He hated the stone before him. Hated its perfection, its white veined splendor, its silent seductiveness. He hated its eternal hold over him. Still more, he hated the beautiful thing that lived within, the thing that had cried out to him the moment he saw her. It was the moment his reason had been lost in art, his mind and so much more in the compulsive tapping of the chisel.
Damn them all.
No one had looked twice at her that day at the gallery. No one but him. Buyers and dealers could never see it themselves; they always had to be shown. Even then they rarely saw, just pretended to for the money.
But he saw. He saw. And once he had, there was nothing else he could see.
The block of marble had long sat in his studio, gathering dust and cigarette ash. Dormant, he had once thought. Waiting, he knew at a look from her. She had always been sleeping inside that stone. Since the mountains had risen in fire and majesty from the depths of the sea, she had been there. Sleeping, waiting, biding her time. It was him she needed, him she had been waiting for. Him, to draw her out, chip by obsessive, agonizing chip.
Never before had he tried to capture the female form. Too common, and oh-so-terribly cliché. His hands were to be put to better use. Talent like his was Michelangelian, but that master did not have his daring. It was not his fate to redux; he was an original. Besides, the rich snobs in pressed linen suits who thought themselves art connoisseurs, the hideous old women with their ropes of pearls and soppish smiles, the CEOs with bare, too-big offices—they paid for unique, so he gave them unique, and whatever it turned out to be they took it with gratitude. They knew their place. They were nothing to him. He was the sculptor, and art was what he said it was.
Which was why they missed her that day, that girl with the face that only he could understand. It was a glance, an upward tilt of her chin, and all the goddesses of Mount Olympus where there in that look. Without warning, he was Semele and she was Zeus, her plainness ignited in one glorious, unbearable flame of classical perfection.
Burned he was, and dazzled by it, and lost. She would be his Pieta, his masterwork, his life's consuming passion. All his art, all his skill, even his ardently empty heart would be lavished on her, on bringing her out of that marble block. He became hers, and in the becoming took her on as his own. She had no self; she was Beauty. He had no self; he was the Artist. He would slay will and smother freedom, steal from madness and enslave eternity to make Beauty his own.
A word was spoken that day, interest kindled, cards exchanged, interviews arranged. He returned to his studio trembling with his need to begin the great work. She came the following morning and found him hunched over the block with his tools in his hand, dead asleep. She frowned, tarried for a quarter hour, debated with herself, then left. The next day she returned to find him awake.
He asked if she would take the job. She agreed.
For weeks she visited the studio. Chill and business-like, she would sit very still for hours at a time watching him as he watched her. Studying him as he studied her. Crafting an image of him in her mind, even as he sought to craft an image of her. Her expression gentle, yet hardly less stony than the marble over which he vainly labored. But soon her expression grew less gentle. If he had not been so wrapped up in his own vision, he might have seen the sparks of annoyance flicker within the ever-burning flame of her beauty. Seen or unseen, they were followed by frustration, then doubt. And then, swallowing all the others, derision.
A month gone and the stone was little more than a stone. He had done nothing but stare and plan and fret in passionate impotence over the impenetrable marble. In spite of his best efforts, it kept a cold and unbreakable grip on the beautiful figure within. High on her cushioned pedestal, she watched every stage of his despair until, when two months had passed and the stone was yet unmarked, his will broke. He could not continue, or he would not. His chisel held limply in one hand, his hammer fallen at his side, his gaze vacant and despairing—it was all too clear what had happened. Perfection had defeated him. The day he ceased to pick up his tools at all was the day she told him, with a quiet and contemptuous gaze, that she would be modeling for him no more.
He held the door open for her as she left. When she was gone, he locked it.
The marble block greeted him with laughter as he returned to the studio, revealing suddenly the hidden lines, the swells and contours he had so long sought without success. Furiously, feverishly he carved, now driven by more than an obsession with his craft. The sun set and rose and set again. He paid it no heed.
Had her brow been ruffled or smooth? Smooth. Smooth and open and proud. Guardian of Athena's wisdom, gracious and judicious. Such a forehead must needs be crowned with laurels; he could scarcely believe it wasn't. He added them in a single frantic burst of creative energy. Her eyes—wide-set, on the smaller side, inquisitive, piercing. She wore the look of Artemis before her altar, at once accepting and scorning the mortal man's attempt to please her. The curve of her jawline—full, indignant and aloof, tilted upwards. Battle-ready but not bloodthirsty; not yet. A classic Roman nose, strong chin and slightly parted lips. Unsmiling and still somehow full of mirth. She knew the secrets of the world. She knew the depths of his insufficiency, and she laughed at him for it.
The chisel tumbled from his hand. Her face was complete. He knew more of her than even he had realized.
But he would know no more. She would not come again. The white veined marble would remain a block of white veined marble, with only her face half-captured in its unforgiving surface. It was the eternal reminder of his Icarian pride. He had stretched his foolish wax wings toward the sun as if to envelope her, only to find that his wings were mean, faithless things that melted in her presence. She had destroyed him from the first glance. Now she had only to enjoy watching him fall.
A wild impulse seized him, and he pressed his lips against her carven ones. The stone leeched his warmth away before he could give it any of his. He broke away with a strangled cry—a cry that turned into a hysterical laugh when he suddenly realized what her name was. What both their names were.
Pygmalion and Galatea.
The laugh continued until his body was racked by sobs and he collapsed at the base of the marble block.
How he hated it now. Chisel, hammer, the stone, art, his own hands, everything. And women. All women. But one in particular.