You come around a corner, away from the noise of the opening.
There is only one exhibit. She stands in the spotlight, with her back to you: a sweep of pale hair on paler skin, a column of emerald silk that ends in a pool at her feet. She might be the model in a perfume ad; the trophy wife at a formal gathering; one of the guests at this very opening, standing on an empty pedestal in some ironic act of artistic deconstruction --
You hesitate, about to turn away. Her hand balls into a fist.
"They told me you were coming."
The Gallery's End
Unlit, except for the single spotlight; unfurnished, except for the defining swath of black velvet. And a placard on a little stand.
On the pedestal is Galatea.
"Hello," you say -- and stop. What would you say next? 'I'm a famous critic, be on your best behavior'? There's no etiquette established; and then it strikes you as strange that you should bother to be concerned.
Fortunately, the little awkwardness is lost on her. "Good of you not to walk away again," she replies.
You become aware of her breathing -- the slight expansion of her ribs, the soft exhalation -- natural, and yet somehow studied. "Ah -- by the way," she says, in a way that utterly fails to be casual, "have you seen the artist out there? -- My artist, that is."
"No, I don't think so. What does your artist look like?"
"Black hair," she says, and stops... "Never mind. He's not here. He wouldn't have come."
I asked her about her artist.
Her head moves -- as though she were going to turn and look at you properly -- but then she thinks better of it. "I don't know where he is," she observes. "Or who, or what, for that matter. He sold me immediately after my waking. While he was carving me, there was no strangeness, but afterward..."
"He had a studio in Cyprus," she continues, dropping one line of thought and picking up another. "That's where I was born -- he brought the marble for me there and carved me."
I asked her about the marble she was made of
"I come from Thasos," she says.
Even as she says it, for a moment, a million tiny crystals sparkle in her skin. (An unusual and evocative effect; you haven't seen stone effects in skin since VanItallie's gargoyle series, about ten years ago. But then, the Grotesque school is pretty well dead at this point.)
"The marble in the quarries there is some of the best: enduring, hard. Slow to carve, and slow to wear away."
I aked her wether she's feeling cold.
"My sense of touch is fairly complete, as I understand the details -- heat and cold, pressure and pain, texture... everything I've heard anyone describe, at least."
Me: "What is it that makes a good marble?"
"Absence of flaws, for a start," she says. "Streaks of mica in the stone, any inclusions at all, can make your piece crack suddenly when you're working on it. Then there's fineness of grain, and color. You don't want too much color variation, and large-grained stone doesn't take detail well."
"Go on," you say.
"Then there's also general workability. Thasos marble is very difficult to work -- many sculptors wouldn't touch it, especially not with the old-fashioned tools used on me. But..." She shrugs, as though the advantages are self-evident.
I asked her 'bout the tools the artist used.
"I only know the punch and the polish, the chisel, the claw... My eyes -- he drilled the corners of them in, and it took an eternity."
"How could it have been painful to be carved? He wasn't cutting into you -- just around you."
Her head moves -- as though she were going to turn and look at you properly -- but then she thinks better of it. "The stone beyond the boundary of oneself is numb, but there always comes a time when the chisel or the point reaches down to where feeling begins, and strikes. Likewise the drill -- and being polished left all my skin burning and itching for days."
I asked about her beautiful skin.
"It took a lot of polishing. Hours on a spot no broader than my shoulder blade. But otherwise it would have been all ridged."
"Tell me what you do know about him," you prompt.
"He hated people -- though I think he was also quite lonely. It was a question of not having patience for anyone." Very quietly. "If anyone tried to come up to the studio he'd get out his shotgun and fire into the air until they got the idea. The woman didn't even bring milk if she knew he was there. They had a system of leaving things for each other so that they didn't have to meet. And when he sold me, it was the same. He wrote letters, made arrangements; did not even stay with me, when they came to look me over."
"He didn't have any friends that you know of?"
"Not very many people lived up to his standards, I think. He had very little tolerance for ignorance or superstition or -- well, he had very little tolerance. Perhaps part of his artistic temperament."
"What do you know about love?" (As long as you're catechizing her, you might as well be thorough.)
"That it makes people behave like idiots," she replies harshly. "That it takes more than it gives."
"I have to say," she remarks after a moment, "sometimes I don't quite understand how other people's minds work. The connections between things..."
Which is a very unusual remark for her kind to make, you reflect, looking at her closely.
It's hard to see it, under the sweep of the gown.
If you knew designers, you might recognize it: it looks expensive. A shimmering column from the bodice down to the knee, where it flares to cover the whole base of the pedestal.
She shrugs in it. "It looks odd, doesn't it?" she says. "I insisted on clothes, and they bought me this."
"Who decided what you would wear?"
"Oh, they did. My owners. I would have chosen something a bit more comfortable, and with the fabric in a useful location. There's so much below the knee, you'd think they could have spared some for my shoulders..."
"What are your owners like?"
"Aren't they out there in the other room?" she asks, surprised. "That's where they said they were going to be."
"Yes, of course," you say quickly. Her head moves -- as though she were going to turn and look at you properly -- but then she thinks better of it. "I was wondering about your impressions of them. Obvously you must have a different perspective than I could."
She shrugs. "I know too little about people to come to any kind of conclusion. And they don't talk to me much. No one does, these days."
It occurs to you that it would be great fun if you could get her to come down from that pedestal. It sounds as though her owners have been quite cavalier with her; you'd love to shake up their expectations.
"So essentially he wanted people around in general but he was too picky to like any particular people?"
"It's a little more complicated than that. There were other factors." She pauses thoughtfully. "Pride. Total absorption in what he was working on. This kind of focus that made it hard for him even to acknowledge that there was someone else in the room sometimes. If he was thinking about something, he was thinking, and he didn't want to be interrupted."
"Forgive me," you say, "but you don't even sound at the moment as though you liked him very much."
"Like and love are different things," she replies. "You must know that. And then -- he had a kind of intensity that compelled, that was absolute. I've not met anyone else like that. Yes, it's true that I haven't met very many people yet in my life, but my suspicion is, from all I see and hear, that he was unusual in that regard. There was something eating him from the inside, all the time, and the energy of it was contagious."
"Most people don't have that kind of genius, but most people also aren't so impossible to live with."
She makes a face. "I think I'm accustomed to being a little unhappy. I prefer it to lowering my expectations."
You are both silent. There seems no more to say.
*** The End ***