Thursday, February 25, 2010

In The Stone

The old man drags his feet through the shallow water, right and to the next of the boulders which circle this mountaintop plateau. The tightly packed rocks hold in the condensed moisture at his feet, and while most would have long ago been driven to move on by this trap, he knows that, for him, the boulders hold something much more important as well. Looking back to his left, he sees his carved words marking the face of each stone, and, turning back to the current slate, smiles, knowing that this sentence will be the conclusion, the climax.

Running words and phrases through his head, he strains to tune out the busy sound of a freeway which cuts through a large valley in the mountain range behind him, and to ignore the three or four others who wander around the circle, probably pondering over his previous work. Finally, a word strikes him, then another, and, after a few minutes of careful re-arranging, he lifts his chisel, and resumes. 

When finished, he steps back, admiring this final line in his masterpiece.

"The world is not made of time alone - to see the world, we must make time our own."

He laughs, a victory cry, and swings his arm dramatically through the knee-high water. Content and pleased, he steps back to the left, to read the line in conjunction with that previous to it.

"He walked to the store, and then he went in the store, and he got lost."

One eyebrow cocks at this, and the old man wonders what he had been thinking to write such a line. He would have to bring in a new boulder to replace it, no easy task for him. Perhaps his victory had been announced prematurely.

Stepping over to review the previous line, a look of horror strikes him. The line reads:

"As I once said, many years back, beef stew. A cob of corn. Two bullets."

He gasps, and walks as fast as he can through the waist-deep flood, in search of the piece's beginning. A painful grimace takes his face as he passes one boulder covered entirely in X's and O's, and another with "rock" written in large letters across it. His life's work, in the end just an incoherent ramble, god only knows how many years in the making.

He runs up to one of the others, a young girl whom he knows he should recognize, but can not. "Forgive me... I've wasted so much time!"

The girl shushes him, and pulling a blanket from off of one of the boulders, leads him through the water to his small bunk, sitting atop a trio of large and intensely scribbled upon stone giants. He groans as they pass two younger men, standing and looking over a massive pile of his old junk.

The two shake their heads as he passes. One, a biographer, turns to the other and stutters. "It's sad, isn't it? For his mind to have drifted so far..."

The other, a museum curator, turned to look over the piles before him - beautiful handcrafted folk art, carved resourcefully from a blend of household objects. "The real tragedy is that these, his real masterpieces, will probably never be appreciated until long after his death. He neglected these treasures in favor of an intended masterpiece, which quickly turned into a directionless mess."

"He had achieved some negligible success as a minor beat poet, in his youth," the biographer explained. "And, I suppose, felt that was the one thing he was meant to do. But if you ask me, working in such an abstract medium doomed him to nonsense from the start." He looked back to the pile, the pieces floating on the water's top. "What about these pieces? Is your museum going to buy?"

The curator's hand reached up through the water, scratching ritually at his chin. "Sadly, that's uncertain. There's a lot of red tape, and the museum board isn't always willing to take a chance on an unestablished artist like this...."

"Well, they'd better do something quick, before the water gets to them." The biographer turns, pained to see the paint on the lower statues beginning to peel from moisture.

"Let's hope so, for his sake more than ours," the curator sighs. With heavy hearts, the two men turn and swim back across the tiny lake, while the old man watches from his bed, unable to fully recall their words but knowing regretfully that each one was true.

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