Story no. 32.
The slip splattered on Janice’s face, a long splotch of off-white goop.
Van took her hands, each finger encased in a fine layer of soggy porcelain clay, off the wheel. “I am really sorry,” she said. “Do you want me to get you a paper towel? I can totally get you a paper towel.”
“Um.” Janice didn’t meet her eyes. “Can you just point me to where they are? I’ll get it myself.”
“No no no, I’ll get it,” Van said, the pitch of her voice rising. She coughed and pushed up from her stool. “Bill, where do you have the new rolls of paper towels?” she yelled.
“What about your pot?” Janice asked, gesturing toward the slumping clay bag still spinning furiously.
“Oh. It’s dead.” Van brought her hands down decisively, smashing it into a lump. Janice groaned and covered her face. Van kicked the pedal off. “Bill, where are you?”
“In the back,” came his voice from behind the glaze rack.
“I can get it myself,” said Janice.
“Do you want to use my wheel now?” Van said. “I’m sorry about there not being a free one – usually there’s like, two or three that no one is using on Wednesday –“
“You already apologized,” Janice said. “Where are the paper towels?”
Van hesitated by the bucket of cerulean. “But you’ll take the wheel next, right?”
“Um, I guess.”
When she came back with a two-pack of Bounty, Janice was pulling pieces of clay off with the tips of her fingers.
“You can use a wire to cut that off,” Van said. The toolbox rattled under her inquisitive hands. “Do you want to use the white clay or red clay? The red clay’s really nice, it has sand in it.”
“This is fine,” Janice said, forming a tiny cairn with the remains of Van’s vase. “I’ll just use this.”
“Um, great, but you probably want to wedge that again on the plaster. It’s super wet,” Van said. “Do you feel good about centering?”
“I’ve taken pottery classes before,” Janice said with great dignity.
“Yeah, but it – um. Okay. I’ll just check on my bisque stuff.”
Van’s pieces, a teapot and two teacups, had been unloaded at the very back of the second shelf. Anxiously she circled hands about the second cup. Were they big enough? Were they round enough? Everything looked lovely and large and perfectly balanced when it was spinning on the wheel. It wasn’t until a cup had been footed and blasted with heat that you saw the weird bubble on the bottom curve where you’d jerked your hand a little when Bill walked by.
“Bill,” she yelped. “Bill. How could I glaze this with like, a pale white on the bottom, and a green or blue lip, but like, not super drippy?”
Bill ambled over to look at the little cups, scratching his beard in a way that either indicated thoughtfulness or dry skin. “A colored slip might be the way to go with that, I think. Do you want me to help you mix it up?”
When Van reappeared from the glaze room, her three pieces on a board between her hands, Janice had her lower lip between her teeth as she jabbed a wooden knife into the lip of a tulip-shaped bowl. The wheel did a slow rotation and the soft ring flopped to the side. She nudged it into the pan. The bowl did one, two, three more stately spins, its square edge curving under Janice’s thumb.
“You gonna come back next week to foot that?” Bill asked, hands in pockets.
“Um, I’m not sure,” Janice said. The wheel stopped. She pulled the board tucked under her seat out and laid it on her knee and with a practiced motion slid her wire beneath her piece.
“Wow,” Van said. “How many classes did you take?”
“Like four in high school,” Janice responded, setting the self-contented bowl exactly in the middle of the board. “It was my only non-academic thing.” She looked up, her eyes skimming Van’s before landing on the teapot. “That’s really nice.”
“Thanks,” Van said nervously. “I’m hoping my mom will like it. She probably won’t,” she added reflexively. “Um. Let me put this in the kiln room.”
“Can you put it with Kevin’s set of cups?” Bill shot over his shoulder. He had already started to wedge the sludge spread out on the back plaster. “The ones with the little feet. Brown glaze.”
Van and Janice shared the sink to wash their hands and forearms. Janice tossed her head until her short black bob swung behind her ears. Van admired the shorter woman’s earrings. Each tiny, circular piece of agate dropped a half-inch from her lobe on a narrow silver bar.
“Those are great,” she said. “Your earrings.”
“Oh, really?” Janice snort-laughed. “My grandma gave them to me. I don’t really like them that much.”
“Too bad. I do. Where’d she get them?”
“Not sure. Probably when she went to Korea for the New Year.”
Van dried her hands on her jeans, and Janice unbuttoned the men’s shirt she had worn over her clothes for the class. “Does she go back every year?”
Janice pursed her lips and shook her head. “I guess, um, every other year, maybe.”
Van saluted Bill, who laughed and saluted her back. “See you next week, man.”
“Don’t forget to hit up Theresa’s show in Chelsea,” he said. “She’s got some amazing stuff.”
“I will, don’t worry. I’ll drag Al along with me too.”
Van and Janice went down the steps of the studio side-by-side, sneakers slapping and boot heels clopping. The night air was beginning to soften.
They split at the subway stop. “Which train are you?” Van asked.
“The B. I live a little north of Prospect Park. What about you?”
“A train. My apartment’s over in Tribeca.”
“Wow, that’s nice.”
“Yeah, my boyfriend found it.”
They stood uncertainly, Van on the top step with her hands in her pockets, Janice two steps down, her arm laid over her purse. Finally Van slid her left hand out and presented her fist.
Janice let out a startled burst of laughter and bumped her fist. “Good night. I’ll call you.”
Janice turned away and disappeared past the turnstile. Van sighed and shoved her hands deeper into her coat.