Douglas W. Milliken


The sculptor chooses to make a film.

The first scene is of her sculpture at rest in a grassy hilltop field. Her sculpture is a perfect sphere of white plastic. Eight feet in diameter. Twenty-five feet around. Nearly seven hundred pounds. Almost iridescent like the inside of an oyster's shell. The sculpture sits in grass so green the sculptor can almost taste it—the green makes her hungry, draws saliva from her tongue: she knows it's the sculpture that makes the grass look this way—while far off, some trees stand dark against the sky. Birds sing. Somewhere, off-screen, the wet snarl of tires rubbering a road. In a moment, from the right, the sculptor's boyfriend enters the frame. He is lean and young in a white Oxford and slacks. His feet are invisible in the grass. He regards the sculpture for a silent moment. He presses his hands to its white face. His palms flat and fingers splayed but again, these are invisible to the camera's lens. What his hands and heart feel are impossible to know. The boyfriend leans his weight against its greater weight and slowly, to the left, rolls the sculpture out of the frame. So now there are only trees and birdsong and the delicious green of grass.

It takes him a while to do this.

The next scene is similar to the first. Only this time, the sculpture waits in the middle of a slick and rutted dirt road. A haggard wooden shed slouches in the background among many more trees. Beech and pine. Gossiping leaves. And again: the boyfriend. Gradually manifesting from the distance along the road. He does not break stride when he meets the sculpture. The language of his body speaks a sentence pithy and clear: his job is one that he understands. He rolls the sculpture out of the frame, forward and to the left down the road. When he's gone, only the road remains.

The third scene is in a pasture dotted with rotting machines. The fourth: a playground. There are no children on the slides and swings as the sculpture rolls through the frame. But you hear them. Somewhere, they play and scream. The sculptor makes note: the boyfriend is getting better at this.

There is no soundtrack to her film. Only the sounds that surround her sculpture. This is all the music she needs.

Sometimes, bits of leaf stick to the sculpture as it rolls. Sometimes there's grass or mud. But a friend tells her this can be fixed in the editing phase. Digitally erased. The word her friend uses is "scrubbing." In her final film, the sphere will be unblemished. She will scrub it clean.

The film's penultimate scene is a long shot of the sculpture alone in the grass. It is night, and the sculpture is backlit with low, powerful lamps, though the illusion is that the light streams from within its milky circumference. Crickets sing. Something sensual seems to be going on, but without any movement, how can you know? The suggestion is that this is the same grass as the opening scene, but also that this is someplace else, somewhere parallel yet fixed, a permanence outside the confines of this world or maybe at its center. The point around which everything else must turn. The boyfriend might roll the sculpture through grass and mud, might take it where he pleases, but the sculpture remains always here. Glowing with its own fierce white light. Edged in a blinding corona. Immobile and perfect and shining against the eternal night all around.

The sculptor will not confess how she made her prize. In a way, this secret is a prize in itself. Within that secret, she knows: there is air. Tiny bubbles lathering beneath the surface. It contains. It makes her breathless, the idea of its buoyancy.

In the final scene of the sculptor's film, the sphere rests at the bottom of a short incline. A straight row of trees to the right. Some sky. When her boyfriend enters the scene, there is no trepidation in his stride. Only the slightest hesitation before touching his hands to her sculpture's pearly skin. The boyfriend shoulders in against its weight. The sculpture begins to roll. Up the incline. Slow. Now slower. There's a moment mid-way when its progress nearly stops. Then it does. The boyfriend digs his feet into the grass. The music becomes his breath. He pushes, and silently, the sculpture pushes back. Behind the camera, the sculptor watches, and waits. She wonders: what will happen next?