Winter 2013 — THE POTOMAC

Girl 2, 5, or 7

  Eric D. Goodman

I’ve been at the artist colony for a few days now, and I’m really getting to enjoy the people here. I had a great conversation at lunch with girl 2, 5, or 7. Jenny? Janice? Janine? Can’t remember which name fits which one, or whether I have any of them right, but she sculpts grotesque figures out of plaster and mesh and asked about using a character from my ballad as a subject.

“Sure, I’ll pose,” I said.

The food here’s great. Kitchen Staffer 2 or 3 is the lead chef, and he makes a mean tomato and kale strata. The guy has it made here; local farms provide the ingredients and they have a kitchen fit for a fine restaurant. Sometimes I see him out feeding the chickens in his blue or green jacket, a ski cap or fedora over his brown or red hair. He and Kitchen Staffer 1 or 8 are baking apple pies for tonight’s desert. I saw them capping the pie crusts when painter 9 or 12 and I were in the kitchen refilling our coffee.

Some of the artists presented slide shows of their work tonight. I’ll have to say, presenter 6 or 11 was a little on the strange side. An entire body of work spanning eight years focused on the innards of insects? But the video loops of Guy 10 or 14 and the bronze sculptures of lady 17 or 19 were as good as the works I’ve seen at MoMA in New York or San Francisco.

I like talking with girl 2, 5, or 7. She and I seem to run into one another often when we’re getting coffee or tea (she only likes one and can’t stand the other, but can’t remember which.) I like all eight varieties of tea and the coffee too, so I tend to wait to see what she’s having before I make my choice and pretend it’s my favorite. That sort of solidarity brings us closer together.

Last night at the fire pit, girl 2, 5, or 7 had a mysterious look in the shadows, the bonfire playing with her features as we sat on log stumps by the lagoon and told ghost stories. One of the cabins here is haunted by a woman who drowned in the lagoon. Girl 2, 5, or 7 was frightened by this story, and even the wine did not calm her. I offered to escort her to her room. She’s a painter, or a sculptor, or shoots looping video shorts, depending on whether she’s 2, 5, or 7. She’s good at what she does, even in bed with the lights off and the covers up.

I went for a shower at The Wet early in the morning and when the bell tolled, I went to the kitchen for the oatmeal bar. I decided to wait to get my coffee or tea after girl 2, 5, or 7 came in.

“Good morning,” I said with a sheepish grin when she bounced in. She glowed, and in a way, it seemed I was recognizing her for the first time—but not well enough to dare try to call her by name. “How are YOU doing?”

“Not bad,” she said.

“Last night was a lot of fun,” I said, watching her grab a clay cup.

“Yeah?” She took an herbal tea bag and drowned it in boiling water. “What’d you do?”

“You know.” I took a purple sachet, ripped it open, and placed it in my own ceramic cup. She gave me a confused look as she bobbed her “herbal passion” in the steamy cup. It was as though girl 2, 5, or 7 had no memory of our nocturnal activities.

“I think you may have me mixed up with Janie,” she said. “I’m Jackie. I was in my studio all night, finishing a watercolor.”

“Oh,” I said. “It was dark, out by the lagoon. And you both have short blonde hair and button noses.”

“I guess we do look a little alike,” she said, and went to sit at one of the tables.

Then, girl 2 or 7 walked in. I stood there with my cup of passion. “Hey there, Brad,” she said.

“I’m Brett,” I said.

“Oh.” She giggled. “You guys look like twins.”

“A little, I guess.”

She looked at the string dangling from my cup. “I thought you liked black coffee. What’s that stuff?”

I looked at her, then at girl 5 who was sitting over at the table and sketching in a tablet. Yes, I could see the difference now. “Tea, coffee.” I looked back at girl 2 or 7, tried to remember each of them as individuals, and her face blurred before me. “It all tastes pretty much the same.”

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