The Birth of a Nymph

Isabella Stern

           The steep marble staircase flanked by stone columns makes those that walk up them feel as though they must be hiking up Mount Olympus in order to be put on trial by the gods. As I traversed the steps of the extravagant museum for the first time, I felt small and powerless, but this was not an unusual feeling for me. I nearly turned around and scurried back down the stone
staircase, but gripping the faded yellow paper that had ragged edges from all the time I had spent holding it gave me just enough hope to venture inside.
          I didn’t get out much. My fiancee, Henry, told me that he would always provide for me so there was no reason for me to have a job.
          “Am I not enough for you?” he would often ask, whenever I brought up the proposition of possibly acquiring a job somewhere in town. He had a very similar attitude towards me having friends, hobbies, or pets. He is right, I had believed, it is selfish of me to ask for anything else when he already provides for me. But since Henry had been laid off a couple of weeks back, he did grow more open to the idea of me cushioning our income.

           He had yanked the yellow flyer out of my hands back when it was crisp and clean, recently pulled from the corkboard at the grocery store.
          “Hiring?” he said, “I don’t need some pathetic museum job, Margaret.”
          “The flyer is for me,” I stammered, “I thought I could do a little work to help you out while you are looking for a job . . . if you want me to, of course.”
          “Don’t they only want pretty girls working in museums?”
          I sat silent, our tough living room couch making my spine ache. I didn’t have the confidence to stand up to him, and it was beginning to feel like I never would.
          “Go, then. I certainly wouldn’t mind having you out of my way some of the time anyway. That is if they even give you the job.”

          After a few days of running my fingers around the edges of the paper, I finally worked up the internal strength to go to the museum. After a quick whirlwind of paperwork, it was official. The job was mine.
          The days turned into weeks as I sat on my stool, reprimanding any visitors who tried to reach out and touch the artwork. But, I had difficulty doing it, because I so desperately wanted to do the same thing. The room was packed with eerily lifelike sculptures of both historical and mythical figures created during the Renaissance period, which had been rescued and restored by the museum. I admired the sculptures’ silhouettes, framed by the sunlight coming in from the stained glass windows. The colors danced on their skin. I could almost feel the passion and effort the artist put into creating them, and the calloused hands that the figures created in return. The cathedral-style ceiling dwarfed its human inhabitants but somehow made the stone figures seem larger than life. It seemed that many onlookers feel the urge to reach out and touch them as if to convince themselves that they are only cold, hard marble and not the soft, white flesh that they see.
          There was one piece, closest to the little stool on which I sat, that I spent my days admiring. Three young nymphs, each one more beautiful than the last, locked forever in a loving  
embrace. When I was alone with them, I would reach out to caress their smooth, white skin, and was surprised every time that their temperature did not match my own. They were so lifelike,
heads thrown back in an eternal laugh, begging me to join them.

          The day that Henry proposed to me, we were strolling through the city park, hand in hand, admiring the autumn leaves that cascaded to the ground in tickles of wind. He had taken me to my favorite little diner and we had a brilliant time, giggling and teasing each other like we always had. I hadn’t been surprised when he got down on one knee in the park next to the
fountain that I had meticulously painted on so many canvases. Back then, Henry and his mother would often accompany me to the park to paint, and Henry would even go so far as to enter my artwork in contests in hopes of me gaining notoriety. But, I never did win any contests, so now he believes my aspirations to be fanciful and unrealistic. He slid the small stone onto my slim finger and we began the rest of our lives together.
          Only a few weeks after our engagement, his mother grew gravely ill. Henry started drinking. Every extra hour spent in the hospital, sitting by her bedside, became another beer once he came home. I spent all my time trying my best to comfort him, as he was losing the only person in his life that knew him better than I did, and in the process, the frequency of phone calls and visits with my friends and the few family members I had left grew fewer and farther between. Henry’s mother passed away the day before we planned to get married. He postponed the wedding, of course.
          I had thought that once the funeral was over and Henry had time to grieve, his drinking would taper off to a stop. But it only accelerated after his violent outburst at work had caused him to lose his job at the firm.
          It has been nearly two years since our engagement.

          I am so thankful to the museum, and to the nymphs, for giving me time away from Henry. He had told me that I was not allowed to spend time with anyone else, because they might try to poison me against him and ruin our love. He told me it
would be easy for people to manipulate me because I am so uneducated, unlike him. He’s probably right, but the nymphs don’t care.
          They laugh along with me anyways.
          My favorite time with the triad of nymphs is after the sun goes down, and the moonlight seeps in through the windows to illuminate their skin. Gentle fabric made of stone drapes across their beautiful muscular bodies. Maybe if I was more beautiful, then Henry would love me again.
          The nymphs agree.

          I eagerly accepted the opportunity I was given for a promotion due to being a satisfactory employee for the past six months. I hoped that Henry would be proud of me. He wasn’t. But my nymphs were. They always were. They told me I was beautiful and I started to believe them.
          My new position entails that I am the employee with the honor of locking up the museum after the guests have all gone home. The dark metal keys give me a newfound sense of independence. I take my time, wandering through the bowels of the museum after dark. It is liberating, knowing that no soul is in the museum beside my nymphs and I. No one there to scold
me for dancing the waltz with a broom or tracing beautiful faces into drying plaster.
          Now, all my evenings are spent alone in the museum with my chosen confidants. I polish them, I sweep around their feet, I assure that they are always comfortable. They have come to know me as well as I know them. They disapprove of Henry, though. Their faces turn cold whenever he is mentioned. I tried to explain to them that he used to be such a good man, and it
really isn’t his fault that he treats me the way he does. He’s right that I’m always getting in the way, anyways. They told me that a nymph doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment … that nobody does. They told me that I am one of them.
          I have decided that they are right. It will soon be my time to join their eternal embrace. It wasn’t hard to procure a method to be with them. One evening, I told Henry I would be coming home from work late that night because I had been instructed to do inventory. He wasn’t happy, and he made sure I knew it.

          I have never felt as powerful as I do now, mixing together the lovely white plaster into a large vat. I dip my finger into the thick syrup and remove it to reveal my true beauty. Smooth, flawless skin, just like my nymphs.
          I submerge myself fully in the vat and feel peaceful, like a child in the womb about to
enter into a new stage of life. The plaster seeps into my mouth and down my throat. I clamber out from the container and climb onto their pedestal to embrace them. They welcome me. My movement cracks the plaster around my joints, but it is okay because I know that soon I will be polished to shine by someone, just like I have spent my time polishing my beautiful nymphs.
          The museum’s visitors will find in the morning the most lovely surprise. A fourth nymph, frozen in a loving embrace with her sisters, heads thrown back in laughter until the end of time.

Spring/Summer, 2020 Issue

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