And You Don't Seem to Understand

Even before the head takes shape I can tell this one isn't- no, can't turn out well: then as I'm thumbs-deep and hollowing out its eyes, the face begins to scream at me and it's time to get to work with the hammer again. The clay keeps setting too early, that's the problem, and whenever the hammer meets the double its arm and chest both explode in a shower of dust and broken porcelain.

The corrugated-iron walls ring out with the pyarr of china on concrete, backed up by my grunting as I heave the hammer overhead and down and onto the thing's head over and over again. On the third hit, the skull base cracks; on the fifth, it shatters and living water flushes out of the thing, putting it to rest at last.

I take a few well-earnt breaths and let the hammer clatter to the floor, its head leaving glowing cracks on the floor. Flicking sweat from my brow, the crazy thought that if I keep fucking up, at least I'll get real fit flashes through my head and I can't help but grin for a few moments — then, the whole 'looming deadlines' thing rears its ugly head and the grin falls to the floor with the clay cadaver.

Sighing, I start the arduous process of cleaning up my mess. There's still living water draining from the skull: I plug that up quickly enough with a chamois from a rusty can that serves as the communal toolbox, and then get to work tossing the fragments of shattered porcelain somewhere they're not at risk of slicing someone's leg open.

Midway through scrubbing at a spot where the clay's gone back to its old sticky self, the door squeals open and Lee 'oof's and 'ow's into the room as he grapples with a canvas that's thrice as big as he is tall.

He grins over the top of the painting and does a little shimmy with his hed, trying to get me to come over before he drops the canvas and turns the concrete into baby's first Pollock. I drop the broom, dash over and grab a dangling edge: with some three-legged race techniques we eventually manage to deposit it onto a waiting easel.

"Lifesaver," Lee sighs as soon as we've set it down. "Though I dunno if this Work's really worth saving- I screwed up the perspective on the projection, nearly wound up turning the canvas to tissue paper 'cause of the fucked-up gravity." He grimaces, runs a hand through his crows'-nest of hair. "You think I should bin it?"

Critic's eye on: I finish wiping excess paint from my fingers with the cloth, walk round to the painting's front to try and make a snap judgement. As I step in front of it, millions of little eyes peer out from behind a multicoloured forest of crystal houses that glint and shine as I move. Curiosly, I extend a pointer finger and little stick-hands reach out to touch it — then, as I make contact-


-and I yelp as my finger is splattered with the inky remnants of what used to be an inhabitant of this canvas. Whoops.

I try to mask my brief shell-shock with awkward laughter, wipe my finger off on the cloth again. "You- you weren't lying about the whole 'unstable gravity' thing, huh…"

Lee chuckles sheepishly. "In hindsight, should've scaled down the surface interaction coefficient. I'll keep that in mind for next time."

"Right, yeah." I take a breath, run my hand through my hair and stall for composure. "Still really workable, though, wouldn't want you to waste the reflection lattice." I mean it, too: it's the kind of detailing that's just as much inspiration as wheelie-popping, a little thing that's so well-crafted it'd go unnoticed to anyone who didn't know to pay attention to the little things with Lee. Devil of the Details, God of the Gaps…

"I'll put it under a cover, try to come back to it in a week or so." He nods, satisfied, and turns to the still-twitching wreck of a double in the corner of the shed. For all the subtleties his art carries he's not exactly a stoic, and the wince on his face is soon matched by an even deeper wince on mine: "Guessing the showcase piece isn't going well?"

This time, my laugh's more bitter than it is awkward. "How'd you figure?"

"Tch." He shakes his head, glances at the spraybomb clock on the wall. "Three weeks out and the well's still running dry, huh."

"I can't even throw a double anymore," I sigh. "I threw the best double of my life on horse tranquiliser for god's sake, I've been fucking useless these past few weeks."

He nods contemplatively, rubs his chin. "Field duty."


"I'll swap you my spot on the STARC field team." Lee shrugs. "You can't work because you haven't gotten out of the Site in a solid month, Montone, you can't expect to be cranking out masterpieces with nothing to work with. So I'm giving you the chance to get out, see what our opposite numbers working for the Cool Kids are up to- maybe crib some inspiration off the fuckers while you're at it. How's that sound for an offer?"

I stuff the cloth back into its spot back in the can, look up at him with a 'you serious?' look. When he refuses to give, that's when I let myself grin. "Sounds like a plan."

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