Posts Spiny Oyster Shell

Spiny Oyster Shell

by treenaorchard


My Orange Beauties

His tawny orange eyebrows match the shade of his hair. It’s the same colour as the vintage Navajo earrings he scoops into my hands. They’re made of spiny oyster shell, an ancient coastal animal related to scallops that live up to 50 ft below the surface of the water. They first appeared when dinosaurs roamed, and the Rocky Mountains pushed themselves into the unknown. I wonder who gathered them and if the rich flesh that called the prickly shell home was devoured.

With a magician’s flair, he pulls a mirror out from under the counter. I lean into the oval shape and gaze at the luminescent earrings that glow against my peachy skin. Motionless, I am under their spell. He admires me and the jewelry silently and then slips away from the display case to give me some space. A minute or two later he circles back, and asks: “Scandinavian ancestry?”

I tell him “English, Irish, and a bit of Scottish” and answer his question about my profession. He speaks of a teacher who crushed his dreams of being an artist but knew he could sell art. He drags an index finger across the front of his neck while laughing, and I say: “At least she saw something in you.” She changed his life and I’ve had people like that too. He smiles and says the people who I work with are fortunate. “Fantastic energy.”

The orange stories hang in my ears. Do I buy them, promise to buy them, or glide through the building like an animal that’s just eaten so he doesn’t ask me? I remove them while sinking into a plush leather chair near the woman behind the desk. Placed on my left thigh they look like teeth that were also once alive. He brings a bottle of water with paper towel taped around it, a custom they do here because the “bottles come out of the machine so cold.” How extra I think while listening to him talk to another man in the back.

I float down three large wooden steps and see Apache dancers blaze across colourful canvases that are so big we have to witness them. In a muted winter landscape, the snow falls and seven teepees sleep forever. Side profiles of important men cut me in half with their sad faces, and there’s a gigantic smiling figure in front of a pick up truck. Around the corner is a woman in a crucifix pose, naked and blood dripping. I am swallowed by beauty.




Many gendered energies




He finds me kneeling at a hilarious collection of calacas arranged in a wedding carriage pulled by two ceramic bulls. Everyone is jumping out of their seats and turned towards the groom who’s holding a jug of booze. Their strange skeleton underbites scream in fevered emotion, and with her braids and veil flowing the seething bride looks on. He points to an iridescent fish woman with child and says: “this artist has three daughters who love The Little Mermaid, he did a series for them.” Love that.

Lavishly painted wood statues sprout out of the floor like an abbreviated forest and metal Kokopellis, those dancing flute players, dot the landscape. He asks how long I’m staying and what my astrological sign is. “Guess” I tell him, excitedly, thinking that he’ll get it on the first shot. But he chooses Virgo and after I shake my head, he inquires about my element.  When I say “fire” he takes a step back and grins widely, “Girl, you sure contain that flame well.” He’s a cancer, the watery emotive crustacean.

Our mutual enchantment grows. He writes down restaurant recommendations and ends up telling me much more. In between steak houses and piano bars, he speaks of his grad school days in Boston and how quickly he rose to prominence at his first gallery gig. “I started behind the desk and in two months I replaced the old lady on the floor.” After doing his big apple duty in NYC, he fled for foreign skies where he felt much more at home. UAE, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and others.

I nod and smile and don’t tell him that I can’t eat steak or drink alcohol. I watch him open like a flower while reflecting on what he calls “an amazing life.” We share strands of ourselves as a weaver threads the fabric in and out of the frame. I’m transported to those Sundays when my dad took me to the art gallery because it was free and because he knew the value of art.  Art is not just about art. It is about relationships. It lines the pages I write to see me through and to make my own beauty.

On that glossy concrete floor, we lean towards one another like two swans on a lake. He pushes the printed image of the earrings into my hands and tells me to come back, just to visit and not necessarily to buy them. I will. A hug enters my mind but instead I slowly walk towards the door, smiling. When I turn to look back at him seated at his desk, he says: “I like you.” I pause for a moment and say “I like you, too” before heading out onto Galisteo Road.


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Dr. Treena Orchard

London, Ontario

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