In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Conceptual Art
  • Brett Beach (bio)

The man walking beside Helene said, “This—this!—is what I love about being here, outside of the city. There are no rules. It’s a sacred space.” He spoke with a bullfrog’s deep bellow. His hands twitched, caught the air. “It’s just about the work, not the prestige, not the names, the talk, talk, talk.”

Each afternoon since she’d come to the residency, Helene went for a long walk on the trails that looped and doubled back in the dense woods surrounding the artists’ cabins. This was in the early eighties, in upstate New York. Poets who visited the residency always wrote afterward of the dappled light, the mud’s fecundity, the loamy quality of decaying leaves. Deer loped through the front yards of the artists’ cottages or paused to nibble at the grass. There were legendary stories of copulation, binge-drinking, fistfights breaking out between readings—but mostly everyone appeared blurry-eyed to Helene, speaking in soft voices and smiling tentatively.

“And there’s this bond between us,” the man said. “Not just us, but all of us here. It’s trust. It’s the art.”

He’d introduced himself the first night, approaching Helene with his plastic goblet of wine and hands scoured lobster red from his steel-wool artwork. Macarthur, he said—first or last name, she couldn’t be sure. His work was conceptual, he supposed, but he hated those sorts of labels. He welded together pieces of metal, arranged broken shards of glass into figurines. Helene considered her art more mainstream: she took photographs of her own sculptures. Oh, Macarthur said, he’d actually seen one, the picture that ran in—well, she knew where—and he smiled as if embarrassed to even mention the magazine. Helene explained that it was a fluke: a friend of a friend had scouted the photograph. The money was decent but follow-up attempts had yielded no results. Now she’d come to [End Page 72] this residency to figure out if she was even interested anymore in taking pictures, in art, in this whole thing.

Macarthur brushed a hand through his hair—long and affected, draped oddly around his ears—before he continued, “Isn’t that amazing, how we’re already friends? We don’t really know each other, but here we are, walking in the middle of nowhere, and we’re alone. Totally solitary. I mean, if this were the city, you’d worry that I’d jump on you. But here? You just trust I won’t.”

When she told this story to her daughter, years and years later, Helene made clear that she was not attracted to Macarthur, and had not felt afraid, exactly, but as if she stood at the edge of danger, peering down into its cavernous gulf. She said, “Excuse me?”

“I’m not saying I would. I wouldn’t, of course.” He blushed, thankfully, seeming to understand that he’d misspoken. “I was trying—oh, jeez—I just meant that it’s different here. The way people interact. I didn’t mean . . . Ugh,” and he laughed by tipping his head back and opening his mouth to the sky, “it’s not like I’m going to rape you.”

Helene stepped away from the man, farther and farther, until she stood on the opposite side of the path. Sometimes at night, the critters raised a noise that she’d only heard in movies before: the pulsing surround-sound of crickets and grasshoppers, tree branches rattling in the wind, nature knocking at the door.

She asked, “Do you know how inappropriate that is?”

Macarthur shook his head again and again. He’d been entrenched in his work, he tried to explain, and his mind was loose after so many hours of intense concentration. He was talking without thinking—talking out loud. He was sorry, sorry, sorry. He didn’t mean what he said. It was the word. He should not have said that word. He folded his hands in front of his chest. His eyes were baleful and moist.

“Okay. Okay.” Already, Helene was acquiescing, forgiving him. She compromised with herself, pushing down her...