Nonfiction from Katie M. Zeigler

A row of moai statues on Easter Island.

Photo: Sophie Laurent

Papier-Mâché Moai

He said he’d made them with his hands and his brain, as if the two were owners of the same small business. I was anticipating a tool shed, or a series of small pinch pots arranged on a wooden shelf, so I curled the excitement at the back of my throat like a slingshot. He disappeared to turn on the outdoor lights, wet grass blue in the night sky. Once illuminated, he made a sound, almost a whoop, and I took them in, at first unsure what I was seeing.

Two moai, erect, their chiseled faces long and solemn.

“Like Easter Island,” he said.

I had read about the moai with my grandmother in a book called Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. We’d pored over it, tales of the Great Pyramids blending seamlessly with the Shroud of Turin. I’d been fascinated with the theories surrounding the statues’ creation and purpose. Now, faced with two, that fascination turned to something like apprehension.

“It’s just papier-mâché,” he continued. He slapped the cheek of one to show me, the sound it made empty, artificial. They stood almost ten feet tall, distinct against the peeling ping pong table and assorted broken lawn chairs. Beer cans lay at the base of one and the other sported a UVA baseball cap, jauntily positioned atop its flat head. They were, I hated to admit, quite well done, the eyes sunken beneath broad foreheads as if staring off into the middle distance.

We’d met that night at a bar in Washington, D.C. It was 1997 and I was relatively new to dating. I’d had boyfriends in the past, but always long-term, usually long-distance. Now, living on my own for the first time, I tried desperately to suss out the parameters of dating. Going home with men after bars, dance clubs, dinners. Trusting strangers enough that I’d get into their cars and worry more about my breath, my hair, my nylons than what might lay around the corner from this Arlington house that he shared with six other men.

On the way to his house, the windows were rolled down and my hand swam in the humid Adams Morgan air. Now, in the silence of the backyard, fireflies limping around the long faces of the moai, I shivered before stopping myself, worried he’d mistake it for awe.

“So?” he asked, his teeth white against the porch light.

Before I could speak, he pulled my body toward him and I could hear the raucous laughter of his roommates inside. All the posturing I’d performed at the bar—the eye contact, the Jack and Coke sipped daintily through a small straw—felt simultaneously nauseating and ominous.

“Let’s go inside,” he said, and I thought about how some believe the moai were dragged across the island, a miracle of muscle. Once inside, the living room window offered a perfect view of the larger of the two statues, and while his roommates dissolved into bedrooms and behind closed doors, the watchful eyes stayed on me, immovable and dark.

Now, almost twenty-five years later, I remember the argument within my own head. I was an adult, capable of making my own decisions when it came to my sexuality. I was borne of phrases about waiting for marriage and I had abided, offering up news of my virginity to lovers as an apology as much as a boundary. In retrospect, I was scared. Of my body and its pleasures. Of what men might do to it. Of what the relinquishing of it might mean. So my body became a line drawn on the earth, guarded and ridiculed by the lesser of my friends. But in my early twenties, it felt like a skin to shed, tossing aside the rind to expose something fresh and untouched.

But the room smelled of beer and the music he’d selected was unrecognizable, and I found myself protecting that skin, ultimately telling him I needed to use the restroom and sneaking out the back door, the streetlights curving toward the intersection where I’d find a cab to take me home.

As the moai watched, I considered what I knew of them. I had read that they face inward, to protect their own people. They gaze not at the churning sea, but across the island, watchful and silent. I put my hands in my pockets as the cab approached, afraid to remember that their legs were buried, deep within the bedrock, unable to walk away.

Katie M. Zeigler holds a BA and MA in English from Stanford University and an MFA in Creative Writing from St. Mary’s College. Her short fiction and non-fiction has been published in a variety of outlets, including SmokeLong Quarterly, The Centifictionist, Digging, Griffel, Wilson Quarterly, Fish Anthology and Stanford Magazine. She won the Stanford Magazine fiction contest, was a finalist in Glimmer Train’s short fiction contest and placed second in Fish Anthology’s international flash fiction contest. She currently teaches creative writing at Diablo Valley College and serves as the Editor in Chief of NiftyLit.

1 Comment

  1. Brilliant last sentence.

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