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Oh, would you be an an angel ...

by BryanW 

Posted: 28 January 2017
Word Count: 1000
Summary: Dear reader, the dialogue in this historical account, at least until the final scene which took place in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome in 1888, when the famous memorial to William Wetmore Storey and his wife was first unveiled, has been translated from the Italian - rather badly, I’m afraid, by your humble and linguistically challenged narrator.

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Dust. White dust drifts across the huge studio. It  floats and dances in the thin winter light that valiantly fights its way through the grey. badly smudged floor-to-ceiling window panes. 

‘So tell me. Why would an angel weep because someone’s popped their clogs?’

‘I dunno. I’m just a sculptor. I’m just trying to do this commission.’

The artist’s model (the one who asked the question) lays her angelic head flat onto the surface of a wooden table, a table whose legs have been somewhat reduced in length to replicate the dimensions of the marble plinth that the sculptor (the one who replied) has already shaped. She kneels and drapes her forlorn body and dangling, lifeless arm over it.

‘Yeh, but, aren’t angels supposed to, like, cheerily welcome you into heaven. I mean, isn’t it s’posed to be good in there?’

‘Stop asking me these questions. Just keep still, will you?’

‘And whose fault’s that, then?  What a ridiculous bleeding position you’ve put me in.’

The young sculptor looks at the girl, with her cascade of bright red hair, and feels a wave of panic rising from his bowels. He hasn't any choice, He has to follow the reams and reams of detailed instructions that the famous sculptor had left for this, the great man’s own memorial. ‘Look. It’s artistic,’ he finally says.

‘All right Michelangelo! Keep yer hair on.’  

‘And he wanted me to sculpt it for him.’

‘Fancied himself did he? Typical man. Wants to be noticed even after he’s dead. Anyway, these wing contraptions you’ve put on me, well, they chaff under the armpits.’

He’d made the frames from wire and covered them with swan feathers. Angel wings drooping. Helpless in grief, like the angel herself. But he just can’t manage to carve the feathers and, oh, he’s never going to finish it in time anyway. ‘Look. Just stop complaining, will you? I need to get on with it. The ceremony’s only a fortnight’s away.’

‘Mmm, only saying. But I’ll blame you if I’m scarred for life. My smooth, sensual, silky, porcelain skin. And I’ve gotta stay like this for two more weeks! Are you trying to kill me? Then, know what? I’ll come back and haunt you. I will. You’ll find me fluttering down onto your hairy chest when you’re asleep in bed. And I’ll … well, I’ll do something unmentionable, I will.’

She’s flirting with me. She’s flirting with me! And, well, it’s true - her skin is so very smooth, so sensual, so perfect set against the flaming red of her long hair. The sculptor, truth be told, feels somewhat threatened by all this how’s-yer-father sort of stuff. A shy and sensitive man, he’s never known how to handle such a situation. Never known what to say when women come on to him. He’s spent all his youth studying anatomy and classical aesthetic theories, and worked so very hard for his promotion from dogsbody to assistant’s assistant, to assistant, then principal sculptor. Well. He’s had no time for much else.

The young model lifts her head from the table-plinth and looks up at him. ‘Blimey’, she says, ‘You’ve gone all flushed and your … tool … it’s all trembling.’ 

It’s true. His chisel is trembling in his hand. And he’s feeling all hot under his smock. He looks up at her. Their eyes meet.

‘Come on,’ she says, ‘You need a bit of … a break.’

‘Oh … if you say so.’

That night, in the dark studio two figures appear. Or do not appear. Or, both do and do not appear simultaneously. They couldn’t ‘appear’ as we know it, even under the highest number of lumens that a bulb from your local B&Q might offer. For these two figures are the sort of beings that are ‘invisible to human sight’ as the great John Milton had once written when describing angels. Or, rather, not describing angels. These were, indeed, two celestial figures. And your humble narrator, just like the great poet, and being also of the corporeal sort, has not the means of describing them. If he could, then no doubt as angels he would actually have to describe them as of indeterminate sex, indeed no lesser authority than the Bible tells us that. Although, contradictorily, the Bible also provides us with a number of apparent sightings. In nearly all these cases the descriptions are of handsome young men in flowing white robes. So why male artists from Renaissance to Victorian times tended to present them as scantily-clad and often rather voluptuous young ladies, I’ll leave you to figure out.

However, if one could listen in to the conversation of these celestial beings (although ‘unhearable to human hearing’ as Milton might also have said) one might hear them say about how nice the sculpture could look and how they wanted to help the poor young sculptor. They were angels after all. So, with their celestial hammers and chisels, they got to work.

Two weeks later.

‘Friends, artistic colleagues, families of both William and his dear departed wife, I now unveil this, if I might say, splendid memorial to the couple. It is called it The Angel of Grief.’ 

Gasps of genuine awe burst from the crowd as the drape is pulled away. The hopelessness of loss, the tenderness of memory, so beautifully, so dramatically, realised. Words like ‘divine,’ ‘inspired’, ‘sublime,’  follow the gasps, as do many a cathartic tear.

‘And If I might erm, invite to step up here the sculptor of this, what shall I say? erm,  spiritual transcendency that realises the designs of Mr. William Wetmore Storey himself. Would he … ? Will he …? Is he not here? 

No. He was not there. For at hat very moment he was in his little apartment near the Ponte Sant’Angelo joyfully engaged with his flame-haired lover. And who amongst us would dare say that their activity together was not achieving an even higher level of spiritual trascendency than that of the monument itself?

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Comments by other Members

scriever at 23:43 on 28 January 2017  Report this post
A lovely story, Bryan, mixing the earthy with the celestial, with humour. Nice to know that the scuptor got his reward on earth...

Chestersmummy at 14:42 on 29 January 2017  Report this post
From someone who can't speak a word of Italian, I would say that was pretty good.  Couldn't see the join - anyway, I couldn't!

Bazz at 20:35 on 04 February 2017  Report this post
Fun piece, Bryan, I like the tone, the banality beneath the beauty, then the ironic intervention. The struggles of the artist...!

Desormais at 08:43 on 05 February 2017  Report this post
I loved the contrasting styles, from the earthy to the well... yes... celestial.  All human, and inhuman life is included in this piece.  And your model is entirely believable, almost too believable.  Good one.

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