Why am I uploading all these dang short stories on the same day? Could it be because I feel guilty for not writing a new SD chapter and am trying to distract you from my lack of work lately by banging you over the head with these? Maybe! I dunno! (Secret message to people reading this in the future: Yes.)
The long horn of ivory he'd bought on a whim ages ago was gathering dust in the back closet at the western edge of his workshop, and so one day he took it out and with it the foldout bag containing the hammer and chisel, among other things. He had bought those at the same time, thinking back then that this would be a grand project, but it had all gotten set aside for the immediate dedication of his whole attention on a new tea blend, he seemed to recall. Life had been simpler then.
Reginald stood heavy-lidded with tools awkwardly in hand, looking at the pure whiteness of the bone he'd set upon a pedestal, stood there for nearly a quarter of an hour, and still felt a sense of loss. The creative process seemed more hindered by sadness than empowered to flow. He had heard suffering increased one's potential, but he just felt like he was wasting time. Something had to be done. Hats just weren't cutting it anymore, no matter how many people came trundling into the front shoproom to stare and poke at things and spend inordinate amounts of money on the silks and felts of his skill.
He was bored and listless, and had been for a specific amount of time that he didn't want to think about. He swallowed and emptied his mind.
It was a rather huge hunk of white, and he knew it had to be handled carefully, so he kept hesitating, scared of whether it would crumble and fall away like plaster under his touch. Moving toward it and then retreating like a car that won't quite start in jerking motions. Finally he set aside the carving tools and went for a cup of tea, sipping and contemplating what might be hidden in its perfection.
Reginald reached out and passed his palm over it, brushing away a bit of dirt and bending close to see that it wasn't at all like marble. Marble had veins and spots, flawed dilations, blues and browns and greys throughout that gave it earthy texture and depth, binding it to the ground it was mined from. This stuff stayed within the bounds of white and cream and a toned gold. It had a holy, unearthly look.
He picked up a pointy-looking thing and halfheartedly stabbed at the gorgeous bone, rocking it dangerously on the pedestal and wincing at his uncharacteristic ham-handedness, grabbing at it, feeling keenly that a few flamboyant waves of his arm wouldn't produce a masterpiece in this case. Reginald firmly put the tools in a drawer and went back to the hat on his form, but kept the ivory out and gazed at it distantly in the too-warm sunlight over the next few weeks.
Sometimes he went whole days without approaching it, but sometimes he would hold it steady and gently, gently scrape, watching it change, until one afternoon a whole sliver came off, to his startled surprise. He was afraid the whole thing was ruined, but the curve that came out began to look like something, and he moved at it until the light had gone out of the sky and he had to light candles, and then Reginald stood back and looked at it, and saw what he was looking at.
He scraped and cut and when it began to look whole, he did his best to grow a sense of finesse with the tools, cutting them against scrapped planks of wood, fearful of what he'd do to the poor, beautiful white shape if he couldn't work it justice. Finally he grew brave enough to wrap his arm around it and smooth out the features. Legs, arms, a torso, and finally, little white sandals for the little white feet.
The head he left, out of a creative stupor, and so it became a finely detailed figure of a woman with a block for a face. He couldn't find her, couldn't see her, and she stayed in the workroom watching over him blankly for a while in what he fancied to be amused contemplation. But Reginald couldn't stand it, couldn't stand being able to look at someone and not see her expression, her evaluation of him, and he finally rose early one morning and began to carve out her hair and cheeks while the sky was still a greyish blue. And out she came, slowly, over the next three weeks.
Reginald stood back to look at the woman he had pulled out, moving across the room to really get a good look at her for the first time. She was small, with her hair pulled back loosely, positioned near the great halfmoon window so that the light came in and made her cold pale flesh seem translucently warm and real. Her expression was one of odd anticipation—he had not seen that in her when he'd had his arm curled around her, moving the finest grade of file across her chin. Now she looked expectant, staring at him intently, her lips parted ever so slightly and her form bending, crouched with her hands on her knees as though she were looking into a hole in a tree.
With this new view on her, he came back close again and stood near her, much nearer than a living woman would allow a stranger. They were just level with each other, as small as she was, but on the round dais, and he let them go nose to nose before he closed his eyes.
There was a pause, and then he ducked his head away from her and gave a dry, humorless laugh, thoroughly embarrassed at the mere thought of someone coming through the door and seeing him. The obsessions of an artist over a creature are an acceptable eccentricity, but treat one thing as too real and it turns into something garish and sad.
He waited, and then he did lean forward and press his lips to the stone white ivory statue. It was cool, but then slowly warmer the longer he stayed there, and then Reginald really did move away, for the longer this went on the less silly and more delusional it became. He hated thinking too hard on his situation, sharpest and clearest right now. The file in hand one last time to check for any rough spots, he turned and found himself staring into a pair of blinking blue eyes in a certain shade, living flesh, and golden, colored hair.
She was real.
They stood like that for a moment, the girl's excitement palpable in her wide eyes, and she took him in, shock and confusion and everything, eagerly. She wrinkled and wiggled her nose, and then breathed in happily and sighed, her breath coming out over his cheeks. He realized, somewhat vaguely, that he was wondering, amidst the numb feeling of perplexity that she'd suddenly come to life, whether she could speak.
"Your nose is disproportionate to the rest of your face, you know," she observed brightly all of a sudden. He spun around and practically ran headlong over to a chairback draped with his overcoat. "Wait!" she cried, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to insult you!" But he came back over and wrapped the dark red velvet around her naked form, looking very pointedly at her ear as he did so.
"Sorry, I--" he swallowed and couldn't think what he was apologizing for. The girl stood up straight and held her arms out, opening the coat wide so that her bare torso was exposed again, and looked down at herself.
"No," she said confidently, taking one arm out of its sleeve, "Where's a mirror? I want to see what I look like." She made as though to climb down, but they both looked down to where her feet were stuck in the still-ivory sandals, and she flailed her arms a bit before he caught her. Reginald set her balanced upright and went for the chisel, chipped carefully at the straps, and brought her into his arms to set her on the floor. The girl busily began to dust herself off.
She was tiny, much smaller than him, but her enthusiasm at being alive had not subsided, and she stepped bouncily over to the full-length mirror nearby, turning and inspecting herself.
"I agree with you," she announced in her clear voice, "I think ivory is an excellent choice over stone. Marble can be so rough, and full of strange colors and pockmarks." Reginald came to stand behind her in the mirror and looked into the slight wave in the back of her hair. It was just like he remembered, a catch coming into his breath.
"Can I touch you?" he said faintly at last. She grew very grave.
"Of course." He ran fingertips over her bun, and put a hand to his mouth. She was real, the hair was soft, he had sculpted those lengths of hair, worked them over with obsessive care, and now, here they were. He could move them, run his fingers through them once more. "I didn't think you'd really do it," she said quietly, watching him in the reflection.
"Do what?" He couldn't get his voice over much of a quiet murmur, the lightheadedness was threatening to make him sway.
"Kiss me," she said. "It is a bit odd to go about kissing inanimate objects, but I think you're an interesting sort of person to do that."
"Is that why you're alive?"
"Who knows? Strange longings make strange magic." She gazed at him in the mirror pointedly.
"You definitely aren't what I'd imagine a statue to be like," he said, and ran a hand through his hair.
"Perhaps," she said, and went back to looking at herself, tilting her head this way and that like a bird on the first warm day of winter stares curiously into a melting pond.
"I should get you a frock, something to wear," he said to himself, tapping his fingertips together anxiously, "I've got... I've got customers out in the front shop, what if someone came back here and saw a naked girl in my workshop..."
"Oh, alright," she said, very amused, and pulled the giant sleeves back over her slender arms, "I'm surprised at you being discomfited like this." Upon his look of disbelief, she said,
"Well, you didn't create me, you know, I was in there the whole time. Anybody else might have carved a parade of elephants, or... a totemic series of linked faces, or they might have cracked the bone in two and given up." She gathered the lapels together around her.
He didn't have anything witty to say to that, and simply nodded awkwardly. She softened, and came up close to put her soft cool palms on his cheeks.
"I like you," she said quietly. "I think it's because you're lonely, but you did manage to see me in there, and that's very reassuring." She rose up slightly on the balls of her feet and smoothed his collar. "Do you mind if I stay?" She said it so kindly, not abashedly or as a genuine question of permission, but with sweetness and a kind of hopeful promise of redemption and relief.
"Do stay," he said finally. She put her arms around him very close, and he said, "Ohh," quietly, and held her up on her toes.
He did eventually find her a dress dug up out of the bottom of a locked trunk, and now they were laid out on the broad bed going the wrong direction with their legs tucked up over the side. Reginald had his arm curled around her shoulder and his fingers up under his chin, his cheek laid across her neck, musing with a cautiously thrumming ecstasy that she did have the ethereal nature of a holy statue, but a strange earthiness he hadn't seen coming, so full of knowledge already. But it was a relieving aspect of her personality.
"What should I call myself?" she said, perfectly at ease.
"That's up to you," said Reginald slowly, and watched the sunlight slowly come over to grace her bare arm.
"Galatea," she remarked, laughing a bit. They lay still. "What would you call me?"
"Alice," he whispered immediately on stilts, gasping slightly, pressing his mouth to her throat. "Alice, Alice, Alice."
Alice rubbed the knuckles on his hand soothingly and they both watched the start of the sunset.