Become a Fan
By Luigi Monteferrante
Thursday, January 09, 2003
Despite the bronze monuments and gold plaques commemorating glorious laurel-wreathed destinies, Italo Babuino was generally ignored by the locals, even when, as now, he stood in the shade blinking up, his eyes ablaze.
Moments before, the sculptor had seen the most beautiful woman that had ever appeared in his melancholy life of fifty odd years. A timid man of indecision and revision, Italo scowled at his latest obsession, another simple and silly creature, a giggling superficial beauty. His hands arthritic, his ability to work paralyzed, confusion thwarted his attempt to say something, anything, dull, rapturous, a volley of blasphemous hellfire hurled by a barbarous brigade, a composition by ancient masters amalgamating into a sonnet and a song, an inscription upon a page. Gazing into Italo’s eyes, she understood, even before she listened to his words, there was only silence, deaf and monstrously ignorant.
Italo followed the young lady and her companions to the public park. He studied the form of her column-like legs, the build and possibilities of her excellent hips, the architecture of her upper body shaded by the cypress trees. She sat on the moss banks of the pond, wriggled her toes in the murky pond, green as the envious poet, a poet unable to shed his bronze cloak, fling away his eternal glory, and chase the girl himself. Fish turned to gold. Waves thundered against the castle walls spiraling from the watery underworld. Mourning widows in the black shawls strolled amongst the weeping willows. A pair of butterflies sailed past, wings flailing effortless, touching. It would have been so easy to rush across the grass, dive through hedges, sail over park benches, shouting enough with solitude, despair and stupidity.
No, he would crawl, his works exposed at the local museum, modern relics he exhibited shamelessly like the slime trailing behind him.
“Thank you very much for coming to the show.” His shadow, unable to assume its own life, chased the girl’s dark twin over the stones, and lunged just when she tuned into a bright sunlit piazza, damp with the blood of men slaughtered for being poets, the scourge of tyranny.
The girl tossed a brightly colored ball into the air, and giggled when it fell, and bounced upon his head. Italo laughed, and cried, as she pulled the ball from his desperate embrace and ran. The sculptor’s alchemic lust for transforming base material into graceful and tender dreamworlds rebelled. Enraged, he would begin to work immediately. He had stumbled through castle ruins. No more!
Liberating himself of the cobwebs spun by cruel merciless spiders, thorns luxuriating in his flesh, isolating himself from a world spinning in a senseless universe, Italo dropped to his bared knees, worked the mud and rot around her footprints, climbed the chained gates of the park, and giggling, traced his path to the courtyard, his citadel a villa, where idle instruments and lethargic tools awaited the arrival of their master.
In the courtyard, Italo trotted to the well, rattled the chains as he pulled the bucket from the deep well to drink. He had visitors. Men, whose powdered faces faded and cracked like those of the affreschi within the courtyard, broke from the door, and rushed to Italo, hands grappling, throttling the space between themselves and the artist, as if it, too, were susceptible to their influence.
“Please,” he murmured, “I must go to work.”
“Ah, the maestro is inspired,” a man smiled, his hands fluttering together in silent applause, footsteps echoing faintly along the corridor. The door closed softly, darkness fell.
Italo climbed the stairs. His fingers graced the affreschi. Beneath a tarnished stone, he was nothing but flakes of ash seeping through an hourglass, his life a torpid gloomy prison. A fog descended upon his wife’s lame body. Italo gazed upon the old woman, his wife.
“Where have you been?”, she asked, a brush in her bony hand, the rouge a witch’s game.
Fatigued and spiritless, the smoke-filled room smelling of infested wood, Italo drank wine, gazed at the flickering candles, the burning incense, and increased the volume of the insane music to drown the voice that had plagued him for nearly three decades, a voice like the hot iron of a poker in a fireplace. The vinyl pianist’s fingers, splayed and dangling from multiple hands, bolted across his nerves, fingers he would gladly break. Italo smiled, instead; he kissed his wife’s hand, kissed the shroud she‘d painted on her face, hurled himself upon the body of what was once a woman, but was now a ruin.
If true creation could be so easy and sweet, he laughed, the skin of his back like that of a flagellant beneath its master’s claws. The Day of the Dead. If I fail to meet her, that girl, by then, I, too, shall celebrate. To work!
Italo reconstructed, recomposed, impressed the marble with his hands and tools. Hoping the rapacious live block of marble hungering for life would drain him of his own, so he might, again, be regenerated, break from his moral trappings, and emerge as the sculptor of the girl, his bony forehead struck the unflinching stone. Upset by the vapors of the open vats of turpentine, he crashed into bottles of red wine, the grape-blood of kings flowing into the netherworld of a cracked mirror severing the sculptor’s hands from his unshapely arms. Determined to work in absolute peace and tranquility, the artist’s hands rose from the dross of his recent success: tombstones for the rich, galloping lions, snarling horses, grounded eagles, icons for fools. The sculptor foundered violently against the most terrifying of challenges: the rebellious nature of the marble.
He had little time. Crowds were already lingering before the tombstones, murmuring prayers as if they, too, were in a rush to escape the clutches of the Grim Reaper, another sculpture commissioned to Italo. Two men of bronze, standing on the belltower at the end of Cypress Lane, swung their hammers and struck the hour. A black veil bellowed in the cold damp breeze, its eyes widening to encompass a man running towards her, wheezing.
“Pray more die,” Italo’s wife said. Faint, weakened by his impending loss and suffering, he leaned against the marble portrait of her deceased. “Oh, what are you growling about. Even Michelangelo did tombs.”
Bells rang again, this time from the hands of the custodian for it was time for the living to leave. Gnashing the knuckles of his bony hands, Italo staggered across the decaying flowers, toppling candles, fell against the last mourners fleeing from the dead and dying. Crushing roses beneath his heels, the custodian dragged a chain to the iron gate, and swung it against the rusted bars, impatient to rejoin his family and friends. The gates of the cemetery shrieked. Breathless, ragged, Italo rushed toward him screaming. The custodian’s large hands hung impatiently at the gates.
“No, I haven’t seen anyone. You are the last to exit.”
Cursing, Italo walked behind his wife, her gloved hands slapping her sides, beckoning him to keep pace. The reached the villa, and the courtyard. His wife leaned against the well, the buttons of her dress undone, the skin shriveled and dry.
“I’m thirsty,” she said smiling, the well gaping behind her, the gravel beneath her heels cringing. “None of our friends seemed to be there. Must have gone early. I told you to hurry. It would have been nice to have a chat with old friends. Once we‘d meet at weddings, baptisms, communions. Now, it’s funerals.”
Italo said nothing, and thought how the world around the stone would differ with one more blow to his sculpture.
“All that talk about the dead and dying, has left me dying of thirst.” She leaned against the well, the stone damp beneath her splayed fingers, a bucket at the bottom of the well bobbing at the end of the chain. “Why don’t you run up and get me something to drink? I told you to run up and get me...”
The stone reddened as his hammer struck the malleable bone. The chain rattled as he lowered the bucket into the well, silence restored.
To work! To life!
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