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The Sculptor's Grief

Short story By: Jan Gabriel

This short story--though one might more accurately call it a short "scene"--is based on a conversation between me and a friend, an aspiring painter who struggled with his commitment to art. Though he is extremely passionate about what he does, often he finds himself paralyzed by lethargy and the fear that his ideas will not be able to take shape. He described the feeling as being akin to "a sculptor driven mad by a block of marble that refuses to take the shape he desires".

Submitted:Apr 26, 2012    Reads: 42    Comments: 6    Likes: 3   

The old man sat waiting, eyes downcast. His breathing was pained and laborious, lungs weakened by prolonged exposure to dust and stale air. Clasped tightly in his hands were a worn-out chisel and hammer, his arms swinging them lazily to his sides like makeshift pendulums. There was no movement, no murmurs; with figure slumped in wretched isolation, his only company rested in the presence of a large slab of smooth, uncut marble set in front of his degenerating form.

Withered by the burden of age and toil, his wrinkled features contorted into a snarl as he let go of the items in his hands, tossing them angrily across the floor of the dimly lit workspace. The sharp scratching sound of the hammer and chisel sliding across the floor and the bang of iron colliding against the wall filled the dark space with a momentary verve, the only sign of activity in what seemed an eternity. But the noise receded quickly, and the room was plunged back into the heavy silence that consumed the entire room. Even what little light that was there, emanating from a few tiny candles grouped together at the eastside corner, seemed to withdraw in fear of being devoured by the disquieting stillness as if it were some terrible beast.

The aged sculptor, who had unconsciously relished in the short-lived clamor but was aroused from his half-conscious daze when the ringing passed, sighed deeply and, raising his head, focused once again on the untouched slab. His eyes were now centered at the object of his obsession before him. There the sculptor sat, gazing angrily, pleadingly, the orbs under his furrowed brow in the throes of lamentation. He entreated to the stone for release, his pitiful countenance now running with sweat and tears, a sorrowful exhibition to which the cruel rock offered no response. It just stood there, a singular pillar of immovable fortitude.

An overwhelming fear gripped the old man's exhausted spirit. His brilliant vision remained trapped within that great stone, stubbornly hidden in the core beneath its shell of cold rock. All efforts made by him to realize that vision in his mind have all met failure, and the resulting disenchantment paralyzed him, unable to so much as etch a tiny dent onto the marble's face. His was an unfortunate dilemma, and it chilled him to the bone.

'Was it all for naught?' the sculptor thought bitterly. His mind fell silent for a moment before it continued. 'Of what higher purpose does this awesome displeasure serve me? What do I stand to gain, or to lose? What mockery or praise shall I receive? What is there for me, if any at all?'

Dreadful reflections turned quickly into ravenous articulations. "My art, my beauty, my grace-my brilliant light! It is all there has to be! The splendor of my final rest, trapped in this column of rock!" He laid his hands on the stone as his thoughts raced on, taking shape in the sculptor's mad bawling. "I must have it! I must have it! Forsake me not, my one and only treasure!"

"Do not lose me! Keep me with you!" The old man croaked and barked in a crazed stupor, grazing and scuffing at the stone with his bare hands. He attacked the marble slab with an almost demonic fervor, scratching and flailing violently at the unflinching marble until his fingertips ripped and tore apart. With nary a cringe or a pause for breath, he continued his assault, unceasing in his painful dirge. "You will not be lost!"

His burst of enraged lunacy left wet stains and splashes of blood on the marble slab's surface, bits of his broken nails and pieces of torn skin mixed into the dark red ooze. What once contained his grand vision was now an effigy of blood and tears-but still it stood there. In its ghastly stature, still it stood, blissfully and cruelly ignorant of the intense sorrow that befell the old sculptor.

"No, no… all is lost." His bloodied hands, now covering face in a vain attempt to shield himself from the shame and horror, muffled the sculptor's words choked words as the blood seeping from his gored palms. "All is nothing. Useless… all useless."

Again, the stone offered no answer; it offered no repose, neither psalm nor revelation. And so the sculptor's cries ceased, his hands crooked and shaking, blood dripping onto the stone flooring as silence gripped the air once more.


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