Walls by Rachel Laverdiere

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A January blizzard brawls outside the studio window. Like the weather, my thoughts churn. Hands firm on the clay, elbows locked and braced against my inner thighs, I close my eyes and lean in. Gently, I press the foot pedal, and the wheel spins. In the background CBC emits the deep lament of a lone cello. It conjures a story I read about a soloist whose body spoke only through her instrument. 

I’m afraid I, too, will turn mute if I don’t start talking about the storm that’s brewing inside my mind. Left to express my thoughts only through an expanding collection of the pots I throw as the silence between you and me stretches. On the dark screen of my lids, I picture the bowls and vases on my dining room mantel—the coiled fruit bowl resembling a bird’s nest, the blue and green speckled canisters and the square teapot, a bird nesting on its lid. Tears pinch at the back of my nose as my eyes fix on the once-bright bouquet of lilies on the table. I can’t bear to empty the vase although the flowers have long since withered. 

I inhale a howl that seeps in through the window, tense my shoulders. As my soul exhales a moan, the clay steadies between my palms. Through narrow slits I spy the mound spinning round and uniform. My heart summersaults—this steady sense of balance has been absent for months.  In my thoughts, Teresa, my first pottery teacher, warns me it’s not yet time to celebrate. I wet my hands in the lukewarm bucket of water. Too many times I’ve let my hands go dry. Managed to center the clay yet pulled it askew when I dropped the hole. 

I glance out the window and hope that the storm is clearing at the ranch. My heart drops as the double-entendre sinks in. After months of picnics in the pasture and star-scaped country drives, we’ve awoken in the aftermath of an unexpected storm. The more urgent my need to talk, the less accessible you’ve become. Months of trying to pinpoint where our meanderings began to veer off course has helped nothing, so, for now, I’m resolved to focus on the crocus and sage buried beneath the snow.  

Each rotation of clay slips firmly against my left hand. I implore my hands to remember patterns my mind forgets and hook my slip-dripping thumbs together. Half-closing my eyes, I force the middle finger of my right hand deep into the center of the soft, wet mound. Through half-lowered lashes, I gaze at a perfectly sunk hole. Nothing has been pulled off-center. 

Maybe it’s as simple as that. In November, you complained there wasn’t enough of you to go around, and I assured you that I understood. Said you wanted to get back to the basics but couldn’t explain what that meant. Perhaps our romance pulled off-kilter when so many responsibilities—job, children, house, ranch—cried for your attention. I admit I’ve felt it too.

I scrape slip from my palms onto the lip of the bucket before I dunk my hands. In my mind, Teresa’s gnarled fingers grip her ever-present sponge, so I reach into the bucket for mine. Re-hooking my thumbs, I place one hand on either side of my doughnut of clay and draw in another deep breath. Teresa’s voice rings clear: The right hand must know what the left is doing. In one swift motion, my hands glide up with just enough slip and tension, and I blink at the first even wall I’ve pulled in months. I’ve forgotten how natural this process should be. 

The right hand must talk to the left. One lover to the other. In early autumn, I drove your tractor while you manned the attached fence post pounder. Unable to hear you above the machine’s clamor, I deciphered your signals through the rear window. The fence we repaired strung out behind us, sturdy and straight. These days, we’re surrounded by the buzz of silence, and we build separate barricades. At this rate, you’ll disappear from my sightline before the crocuses poke their heads through the last crust of snow.

I lift my slip-slick hands from the cylinder spinning on the wheel and loosen the brace of my elbows from thighs. Outside, the snow swirls to the cadence of the cello as I swipe a sleeve across my cheeks. Straightening my shoulders, I unfurl from the low wooden stool and rise.


Rachel Laverdiere writes, pots and teaches in Saskatoon. She is CNF co-editor at Barren Magazine and the creator of Hone & Polish Your Writing. Find Rachel’s essays in journals such as Lunch Ticket, The Common, CutBank and Pithead Chapel. In 2020, her CNF was shortlisted for CutBank’s Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest, made The Wigleaf Top 50 and was nominated for Best of the Net. For more, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com.

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