Sunday Stories: “The Bronzes”


The Bronzes
by William Hawkins

The bronzes were her idea. Or, maybe his. She can’t remember. It came up early in the morning, when they were still bodies, warm and unobserved inside the bedsheets, and the quiet sounds of waking had turned—too quickly—to talk, talk of the day, as in, what are we going to do today? And just like that they were people again. She hates being people. Because being people requires people to see you being people. So they agreed on the Getty. The new exhibit, The Bronzes. But which of them brought it up? She needs to remember because if she brought it up—if it was her idea—that means, at the end of this, he’ll be the one to praise her for it. Or blame her for it. But, however it goes, he will be the judge. Unless it was his idea. And if it was his idea, then she has the power of praise or blame, and if that’s so then she must decide which it will be—she must articulate these recovered bodies. Judgement is the price of being seen.

The exhibit is crowded. Everyone’s bright idea today, apparently, to be at the Getty, crowds drifting around the pedestals, museum employees in their cheap coats, professionally angry, “No photographs. No photographs, please!” A placard tells her the bronzes were cast in the late Hellenistic period, which she recognizes as Greek but otherwise holds no importance. It goes on to say most of the bronzes in the exhibit were salvaged from the seafloor, that, indeed, most bronze statues of the Hellenistic period were melted down for, well, their bronze. But these statues survived. They survived by being lost, when temples and palaces fell into the sea. And she does love this about them. It makes them worthy, somehow, to have survived. And they are worthy things, worthy and lovely, these fragmentary faces and polished bodies, the attention given to their muscle and sinew absolutely remarkable, a living rendered in alloys of copper and tin, the feeling they might suddenly spring from their pedestals. And their faces, their expressions, have flaws—flaws chiseled with craft, that much is very clear, flaws which bestow the sensibility of having suffered. In colors jade and malachite green, some so polished as to reflect the color of your face. The crowd, the people that surround her, these other patrons, are nothing more than crowded colors on the sculpture they observe. Where is he? There. He’s moved away, he’s looking at the sculpture of a warrior, its arm held stiffly to the side to hold what was probably a spear but is now only knobs on either end of a closed fist. He stands before this warrior, her person, her guy, his weight on one leg, the other bent at the knee, as though he is balancing. She cannot see the expression on his face. There are people between them now.

The bronzes do not have eyes. Another placard tells her the eyes, which were often inlaid silver, were easily lost, dislodged onto the seafloor, and it’s a shame, the placard implies, such a shame. But honestly? Honestly, she prefers their eyes hollow. She likes the statues empty inside, that emptiness has a body to slip on, a face from which it might peer. And she likes the idea of the eyes lost on some distant Mediterranean seafloor. She imagines a boy, his brown skin burnished by the sun to a soft gold, his dark features curious, excited, his silhouette shining as he leaps from the prow of a boat, dives into the water—he is an oyster diver, this boy, a mussel diver, some pilgrim of the seafloor—he’s searching, his eyes open, burning in the saltwater, fingers scraping along the sea bottom. And what is discovered but a single silver iris staring up, crusted in a bright green tarnish? Such strange pearls.

OK. She loves the bronzes. This was a great idea. But was it hers?

He’s coming back, he’s been walking around the pedestal of a bronze athlete, and he comes to her, this man, this person, and wraps his arm around her waist and murmurs into her ear, “They have amazing asses, don’t they?”

They do have amazing asses, perfect asses, even, these are the asses that cast ass shadows on cave walls so well have they been sculpted, and she is so delighted, so thrilled, that this person beside her is her person, a man unafraid to see beauty in male nudity, and she surrenders to the cradle of his arm in easy joy. He nuzzles her cheek. How great, that he nuzzles her cheek, that he’s unafraid of his affection. Even as the crowd parts around them. And he says, “This was a great idea.” Yes, this was her idea. Whatever may happen between them, this wonderful moment was her idea. It’s too perfect not to be, and for a moment they linger in their pose, returning to the close world of their warmth as people walk around them, marveling. 


William Hawkins has work published or forthcoming in TriQuarterly, ZYZZYVA, Pithead Chapel and Tin House Online, among others. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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