Flesh in Stone

Marble dust curled into the air, giving shape to the swirling breeze that had lifted the sculptor’s cloth that lined the workshop. The undulating wisps folded in on themselves, coming to rest slowly on the dizzying array of tools laid out before the cool block of white stone. Great mauls and hammers lay strewn about, although in a fashion that made them easy to pick from their resting places. Picks, axes, and files found their orderly place thereof. Hundreds of metal tools, each looking more nefarious than the last, lined the cart. Some were quite straight and menacing; there were heavy, thick, dull implements that seemed almost to quake as they vibrated with their potentiality; still others, curving wickedly, came to a point at the apex of their bend.

He plucked a fine-toothed comb from the cart, spinning it deftly in his hands. Smeared white chalk clung to his arms and fingers like ritualistic paint from a culture long-forgotten. Streaks of dried blood interspersed between the markings and his cracked, dry skin, lending him the fierce look of a savage beast.

When working with this stone, misplaced moisture was death. The tool ceased its whirring in a flurry of expert strokes. More of the cool shavings shot into the air, adding their counter-melody to the symphony of the stone-laden breeze. The tool, so full of life in his hands, collapsed, lifeless, back into its tomb.

His cheeks puffed out as he blew the settled dust away from his latest handiwork—an elbow. A raised vein snaked its way around the forearm, now, melting back into the skin around the wrist. Without looking, he could have enumerated every stroke, every turn of the skin, every cloven bone. His hands wiped his brow, mingled with sweat and the marble refuse.

The chips of marble had been flying that morning, leaving myriad cuts across his sweat-glazed chest and arms. The blood left by their projections melded into the marble dust, leaving behind a pink paste that dried across his stomach and arms.

His eyes darted under a close-knit brow—flitting from scene to scene: elbow; collarbone; gracefully bent knee; hands floating freely past a dress, frozen forever in the breeze that lifted her hair. The sweep of her was right. Her gait was graceful. Her limbs found their harmony in her well-balanced stance.

He had poured all of himself into the crafting of this, his first and only chance at mastery. Each appendage heralded a different virtue. Her lips curled around truth. Her arms, seemingly weightless, ushered in grace. He smiled, remembering shedding so much stone on her chin. It had to be upheld. It had to embody courage. That chin, lifted one degree more, would elicit conceit and arrogance; one less: rationalized servitude.

His fingers traced the line of her temple. His eyes were glazed over. He saw, instead, with his hands. His stroke, soft yet purposeful, met the loose strands of hair that had been caught on the crest of her ear in the wind. Days. He had spent days on that one small detail.

Her shoulders were not slumped. Her brow was not furrowed. There was an effortless grace about her visage that struck a tremulous chord in him as he took her in. Her jaw was thin, but composed—exhibiting the wiry strength of a bird wing’s bones. The faint line of it rode from her cheek to the underpinnings of her ears. She wore neither smile nor scowl. Her countenance was a thoughtful one—borne of the kind of depth that, met directly, could scare a man into looking at his hands. She wore no shoes, her feet bare and all the more resolute for it. Her breasts were proudly displayed beneath the supple flow of the dress which she wore. Their curves could make a young man blush and an elderly woman flush. Unashamed of the femininity which they represented, she did not seek to suppress them or apologize for their presence. Neither, though, did she flaunt them. They rested on a proudly erect chest, thrown defiantly at the wind which sought to revile her; to define her. A great calmness emanated from her eyes, as large as the sea unbound and as arresting as its tide.

Every crease of that dress he had traced countless times with his weary fingers. Each limb had found its shape at his incessant touch. He had caressed her every curve, first with chisel and hammer; then with pick and maul; then with precise strokes of a knife as sharp as sin; finally, he turned to the file to define her flesh. His lips had kissed her every contour. His cheek had rested against hers as he cut into her an ever-lasting testament to what a woman should be. He had found peace in her like he had yet to find any place else on earth.

He had spent months looking, touching, re-shaping. He had scoured her with metal combs, improving upon her perfections. He had conceived of her right arm aloft, in defiance of nature, and, at the last moment, found it by her side. He had agonized over decision after decision. At last, he placed the sheet atop her and watched as it cascaded down her length, shutting out the light of day, shutting out reality like he did every day when entering his workshop. The sheet rolled and twisted as gravity caught it in its dance. The white cover fluttered to a stop at her firm foothold.

——————————————————————————–

Months more passed before he went back to the workshop. The mysterious figure sat stoically in her dearth. The lifeblood of her coated everything, finally having settled in the absence of its creator. The dust, swirling about his feet as his boots crunched across the discarded chips of marble, wound its way up his length, throwing itself at his forest green trousers, clinging to him in hopes of finding a new resting place out among the grass.

The day had come. She had been wheeled out into the grove before his arrival. He wore nothing special for the occasion, feeling that his most fitting attire would be that which she had always seen him in.

His brown leather boots, cracked and weather-worn, wrapped around powerful calves birthed of the ever-askance posture of a sculptor. Dark green pants covered in tattered patches wound their way up to a gold buckle atop a broad belt. His tunic was tucked into his pants, allowing him the freedom to stalk about his subject, uniformly smothered in contrast to her free-flowing robes. A simple golden brooch lay loosened about his neck, the cape tied back over his left shoulder. On cold nights he would throw the workshop doors open to the stars and wrap himself in the cape, watching his breaths float toward her, engulfing her form as they broke upon her like waves on an ancient rock.

So much of sculpting was watching: hands as still as the stone that they were to enliven.

This was it. His hands, usually as still as a surgeon’s, had begun to tremble. He walked the gallows. Step after step up the ladder he pressed, closing his eyes in time to each creak of the ratty wood. He found his rest at its pinnacle, the unveiling upon him at last. He hadn’t thought of where to wrap the cloth around his fist for the unveiling yet. It was like that in life, too, he thought. You think so much about the events leading up to them, but the details are what demand your attention in the moment—so much so that sometimes you can’t even remember the moment, itself.

A toothy grin split the face of the only onlooker, the Miller’s son, who had wandered down from his daily perch of laziness in the nearby hillocks.

In a whirl, the sheet was whipped from her shoulders, no longer able to contain her. The marble dusting exploded into the air, mocking the blue sky with its blooming. Rippling to the ground like an alien substance, the sheet met the ground with a dull thud, its last breath causing the cloud of marble dusting to blossom once more. Through the cloud, she emerged.

The sunlight, before only there, now came in rivulets, tearing through the white cloud of spray. Bathed in light, her skin lost its translucence, turning opaque before his weary eyes. He ran a calloused hand down the crook of her upper arm, feeling its icy touch cool his thundering blood. Backing down the ladder rungs, he found his feet on the newly-whitened grass.

“Right beautiful, she is,” the Miller’s son stammered. “Coulda gone for a bigger bosom, though, ey?!”

The sculptor, though, didn’t hear him for all the deafening silence about his ears.

This “what”, within a span of seconds, had become a “who”, instead. He had crafted her. He had lovingly birthed her from unyielding stone: first by massive boulders, then by rough-hewn chunks, then by shaving dust from her tender, delicate skin. He had spent months with this woman, yet he knew her not. He knew her every curve, had spent his years among the folds of her, and yet could not lay any claim to her wild, uninhibited beauty. He had crafted her very essence, yet did not know her name. Those lips of truth, that chin of courage, the freedom about her visage, they were his ideals crafted, true, but together?

It was a stranger staring back at him.

He remembered how to breathe.

The Miller’s son had wandered off, leaving the intimacy between sculptor and sculpture to unfold. The statue, half-again as tall as he, was quite alive to him. He stooped, shaking the dust from his pant legs with a gnarled hand. He took her hand in his own. He placed his lips upon it, kissing the bones at their crest.

“My dear one,” he began, “I have spent these last years ever by your side. I have given to you my most delicate peace and taken out on you my most bestial rage. I have crafted you from experience; I have lifted you from my failures; I have summoned you from my hopes; I have given voice to you from my loftiest thoughts; I have brought together those things which I most admire; I have harmonized all that is right and good in you, and I have given my dearest powers over to your creation. I have done all of this, and, yet, now I see that I do not know you. You are more than I am, but not more than I can be. Though it should take me the balance of my life to achieve, I swear that I will traverse your great chasms of courage. I will moor myself to you, and, in you, thrive. It is to be my life’s greatest journey to take the place at your side. I will have, in you, truth. I will give to you the entirety of my love. There are undoubtedly looming specters of discontent and of evil lurking about our peripheries, but I will stand against them with you. Every joy that is yours will be redoubled as it is mine, as well; every sorrow, I will lighten by taking it also as my own. I will stand by you even if the whole world forsakes you. I do not yet know you, but I swear that I will. I will love you. You are like air to me; like breathing.”

________________________________________________________________________________

“Geez, Alex,” she smiled. “I should have known better than to let you write your own vows! My makeup isn’t THAT waterproof! Next time, just try: ‘ I do.’ “ The priest gave a knowing smile, continuing the sacrament.

The clang of the hammers was silent. The clearing no longer played host to the sculptor crafting his subject. She was here. Those tools would lay forgotten, covered in a fine white snow, cool as ice. The stars, overhead twinkling, paid homage to the two. Her hand fit in his easily, like breathing. She laid her head on his shoulder, turning over on her finger a ring.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

The sky was aflame with stars.

He felt her smile on his arm. “Oo! Did you see?! There was a shooting star! You hafta wish!”

An easy smile spread on his face, now, too. “And I suppose I have to tell you what I wished for now, too?”

“Well, only if you want to…” she said, smiling sheepishly.

He smirked. “I wished that I was a sculptor, but then I realized that I have nothing left to sculpt.”

“Ya know,” she said, “you couldn’t be a sculptor if you’ve never sculpted anything before. You say the most mysterious things, sometimes, and I love it.”

“Ah. You’re right, of course. And yes, I do, don’t I?” His easy grin melted into a laugh that had been pent up for far too long. She tore off ahead of him into the clearing, hair flashing past a tree and car under the burden of a heavy snowfall.

The vision of her eyes, bright stars, lingered with him. He dusted the snow from his jacket, content.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

The marble dust wound away, caught on the wind, and rode into the night.

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