Fiction by A.C. Grant
The Grieving Ball
The furnace is hot and roaring, and that’s fine with Alex. The liquid glass inside the crucible glows golden, like nectar and nearly as sweet. Unless you inhale it accidentally while shaping it with your breath, and then it’s simply painful and barely beautiful at all. But sitting in the crucible at the heart of the furnace, the molten glass is full of promise.
They had been born twisted around each other, Alex and Nadia. Her little hand had prevented his umbilical cord from strangling him, and his foot had protected her windpipe in turn. They had been inseparable, really. Alex’s first glassblowing class had been a gift from Nadia for their birthday.
“You’re getting boring,” she’d informed him. “You need to do something new.”
“Yes, Nadie,” Alex had dutifully replied. They’d cracked up and laughed until their aunt had threatened to withhold their birthday cake if they didn’t finish opening their gifts.
Alex pulls the jars of colouring frits out of the cupboard on the far side of the studio. Eyeing the little chunks of colouring agent carefully, he selects black, yellow and lime green ones and scoops the bits out onto the iron table between the cupboard and the kiln. He double checks the kiln to make sure that it’s empty and pulls an elaborate vase out of the back corner. It’s cool to the touch, almost as cool as Nadia had been when he’d carried her back to the car that day. He puts it in the completed works cubby. The kiln begins to heat again at the touch of a button.
Alex and Nadia had snuck out of the house in the evenings during the summer. Fireflies gathered in the park near their house, and Alex always wanted to go and see them. The first few times, they’d just sat in the grass and watched the little blinking lights until they were sleepy. Alex had decided that he wanted to be a firefly, so instead of sitting, he’dstretched out his arms and run in circles.
“What are you doing?” Nadia asked, a little scandalized.
“I’m a firefly,” grinned Alex. “I’m doing a firefly dance.”
Nadia laughed. “Then I’m going to be a firefly too.” They’d spun and darted in circles, laughing, until their father had come to the park and marched them home.
He selects a blowpipe from the cluster in the scrap bucket, blows through it to make sure it isn’t blocked. Gently, he eases the furnace door open and his skin protests the blast of heat that breathes over him. The blowpipe slides smoothly over the rollers, scrapes over the furnace lip, dips into the crucible and twists once, twice. Alex pulls it back up along the rollers, always turning, and shuts the furnace door.
He turns to the marvering table that sits ninety degrees from the furnace and carefully rolls the gather across the surface. As the molten glass is pulled off the blowpipe, it forms an egg shaped lump that clutches at the blowpipe’s end. A little smile touches Alex’s lips. There will be lots of glass to work with. The heat of the glass dissipates into the table. Alex, always turning the blowpipe, sticks the gather into the glory hole for a quick reheat.
Nadia had hidden behind him on their first day of kindergarten. Their harried father had dropped them off, introduced them to the teacher and rushed back to the car. Nadia had clung to Alex’s hand and hovered just behind him. He’d walked them to a table and sat down. By lunchtime, Nadia had made two new friends. And then she’d spotted the bees.
Each kid had a smiling paper bee with their name and birthday stapled to the wall. Nadia had looked at them and promptly grabbed a bright green crayon and a chair, and proceeded to scribble on the beet of her and Alex’s bees.
“They needed shoes,” she said brightly to the teacher when she was done.
“I like them,” Alex told her. She hugged him.
“Alex makes me braver,” Nadia announced to her new friends when they got back to colouring at the table.
Alex pulls the glowing glass out of the glory hole and turns to the mound of colour on the table. Gently, carefully, he rolls the hot glass through the colour frits so speckles of black, yellow and green cover the glass. He gives it a quick shaping roll along the table’s edge. The pipe goes back into the furnace and slowly, as the glass turns, the colour melts together into the glass. Alex pulls the pipe out, checks the colour's integration, then slides the pipe back into the furnace and dips the coloured blob into the crucible for another gather. Turns the pipe once, twice. Slides out onto the rollers, still turning.
The summer they were eleven, Nadia had repainted their rooms while Alex was away at camp. He'd come home to a room painted dark yellow with lime green stripes on one wall and polka dots on another. Nadia had done her room in the same colours, only reversed. The trim in both of their rooms was black. Nadia had beamed at him.
"What would you do if I didn't like it?" asked Alex.
Nadia shrugged. "You can redo them next summer. Anything you want."
"I like it," said Alex. "But you have to let me pick out your back to school stuff."
"Deal," said Nadia. She had accepted his blue and orange choices that September without complaint. Her paint job had stayed up all through high school.
Alex sits on the bench, wooden rounding block in his right hand, left hand just above the hot part of the pipe. He cups his hot glass with the wet block, rolls the pipe back and forth over his lap until the wood steams and the glass is a dull cooling orange. He drops the block back into the bucket of water, slides the glass into the glory hole to reheat. When the glass is bright orange and floppy, he pulls out. Fits his lips over the mouthpiece and, always turning, blows with all the strength in his diaphragm. A small bubble of air pushes into the glass. Alex thinks it needs more heat, and slides it back into the glory hole.
They had been out with their friends on a summer afternoon, at the clifftop park overlooking the lake. Alex had sat under a tree to take pictures and keep score for the volleyball game they'd decided to play in the grassy area near the cliff’s edge. Alex had taken lots of pictures of different members of the group: serving, spiking, some of the more spectacular dives among them. Through the viewscreen of his camera, he'd seen Nadia backing up to get a ball while their friend Felizia had darted forward. Their shoulders had collided. Felizia had stumbled one way, landing on the grass and smearing dirt on her leg.
The photo taken was of her surprised face, gazing down at the grass. Behind her, Nadia's eyes were wide with panic, and her arms flailed as she fell.
Alex retrieves the glass from the glory hole, turning the pipe and bringing it to his lips. He blows, always turning, and the glass expands.
Nadia had bandaged his hand when he'd burned his knuckles on a blowpipe in a class.
He checks the ball's thickness. Reheats it.
Nadia had made him clean her scrapes when she had just started playing indoor soccer. She’d been winded when she came to the sidelines for a bandaid, and he had been able to breathe again when she got up and got herself back into the game.
The ball swells with his breath.
Nadia had helped him tie his tie when they got ready for prom. She had let him do her hair, and it was perfect.
Nadia's eyes stare at him as she falls. Her body twists as it crashes into rocks on her way down, and he feels her spine break as if it were his own. He dreamed about it last night, and the night before. Nadia is falling, always turning, in his dreams.
He sits at the bench, and takes up the tweezer-like jacks. He rolls the pipe back and forth over his lap, gently squeezing the glass where it is joined to the pipe. He stops jacking the break point into the glass when the metal of the jacks screeches against the cool glass. He rises, carries his creation to the flameproof nest waiting on the table. He settles the ball, taps the pipe and knocks it off.
They had been born twisted around each other, the one protecting the other. They had grown up a little bit separated, but with the same protectiveness. That single frame of film. And then there was one, defenseless against the pitying eyes of the world.
The punty is warm from the furnace. Alex slides the solid rod along the rollers, dips it into the crucible, turns it once. Carefully withdraws, turning the punty in the air. He marvers it into shape so it will be ready. He dips the hot glass over the hole in his glass ball, clips the excess and forms the hook so he can hang it up. Nadia's soul is sealed inside. The glass ball will be her final resting place.
Alex places Nadia's ball in the now hot kiln, sets it so that it will begin to cool tonight, when the last glassblower has finished. He cleans up the studio, preparing it for the next person who has rented the space.
Not tomorrow, but the day after, Alex will come back and retrieve the glass ball. He will thread a ribbon through the hook on top and hang it in a south-facing window. Nadia will be in the sunlight glowing black and yellow and green, always turning.
A.C. Grant is a young writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. She enjoys writing and blowing glass in her spare time. Her work has appeared in Three Drops from a Cauldron's Midwinter 2015 anthology.