April 12, 2021


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Josh White

Mac had long carried a linesman’s tool bag to Midwestern fairs where he competed at each locality’s butter sculpture contest in search of a fame that eluded him due to his choice of venue for his talents. He’d found the bag years ago at a pawn shop while stopping in Oshkosh for a fish sandwich and a beer, drawn in by the sadness the weary canvas bag projected through the neon-adorned windows of the shop. Now Evers, the Lower Manhattan gallery owner who’d moved Mac to New York to alter his fate and become a well-known artist, rifled through Mac’s bag, giddy and chatting about how the smooth, greasy edges of the tools told stories to his fingers.

Mac and Evers had built an enormous, glass-enclosed, refrigerated chamber inside Evers’ gallery space, where Mac was to accomplish his life-size carving of a great white shark, sawn in half, laterally, organs fully detailed in salted butter.

“Butter, as a medium, poses its challenges,” Mac said, “Which is what draws me to it.”

Evers liked to spend his afternoons, cocktail in hand, chatting with Mac while he carved in full view of the street. Clusters of tourists and New Yorkers would gather to gawk through the glass at the enormous pale shape taking form.

“It was your attention to detail that I first noticed,” Evers said. He’d encountered Mac’s incredible dairy cow at the Wisconsin State Fair over a year ago while taking a break from helping a friend hang a show in downtown Milwaukee. Every hair detailed on the hide. The nose practically glistening with mucous. All in butter. The sight had made Evers’ stomach gnarl, such was the visceral and simultaneous attraction and disgust at this bulking effigy of Midwestern culture. He was getting the same feeling from the shark sculpture as it took shape, for which he had helped arrange the commission.

“Butter, as a medium, poses its challenges,” Mac said, “Which is what draws me to it.”

After Mac had roughed in the basic shape of the shark, he began to work on the head, in finished detail, moving inch by inch, from the shark’s teeth, to its eventual tail.

“You know I love your details,” Evers said, “But why so much?”

“I’m inspired by Tibetan butter sculpture,” Mac said, “Very intricate and finely crafted and colorful. For them it is an ancient art with its origin high in the mountains, where the ambient temperature was such that butter sculptures were practical for public display to celebrate their spring festival.”

“Okay, good.”

“They used Yak butter, which I am told has a milder, more acidic flavor than our cow butter.”

“Yak butter? I can get us yak butter. I think I have a guy for that.”

“But would that be honest? This is the American State Fair. It’s about celebrating the Middle-American folklore.”

Evers smudged a bit of the sculpture from the shark’s tail and tasted it.

“It’s not food. It’s not art—this is perfect. It will confuse the hell out of people,” Evers said.

“Back home I have a dog, his name is Cheese.”

“So the two of you are Mac & Cheese.”

“I left him in the care of my sister. I hope he isn’t missing me too much.”


After his day at the studio, instead of going to his apartment in Washington Heights, Mac took the train to Queens to visit Kelsey, Evers’ gallery manager. She’d invited Mac to come out for beer and sketching.

Mac was a large, rounded man with curly brown locks and a buttery softness to his skin and complexion. His body could have been a butter sculpture. Mac noticed Kelsey’s eyes on him as they putzed about her fourth floor walk-up.

Her apartment was long and narrow, the entry opening into a living room which then led to a kitchen which then split into a narrow bedroom to the left and a narrow bathroom on the right. The front room was floor to ceiling books on one side, and a couch and two chairs with a low coffee table crowding the leg space on the other. Charming bric-a-brac covered the spare surfaces along the shelves and the coffee table and the table by the couch: gem stones, buddhas, talismans, piles of hand-printed zines and show posters. The vertical space did not escape this horror vacui; prints and paintings hung salon-style on the walls while Japanese lanterns and various Calderesque mobiles dangled from the ceiling.

Kelsey got them beers from the fridge and they settled into the front room to chat. Mac took the couch, spreading his arms and legs, Kelsey sat in a nearby chair, which appeared to be rescued garbage and questionably functional. The spindles groaned and cracked with her weight as sparks of affection flew from her gaze toward Mac’s body.

“Would you like to sketch me?” Kelsey asked.

When Mac did not immediately respond, she added, “No pressure.”

“Um,” he started, “Actually, I was hoping you could sketch me. My entire body, in the nude. I’m working on something.”

“I’ll get you the robe, you can change in my room.” She dodged across the apartment to her bedroom. They crossed each other at the threshold and she handed him the red silk robe with black lace trim.


By the time Mac emerged wearing only the robe, Kelsey had set up an easel by the couch and installed lights trained on an area of the room where a grey sheet was draped down the back of a chair and across the area rug.

Mac shed his gown, leaving it on the arm of the sofa. His motions were graceful, like those of a man who never felt a sense of urgency. He took a pose at the center of the gray sheet and Kelsey began to put her marks on the page. He saw Kelsey staring into his eyes, possibly drawing them. His skin was buttery and luminous in the generous warm light she had trained on his body, giving a strong highlight on one side, and a clear shadow on the other.

“It’s disgusting, absolutely revolting,” Evers said, smiling broadly, causing a washboard of age lines to ripple across his forehead and around the edges of his mouth like multiple sets of parentheses.

“You seem to be a natural at this,” Kelsey said.

Mac raised an eyebrow. The gesture made it into the drawing.


Evers and Mac stood side by side, small plastic cups of wine in hand, regarding the eight foot tall butter sculpture of Mac. One detailed brow was raised. The penis snoozed against the thigh, the legs spread apart, flat footed, the shoulders rounded. A bystander compared it to a Segal, only more edible. Another onlooker made the arch comment that the piece spoke to the idea of the artist as a victim of late-stage capitalism’s culture of consumption, dropping the names of several artists and philosophers Mac had never heard of.

“It’s disgusting, absolutely revolting,” Evers said, smiling broadly, causing a washboard of age lines to ripple across his forehead and around the edges of his mouth like multiple sets of parentheses.

“You’ve riffed on Hirst, you’ve done your Segal, what’s next?” Evers said.

Mac shook his head. “I do not know. I wish little Cheese was here so he could comfort me. Because, quite honestly, I’m getting a little stressed out from the attention I’m getting.” No one had ever paid much attention or made arch comments at the unveiling of one of his butter sculptures at a state fair exhibition, except for maybe a stray single mother with child in tow, stopping to exclaim, “Look, sweetie, it’s a man making a cow out of butter—imagine that!”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll have your little Cheese on the next flight out of Milwaukee,” Evers said.

Kelsey pulled away from a cluster of fellow artists to join the two men. “Want to have a night cap at my place?”

“In Queens? No thanks,” Evers said, “You two go without me.”

Kelsey hooked her arm through Mac’s and led him away from the press of the well-heeled crowd toward the greasy light of the subway entrance nearby.


Mac awoke from an intense dream in Kelsey’s bed. The details were slipping away; something about the police forcing him onto a plane back to Wisconsin. The walls of Kelsey’s room were covered with her prints. Mostly organic colors and shapes colliding with hard geometric lines and plastic colors. There was one realistic oil portrait of a dog. Mac’s phone on the hardwood floor told him it was 2am.

“Go back to sleep, babe,” Kelsey said. She rolled her smooth, warm body against his and wrapped her arm around his torso.

“What are you working on? Do you have any projects?”

Kelsey seemed to suddenly become fully awake. Coils of energy shedding from her body.

“I’ve got a whole sheaf of sketches; you want to see them?”

He nodded and they climbed out of bed.

Kelsey fished around behind the bookcases in the front room, finally heaving a thick sheaf of papers from behind several other things jammed into a crevice. The light loitering in from the city outside was not enough to review the sketches by. Kelsey flipped the light switch for the overhead lamp, but it flickered and went out. She grabbed the creaky chair from beside the couch and stood on it, thick sheaf sketches cradled in one arm, the other arm reaching up to adjust the bulb, which flickered to life in that moment and seared into Mac’s mind the vision for his next piece.


The breeze blowing from the Hudson lifted Evers’ ivory tufts of hair away from his bronzed scalp like he was waving hello with his head. It was the gala opening for Mac’s newest sculpture, a Godzilla-sized work looking across the Hudson and out over the rest of the country. Caterers scampered to proffer snacks and refill drinks for the several dozen VIPs gathered inside the cordons. The sculpture commanded a central position at the end of the Highline, in the shadows of the freshly constructed waterfront skyscrapers.

“You know you are my fucking muse,” Evers said.

Mac grunted. “Kelsey is a good artist, too.”

“Of course I know that,” Evers said, “But I can’t find buyers for her work. I’ve tried.”

The sculpture was a forty foot tall refrigerated glass case, containing a thirty five foot tall butter sculpture of Kelsey, standing on a chair, a thick sheaf of sketches cradled in her left arm; her right arm extended to hold aloft a giant LED globe that reflected rainbow colors into the overcast night sky above.

Evers waved his hand in dismissal. “A group of women activists-painters will steal Kelsey away from me and then she will have her time in the galleries. It’s their fight, it’s not mine.”

Mac stood quietly and argued no further, scanning the crowd for Kelsey, the real Kelsey, who was not visible at the moment while likeness stood three stories tall, comprised of five inches of butter slathered to wire mesh and mounted to a massive steel frame.

Evers pulled a neatly folded satin handkerchief from his breast pocket and wiped his nose.

“I’m in love with your work! Look at her. She’s looking westward, beckoning. Telling the country, ‘Give me your coddled, fidgety masses. I lift my LED lamp at the golden door!’”

Kelsey appeared out from behind a cluster of art buyers carrying Cheese, the little dog scrambling to get down and see his owner. Cheese ran and jumped into Mac’s thick, smooth arms. He tried to pet his dog but Cheese obsessed over licking the butter on his fingertips.

Mac looked up and noticed dozens of birds animated along the roof of the sculpture. Thirty feet below the massive base thrummed with machinery and arm-thick cables ran across the cement of the plaza where tourists stood in clumps struggling to fit the full view of the sculpture into their selfies.

Josh White has a smattering of publishing credits, mostly nonfiction, in local venues. This is his first piece of widely distributed fiction. He lives in Brooklyn.
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