Cuffy: Part 5
"Cuffy" is a novelette set in the year 2500 about a young black man who has earned a seat in an international sculpture competition. His sculpture, Black Power, has gained the interests of powerful people who seek to interpret it for themselves. All the while, his extracurricular activities reliving slave narratives in VR from the POV of the slave master have become increasingly dangerous for his future. "Cuffy" will be published weekly on Argot in six total installments along with a continuously evolving title illustration by Tiffani Gomez. This is Part 4. Read from the beginning at Cuffy Part 1.
“Hey Dewey, it’s 7:45, don’t you got to get going?”
“Yeah, I’m just thinking about something.”
His mom leaned against the doorway of his room. “What you thinking about?”
“Gravity? Why you thinking about gravity?”
“Something to do with your statue?”
Cuffy pulled the blanket over his head. “Yup.”
“The school called. Told me you’re supposed to be there in 15 minutes to help the movers. What are you doing here?”
She walked over to his bed and ripped off the blanket. “This ain’t no time to be playing around, Dewey. Get out of here.”
“You’re right.” he said and swung his legs over the side of his bed.
“I know I’m right.”
Cuffy grabbed his backpack and began to walk past her, but she put a hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, I love you Dewey.”
He regarded the hand on his shoulder and rubbed his cheek against it. His mom pulled it away and walked into the living room.
“Good luck.” she called.
When Cuffy stepped into the room, three men were already there, orbiting his statue. One of them called to him.
“You Dewitt Cuffy?”
The man walked over and pulled out a folder.
“All right.” he said. “We got to move this over to Central Park. I have the coordinates logged, the satellites are in route...You know how much it weighs?”
“It’s solid steel. Tons, I imagine.”
The man whistled and gazed at it.
Cuffy looked at it too. “That gonna be a problem?”
“Hmm? No, we’ll be able to get the specifications right.” He walked over to the ball and put a hand on it’s dark surface. “This the way it needs to sit. Just like this?”
Cuffy told the three men exactly how it should face, exactly how it should be. They listened intently and clarified a few points here and there.
“What time will they move it?” he asked.
“Soon as the satellites line up.” The man checked the folder, found what he was looking for. “Sometime around 5 in the morning, should be.” He scratched his chin and looked at the ceiling. “Somewhere’s around there anyway...You okay if we lose the roof? Probably, be easier if we don’t have to phase through it.”
Cuffy nodded and watched the three men detach the roof from the room. The glass panels above flipped, sectioned into four triangles and slid into the hollow walls. The stars were out.
Cuffy leaned against the wall and watched the men, fumble with the energy locks on the corners of the room. The man turned a key and a green box lit up near the entrance and metal against metal could be heard through the walls, latching the rigging in place.
“That should about do it. When you leave, this’ll all close up.” said the man, waving a finger at heaven. “You know how expensive it is to transport a couple tons of steel?” he asked Cuffy without looking at him, his eyes glazed with stars. “Let alone phase it through a ceiling.”
“Yeah, you got it. It’s a lot.” He let his eyes fall back to Earth. “Luckily, Trans-Shift’s footing the bill, right?” He raised a hand and waved to the two men trying to get his attention from the exit. They nodded back and left, leaving Cuffy and the man alone with it.
“You know, I used to do some sculpture in my day?”
“Little bit,” the man admitted. “Little bit, but nothing like this though.”
Cuffy followed the man’s eyes up his statue.
“Nothing like this. They look just like real people.”
The man made a noise and asked, “What’s it all about?”
Cuffy regarded the man, then turned back to the statue. “I’ve started thinking about the direction of it though...which way’s it pulling.”
If the man was confused, he didn’t show it. “It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?”
Cuffy nodded. “I guess so. Hey, if I wanted, could I I still use the Trans-Shift activators, even if the ceiling’s open?”
“Hmm? Oh, yeah, should be able to.” The man held up a flat hand and ran a finger along the edge of it. “Beams are arranged horizontally, planes of...You see, the fibers run along-” He dropped his hands, and shrugged. “Yeah, it’ll be fine. Nothing important in the ceiling. You going to change something?”
The next day, Cuffy sat on stage with the other contestants and famous guest judges and listened to the corporate propaganda of Trans-Shift. Turner Dessaline, the CEO of Trans-Shift, expounded that although art and entertainment were essential to the functioning of a well rounded society, they were also part and parcel to new innovation and technology. Cuffy could barely keep his eyes open.
“Trans-Shift’s 3-D modeling capabilities, on display here, show the unbridled potential for this technology. The only obstacles we have yet to clear are the limitations of our own imaginations.”
Some applause here and there from the thousands of people swamped around the stage. He continued.
“Trans-Shift started with the beams we now use to travel instantly around the world, but 10 years ago, I thought...we can do more. This light that infuses with matter, FILLING IT UP, letting us fly from Tokyo to New York in mere seconds. It was indeed incredible, but I thought to myself, I thought, why couldn’t it also manipulate that matter, instead of just infusing it? I asked myself why couldn’t we manipulate matter as easily as we...”
Cuffy dozed off. The applause woke him.
“...Thank you. Yes, the future deserves to experience the outer reaches of their own creativity, not just in some protracted digital space, but in physical reality. Not blunted by electrical appendages, but
truly seen. And here, we have the technology to materialize it, unplugged. Size, weight, shape, color, 10 years ago I believed that, eventually, none of...”
The applause woke him again. Cuffy sat up in his seat.
“For 50 years, this international sculpture competition has been the showcase for today’s newest technology, but I am proud to say that, today, on the eve of the year 2500, all 20 sculptures have been built using Trans-Shift.”
Lighter applause. Cuffy shuffled his feet. His mom waved at him. He showed her his teeth.
“Some of the older folks up here may remember when sculptures were not “in” as they say. I know many of you can’t even imagine it, but this ancient art used to be relegated only to museums, to hotel lobbies, and to petty ornaments in gardens. Of course, nowadays, it has become the international skill. Everyday, all over the world, children’s fingers become caked with clay, working and beating out their own unique forms of grand-”
He hesitated, flipping to the next page.
“...Grandeur. Making from themselves, masters of their own imagination. Sociologists speculate why sculpture rose to a place of prominence in our society these past 100 odd years, but the answer seems obvious to me, and the other members of the ISC committee. Sculpture is about “the still.” The ageless. The ardent guard of time and place. More than books, music, movies, plays, even paintings, sculpture exists within a space of our immediate perception, daring us not to forget the hands that forged it. And in today’s fast paced world, sculpture’s-”
He paused as if searching for the word.
“...permanence has provided a stark contrast to a world innovating at light speed, and here, at a competition designed to highlight the beauty of stillness, we must recognize that art’s fundamental gift is to shake us free from context, and perceive new possibilities.”
He stopped, expecting applause. None came. He continued.
“Since coming out with Trans-Shift technology, we’ve seen massive leaps forward as industry after industry utilizes its potential for the betterment of mankind. Think of what is possible now that we have the ability to craft LITERALLY ANYTHING. Think of every life that might be enriched, might be enhanced, might be saved if one could design and build anything. Then go a step beyond what you can even imagine and you’re truly at the door step. The medical benefits alone are staggering. Just last week, I had an exciting talk with Insta-Karma’s CEO about the possibility of creating the world’s first artificial nervous system, ready for transplant. Imagine it. The subtle fibers of our very experience crafted, individuated, and realized for altruistic purpose. And with the imminent dawn of AI, who knows how far Trans-Shift might take us!”
“Get on with it!” Shouted someone from the crowd. Light laughter. Light applause. Turner Dessaline did not acknowledge it, but he did seem to flip a few pages forward.
“And...And so, at the doorway of untold vistas of new possibility...”
He flipped to another page.
“Okay.Anton Chekov, a once famous writer, once wrote:“I am afraid of those who look for a tendency between the lines, who are determined to regard me solely in particulars...I should like to be a free artist and nothing more, and I regret that God has not given me the power to be one.” He was a man, same as all of us, who cried out for an end to limitation, and now, 700 years later. It has arrived, not from God, but from ourselves. Here-”
He stretched a hand toward the sky.
“...are 20 sculptures: solid testaments, to our ingenuity, our creativity, and our courage that show that we are more than just apes on this Earth. We are creators!”
Applause, applause. Cuffy rubbed his eyes and looked at the other 20 people on stage with him. He was the only one not clapping. Floating drone-cameras swirled around him like curious flies trying to find his eyeline. He looked at his shoes.
“Now, before we begin, I’d like to congratulate president Zephie for his historic win, and hope that he ushers in a time of peace and unification for our great country.”
Quiet applause. Cuffy sees that girl from his job standing alone some distance from the crowd leaning against a tree. She smiles.
“So, without further ado, I present to you, the 50th annual International Sculpture Competition!”
Fireworks, though it was day time, sparked across the sky, black for contrast, black for posterity and initiated the event.
Behind the stage, 20 transport beams lifted 20 gigantic white sheets off 20 gigantic sculptures arranged across Central Park, including Cuffy’s.
Applause, applause, and more applause and the crowd flooded toward the statues to get selfies. Cuffy jumped from the stage and his mom rushed at him, hugged him.
“This is so exciting!” She shrieked and shook him.
Some drones pulled up along side and strobed camera flashes at them. She pulled away from him quickly, and fashioned a quick pose. Flash. Flash. Flash. When the drones flew away, still smiling, she glanced at Cuffy, found him staring at her.
After the commencement, the judges: actors and actresses, politicians, scientists, artists, past winners, and athletes, carried aloft by transport-beams of their own, flew around the park observing and commenting into their audio recorders about each statue. Cuffy watched them soar overhead as he walked around the park, speaking into their devices, conferring with each other mid-air. Occasionally, his eyes would linger on one buzzing around his own on the far side of the park, before turning away.
The statues were arranged in such a way, that you could walk along the jogging trail and see each one in turn. Therefore, a large herd of spectators found themselves mobbing, lock step, piece by piece, while others, more accustomed to their own pace, lingered on some, while rushed through others. Cuffy strolled along the path just ahead of them regarding the other statues in the competition. None of them seemed to illicit a response from Cuffy, until he saw the tenth one.
The 100 foot tall statue by famous Dutch sculptor, Jan Broucke, defied physics as many of the other sculptures did, but this one struck him, or appeared to at least, and he lingered with it long after the mob had passed by.
The texture of it looked ceramic, like the purest white, cutting close to the sheer edge of the spectrum. It was blinding. His phone rang. He turned it off. The thing was grounded by two gigantic 30 foot hands and its long fingers clutched the earth like it was desperately trying to hold on. From the hands, two massive arms stretched into the sky, tapering smaller and smaller, until they became the shoulders of a normal 5’8”person. Just a human figure, ambiguously sexed, attached to those hundred foot arms and those 30 foot hands on the ground. The small owner of the enormous white hands dangled in the sky, floating way up there among the clouds like a little human kite.
Cuffy walked around it, again and again, continuously wiping tears from his eyes, trying not to be seen by other people, circling. He noticed a ring on one finger. He crouched, put his own hand to it, felt the density of it; the hum of its constituent parts. Some people walked up behind him and Cuffy stood up, wiping something from his face.
“Is he trying to wrench himself free from his own arms or does he merely walk with his hands?” Asked someone.
“I think it’s symbolic.” Answered someone else.
“Well of course it’s symbolic, but I’m trying to figure out its literal form first, before I try to-”
Cuffy walked away from them and continued down the path. He’d seen 10 of the other statues, but none of them had been given so much of his time.
He looked across the park and saw the lock step crowd form around his statue. He cut a jag across the green and made to join them, but right as he walked up, Turner Dessaline, cane in hand, descended upon him, and wasted no time.
“YOU CHANGED IT!” he cried.
“Minimally,” responded Cuffy.
“Exponentially, I’d say. The color-” He pointed to Cuffy’s statue. “The colors, they’re all different now.”
Cuffy looked up at the colors, his compromise. The ball in the center remained jet black like the pictures he’d published, but along the poles, the black gradated outward, lighter and lighter, into 20 brown figures. His brown.
“It’s a gradient.” He said.
“Yes, I’m aware, but it wasn’t in the picture I saw before today.” Turner said definitively.
“Nothing in the rules says I can’t change it.”
Turner regarded the crowd around him. Some of them were staring up at the top most boy. He pointed his cane at it. “You changed him too, didn’t you?”
One of the sleeves of the boy’s black hoody hung loose and his brown hands were tugging against the pole holding him to the black sphere below. His face was warped with effort.
“Nothing in the rules says I can’t-”
“I didn’t say it was a bad thing,” interrupted Turner. “Just that the judges might not like it, especially this little number.” He tapped the floating placard next to the statue with his cane, “The Event Horizon of Black Power?’ What happened to just “Black Power?”
Cuffy looked at the boy tugging against the pole. “Too simple.”
“Hmmm. Too simple. So, better to veer into the pretentious than embrace subtlety, Mr. Cuffy?”
“What would you name it?”
Turner looked at the boy beside him, “We haven’t formally met, have we?”
Cuffy put out his hand, and Turner Dessaline shook it. White flashes strobed out toward them from all angles, then disappeared. Cuffy let go of the man.
“An unfortunate picture.” said Turner. “Was hoping to avoid it, but, oh well.” He leaned toward Cuffy. “I hope your school didn’t put too much pressure on you, but I was worried that we wouldn’t have some kind of representation here, as we don’t much anywhere else, do we?”
Cuffy laughed, then started backing away from the man, but a quick arm wrapped around his shoulder.
“The Event Horizon of Black Power. You know I’ve been thinking about that title, the turning point for us, if you will, that boy at the top there, trying to pull the others up, that’s me, isn’t it?”
Cuffy opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out.
“Oh, that’s all right, it goes without saying, doesn’t it. The sheer power of it. Black power, creating the doctor, the politician, and yes, the social ills, the thief, the criminal, all of it stemming from this same pool of potential, connecting us, binding us. It is simply a masterwork, Mr. Cuffy.”
Cuffy’s shoulders heaved. He tried wiggling out of the man’s grip, but the arm felt like steel against his neck.
“You know, when I was your age, I was busy inventing light plates; you know what those are? I guess they’ve become obsolete at this point, but can you imagine, 18, me, creating a patent for something that would soon be sold in stores, participating in the process! Nowadays, of course, I don’t just have a singular product, but a goddamn utility, but back then, Mr. Dewitt, I felt so excited. I immediately moved my parents out of their apartment, and put them in the best neighborhood...You live in East Brooklyn, don’t you?”
Cuffy put a hand to his stomach and looked across the park toward the white hands in the distance, the small figure flying above it.
“Rough, well, no matter, you won’t be living there for long, I heard some of the judges talking about the raw emotional power of your statue, an expression of community one of them said. They all sounded very impressed.”
He got close to Cuffy’s ear and whispered, “You and I know, it’s more complicated than that, but let them assume. They see what they see, don’t they. They hear what they hear, but in the end, it all comes back to this, doesn’t it. No matter what it is I do, or how powerful I become, it’s still...well, here it is.”
Turner pulled him close. “You captured the essence. DON’T LOOK AT THE ACTION, LOOK AT THE SOURCE!”
He laughed and removed his arm from Cuffy’s neck.
“Let this be a lesson for you, Mr. Cuffy. Never disillusion an assumption.”
“Why!? Because...Excuse me a moment.” Turner pulled out his phone. “Yes, I’ll be right there. I’m sorry, Mr. Dewitt, I have to go. Good job on the sculpture. It speaks worlds.”
Cuffy watched him fly away like an ad-drone and threw up on the ground. The crowd around him backed away and he leaned against his runner. He closed his eyes. Camera drones, pre-programmed to capture noteworthy behavior, flashed around him and all his insides became public. Someone offered him some water, but he refused it, and ran.
Erik's Goldsmith's short stories have been featured in Metaphorosis, Hidden Menagerie, and Wavelengths Anthology. He also has a book of short stories called "Tinker's Pain Calculator" published by Scarlet Leaf Press. He teaches English in Texas.