Even in those days the houses felt like ice cube trays. They popped out people in bulky cube shapes. Her childhood: an assemblage of apartments. She remembers drilling noises seeping from front doors. The boring. She remembers neighbors never seen, but known by their patterns of perambulation. And miracles: the metallic smell that came from her armpits. The years of splinters. Three-legged chairs. In those days she had limbs as spindly as table legs. She wore her dresses ruffled but never clean. Scrapbooking was a favorite activity. Once she huffed glue by mistake. That was the day she lost her favorite rubber ball. The apartments swallowed things, always hungry like the insides of a clock. They didn’t like movement. They ate her toys. Or maybe she ate them. Eventually it became hard to tell. There: the metallic taste again. She always felt rich on the outside.
It was the age of hair. Piled on top of her head like ice cream curls: vanilla and charcoal flavors twisting together. Synchronous. The white streaks arrived after the accident. The train crash / thunderstorm / divorce suit / firecracker / loose-tiger tragedy. All that noise, it shocked the white tresses into writhing up from her scalp and coiling in among the black. Never got too close though. Still stayed separate. Distinct. People liked to say that things were really coming together. Converging. But what they meant was that things appeared to be coming together. An ocular prestidigitation. Those diagonals? Curves? An illusion. It didn’t make sense then and it doesn’t make sense now, but when she was that young the whole ordeal convinced her to at least try to be polite. She soaked her head in hairspray and molded it with curlers. In other words, she did her very best to at least keep things civil up there.
A period makes the girl a woman, she is told. She is told to expect a stain the color of burnt tomato sauce. What she gets is something mossy. A nuzzling green. She is told it will scare her, the first time it happens—the period appearing like a wartime flag, or a partridge darting out from the bush—but she is not scared at all. If anything, the period makes her laugh. She stares at what she has done. She makes scientific assessments. Still, she is careful that no one knows. No one except a deaf old woman on the bus. A baby too happy to hear. A cloud shaped like a dog. Perhaps, she thinks to herself, it is like this for every woman: this small forest blossoming, mucky and joyful. Perhaps we have all been lying to one another for years.
Royal Tide V,1960
painted wood construction
101 1/2 x 78 x 13 9/16 in. (257.8 x 198.1 x 34.4 cm)
Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Museum Purchase with funds provided by Contemporary Forum
Untitled [Fragment 2],1965
screenprint mounted on Plexiglas
28 1/16 x 27 1/4 in. (71.3 x 69.2 cm)
Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alvin N. Haas
acrylic on canvas
93 × 118 1/4 in. (236.2 × 300.4 cm)
Collection of Phoenix Art Museum, Museum purchase with funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts
“I studied art before committing to writing, so my engagement with museum works is inevitably fraught with nostalgia. I feel very connected to the process of art making—with brush strokes and coloration and canvas size. I can’t help speculating as to the choices the artist makes before arriving at her final product. Was it all premeditated? Or, were there elements of serendipity? My fixation on process is doubtlessly the foundation for “Portrait of the Art as a Young Girl,” which considers topics of development and origination, albeit on a human level.”
Allegra Hyde is an MFA candidate at Arizona State University. Her short stories and essays have appeared in The Missouri Review, New England Review, Southwest Review, North American Review, and elsewhere. For more see: www.allegrahyde.com.