man in dark room with light leaking through window blinds
[ This image is in the public domain. ]

I couldn’t remember the sculptor’s name, just that there were many consonants in collision, making it difficult to discern where one syllable ended and the next began. I first saw her work in a small gallery downtown while you were out meeting friends; a man-sized flower of shattered glass, with three dozen barbed petals blossoming outwards. There was only a knee-height stanchion between me and the death trap. If someone were to trip and fall, each barb would pierce in a different way. A little boy sprinted into the exhibit room, stopping just short of the stanchion when his father’s yells cracked like a whip.

Later, I told you about it while you tended the snake plant. It was a matter of time before someone got killed, I said. As you trimmed off wilted ends, you frowned and suggested I email the gallery.

My earliest memory was of my mother stepping on a broken wishbone on Brighton Beach. My father carefully blew the sand off her bloodied sole while she screeched. Last year, you almost drank out of a wineglass cracked along the side. I shouted just as your lips were about to touch the fault line. None of that went in the email. It lingered on my mind, though.

I forgot about the sculptor until we were invited to dinner at the Lin’s months later. Henry Lin collected art – like me, but with a sharper eye for where the money was. Leaning by the piano, he mentioned a name: the syllables were sewn together in a way I hadn’t imagined, but I recognized the name.

“Oh, I adore her work,” you chimed in, looking devilishly handsome in a new suit jacket. I managed a chuckle and remarked that I was getting too old to appreciate the latest wave of young artists. I held my champagne glass up to the light before taking a sip.

It took the gallery a month to reply to my email; by then, the glass flower had been sold and shipped away. The gallery assured me they knew what they were doing. They said the danger was both distant and justifiable, like a tiger in a zoo. I meant to retort, but you shrugged off the idea with half-shut eyes. “Tiger’s gone now,” you mumbled into your pillow.

Months later, a gift arrived for you from Henry Lin. You were away on business, and Henry asked that I oversee the installation. I stiffened when the workers unpacked a monstrosity of splintered soda bottles from a series of wooden crates. The piece was to be affixed to the ceiling, like stalactites.

I crouched by the snake plant, running my finger along the edges of its many now-rectangular leaves. I held my breath to better hear the clamor, half-expecting a blood-curdling shriek from the guest room at any moment. Nothing happened.

“We’re all done.” One of the workers called me in. Assorted shards descended along the wall like a medley of medieval torture tools. “Wouldn’t want it in my room, but everything’ll be fine as long as nobody’s really good at jumping jacks.”

You were ecstatic when you came home. The bolts on the ceiling were presumably enough precaution in your eyes. By the year’s end, however, you decided you didn’t like the sculpture anymore. You wondered why you ever liked the artist in the first place. “Say, remind me what her name was?”

“What do you suggest we do?” We couldn’t possibly sell the work without word reaching Henry.

And so we did nothing at all.

Whenever I woke up at night, I started checking the guest room just to see if the stalactites were still there. They never went anywhere. Sometimes, I’d lie beneath them on the floor and trace sharp edges with a dulled mind. Basking in shards of refracted moonlight, it occurred to me for the first time that I was falling out of love. Not long after, the young sculptor declared she would never make another work of art. I asked Henry Lin if he had any idea why; he shook his head and laughed. Nobody was killed after all. Everyone knew what they were doing, I supposed – and maybe eventually, so did I.