The Statue in the Maze

fountain of the great lakes by clarkmaxwell
By Nirali Sharma
Location: Art Institute of Chicago

Besides being a beautiful garden that people were free to come to whenever they pleased to admire the gorgeous flowers or have a quiet picnic, The Wispy Green Gardens were known for holding some of the most breath-taking weddings. For the most part, the owners of the Gardens let people do as they pleased when it came to decorations and the like, but they also offered their decorating services for a fee. When Autumn arrived a few hours early to make sure that everything was in place, she was taken aback by how beautiful the wedding scene looked. The Gardens’ decorators had done a very good job.  

There was an archway adorned with lilies and orchids, and down the grassy aisle, white painted wooden chairs were set up on each side, while pots of different flowers of purple shades lined the aisle. At the very end of the aisle, where the bride and groom would stand, was something similar to the archway but bigger and more gracious. Behind it stood the tall, white pillars that were connected by a vine with hanging plants. Off to the left side, a few yards away, was the famous Garden Maze of Wispy Greens, the one that Autumn had once upon a time been so fond of. She tried her best not to look that way, knowing it would only dampen her high spirits.

Autumn sighed, taking in a deep breath and then dropped down into one of the chairs. She’d come all the way from her school in Chicago for this. She was attending a private college, one that was only a few minutes away from downtown Chicago, and she loved it. She’d only been there for a year, but Autumn could slowly feel her dreams coming true. Well, at least what would help her to eventually accomplish her dreams. But there was second reason why she loved going to school in Chicago: it was far, far away from her parents.

Living with her parents had become harder and harder. After high school, all she had wanted to do was get away from them because the fighting never stopped. And from the little she bothered to listen to, it was always about her. She had never reached her parents so-called “expectations,” and that almost always was the source of their fighting.

“Why isn’t she going to an Ivy League like we planned? I blame you for letting her go out whenever she wanted and hanging with those friends of hers.”

“I’m to blame?! Who’s the one who comes home wasted every night?”

“At least I pushed her to do better, you didn’t even bother to come home from work most nights.”

“She’s never going to accomplish anything at the rate sh–”

That was the night of her senior graduation. It hurt that parents couldn’t be proud of who she was. No, Ivy League was not her future. No, she didn’t plan to be a doctor or some CEO of some company. But Autumn liked to think she was at least a good human being, which was more than what her parents could say. But, unfortunately, Autumn had chosen the community college route, and her parents were definitely not happy with that. She wasn’t ready for college, she had no idea what she wanted from her life or where to go yet, so why not spend as little as possible and figure it out in community college? The arguing got worse, and the yelling at her got worse than ever. Autumn knew that her parents’ problems stemmed from something else, something bigger, and she only wished they would get a divorce and make everyone happy.

“Whatcha thinking about, Harper?”  Autumn turned in her seat to see Blake, her childhood best friend, sit down in the seat beside her. After her decision to attend community college, Autumn had had a falling out with her parents, and Blake and his sister had offered her a place to stay. So for some time, it was she and Blake, taking on community college together.

She let out an exasperated sigh, slouching a bit in her chair. “My parents. What can I say? Coming back to my hometown does that to me.”

“I thought you’d be thinking about Wade, what with the wedding taking place in your ‘spot’, or whatever,” he said with a smirk, his elbows placed on his knees.

Her face twisted into a scowl. “Well, I wasn’t until now. Why would you bring that up, you jerk.”

“I’m sorry!” He laughed, putting his hands up in a surrender. “It’s been almost a year! I thought you would be over it by now. You’ve never been one to be hung up over a boy anyway.”

Autumn punched him on the arm, shaking her head. It was true, she had never been one to think much of dating. She never had a boyfriend in high school and had only ever dated one other guy while at community before Wade. She honestly just never had the time or energy for boys. She had other priorities. But Wade…well, Wade had been the first guy she ever got serious about, as crazy as that was to her. “Let’s just not talk about it, okay? We’re here for your sister’s wedding, if I recall correctly. So let’s focus on that.”

“What’s there to focus on? Everything is basically done.” He gestured to the altar, which was getting its last touches done by the Gardens people. It was quite beautiful. “Plus, this is a little more pressing. You haven’t even looked at the Maze since you walked into the Gardens. This is what happens when you show our spot to your ex-boyfriend.”

Autumn opened her mouth, but closed it. One thing she had learned from a very young age when it came to her best friend: Blake Johnson was never wrong. Never. And in this case, he was not wrong. Blake was still a little bitter that Autumn had gone behind his back and shared the Maze with Wade. Not that the Maze was not open for the whole public, but there was a specific spot and a specific story behind the spot that Autumn and Blake shared. So many wonderful things had happened for them in that place; life decisions been made, tears had been shed–the two best friends had grown there together.  Wade ruined that for her, and now it was too hard to think about the Maze.

Blake shook his head. “No. No, this isn’t going to just slide. You’re not going to avoid the place we met because of some guy you dated!” He suddenly grabbed her hand, pulling Autumn to her feet. “Come on.”

“What the–” Autumn stumbled to her feet, nearly tripping on one of the chairs as she was dragged behind Blake. He pulled her to the right of the altar, a good distance away from it, where The Maze of Wispy Greens stood. He stopped right under the giant green archway. “What are you doing, Blake?”

“Having you face your fears, or whatever this is. Look.”  Some kids zoomed past them and into the maze, laughing and screaming. Blake sighed. “I get that what he did to you was bad. Of course it was bad, but you can’t let him take this from you. From us. We met here when we were in the third grade, you writing in that journal and me accidentally hitting you with the basketball I was playing with. And since then, we’ve been best friends and have some good moments in here. You can’t let that shit-head take that from us.”

Autumn bit her lip, a nervous habit of hers. She glanced at the green bushes of the Maze and then back at Blake. She owed him this much. She hadn’t gone to this Maze once since Wade. Their break-up had been almost a year ago. She exhaled. “Fine, I’ll go in. But you’re coming.”

“Duh. You think I would miss this?” He smiled, gesturing for her to start walking. “After you.”

She moved left, right, right, left, her feet almost racing as Blake tried to keep up. They passed several little nooks within the maze, each filled with beautiful stone vases filled with different kinds of flowers–some lilies, some orchids, and Autumn’s personal favorite, roses– little garden gnomes, and finally, they reached the row of statues. Each statue had a little light over it that Autumn really loved, but they were turned off in the daytime. She walked the length of those statues until she reached the one at the end–the only one of a woman. She had her head bowed down, as if she was shying away from something, and had a tambourine in her left hand. The day Autumn had met Blake, she had been sitting cross legged in front of the woman, writing a story about how this statue woman was secretly very talented but was too shy to do anything about it. Over the years, Autumn had developed the concept into a short story.

Autumn hadn’t realized she had been holding her breath, and she let it out as Blake slowly came to stand next to her. He watched her carefully, making sure that she didn’t break down. She wasn’t going to, but the whole of her relationship with Wade flashed before her: when they first met, the day she brought him here, the day she found him here with someone else….

It had been late. Autumn liked coming to the Maze to clear her head, or if she was simply bored and needed something to do. It was towards the end of her second year at community, and she was about to get her Associates Degree in Business. She knew that soon a lot was going to change with her moving to Chicago, the biggest being that she would be away from Wade and Blake. Most nights, she liked to bring Blake along to help her keep her mind off of things or to keep her company, but because he was on her mind, she decided to go alone. She walked mindlessly, knowing by heart how to get to the spot, enjoying the quiet of the Maze. Well, almost quiet.

She heard some noise coming from her spot as she neared it, and the closer she got, the clearer it got. Wade was there– with some other girl. He noticed her right away, his eyes wide, like a deer caught in the proverbial headlights. He got up quick and moved toward Autumn, rambling apologies and excuses. He reached out to her, taking her hand in his, looking her in the eyes as his filled with guilt and regret. Autumn stood there, motionless, watching as he kept going on and on about how sorry he was.

It took her a moment to process what was happening, and slowly Autumn began shaking with fury. She took her hand out of his, opening her mouth to say something, but she shut it. What was she supposed to say? Autumn could feel her eyes begin to burn with tears, and she knew if she tried to speak, she would only start crying and wouldn’t be able to stop. She tried to look at Wade past the tears that were beginning to blur her vision, and she noticed that he had stopped talking. He only looked at her with eyes that seemed…hurt. Hurt that he had hurt her. Autumn simply pressed her lips together, turning her back to him, taking a shaky breath to stop the tears, and walked away. She could have cried, shown him how much he had hurt her in a span of a few minutes, but why give him that? What would that achieve? She walked home, ignored Blake when he asked what was wrong, and locked herself in her room. Autumn cried until she fell asleep.

Wade tried calling, talking to her in school, and even tried to talk to Blake. But Blake knew if he stepped in, it would only mess up Autumn’s attempt to avoid Wade. So he stayed out of it until Autumn would feel the need to bring him in. It was just how he and Autumn functioned. In the meantime, Autumn stayed away from Wade, too angry, too sad, and too heartbroken to talk.

After a few days, Wade seemed to give up, and Autumn couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief. She really didn’t want to see him, and especially didn’t want to talk about what had happened. Where would that lead them? Nowhere. But her luck was not that good because a few nights later, Wade came knocking at her door.

“Autumn–Wade is at the door,” Blake said, standing in her doorway, his eyesbrows arched as if to ask her what to do.

“Why??” She whined, putting her face in her pillow. “Tell him to go away.”

Blake rolled his eyes, stepping into her room and taking a seat on her bed. “Well, I can’t. I let him in.” She shot up, glaring at him. He quickly threw his hands up in surrender. “Sorry! Look, you know I normally stay out of this kind of thing, but dude, you have to talk to him so that this whole thing can end. He won’t stop until he talks to you, you know that as well as I do.”

Autumn’s mouth twisted, her eyes narrowing at her friend. “I hate you, you know that?” But she got up anyway, straightening her shirt to look somewhat presentable.

“I love you too. Now go, you look fine.”

Autumn closed her eyes, took a breath, and walked down the stairs and into the living room where Wade stood. His back was to her, he was looking at some photos on the wall above the fireplace. This is a bad idea, she thought, and quickly turned around to go back up the stairs, but Blake was standing there, his hands crossed over his chest, eyebrows raised. He mouthed, “Go talk to him. Now.” She shot him a glare before clearing her throat. “Hey.”

Wade startled, turning around. “Geez, you scared me.” Autumn only raised her eyebrows. Now it was his turn to clear his throat. “You’ve been ignoring me for days. We have to talk about this, Autumn.”

“That’s normally why people avoid other people–I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I want to say I’m sorry,” he replied, ignoring the comment. “I didn’t mean it.”

Autumn scrunched her eyebrows and scoffed. “I’m sorry, you didn’t mean it? Wade, do you know how ridiculous that sounds? Whether you meant it or not, you did it. You…” her voice got a little quiet. “You cheated on me. With Nina Stamelos, no less. I thought you didn’t like her?”

“Nina just happened to be around…”

Autumn raised her eyebrows again. “You’re not helping whatever case you’re trying to make, Wade.” They looked at each other, falling silent. After a moment, she finally asked, “Why’d you do it? Why’d you cheat on me?”

He swallowed before he talked. “You were leaving. I was…upset. I was drinking. And it just happened.”

Autumn took a moment to process this. She sat down on the couch, her head in her hands. “Let me get this straight–you cheated on me because I was going to move? What? How does that make sense in your head? Because it doesn’t make sense in mine.” She looked up at him, meeting his eyes.

“Well, what did you think? I was going to be thrilled with the idea of you leaving for Chicago in the fall? I’m sorry, I got upset about you leaving me!”

Now she was getting angry. This was his reason? How was this a valid reason? “I wasn’t leaving you, you asshole. I was going to school there. We could’ve talked about this! And if you were really that unhappy, we could have ended it. Cheating on me was not the answer.”

They stared at each other for a few moments before Wade spoke again. “I’m sorry.”

Autumn exhaled, angry. She’d heard many reasons why people get cheated on: falling out of love, never truly being in love, scared of commitment, the list went on. She couldn’t help but think that this was the stupidest reason she had heard for hurting someone. She shook her head, closing her eyes. “You should really go. I think we talked enough.”

He looked at her as if he was about to say something, then thought better of it. Wade walked to the door, but before he left, he said, “I really am sorry for what I did.”

She bit her lip, and sat on the couch for a few minutes before getting up. Walking to the stairs, she saw Blake sitting at the top–of course he’d been listening. Autumn put on a fake smile. “Ya happy? I talked to him. Now it’s over.”

“I am happy, now you at least know why he did it. Talking about the problem is always a good thing, even if it ends badly. The truth helps with closure.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She walked to her room, ruffling Blake’s hair to let him know she appreciated his effort. She should have cried, or punched something, but she didn’t. It wasn’t because she wasn’t sad or angry, but because she had no energy for either. Instead, she just sat on her bed, and thought about how to move on from here.  

“You okay?”

Autumn shook her head, snapping her attention back to Blake. “Yeah…sorta.”

“Okay, maybe forcing you was bad idea. Sorry.”

“No, no, this was….an okay idea. I mean,” she sighed. “Maybe this will be like closure. The kind of closure that doesn’t hit you until a little later.”

“Oh-kay.” He looked at her weird and then shrugged. “As long as you can come back with me here one day, I’ll be fine.”

Autumn cracked a smile. “One day, Blake, one day. I promise.”

Blake’s phone rang, breaking the silence. He said a few “yeses’’ and a few “okays” before hanging up. “Okay, here’s what’s up: one of the bridesmaids had to back out because her kid was playing around and decided to try flying. Anyway, he had to be rushed to the hospital because he might have broken something, and now my sister needs you to be a bridesmaid.”

“Sam wants me to be a stand-in bridesmaid? Why not just go with one less bridesmaid? She has enough as it is.”

“‘Cause Sam’s crazy and needs it to be perfect. So we gotta go now so you can be fit into a dress.”

“She has an extra dress?” Autumn couldn’t help laughing at how ridiculous it sounded.

“I said crazy, didn’t I?”

“Okay, I guess…?”

The two walked briskly out of the maze, making their way to Blake’s car to get to the hotel where a dress would be waiting for Autumn. As they drove away, Autumn could see the archway of the Maze, and a small smile spread on her face. She promised Blake one day, and hopefully, one day would come soon.


This story was written in Salli Berg Seeley’s Explore Chicago class at DePaul University in collaboration with the Chicago Literary Map.

Getting To Know Each Other

Scott:  You’re driving through Colorado on your way to Oregon to go camping/climbing with friends. You’re passing through the mountains and it starts raining HARD. The area you’re in is really remote but thankfully you see one of those neon hotel signs buzzing ahead with “Vacancy”.

At the front desk is a slimy meth head-looking lady, about 48 with really shitty, hand-done tattoos. She’s mid-argument on the phone when you walk in and hastily throws the phone down and greets you with a warm “What?”. You get your room and the rest of the night passes without anything unique happening.

The next morning you check out, walk outside and the lady from the front desk is creeping around your car. She sees you and rushes away. You hop in your car and start your trip back up. 50 miles down the road three cops pull you over, guns drawn.

What do they charge you with?

OliveNoShow:  Duh. The mass murder of all those friends. By “camping” you really mean “burying them in a remote area away from where you live.” And those “friends” are really all stuffed in the trunk. You almost got away with it, but the one and only victim you ever left alive 20 years ago saw and recognized you. Even after years of PTSD that rendered her incapable of holding a steady job except as a desk clerk at a shitty hotel off a remote road, she recognized you as the monster that made her turn to a life of meth and isolation. So when she realized you were at it again, but unable to recognize her because you were blinded with disgust and judgement for her poorly drawn tattoos, she saw her chance for justice.

So now you’ve been caught. Cops surround you. What do you do?

Scott:  It’s always those minute details.

THANK GOD [sic] for that meth addiction. Being the sly self-motivated, devoid of emotion and empathy human being that I am, I pin everything on the meth head. With such horrible teeth and tattoos, it’s a little hard to argue she knew a few TOO MANY details for this to be a casual sort of encounter. Sure my camping knife is big, but I’m a man, a hunter possibly (nope). My knife was only there for camping necessity.

I turn this into a case of entirely bad luck; my god, what are my “friends” going to think when I don’t show up for this camping trip on time?! Can I borrow your phone? How long is this going to take?! This is too crazy, this isn’t my life!!!!

The cops see how in control I am and default their basic stereotypical judgements (stupid cops) and I’m let off, free to continue my trip to Oregon.

How does my fortune unfold?

OliveNoShow:  You make it to your “camping” trip. Unload your cargo and have a pretty relaxing weekend. The weather was nice and the beers were cold. Years go by and now you’re a middle aged man who’s carved out (no pun intended) a pretty good life for himself. One night, you’re in the study of your suburban 4-room house and there’s a knock at the door. You’d never thought you’d see her again, especially after what happened so long ago, but there she is…who is it?

Scott:  “Her”, or at least that is how she is known in my mind. In my early years she was “The One”. My world, my teacher, my Jesus; but time changes everything, right?

I’m shocked to see those eyes staring back at me; those same eyes that have always encouraged me toward the edge of sanity. She’s doing it again.

We don’t say anything audible for the first 30 seconds, just stare. Our past flashes through my mind; the first time I caught her breaking her vows, the first time she caught me breaking bones, all the times that followed, breaking bones and making cuts together.

Truly a love-hate relationship. Broken promises, broken dreams, broken hearts yet she is the only person to ever see the real me and survived. Years of distrust mixed with the closest and most trusting relationship I have ever had.

My mind stops wandering, immediately focused again on who is staring right back at me.

Her eyes: clear, hate-filled, that subtle-bright glimmer in the corner of her iris that shows a bit of life & insanity. They are eerily exact to mine… well I guess maybe not eerily.

“Hi mom”

OliveNoShow:  She remains silent. Unable to find the words. Well, even if she could, there would be no use. The last time you cut her you went too far, cutting too deep into her throat. For the better part of your adult life, all you got from her were grunts and mumbles that sounded more like hums. But mostly stares so deep they cut you to the core. And she made sure of it the way she’s making sure of it now. She lets the silence linger for as long as you’ll stand it. Because she knows that every passing second is a painful reminder of what you did to her. To your world. Your teacher. Your Jesus.

You’re so wrapped in your own guilt that you almost miss it. A slight uncertainty in her eye. She always had a tell. And you almost forgot it. But it’s as visible as a single crack on an icy surface. She’s up to something and for the first time in your life, you’re caught off guard. Before you can put the pieces together, she steps aside and there he is.

“Monster” you always called him. The reason you became THAT. The only one that makes you feel powerless. A feeling you always took out on others. But could never take out on him. You feel the life drained from you and regress back to a little boy scared running to mom. You look back at her grasping for sympathy, for a sign that everything will be ok. But all you find is a familiar sadistic satisfaction. She’s enjoying this. She’s been waiting for this moment…and that’s when it hits you.

Scott:  Life doesn’t change.

Insecurities are never settled, fear is never confronted. Everything we do is some sort of cover, some sort of compensation for those initial moments when we felt fragile, malleable; when we realize the power we try to pronounce is equal to some mating ritual of brainless animals; all posturing. We follow a pattern of compensation that can never be satiated.

But that is the great thing about humans, we have the ability to consciously recognize and adapt. Facing this stark realization and immediate regression into youthful frailty you realize you’re no longer a child. While some of that beautiful wonder has left the world, in its place exists a certainty in pattern.

You’ve embraced this certainty for all of those years on your own and it has empowered you through the tough spots you’ve faced, brought you to the point in your life where you are today.

In this flash of realization you stare back at “The Monster”, confidence renewed.

He was never supposed to be better, stronger, or smarter than you. But all those years the little brother won out. Was he really better than you or did you simply underestimate his abilities, relying on the “age-old-adages” about superiority due to being the first born? Finally your confidence wins out.

With your mind dissecting every detail you do the last thing expected and open your arms.

OliveNoShow:  He stares you down, puzzled, as if he had never seen you in his life. The same way he looked at you the day you met. You were born strangers and only became brothers through broken vows. And even on that first day, you instantly knew he was somehow superior to you. What was it that he knew that you didn’t? What was his secret? Your curiosity didn’t last long, though. He made sure to “share” his pain with you until he turned you into what he was. Because misery loves company, but evil loves recruits.

After what he used to call “The Initiation,” you two were inseparable. Him at the helm, you his loyal soldier. Loyalty based off of fear? Perhaps. And he made sure of that. Controlling your every move, every thought, every decision all while giving you a false sense that you were the one in control of yourself.

But seeing you standing there, arms wide open, all fears and self-doubts gone, stirs a familiar darkness in him. With one small act, you’ve stripped him of his power over you. The only real power he’s ever had.

Sensing this, you put your arms down and step aside, silently inviting them in. You don’t know where it comes from and you certainly didn’t plan it, but you say something so surprising that it would have been a total lie had it not come straight from the heart.

“I’ve been expecting you.”

Scott:  On second thought, how surprising is it really? Over the last decade or so certain things have simply fallen into place. Guilt and shame over your desires, needs, deeds, it has all evaporated. The blessing of living independently of all the souls who initially shaped you has forced you to survey and judge yourself honestly, it has turned you into a self sufficient pathogen.

Social obligations have always been your way to blend in, learn the habits of the other side, advance your camouflage. After so many hot dogs and cucumber sandwiches you noticed something though; no one is being real. These encounters are everyone’s opportunity to play the part they’ve been watching on TV or reading about in magazines and the occasional airport novel; their opportunity to be the archetype of the strong human.

With your own Adam and Eve wandering into your garden you identify the characters. You are the serpent, the purest evil, seductive and persuasive. This isn’t a desire, this isn’t a character, this is you. Your invitation should have been rejected immediately, after all, who knowingly walks into the bears den.

Yet here they are. Yours.

You’ve loved them, you’ve ruined them, and now you realize you are done with them.

Knowing what you are about to do you say a silent “thank you” for the house being devoid of all other living props.

“So what now?” you say as you openly and casually grab a large, meticulously maintained carving knife from your kitchen knife set.

OliveNoShow:  You wake up with a startle, disoriented and filled with the initial vulnerability that comes with it. It takes you a second to snap to it. And last night’s events slowly start trickling into your memory. You, in the study. That fateful knock at the door. Her eyes fixated on you. The Monster. Your newfound strength.

Everything else is a blur. Like a Fellini movie, you can’t distinguish reality from the subconscious.

Did you finally regain your power from The Monster? Or was that simply a recurring dream?

Was she really there? Or was that the same desire you’ve always had manifesting itself in a new way?

Did you finally get to cut him one last time? Or did your imagination get the best of you again?

Are you really done with them? Or do you regret last night’s impulses?

With all these questions looming over your head, you start to feel a familiar stirring deep within you. You haven’t felt this in years, and you have to do something about it. Now.

Scott:  Wash your body clean, no invisible traces.
Put on clean (still packaged) clothes.
Grab the emergency cash fund.
Find the knife.
Light a fire.
Drive.

* * *It’s a little different in the daylight, a whole lot more arousing. The idea of walking with your prey, blending as you are, pick of the litter.First rules first though, hide all emotion. Not a hard rule to remember butthe one time you slipped…

Focus.

Your head follows the 99% on their ritual Sunday activities. Scanning each face, each walk, each stutter for the air of familiarity. You need to find them.

A man’s shoulder bumps you hard from behind. You stumble forward, keeping your feet but exposing your back, your right hand immediately darts to the knife’s handle in your waistline.

The aggressor greets you with simple indifference. The man keeps walking; he’s not a piece of the story, just an asshole with a puffed up chest.

He doesn’t fit what you want, he isn’t like them, he’s no disciple. Yet there he is, catching you off guard, making you feel weak. He should pay, right? Right?

Yes.

You start walking a little faster en route to a safe following distance, gauging his awareness of you. WAIT.

Focus. NO. When you break the plan it’s empty. An increase in possibility without a decrease in thirst. Last time you swore you’d never parch your thirst with salt water again.Focus.

With focus back on your side you turn around in time to see… nothing. You just hear a loud dull “thump” hitting you in that place that is the fusion of skull and neck. Your legs give out and less than a second later your consciousness wanes as well. That was long enough to see the shoes though; always the same pair.

Writer:  Scott
Location:  Washtenaw & Haddon
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