“Which path are you going to take,” asked the wolf,
“the path of needles or the path of pins?”
No. 5: Gabriel Thibodeau
1. What’s your color manifesto?
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all colors are created equal, except for mustard yellow, which is just plain gross, unless appearing in conjunction with a hot dog.”
This might not be the manifesto you were expecting, but I stand by it.
2. Can you talk about the relationship between art and tragedy in “Paint Chips”?
I (briefly) studied art history in college specifically because I was drawn to the way art excavates tragedy. And I don’t use the word “excavate” to sound like some super fancy writer-person; it really is the best term I can think of. When we endure tragedy, the coping process is layered and complicated. Thoughts and emotions stratify and crust together—there’s so much to dig and work through. How do you articulate all that? How do you communicate what you’re feeling? Our leading lady in “Paint Chips,” like so many before her, turns to art. She turns to sculpture. The statue says everything she doesn’t know how to say. The same goes for her mother and the flower portraits. It takes a long time for the characters to communicate in this way, but tragedy isn’t quickly conquered.
3. What influence did the myth of Medusa have on this story?
Of all the story’s influences—Botticelli, “Ozymandias,” and Oz, to name a few—Medusa is definitely at the top of the “Paint Chips” list. The father-turned-to-stone business was in play long before I considered the Medusa-ness of the situation, but her slithery head bubbled up in my mind midway through writing and brought everything into sharper focus. Medusa’s story is really quite juicy—Gorgons and god sex and snake hair, oh my!—but, more than that, it’s a great starting point for exploring issues of female identity, sexuality, punishment, and empowerment.
Side Note: Isn’t it interesting that we have such a strong precedent for petrifaction in storytelling? We see it in mythology, of course, with Medusa and Niobe (another “Paint Chips” influence), as well as in contemporary fiction. Visit Oz, Narnia, or Hogwarts and sooner or later you’ll find some pretty lifelike statues.
Gabriel Thibodeau’s story “Paint Chips” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
I want to kill my father but know my mother will miss him, so I turn him to stone and put him in the garden. It’s quite a task to drag him across the kitchen floor–you can still see the parallel grooves cut into the hardwood, one for each of his feet. I don’t mind the work.
I like my father better as stone. Somehow he seems more lifelike in sculpture. Before, his flesh overwhelmed him; he didn’t know how to be a human being. But he makes a good statue. He looks nice next to the birdbath.
I had this image in my mind when it happened, this picture of a hammer–a tomahawk–the kind doctors thud against body corners to see how well you jolt. My father was like this. He liked testing my reflexes. When he complimented my dress, my arm lifted like he’d knocked my shoulder with one of those hammers.
I pointed my finger and his body cracked into place. His bones clicked together like Lego pieces. His skin split and splintered, flesh fluttering away like ash. His pupils blossomed out, his mouth filled with mud, his hair oozed thick and turned to clay. The flannel button-up turned with him too, all of his clothes did, the fabric stiffening like stale pieces of bread before finally folding to stone.
When the last of his skin fell away, my arm was still outstretched, finger pointing, and I stood like this for quite a while, facing him: his sharp-lip smile, the particular squint of his eyes, the way his thumb hung onto the pocket of his jeans, like he might reach for his keys at any moment. I stared at him. He was beautiful, a work of art, perfect. I became, suddenly, both an artist and a monster. I never thought I’d be an artist.