Black Marble by Lasya Shashimohan

Call it Marmora, Marmaros or just plain marble; the marmoreal marvel had mesmerized him ever since he could remember. Come delight or sweet melancholy, the cold smooth touch of what skeptics of romance would scoff at as a mere ‘Hard shiny stone’ never failed to awaken in him snoozing enchanting dreams, arouse beauteous desires beyond the imagination or access of mere mortals. The life- matter of Michelangelo’s immortal David or the spiritual-sensual Venus De Milo made his senses throb and drew his life-blood, as his long artistic fingers magically sculpted unfettered pigeons raring to take flight, lions in uncharacteristically docile postures, some individual’s physical form or the inner poetry or soul of another…. Onyx,Carrara, Yule and even the bleeding Rouge de Rance he imported specifically. Crowds thronged his galleries in millions. Worshipped him. Newspapers hailed him a genius. Critics honored him with rave reviews. In fact, he walked around with glazed eyes, totally oblivious of the physical plane he inhabited. Totally on the sublime meta-physical, he commuted with wings not walked, delicately tasted ambrosia of Gods and lived and breathed marble.  Marble ….a mere crystallized rock……limestone metamorphosed; scientifically speaking, fusing with various impurities or none, leading to its genesis. Its white, green, pink, grey hues beckoned him. The swirls, serpents and creeper like characteristics on them tantalized him. The emblem of Gemini, the symbol of beauty and immortality had power enough to render the entire physical world a lie. The only truth was marble….marble…..marble…..

 

In the R.E.M  state, he effortlessly wafted from one level of consciousness to the other…..a gawky adolescent boy playing with hard glass marbles……disconcerted by the seducing tinkle of a lone anklet……he followed the young nymphet’shimmering dark form; camouflaged in the sultry midnight….lead by sound like a blind man he followed her…..they passed the marble arch, the marble rocks, lightly mounted the marble hill and finally her ethereal figure illuminated by the silvery beam of moonlight walked of rhythmically into the Sea of Marmara. Something distant stirred in the memory and he intuitively called out ‘Black Marble!’ But he was a second too late.

 

He had woken up trembling with the word still on his lips. This had been years ago and had soon become a forgotten dream. Maybe the strong essence of it still haunted. He never worked with black marble. It overwhelmed something in him….something lovely…..something frightening…..

 

Highly contemptuous of fears and phobias and ashamed to possess a clandestine one himself; assuming iron control over self, he ordered a slab from Kilkenny on impulse. As it arrived, his gaze traveled over its glistening surface with a queer amalgamation of reluctance and eagerness. And then came a wildly pulsating heart and dizziness, intoxicatingly delicious in quality. His senses reeled. With put-on rakishness, he ordered it to be placed at the farthest end of his workshop and had it veiled under a thick white shroud. Like a man desperately trapped in a hex, he worked on his other beloveds- Llano pink from Central Texas; the bewitching green Connemara; the fine grained Parian marble, courtesy the island of Paros; the grayish-white Royal white….but the shrouded black marble repeatedly beckoned him like an obsessive compulsive thought. His wandering anarchist mind started scattering….even maintaining coherency of thought was turning a Herculean task. The veiled charmer seemingly hurled itself across his vision, disconcerting him, so much so- that he renounced all kinds of marble altogether and tried to find solace in ebony, bronze, bone and ivory; with no avail. His creativity suffered with his mind. Yet he couldn’t come to loathe his sweet tormenter. He longed to gaze at it eternally and hungered for its velvety touch, but avoided it like livewire that could electrocute him. Little did he know that Black Marble yearned equally for him if not more.

 

That night, as his consciousness waxed and waned like the cyclic phases of the moon, she visited again. Black Marble clad in enigmatic midnight, mounted proud and erect on a well proportioned black horse…far from being the nubile coy young bud that had walked off into salty waters, she was now a rose in full blossom- unabashed and aggressively aware of the magnetism and splendor of her personality….her loud demanding fragrance hit him with force that sent him reeling backwards…having awkwardly fallen on the white sea sands, he was unable to budge. For a moment, he wasn’t a grown man but a stupefied child blinking upwards, with unconcealed awe, at the regal horsewoman….Stars dropped from the skies; settled on her ebony dark hair like a crown of blazing fire opals…. He was blinded for a moment. Then he heard resounding laughter and caught a cursory movement of yanking of reins. Instinctively, he pulled himself on to his feet and ran like a man possessed. She pursued him with the urgency and brutality of a huntress and he was the hapless creature at bay. The horse’s rhythmic hooves and her thundering laughter rang in his ears. She was the go-getting Alexander conqueror and there was no stopping her…He didn’t dare to look backwards. The horse neighed unexpectedly. Fearfully, he looked. Black marble had turned the horse and was galloping away in the opposite direction- not before flashing a teasing smile at his panicking idiocy. He stood there for a long time, still wary of her unpredictability…….

 

He was unable to dismiss this episode as a reverie as he had done previously. Thus bestially jerked out of sleep, streams of sweat felt salty in his mouth. The rest of the night saw him at the window sill, dry-eyed and restless. Finally in the morning he visited the atelier. His fingers ached for black marble. Yet he stood staring at it blankly, oblivious to the clock on the wall that trotted away like her stately horse….

 

He had ceased to work. The workshop and gallery had to be shut down. He didn’t bathe or shave anymore; hair disheveled and eyes blood-shot, he wandered aimlessly around the town. His shirt was soiled and the pajamas torn but he hadn’t seemed to notice. At the bar, he drank himself to many a hangover, slept on pavements like a rag-picker. He was totally oblivious to curious stares, tch-tchs of pity or hushed whisperings like, ‘He seems to have lost it, the poor chap.’ Connoisseurs, admirers and friends just didn’t seem to be there anymore and his worshippers found different cults. Critics had nothing new from him to critically appraise and newspapers found different absorptions. But his loyal ex-assistant who had carefully watched the maestro at work, was moved at such plight. He advised the sculptor to visit a shrink. But our protagonist knew a psychiatrist was not the answer. The answers to his predicament lay elsewhere…..

 

Desperate searching for lost pieces of jigsaw to complete his life’s puzzle broke his immunities- he fell ill with some affliction that received varying diagnosis. An array of medicines and injections were prescribed.

 

One morning, the same cryptic instinct that had made him yell ‘Black Marble!’ (Remember his teenage dream) set him on the train to the native town of his birth and childhood. Doctors worried that he might be too weak to travel but he remained steadfast. It was night-fall as he reached. Familiar picturesque cottages he had left far behind with success, he passed with nostalgia….eagerly swallowed the quaint scent of mud of his hometown….funny how all this had been parceled and stacked up somewhere in the deep attics of his memory. His steps took him to the sea shore. He settled down on pure white sands. The cold chaste Luna reflected in the dark sea looked envious as the present merged into the past……

 

‘Slow coach!, you can never overtake me’ yelled a dark little girl, beautiful beyond belief, perched high and proud  on her equally dark horse. Long raven black hair flew wildly at her back as she cut through the winds, challenging her companion- a skinny anemic looking boy trailing far behind on his own mustang. ‘I will, you wait and see’ he muttered without much conviction. ‘Hurrah! I won!’ cheered the girl while they dismounted as they reached the starting point. Then something akin to pity or love stirred as she looked at his downcast face. ‘Well…you’ll win next time’ she whispered, patting his bony arm awkwardly. He looked up surprised, and then pushed a stray lock caressing her cheek, behind her ear. Then he said dreamily, ‘You are so lovely. I’ll marry you one day’. She looked down shyly at her feet, then characteristic spirit overtook. She cheekily stuck her tongue out and said, ‘ Like fun you will! I’d rather marry a rabbit!’. Throwing off her jacket, she freely ran off into the sea. He followed not far behind. He meant to outswim her even if he couldn’t outride her. Breaths held, two  pairs of legs industriously kicking waves that were getting increasingly obstinate, fatigued arms alternately pushing chilly waters backward, two young minds on the brink of exhaustion, yet reluctant to give up….they swam on and on into deeper waters, throwing caution to the winds….to the on-looker it might have seemed as if they were determined to touch the horizon……then suddenly came the ghastly sound and feeling of choking and spluttering as water entered his mouth and nostrils…. his weary legs were being weighed down into unknown depths….only his arms were alive and he waved and crashed against the waves wildly as his head bobbed up and down…..a few feet ahead of him, Black Marble screamed in agony and shock. He was vaguely aware of dark arms heaving him above the surface of waters and pulling him towards the shore, valiantly fighting currents that winds had turned berserk. Forces kept sucking them backwards, cackling at her earnest efforts. Nearly collapsing in body, by sheer might of the strength within; she trudged on. The winds relaxed. A surge of hope warmed her being that had gone damp and icy as the waters. Partly submerged waist-down she polarized last reserves of energy and pushed the near unconscious boy on to the safety of a rock. Throwing a triumphant thumbs-up sign towards the skies; she readied herself to come on shore. But destiny had other plans. A hefty current swiftly carried her off further and further backwards. Some inexplicable force made him sit up alert at that precise moment and shout her name out as it echoed in the vast galaxies. He was too late. He saw the last of her velvety arm disappear underwater. She traveled a brief aquatic distance before finally resting on the hard sea-bed. So valuable was this treasure that even the ocean didn’t have the heart to let go….

 

Defense Mechanisms- the masks that the psyche assumes to shield itself against truths that are better off being faced. Disturbing memories blocked; repressed within the deep recesses of the brain’s lobes. Forgetting- a convenient stop gap arrangement for the selfish to cocoon themselves against pain or loss. Not for a moment had he mourned her. He wished he had had the honour of having done so. Instead, his pusillanimous brain had gone into a selective amnesiac stupor. With hard-hearted ease, he had moved on in life-had completed school, frolicked, gone through growing pains, had read and reflected, experimented… with various things, had enjoyed delicacies of success- all without a word of acknowledgement to the person to whom he owed life itself. His love, his life, his lovely Black Marble, his feisty Black Marble. Black Marble; not the cold-hard lifeless association the term evoked, but its anti-thesis….. Warm, soft, pulsating and alive, yes still very much alive. She had passed on; but her spirit had grown with him in his subconscious, from late childhood to adolescence to confident mature adulthood. Tears stung his eyes and poured in the frenzy of joy- sorrow- devotion. Black Marble true to her nature had been strong. He had been Calcite…no Gypsum….no Talc…which would diminish to dust if sculpted. But Black Marble was strong…..

 

He pulled himself erect. The purpose of his life shone on his face. Still weak, he moved towards the railway station. He knew he didn’t have very long left. But he had one final crucial task to complete…..

 

Faint with illness and exhaustion of journey…..he walked straight to his workshop which was to him no less than Sanctum sanctorum, now especially….and gingerly unveiled the black slab. Unresponsive to calls of nourishment and sleep, his agile fingers worked for hours at a stretch with feverish intensity. His equipment pierced his finger instead of stone, but he hadn’t noticed. With bloodied hands; he devotedly etched a shapely arm, a queenly neck or a regal brow. Word had spread that the ailing genius was in his element once more and was sculpting away with insane concentration. Crowds once more thronged the workshop in millions to watch the master at work, critics applauded him to the skies and newspapers became fixated on him once more. But the sculptor was oblivious to the entire stir he had caused. He worked with with glazed, unfocussed eyes; permanently forgetting the physical plane he inhabited. As an elegant shin was carved or a small delicate foot etched, he was on the verge of collapse. Worshippers pleaded with him to stop but he turned a deaf ear. Even the most unimaginative onlooker had noticed a recent extraordinary phenomena; a luminous halo around his head that shone brighter day by day. People paid obeisance to him. Some tried to touch his spiritual aura. But he was merely playing the high-priest; bringing his Goddess to life.

 

As he accomplished his life’s purpose with the last wave of raven black hair, people were fazed to behold the same sacred aura around the carved divinity’s being. ‘It’s a masterpiece,’ they all breathed in awe, ‘the most brilliant work of his till now.’ As he stepped a foot beyond to review his work, he beheld in it not stone…but life. She smiled and stretched out a long arm. He took it in his, determined this time never to let her go. As he stood mesmerized; gazing at her dark form, ultimate blackness descended in front of his eyes and he collapsed at her feet. People gathered all around. He was gone. The mystic holy aura that had enveloped the creator and his creation had mysteriously disappeared. All that remained now in people’s eyes was a dead man and a beautiful marble statue. They wondered if they had been under some kind of mass hallucination and returned to their physical worlds with a feeling of anti-climax.

 

United with his twin-soul, the sculptor knew otherwise. The entire physical world was a lie. The only truth was marble… marble….Black Marble.

 

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