Sunday, January 31, 2010

Almost Finished – A Short Story

By Roger A Wilbanks

Enrico Fermini was a sculptor of modest renown in Venice during the rebirth of learning or as it is more commonly known, The Renaissance. Though he was a highly skilled sculptor, he was always overlooked in favor of the sexier names from cites across Italy. People traveled miles to see that new sculpture my Michelangelo or Bernini, but his own work drew little or worse no notice because he had no masterpiece to his credit. This was all going to change. The sculpture he was working on now would see to that. It was the portrait of an Angel. She was beautiful beyond words and each time he laid eyes on her a tear melted down his cheek. She came to him in a vision so strong and clear he was inspired the next day to seek out a patron who would share his view to fund her creation. When completed, she would secure his fame throughout the civilized world as the greatest sculptor alive. He had only to finish her, and that was the problem. Every time he came in to work on her, he saw one spot, one more area to work on. His patron grew anxious. Three years he had worked on his Angel and he had refused admittance to his studio to all while he worked. No one was ever allowed to see her until he permitted it. He did not need the added distraction of applause and accolades while he was still cutting and polishing the marble at this stage. He felt like the butcher who waded through the blood, bone and offal to produce the most beautiful piece of meat he was able for the festival. His blood was sweat; his bone, stone. The meat was still much the same. His finished product would be devoured by adoring masses. It would be consumed by hundreds of people from all reaches of the globe daily. This meat would feed his festival forever. He had only to finish it.

Enrico awoke Friday morning and dressed in his best clothes. He loved springtime under the Venetian sky. The morning had a crispness you could experience nowhere else. The breeze coming off the lagoon was filled with oceanic fragrance. The sunlight bounced off of the buildings like a young child just freed from his chores. He made the short walk from his apartment on the Grand Canal to his studio to resume work on his Angel. After unbolting the door and checking his traps to insure no prying eyes had been tampering with his studio, he lifted the tarp from the Angel. She stood well over 9 feet in height and possessed a modest wingspan. His calculations had eliminated the possibility of a more daring full wingspan so the piece was modified to portray the wings in a semi opened state connecting to the body of the Angel at two points, the back and the shoulder.. He despised the compromise, though it did nothing to detract from the beauty of his work. The marble was simply not strong enough to withstand his dreams. Perhaps he would experiment with bronze after this. That would be a strong enough material to fulfill his visions. Enrico donned his coat and grabbed his tools. He positioned his stool in front of the Angel sitting, tools in hand and stared at her. He did this every day as he drew closer to finishing her. This was much more delicate work and required the keen eye of a Master to spy blemishes the average person would never notice. He scanned the intricate featherwork of the wings today for a solid hour before seeing an area that needed refining. His work was swift and precise. The offending marble was removed that the beauty beneath it could shine through. He sat again and resumed his scan. This was the stage that separated the Master from the pretender, he thought. He noticed an errant wave in the Angel’s crown and began at once to correct it. This had to be done with the utmost care. He had to rasp the excess marble away, careful not to snap the crown at the point it attached to the Angel’s hair. He had always worried about this section of the piece. Antiquities from Rome an Athens were notorious for missing limbs and appendages, and their bases were much stronger than the fragile crown’s. Enrico decided to add a wire frame to support the crown and began carving out the channel for it to rest within. This would take the day to complete this change, but he had time. He had trained as a blacksmith in his youth and relied on those skills to fashion his iron wire frame. Once he had made the halo, which was no more than a hoop with a stem that would be sunk within the Angel’s head, he attached it to the crown and topped the channel with a marble cement of his own creation. It would be lacking the beautiful vein that the original stone held, but it was made from the same stone making it indistinguishable save to the trained eye. Besides, it would be positioned atop the Angel’s head. No one in Italy was tall enough to see it. When the day’s work was finally done, Enrico cleaned his studio, reset his traps and bolted the door. During his walk home he thought of a spot or two he would work on tomorrow.

Guisepi Calperno was a struggling student of another local Master. Guisepi had even met Enrico several times as his Master and he were old friends. He had heard many rumors about the piece Enrico was working on and desired nothing more in Christiandom than to be the first to lay eyes on the work. He waited down an alley as Enrico bolted the door to his studio. After he passed, Guisepi waited a few minutes more and approached the studio. He had to work out how he would gain entrance. He could make short work of the bolt, having been trained by thieves early in his youth to pick locks, but he was more concerned with the traps rumored to lie behind the door. His Master talked of the traps Enrico set with pride as well as the fate that awaited any who would dare risk that door uninvited. He felt confident that his early won skills could guide him past these traps. He tried the bolt and found it secured tightly. It was made of black iron and posed no trouble to pick. He had it opened in seconds. He had often watched Enrico enter his studio from the outside. He always went in quickly and shut the door behind him. Guisepi guessed that there would be a weighted chain of some sort on the other side of the door that would require immediate action lest it set off some sort of alarm. Allowing it to strike its target would be unwise. Enrico, he had noticed always turned to the right as he shut the door. No doubt the weight would be located on a chain along the right side, and as Guisepi closed the door behind him, he immediately faced the right where he was proven correct. A miniature bronze anchor on an iron chain began clanking its way downward. He was able to catch it before it made contact with a bronze plate that had to be a spring-loaded device meant to draw the watchman’s attentions.
He had no idea what effect the device would create but he was certain he had disabled it. The studio was immense. It was dark inside making it difficult to see the walls, but Guisepi was sure it was the largest room he had ever been in that wasn’t a church. You could fit many apartments into the area over several floors. It was more than twice the size of his Master’s modest studio and he knew Enrico took no students. He could see the vague outline of the statue in the center of the room. He had observed the blinds keeping the light outside the windows that lined the upper area of the studio opened a few minutes after Enrico entered the studio. He knew that was where the second trap had to lie, perhaps connected to the strings that controlled the slats. Sure enough, he could make out a rather large cage suspended over the strings in the lofty ceiling of the studio. It was painted the same color as the plaster ceiling, but Guisepi could tell it was made of iron and would be too heavy for him to lift should it fall over him. There was a sequence to pulling the strings. He could see gearworks connected to the cage. Too strong a pull and the cage would fall upon him. He gave the first string a light tug. He could feel clicks at intervals through the string and guessed that the gear controlling the cage had a dummy tooth on it that would trigger it’s decent. The gear would have to be rocked back and forth to open the blinds. He remembered that the blinds always opened slowly. That must be their secret. He worked the string open for a bit then closed, open then closed until he had the blinds open enough to allow light to penetrate the room. It was hours before sunset so the light was bright enough to see clearly by. The statue was enormous. It was situated in the absolute center of the studio and covered by a heavy tarp. Close inspection of this tarp revealed a string that ran through ringlets along the bottom and fed into a hole at in the floor. No doubt the string was attached to bells or chimes of some kind and the fool that pulled the tarp without first addressing the string would bring the watchmen upon him with the improvised aria. He tested the tautness of the string and found it slack. He felt that cutting it was the safest option. He cared not for covering his intrusion, he only wished access. He removed the gilt stiletto from his scabbard and ran the string through. He was now on the verge of realizing his goal. The statue was covered by the heavy tarp, and that alone kept its beauty shielded from view. He began pulling the tarp off the Angel slowly, like undressing a lover, for that’s what he was. He was wooing the virtue of the statue for he and he alone. He wanted to see the entire sculpture all at one time so that he could soak in its full majesty and began drawing the tarp inch by inch. As the bottom of the tarp gained the crest of the statue’s top, one of the ringlets caught on something. Guisepi’s eagerness to be satisfied filled his hands with more energy than he expected and what was intended as a light tug intended to shake the ringlet free became something more horrible than he could imagine and the bottom fell from his world.


He heard the separation of the marble and closed his eyes awaiting the inevitable crash that was to come. Nothing happened. Guisepi made his escape without laying eyes on what lie beneath the tarp and ran home in tears.

Dawn approached the Venetian canals as the sun’s light crept over the lagoon, burning off the light green velvet fog. Enrico Fermini woke at dawn’s first ray as it slashed through his window. He rose from bed and made his way to the window where he took in the grandeur of the sunrise over the lagoon and thought of his Angel. He was ALMOST finished with her and soon, very soon he would unveil her to the adoring public. He felt this was his holy mission. His Patron had requested a private viewing of the statue knowing full well Enrico would refuse, but to his amazement, he had agreed. The touches he still had to make were minute and cosmetic enough to allow the man who had sat patiently for three years and dispersed funds without hesitation to see this budding masterpiece first. His words would be the spark that ignited the wildfire sure to spread through the city, stoking it into such a frenzy that upon swinging open the door to his studio and allowing them in would secure his fame forever.
He dressed and made his way to his studio. As he rounded the corner to his block, his heart stopped. The door was open. It was only open a crack, but Enrico always shut it firmly and bolted it. He knew he had done that yesterday. Someone had violated his studio. He opened the door expecting to see a thief in a cage but only saw the just awakened sunlight caress the half removed tarp covering his Angel. Enrico was enraged. He removed the tarp via a pulley and chain attached to a ringlet at it’s center and drew it up into his studio’s attic and inspected his Angel. She was unblemished and perfect. He breathed again and his heart began beating once more as his Patron arrived for his agreed upon inspection. Enrico was in such an agitated state that it took several moments to relay what had just occurred.
“In your STUDIO???”
“Is the Angel hurt?”
“No? Thanks be to God!”
The Patron calmed down enough to finally be able to look upon the Angel that
sat exposed on the floor at the center of the studio. He wept. The beauty unearthed by the chisels and rasps of Enrico Fermini was pronounced second to none. He graciously thanked the sculptor for his effort and vowed to tell all of the beauty he had just observed as soon as he found words adequate enough to apply. He turned to leave the studio still wiping tears of joy from his face when he heard a sound that broke his heart.


He spun around to see what had caused the noise in time to see the Angel’s crown fall from atop her head and crash into the arm she stretched out in an offering of peace. The arm snapped clean from her body at the shoulder causing first one, then both wings to separate from her and crash to the floor. All four pieces of immaculate craftsmanship exploded against the unforgiving floor with the force of a letter from a jilted lover. Both men remained motionless and silent for a very long time. Neither was capable of speech. When Enrico was able to move, he approached the destruction that had one time been his masterpiece. He saw that the cement he had applied at the channel in which he embedded his iron halo had broken free. He could only surmise this as the cause for the catastrophic failure. He fell to the floor blaming himself for the destruction and completely ignored the fact that his studio had been violated. His Patron’s tears would not stop. He vowed Vendetta against the scoundrel that had broken into his studio and absolved Enrico of any and all blame in the statue’s collapse. He was fully prepared to pay the balance of the patronage based on the glimpse of beauty that defied words, regardless of how many pieces it was in. Enrico refused this. The Patron begged Enrico to begin anew. He could have all the time he desired to create another masterpiece, but this too he refused. “I am done as a sculptor.” He said “I have tried to touch the hand of the Almighty and God smote me down for my arrogance and presumption.” The Patron begged the grieving sculptor to reconsider his offer and left him alone with the ruins of his masterpiece.

Enrico Fermini eventually rose and regarded his sculpture. He had run out of the tears that his body kept trying to use. He walked to his workbench and paused for an eternity before grabbing the heavy hammer. He turned back and approached his Angel where he smashed every remaining piece of her to indistinguishable rubble. When done, he removed his knife and ended his own life atop the pile that would have been the world’s greatest sculpture.

The news spread fast. The statue the entire city had eagerly waited for was destroyed. The artist was finished. Disaster had struck the city. The cries of vengeance against the thief rose from the mobs running through the streets and canals like black smoke from a fire. These cries awoke Guisepi from his pitiful half sleep. The Master was dead. His greatest work was smashed to pieces. The mob cried for blood. His blood. He began pulling his hair out in grief and rage. He looked about his room for the means with which to end his own life and spied the rope that held back the massive curtains in his bedroom. He secured this rope to the door and fashioned a noose at the other end. When these preparations were complete, he penned a brief letter of admission and repentance before swinging open the double window. The breeze that filled the room swept the hastily scrawled confession away as Guisepi mounted the windowsill. He slipped the noose about his own neck and rose to meet his doom. As he leapt from the 5th floor window he shouted, “I’m sorry Enrico!” before the rope drew taut and snapped his neck, ending his life.

The statue was examined by master sculptors from all across Italy. Some insisted they could piece her back together, but the city fathers refused to allow this. They instead had the remains of the statue made into a pedestal in the Church of the Holy Divination where it was intended to eventually rest and mounted a bronze plate to the pedestal titling the only remaining piece of the statue, the crown, “Almost Finished”.

The End

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