

I gently tilt toward him. He doesn’t see the magic at work. As he stands and backs away, his head swivels around as if looking for a witness, or perhaps help. Human statues never talk, but tonight I break that rule. I tell Buzzy we’re through. I tell him my life has always been a surprise to me, but he has stopped being one. He lacks madness. I wave him off. He hesitates, then, shoulders hunched, he disowns me and is gone. I return to my Steinway. My arms lift above a frozen keyboard, the ivory keys glistening under the full moon. My feet find the pedals. I hear the first chords of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata. It won’t last, but while it does the music is sublime.



Pamela Painter is the award-winning author of five story collections, most recently Fabrications: New and Selected (Johns Hopkins). Her stories have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies,  on the YouTube channel Cronogeo, and have been staged in Los Angeles, London, and New York.




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