Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Sculptor That I Was. A short story.

The sculptor that I was knew that the block of stone that lay before him would become his masterpiece. He wasn't quite sure how, but somewhere buried within that lifeless mass was his consummate piece of work, the work that would define him as an artist and as a man. The sculptor ran his hands over the stone. It was unpolished, imperfect, and unyielding. He took his ladder from the corner of his workshop and leaned it against the heavy stone. He climbed up, noting with his experienced eye every indentation, every visible grain. He caressed the cold, hard surfaces with his fingers as if they were as soft and warm as a lover’s thigh. It would open itself to him soon too, he knew, and become his in time.

He would put his soul into this rock. He would make it breathe. Give it life. He would draw out of it something more than just a decoration, more than just a song to be heard and forgotten. He would turn the rock into something indelible. What he would bring out of this rock would would mark every person who viewed it and change them forever.

He climbed down the ladder and moved it over a few inches and then climbed back up. He placed his ear against the marble. It was silent. He smelled it. It smelled like the ground after a rain. He stuck out his tongue and tasted it. It tasted sweet to him. He tapped it gently with his fingernail and the sound it made was faint and short. The only resonance was in his own fingertip. He slapped it with his open palm. A louder noise, but short again, as if the sound existed and then ceased to exist all within the same instant. His hand tingled though for a few moments more. “In this way, we are already connected,” he said to the stone.

After having examined every inch of the block, the sculptor that I was returned the ladder to the corner from which he had taken it and sat in his studio chair to stare at the rock some more. The rock made his studio feel cold. He would find the warmth in its forms. It looked solid, but he would find its vulnerability. It looked unforgiving, but he would make it kind. And as he stared, the rock began reveal itself to him.

“I want you to bring something out of me. I am prepared to yield to your chisel. I shall cast off bits and pieces of myself until I am the very image of beauty and perfection you have imagined. But only if you love me. Only if you will dedicate your self and your soul to making of me what you want,” The sculptor heard the stone whisper to him.

“I know what you will be,” the sculptor answered. “I have seen it in my mind and I feel it in you. If you can be patient and still, I will give you form and voice and power.”

The sculptor rose from his chair, turned out the studio light and went home.

It was after midnight...again. The lights were out, but he could see the flicker of the TV in the bedroom. He knew she was already asleep. He turned off the TV and undressed in the darkness. It was cold. He slid into the bed beside her and placed his hand on her naked hip. He hoped her body would give him some warmth. She moved at his touch. “Its late,” she whispered, gently moving his hand off of her body.

“Goodnight,” he said. “I love you.”

“Go to sleep,” she mumbled in reply.

In the morning when he awoke, as it was everyday, she had already left. The coffee in the pot was still warm. The sun had risen and was shining through thick, misty clouds which illuminated its rays as they drew their straight lines into the earth. “This is a sign,” he said to himself as he contemplated the beauty of the sky and its vast array of dark shades of grey and blue. “Heaven and earth, dark and light, quiet and powerful. That is what is in me and what I saw in my new stone,” he said to his cup of warm coffee.

He arrived at his studio just as the rain began to fall. He lit his little kerosene heater and warmed his hands. He picked up his sketches and glanced through them. He chose the one marked “first plane” and affixed it to one side of the marble stone. He took a black permanent marker from his drawer and began to sketch on the stone in long graceful lines. He spoke to the stone as he drew.

“You are going to become me. Not me as I am, but me as I should be. The full realization of all of my potential. You will represent the full potential of all of man. Perfect and serene in body and mind. There will be a look of wisdom on your face, but not the wisdom that brings sadness. It will be the look of the type of wisdom that brings joy. Can a man of flesh and blood ever possess that wisdom, or is exclusively given to men of stone?”

He rubbed part of the line of marker with a cloth and the ink disappeared. He drew that part again. Ink is not permanent, he thought.

“How is it,” he asked the stone, “that you will know what I cannot. The sculpture will know what the sculptor can only dream. And therefore your face will beam with the same determined wisdom as the sunbeams I saw through the clouds in my kitchen this morning.”

He continued to sketch with his permanent marker. He moved the ladder to another plane of the statue-to-be. Then to the rear, then to the final plane. Each side of the stone stroked with black marker revealing, in only the broadest of terms, the man that it would eventually be.

When he was done with his marking, he looked at his watch and knew instantly that it was too late again. He had lost track of the time. She would be asleep already. He locked the studio door behind him and went home.

He slipped out of his clothes quietly, not wanting to wake her, and slid beneath the covers as gently as he could. The sheets were cold. He wanted to feel her warmth, but knew it would be unfair to wake her this late. He lay on his back and whispered quietly into the air, “I love you.” Perhaps her spirit would hear it. Her spirit used to surround him, awake or asleep; maybe it still did. For a moment he relished the quiet stillness of his dark bedroom before shutting his eyes. Tomorrow would be a noisy day.

She was already gone when he awoke. There was coffee in the pot and a note on the table. He glanced at it and regretted that he hadn’t said goodbye. “Business lined up in Vienna. Be back on the 23rd. Left some cash on the bureau. Don’t forget to eat.” He took a cup of coffee and some individually wrapped pastries from the cupboard. He stared blankly, sadly, at the note as he ate. “My art will be my apology, and my penance for forgetting,” he said to himself. “When she gets back and sees what I have done, she will know I have loved her.”

At the studio, he walked slowly around his marked stone comparing the lines on the rock to the lines on his paper sketches. Satisfied with his work, he donned his smock, earguards, gloves, dust mask and safety goggles. Cocooned in his safety gear, he chose his largest pitching tool and his three pound hammer from their perches in his cabinet. No power tools on this, he had vowed. Just my soft flesh against the strength of the stone. It will possess nothing more than I can put in and nothing less than it can give out.

He placed the pitching tool along an edge of the block, and hit it solidly, squarely, and confidently with the hammer. A chip of marble flew off the monolith and fell to the ground nearly ten feet away. The stone was no longer a stone. It had been altered from its natural form with this one swing of a hammer and was no longer a work of nature. It was now a joint venture; the combined work of both man and earth. The sculptor that I was prayed that he could remove every terrestrial vestige from the rock and by doing so make it holy. He knew he would fail, for a rock can never transcend its inherent rockness in the way that a man can escape the bounds of his own flesh and blood.

But a rock can also be more than just a rock, just like a man can be more than just a man. If this rock would bend to his vision, it would be much more than a rock and he would be more than a man. If the rock would take what his soul offered, she would see it when she got back from Vienna and understand how he became trapped somewhere between heaven and earth.

He placed the pitching tool again and struck. A larger piece flew from the stone, flying so far as to hit the wall in front of him. And so he worked through the day and well into the night. He worked until he could no longer lift his arm and swing the three pound hammer. And when he was done, he swept the floor, and removed his safety gear. He was drenched in sweat and exhausted. He would just sleep here tonight, he decided. There would be no one waiting at home for him anyway.

The morning came and woke him with the ticka-ticka of drizzle on the tin roof of the studio. He opened the door and looked at the sky. “I’m hungry,” he said to his sculpture as he walked out into the rain. The rough chiseled sculpture had its eyes fixed on the door as it closed behind the artist. He returned an hour later, wet, with a white paper bag and emptied its contents onto his workbench. Two hamburgers, some french fries, and a water in a plastic bottle. “You are lucky you don’t have to eat.” He said to the partially formed man emerging from the rock.

The three pound hammer gave way to the one pound hammer and the pitching tool gave way to a small chisel. Each night he slept in the studio and each morning he left and bought himself two burgers, french fries and a water in a plastic bottle and nearly a week had passed. He worked on his sculpture now with a file. It was no longer a shapeless rock. It had a head with all of the facial features visible, it had arms which already looked strong and muscular, it had legs clearly frozen in action.

“Now that you are almost formed,” the sculptor said to the stone, “I’ll bet you are wondering what your name is. I will tell you in time. But before I do, I want you to answer a question for me.” He whispered into the rough hewn ear on the side of the chisel-marked face.

“The question is: what is the significance of a name?” He paused and looked to see if his creation would answer. But the sculpture didn’t answer it continued to gaze silently at the door.

The sculptor answered for him, “the significance of a name is that things don’t exist until they are named. Right now, you are a rock, a stone, a statue, a sculpture; but once you are named that will be who you are forever.”

The next days were spent with sandpaper. He started with 100 grit, then 150, then 200, then 250, 500 and 1000. The surfaces were smooth, but they did not shine in the morning sun when he left to get his hamburgers. Two full days of polish would bring out the natural luster of the marble and make it radiant. And for two full days he polished. He didn’t eat, he didn’t wash, he just polished, rubbing every inch of his sculpture with polish and a rag. In circles, in lines, up and down, long strokes and short.

At the end of the second day, he put down his rag. His arms hurt, his legs hurt, and his eyes stung from the dust. He was dirty, he was tired, and he was hungry. He turned out the light to rest his eyes for a moment and then he would treat himself to a shower and a steak. As he turned out the light, though, he noticed the moon through the little window. It shone as bright as a moon ever shines and it illuminated the statue in middle of the room. The light of the moon bounced off of its smooth surfaces.

“I’m done,” the sculptor said to himself as he drifted off into a dreamless sleep and woke to a bright sun in the sky. It was the first sunny day in weeks he realized. He got up from the little sofa and put his tools away. He threw his polishing rags into a plastic bag and swept the floor of any remaining dust. He took the plastic bag with him as he left, taking a glance back at his creation. Now fully formed and with eyes glowing in mimicry of life, the statute looked back at him. And with their eyes locked, he said, “See, I gave you my heart and my soul, and you are beautiful. Use them well.”

He locked the door behind him and took the plastic bag that contained the dust and rags and threw it in the dumpster. “That is all that is left of the rock that I started with. What’s left in the studio is now something more than rock,” the sculptor told the green dumpster. “But somehow I am something less than a man,” he added as if the dumpster cared at all, and headed toward his home.

He took a long, hot shower, and scrubbed himself clean straining to make sure that every particle of stone was erased from his body. He scrubbed his hands which were stained with polish and sore and bruised. He let the hot water penetrate his aching muscles. He brushed his teeth for a long time and then, not satisfied they were clean, he brushed them again.

He went to the kitchen, brewed himself a cup of coffee and helped himself to the last of the individually wrapped pastries from the pantry. He brought in the mail and watered the plants. He turned on the T.V. and then turned it off. He walked up the stairs and then down again. There was a white chair in the living room. It was an antique. Very expensive. He decided to sit in that chair. He realized he had never sat in that chair before. He looked at the ceiling and noticed that it had a texture. Not an obvious texture like in his grandmother’s apartment, but a very subtle one; like the sand that gets blown onto the beach parking lot. He stared at the ceiling and found patterns and pictures in the texture.

In the corner of the ceiling, on the far left, he could see her in the texture of the ceiling. He could see her face, her hair, her lips. He could smell her, her scent filled his nose, and he wanted to close his eyes and just remember that smell. He was afraid, though, that if he closed his eyes he would never find her image on the ceiling again. And then he realized that he had already lost it. It had gotten dark. How long had he stared at the ceiling? He didn’t know, but he did know he was tired. He climbed the stairs again and went to bed.

The morning sun woke him again as it poured through a gap in the curtains. Before his eyes were even open, he smelled her. He reached his arm behind him and touched her thigh. She was home. He smiled.

He got out of bed and went to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee. He left and went to the market and bought some pancake mix, some butter and some syrup. He remembered that there were no pancake breakfasts in Vienna. When he got back, she was sitting in the kitchen, coffee cup in her hand. She looked tired.

“Welcome back,” he said, showing her the pancake mix and syrup.

“I came home late last night, I didn’t want to wake you,” she said. “Are you making me pancakes?”

“I’ve missed you,” he said.

She smiled, “you had your new stone to keep you company. Who is this man making me pancakes and what have you done with my husband.”

“The new stone is finished,” he said, already mixing the pancake mix in a big bowl.

“That’s good news,” she said, “because I had buyers all over the continent on this trip.”

“This one is for you,” he said, “not for your collectors. Only for you. Promise me you will never sell this one.”

“I don’t understand,” she said. “You’re acting very strangely.”

The griddle was popping with melted butter and then it sizzled as he dolloped out the pancake mix.

“I put my heart and soul into this one,” he said, flipping a pancake on the griddle.

She smiled again, “I thought you put your heart and soul into every one you did.”

“I’ll show it to you after pancakes.” He promised while sliding two pancakes onto a plate for her and two onto a plate for him.

“Did you eat while I was gone?” She asked.

“Hamburgers,” he said.

“Every day?” She asked.

“Yes,” he said. “It sounds like your trip was successful.”

“Vienna is still such an elegant city, but no pancakes,” she said.

They ate in silence. It was a warm silence though, not a cold one. The kind of silence that says the space between us is filled with many things, it doesn’t need to be filled with noise.

“Go put on some clothes,” he said as he gathered the plates and dishes. “I want you to see it.”

She returned moments later in jeans and a T-shirt, which somehow, he thought, looked like high fashion on her.

They drove to the little studio and he unlocked the door, turned on the light and let her in.

“Wow,” she said, having noticed the lifelike eyes first. She approached it, touched it, and circled around it. “Wow,” she said again. “It is fantastic. I promise to keep it forever and ever. What do you call it?”

The sculptor that I was uttered a name, and I heard it. I had a name.

“But that’s your name,” I heard her say. “Is it supposed to be a self portrait?”

“No,” he said, “that is me. I put my heart and soul into him and left them in there.”

My eyes were fixed on the door, locked in place, locked in stone. I watched the two of them turn and walk out the door. The lights went out and I watched the door close. With the sunshine trickling through the little window I could see enough to recognize my own, immortal loneliness. I heard a car engine start, and the sculptor that I was drove off with her, while I, perfect in form, stood, in frozen action, staring at a closed door. And suddenly, I realized that I was possessed of the wisdom that the sculptor had promised me. The wisdom that was carved into my face. I wished I could tell him, but he no longer had a name.