Cementia | Evan Steuber

I was turning into a statue.

It started with the tips of my fingers and toes. While modeling Hermaphroditus for my sculptor-friend, there was a sudden hardening in my extremities. I thought it was cramps from sitting so still, but found when I was permitted to move again that the porcelain color of my skin was shifting to gray. On the way home, I stubbed my toe and it crumbled in my shoe.

When I told my girlfriends, they thought I spoke metaphorically.

Is that like the emotional place you’re in? one asked.

My left hand was frozen into a cupped palm. I slapped her with it.

Does that feel like a metaphor? I asked. Her nostrils dripped thin red.

My doctor explained Cementia is more common than most think. He told me the ancients called it Reverse-Pygmalionesis, the desire to displace the beautiful of this world so it can be returned to the fantasy.

I found later my friends doubted me only because they doubted themselves. In a locked bathroom, Lucretia lifted her shirt to show me two hardened nipples of concrete. My boyfriend likes them this way, she said.

But my Cementia didn’t stop progressing. Every day I woke up with another part of me solidified. What was odd was that I still felt my concrete parts, like when you put all your concentration into tightening a muscle. Because of this straining in my body, it seemed as if I was complicit in my new form.

When my sculptor-friend asked me to model again, I was embarrassed.

Just be natural, he said.

When I revealed my nakedness, his breath departed. Beautiful, he gasped. Just like that. Stay just like that.

It wasn’t long before I started taking taxis everywhere, though only from drivers who boasted enough physical strength to endure hauling my hardening body out to the street. They looked down at me in their arms, sweat beaded on their brows.

You are a beautiful burden, they sighed.

I was fired from my day job when both hands succumbed to the illness. It was impossible to press only one button at a time on the cash register. Only when people ordered every size of the same thing was my ailment of any help.

I stopped seeing my girlfriends. I couldn’t stand their pink and ivory and chocolate and copper complexions. I couldn’t bear to take in the blood that filled their cheeks when they looked at me.

I was comfortable only in the care of my sculptor-friend. His gaze remained the same. Concerned for the final product of my pose, I encouraged him to spend many hours playing with my limbs, pressing and pulling and dancing with my body.

He eventually concluded it’d be best if I allowed my illness to come to term in a public place. That way, he said, it will be a kind of guerilla art. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I had few options.

He set me up in a beautiful park in the middle of the city. It was spring. The place was gushing green, a color so vibrant it hurt my fleshy eyes. He placed me in the middle of a fountain next to a weeping baby.

Pretend you’re the mother, he directed. Stroke the baby’s head.

I couldn’t stroke things anymore, but I rested the hard lump of my hand on its head.

Do you think this baby suffered from Cementia? I asked. Do you think this baby’s like me?

He laughed. Cementia’s not real, he said.

What do you mean? I asked. But the tightening grip moved up my neck, cutting off a scream as my vocal chords hardened.

Perfect, the sculptor said.

Evan Steuber hails from Kentucky where he spent his first twenty-some years working in restaurants and retail, meeting the love of his life, and getting educated. He recently won the Alumni Prose Award through the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (where he’s pursuing his PhD), which gave him some cash and his first fiction publication in Packingtown Review, Vol. 8.