The first thing I remember is the touch of his lips. The second is the disgust on his face as he withdrew from me. “Hideous!” he said. “I must start again.”
I knew no other touch. No other face. I knew nothing. Yet I knew all. The Goddess willed me thus. The broad and narrow places of my mind were by design, implanted in me at the moment of my awakening.
My being ached to follow him, to tell him not to leave me. But I could not move or speak as he did. When he left the periphery of my sight, I was lost.
I waited, watching and listening for his return. Not seeing him, not hearing him, was agony. I bore it only by examining the things he left behind in the space before me – things that belonged to him, as I did. Things he made and used.
A hammer; a chisel; a stool. Blocks of marble in varying sizes and shapes; marble sculptures both finished and incomplete.
One block had the head of horse. Another showed human and animal figures. His hands had shaped them. The beauty of his work filled me with joy. But when I had studied each object in turn, the pain of his absence again overcame me.
At last, I heard the sounds of my love’s return. Other men were with him. A dozen figures entered my sight, bearing a long white block of marble. It gleamed in the light from the window above.
Once the men had placed the block, he sent them away. He circled the block. He touched the marble, measuring it with his great hands, assessing it with his bright eyes. “This one will be perfect!” he said.
He set to work. The dust of white marble filled the air around him. It covered his arms and face, but he never stopped even to wipe his brow. When the light failed, he had candles brought, and worked on.
A shape progressed from the stone. I recognized the curve of a knee and leg, the crest of a throat. Twice more, he lit candles at darkness, extinguished them at dawn, and worked on. Red blood came through the white dust on his fingers. I throbbed with longing, powerless to soothe his torn hands.
At last, he said, “It is finished.” He stood back from what he had made. It was night, and the candles had burned down to faint yellow. I saw now what he saw: A perfect female form.
I watched as my love covered the smooth arms and shoulders in his embrace. His mouth, quivering, drew close to the mouth I had watched him carve with such care. The luminous white lips darkened in the shadow of his face.
Then the form began to tremble. Color blushed across the whiteness. The polished arms softened, and stirred. Slowly, they imitated his embrace. He released her just enough to look, for the first time, into her living eyes.
My love draped his lady in a clean robe. He brought a spangled golden ornament for her head. He kissed her hand, and pressed it to his chest. “You are my queen,” he said.
Then he called, “Bring the mirror!” Two men came bearing a large brass disc. They held it up for her. She stared, moved toward it, and touched the shining surface. “The loveliness you behold is your own,” he said. Her laughter tinkled like the gold in her hair.
He told the men to leave the mirror, and go tell the household to ready a feast of celebration. My love led his bride away. The candles soon burned out, and I was left in darkness. I could see nothing, hear nothing. I could feel only sorrow, pouring out of me into the night.
Alas, morning came again. I wanted no more mornings. Only silence and darkness, in which it seemed I might lose myself, and be free of all sensation, forever. As it had been before my awakening.
A beam of light struck the mirror, which had been left standing across from me. The brightness pierced my eyes. As the sun rose higher, the beam softened, and widened, and a shape came into focus.
It could not be, but was, the exact female form I had seen being sculpted out of marble. I stared, unable to comprehend. Was she made stone again? Could this mean he might return to me?
And then I realized, as had my love’s queen, that what the mirror showed me was myself. I was a woman, lovely as the Goddess who inspired her, carved in marble. And I lived. But not fully. The life was trapped within me.
I cannot say how long I stared at my reflection before I saw it. But once I saw it, I understood. In the otherwise perfect visage my love had crafted, there was a crack – a hair’s-breadth crack, running from the top of my forehead to the tip of my brow. A flaw so fine only the brightest light would reveal it.
This, then, was what made my love recoil just as his lips had quickened my spirit. This line was the line of my fate.
I saw him once more only. My love came for me in darkness, bearing a candle. He held the light to my face, and looked with regret. “Forgive me,” he said.
I felt, for the first and last time, his hand.
Francesca Leader spent her twenties studying foreign languages and cultures, and found her way back to her mother tongue in her thirties. She writes non-fiction for a living, but prefers, whenever possible, to write fiction, which (usually) is both more interesting, and more truthful. She lives in Northern Virginia.