Caroline Phillips, Funambulist
The most disturbing part about it, I think, was that the girl’s transition from desk to floor was so smooth. One moment she was spacing out in a lecture, and the next she was taking a short, nonchalant flight through the air. The whole class paused for a moment and stared down at the body on the linoleum.
Then we stared at her for another moment. Her arms were extended up, her knees slightly bent, her hair entirely tangled around her face. I recalled a play I’d seen about Nell Gwyn of Restoration England. All of the women wore corsets, and there was a fainting couch to one side onto which they would dramatically plunge with squealing mouths agape and hands to foreheads. How comforting this sort of fainting was compared to our classmate’s sliding collapse.
Only in the third moment did someone rush to her side, and another call an ambulance, and another rush out the door because, after all, we were near the human phys department. I grabbed my phone, and then rushed half the distance to her side, and then hovered near the door, as everything was done an instant before I got to it.
Meanwhile, the girl had opened her eyes but wasn’t responding. Is she responding? No she’s still not responding, ambulance man sir. I noticed that the brainy kid who sits behind me and looks bored and never takes notes was still looking ahead, as though listening to some ghost lecture for which he still didn’t need to take notes. Suddenly I was incredibly angry at him, and wanted to shake him and yell, “TAKE NOTES, DARN IT. TAKE NOTES!”
Instead I went back to my desk. The girl eventually sat up and said she felt ill, and that she was on some new medication. She was sickly white and clearly very embarrassed, but no one could stop staring at her (except maybe the brainy kid) because she was alive and not dead.
Eventually an ambulance and firetruck showed up outside and we all filed solemnly through the door, including the girl, who was clearly trying to wish the paramedic away. That’s when my PTSGuilt set in, and I wondered why I hadn’t rushed in to check for vital signs, or asked her how her neck and spine felt when she woke up, or treated her for shock. The certification cards in my wallet were muttering, What’s wrong with you, man?
As I walked to my next class, I felt chills going down my spine. One second the girl was awake, the next she was unconscious. Light, dark. How quickly and unwillingly we slip away! Was someone following me? No, but there was still a chance, always a chance, that something in my mind- a hand? a shadow?- could grip me and send me spiraling to the floor.
I turned corners and cautiously traversed staircases until I found this sculpture, which is a part of the Art Speaks exhibition in the Adell McMillan Gallery at the EMU. One foot curls its toes on the edge of a plank. The other has taken a fateful step onto a broken tightrope, its digits stretching grotesquely.
Standalone body parts have terrified me ever since I read Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, but these skeletal monstrosities, sculpted with a wonderful eye for detail, spoke my language. How thin are the strands of the Moirai , they seemed to cry. Indeed, I thought darkly. Indeed.
AN UPDATE: (…Will go in this space after I’ve taken a first aid refresher. And grown some balls)
BONUS: Caroline sent me a meditation on the piece and a picture of the larger one. Guess whose feet she used… It’s on the Talkback page!