Anaxarete, In ReposebyLatrani©
The stone was warm to the touch. It was almost an atrocity. Anatoli leveled his gaze and displeasure at the work crew. They had managed to place the unfinished marble in the wrong room while he was away, underneath the great windows and skylights of the east display wing. Finished works belonged here, under the sun, not this Pentelicusian beauty. Exposure to the harsh morning light made even her serene expression seem a frown. He roared at the men in his thick, powerful accent, threatening to have them all removed from the ranks of the employed if they did not correct their mistake immediately.
The men set to, with a few grumbles and deadly stares that were doubtlessly meant to intimidate him somehow. Anatoli's lip curled in amusement. None of these muscular oafs had even a cold spark of the gaze that his own father had possessed. It was laughable. Anatoli himself possessed that same gleam, derived from years of privilege arcanely combined with self-determination. He knew that he could stare down a bear, and he turned his chill blue eyes on each thuggish laborer that dared to glare at him while he cursed instructions their way. Not one dared stare back.
Anatoli watched the entire process this time, ensuring that none of the men 'accidentally' damaged his prize. Ever so slowly and delicately, the tremendous weight of the unfinished sculpture was moved to his cavernous studio, deeper inside the sprawling house that his parents had bequeathed him.
When the men had finished, he cursed at them again, and delighted at their incomprehension of the tongue he used. Although Anatoli had rarely seen his parents growing up, and had lived in America since early childhood, his father had always surrounded him with Greek tutors so that he would not forget his heritage. In truth, he did not care in the least for either of his 'homelands'. In his eyes, both had fallen too far from their old grace; Greece (what used to be Greece, as he thought) was a joke in the West, and his adopted country was a joke everywhere else. Anatoli merely tolerated each of them.
The move complete, Anatoli virtually chased the men from his home, cursing them again for their foul smell and dirty boots. At the service door, their leader turned with paperwork in hand and held it before him, scowling. Anatoli refused the man's pen, producing his own and signing a quick flourish while keeping his hand away from the paper. Then the brutal-looking fellow's scowl turned into a smile. "Pleasure doing business with you, Mistah Demopoulos," he said, and proffered his hand.
Anatoli watched the extremity with suspicion. The man's false smile continued. Then Anatoli saw the anticipation on the faces of the other laborers, monkeys pretending to be men, and he realized that a trap was being laid for him. The man who wanted to shake hands was the largest and most burly of them. Anatoli reached out and took his palm in hand, fighting his disgust and the hesitation it would bring. He wanted to put on a good show, even if only fools were watching.
It was as he expected. The man repeated himself idiotically; "Yep, a real pleasure indeed, Sir," and clamped down as hard as he could on Anatoli's hand, hoping to hurt and humiliate him now that their business was complete. Anatoli returned the favor. The brutal man registered a second of stupid surprise on his face, and then he was fighting against the pain. Anatoli shook his arm casually, while applying so much pressure that even he could feel the man's bones pressing against one another. The man hid his pain and tried to free his hand, but Anatoli placed his left hand over it as well and increased the pressure.
"Such a pleasure indeed, Mister..." Anatoli shrugged, neither remembering nor caring about the man's name. He stepped in closer, still compressing the hand he held, and spoke to the other man in a relaxed tone that was just loud enough for his cohorts to hear. "You have seen my studio, fool. I break stone and bend steel to bring life to my art. My arms are as hard as the marble you brought to me. Don't try to mock your betters," he finished in a hiss, and released his grip. The other man almost fell back, clutching at his wrist. His fingers were nearly purple. Everyone stared at Anatoli. "Go!" he ordered, and they obeyed.
He did not demean himself by watching the workers leave, instead stepping back inside to lather and clean his hands as soon as possible. Soot, oil, stone dust, paint and more made their way onto Anatoli's form every day, sparks burned his arms, mallets found their way unerringly to his fingertips, and he did not mind. He reveled in it. But most people were dirty, flaking, disease-ridden and foul. Touching that man had barely been worth the trouble, even for the reward of his expression.
Finally alone again, Anatoli breathed more easily. His home was pure. The cleaning service was long gone, but the splinters and grime left by the workers were tolerable; more tolerable than the men by far. He secured the empty house and set his alarms, and took a few minutes to relax and put thoughts of all other people out of his mind. Anatoli passed through the many rooms, deliberately enjoying his creations sprinkled throughout them. Some ethereal, some twisted, some almost homely, but all of them perfect. He was no suffering artist, doomed to be forever hateful of his own work. Anatoli knew that he was skillful; the bold, powerful strokes of mallet upon chisel could not even be attempted without utmost confidence. Even if he rarely knew exactly what shape he would bring forth, it was somehow always the right shape.
A trip to his wardrobe later, Anatoli had donned a gossamer silk shirt, open almost to the navel, the color of perfect alabaster. The cool material somehow made him think of stone. He added loose pants of a similar material but darker tone, to allow him freedom of movement. His feet were left bare. Anatoli removed the tie holding back his lengthy, oiled curls and shook his head. A glance in the mirror told him what he already knew; his body was closer to perfection than anyone deserved. Although his skin was lean and taut, it was light in tone; almost alabaster, almost feminine. That had been a gift from his mother, and Anatoli was careful not to squander it by wandering too long in the sun. The marbled floors chilled his feet as he moved through the echoing, decadent house. He enjoyed the sensation on his soles in the way many people delighted in the feeling of grass between their toes, and rugs were a rarity in his home.
The studio. Shadows and light danced through it in glacially slow motion, every angle of the room delicately planned to suggest a cave, even with the sun peeking through the two tiny skylights he allowed here. Those skylights only emphasized the gloom of the ceiling around them, the size of the room and its dark, dry chill. Islands of artificial light floated here and there, showing workplaces, pedestals, ancient, dented tables, and incongruous modern toolboxes. A set of handcrafted chisels lay beside a well-worn air hammer and welding torch. Anatoli's creations were utterly absent from the room; he never showed dissatisfaction with himself by abandoning or delaying a work. Only one other block of marble was present, completely untouched, awaiting its owner's inspiration. The unfinished sculpture now dominated the studio.
It sat, trapped in pristine Pentelicus marble, a noble and perfect woman half-buried in the stone. From her waist to her head she had escaped the marble, those portions of her well defined and nearly complete. She seemed to rest against the stone, almost upright, with her hands palms-down to support her against the unworked marble that contained her legs and hips. The torso was nude and perfect, a woman in bloom, her body both full and healthy. Anatoli could see the warmth of she who had posed long ago, but somehow, he preferred her this way. Her head tilted gently to her shoulder, almost as if to kiss it. Marble ribbons held the greatest portion of her hair aloft, but a few long, wispy curls fell along her neck. The woman's face was cultured, dignified, but not in any way severe. Anatoli thought that it might give under his touch.
He presented the work with a stiff-legged bow, one hand to his breast, the other outstretched behind him. "Welcome, dear and noble lady, to my home," he said to it, the words echoing through the studio. "I am Anatoli Demopoulos, and you are my guest. While you are here, I shall endeavor to free you from your cage." He smiled oddly. "I must lay hands upon you to do this thing, but do not fear my touch. Soon we shall begin." It should have felt silly to speak to a piece of stone, but that had become his way.
Anatoli excused himself to the unblinking statue, and stepped behind a nearby, dirtied curtain where he kept a toilet and washbasin. Leaving the studio in the middle of his work could disrupt his efforts, and so he made sure to eliminate all possible distractions before beginning. He stripped off his clothing, tied back his hair once again, and relieved himself thoroughly. After he was clean, Anatoli set about removing the last distraction. He took his member in hand and began to stroke it. This was more a ritual than an act of masturbation for him; it cleared his mind for the effort ahead. Soon he began to grow larger, and added measures of gentle, scented oils to his hands. He flexed his pectorals and abdomen over and over, deriving pleasure simply from the strength in them.
Anatoli resisted the temptation to peek around the curtain at the sculpture, or even to think about her. His mind raced at first, wanting to recall his few loves and many fantasies, but somehow he managed to look past them, clearing his mind as he caressed his member faster. It was the moment of clarity he sought, when his mind was one with his work, when it became a pool filled with marble that was both liquid and unyielding. His feet dug as if trying to find purchase in the cold floor. At last Anatoli came, baring his teeth and deliberately holding back his cry as he spilled himself against the curtain. He was standing on his toes, and almost stumbled as he returned to the world. Anatoli's cock was slick and throbbing, but he concentrated only on the deep heat behind it, and the chill that broke on his skin as his body slowed. His mind was calm; now he could begin.
Replacing only his dark silken pants, Anatoli stepped out again after perfunctorily cleaning himself. Rubbing his genitals with a towel could easily break the mood, so he went to his work with the oils and his seed glossy on his belly. He dipped his fingers in a bowl containing a mixture of chalk and other agents as he stepped back around the curtain. Slick fingers could easily become crushed fingers in his work. Anatoli's fingernails were irregular testimonies to the hundreds of misaimed blows he had struck with his mallets while learning the craft. His art was a cold mistress.
Anatoli Demopoulos advanced upon the unfinished marble slowly and a little sidelong, as one might approach a timid mare. His weight was thrust a little forward, so that his heels scarcely touched the ground. He reached the sculpture, his intended conquest, and slowly brought his hand to her face. He unfolded his fingers, again reminiscent of a man gently taming an animal, allowing her to see his palm, to take in his scent if she wished. When the sculpture did not object, he took a last step forward, leaning over slightly past the unfinished stone of her lower body and legs, and caressed her cheek. Anatoli's hands were toned and stark, stronger than stone, so he thought, but not rough or callused. He was careful to avoid that.
He stroked her cheek, traced the lines of her face with utmost care, and slid a single finger from her jaw to her collarbone. He shivered at the feel of the smooth curve, as if his own neck was being so touched. "What fearful hand or eye, could frame thy majestic symmetry..." he spoke to her, though the poem did not quite fit. Nothing else would enter his mind. She was too perfect, or would be. It was a crime more foul than any murder, that some ancient, forgotten sculptor should have perished before completing this work. Anatoli brought up his other hand and cupped it around the left shoulder of the sculpture, then ran it down to her wrist, touching only with the fingertips.
Then he found the first crack, and Anatoli choked off a gasp of horror. He kept his fingertips over it, and bent down to see. Several minute fractures had appeared around her slender arms. More were to be found on the other arm and wrist. They were almost unnoticeable from any distance, but Anatoli's finger had stolen into a spot where a tiny chip had fallen free. "Dear, noble, lady..." it was all he could say. The sculpting of this marble had begun when Athens was still strong, and Entropy, it seemed, always won in the end. She might endure for centuries more, he thought, if proper care were taken, perhaps millennia. With exquisite leisure he examined every portion of her body and the unfinished stone, taking hours to do so, until his back could not be straightened without agony. Thankfully, there was little damage apart from that which he had first marked. The lady would survive.
Anatoli placed his hands under the arms of the statue and caressed her sides, then placed a slow kiss upon her right cheek, which was turned nearly towards him in her pose. He marked her neck and right shoulder in the same fashion, and then upon each breast, just above the delicately chiseled aureoles. He pulled his body up, where he could more comfortably place his cheek close to hers. She would be perhaps a hand's-breadth taller than him when complete, remarkably small for such a work. Anatoli kissed her again, where the corners of her lips met. He thrilled in the touch of his face on the cold marble. "I shall free you, lady," he whispered, his cheek to hers, his lips almost touching her subtly formed ear. "Do not fear; I shall take care with my blows. You will step forth whole from the stone, standing in repose for the world to see."
Anatoli froze as a tiny breath of wind touched his ear, his skin suddenly chilled from scalp to sole. For several minutes he could only stare into the space beyond the sculpture, afraid of the slightest twitch of movement in his body, afraid that if he tried to pull away, a pale hand would rise up and come to rest on the back of his neck.
He balanced, cheek to cheek with the unfinished sculpture.
An uncontrollable shiver came over him, and he hurriedly dropped away from the statue, almost falling back onto the marbled floor. Anatoli was so cold that he wondered his breath did not freeze in the studio's air. The shadows of the room seemed less illusory to him, too, making of it a deep, private place where no other mortal had set foot and lived. Things watched him in the darkness of the studio, the grotto, waiting behind him, and he did not dare to turn away from the statue to look for them.
Anatoli blinked his eyes, surprised at such a thought. Even as a child, he had never believed in monsters, in things coming up to place long chill fingers around his ankles and throat, yet he expected to feel hands draw tight around him at any moment. But they were not the hands of monsters; they were cold and implacably strong, smooth and perfectly formed, hands like those found on the marble lady before him now. Anatoli was aware of a pain in his loins, and risked a glance down. Despite his chill, his cock was excruciatingly erect, so hard that he wanted to grit his teeth against the pressure. It burned against him, the only spot of heat in the grotto, and he wished to extinguish its flame in only one place. But she was not whole, and Anatoli could not bury his fire within her.
"I will complete you," he spoke to the illuminated statue in the grotto. The skylights had grown dark, the day passed while he caressed and stood before his intended conquest. Anatoli felt as though he become the conquered now, though, for he held little over the noble lady. She did not care for attention or adulation. Her eyes had never sought out any others. She had never asked anything of him or any creature. His only power before her was a tiny thing, but potent, inspiring, and she had given it without even being asked. Anatoli Demopoulos needed the woman buried within the marble before him, and with one whisper she had shown him her true shape and how to bring her forth. She was his muse in wait. Anaxarete. Anatoli turned and strode into the darkness of what no longer seemed his studio, and his tools fell into his grasp as if placed there by hands of cold marble.
His hands moved so fast that an outsider might have thought him a whirlwind possessed by a devil. Anatoli was accomplished in his art; two decades of nearly uninterrupted practice had earned him skill normally found only in a much older man. He could strike more than fifty blows in a single minute, and all would find their mark. His mallet was the fury of a storm, his chisel the precision of a serpent's strike.
The chisel spun in Anatoli's hand between blows, freeing chips trapped underneath it and allowing him to use both sides of its edge. He always worked this way at first, broad and fierce but somehow elegant. Now, though, there was a tone of desperation to his work. Anatoli sweat profusely, stepped on marble chips that cut his bare feet, broke his thumbnail and did not pause. The name drove him on.
The sculpture did not deign to watch him as he worked. She leaned against the stone, her hands braced against it, as if she was relieving herself of a great weight. It was nonsensical that her sculptor should have completed her upper form without at least shaping the remainder, but Anatoli had no time to wonder at it. Anaxarete.
He worked until dawn, and collapsed on a small cot behind his curtain. Sleep claimed him for many hours, but none of it was restful. Anatoli could not have said what he dreamt of, but when he awoke, he found himself lying prostrate before her. Chips of her stone were embedded in his chest and belly by his weight. He did not bother to brush them away. Anatoli left the studio at last, and let habit carry him around his home. He had for a moment considered that his desire would force him to work until his death, but either his unconscious mind, or she herself had realized that exhaustion would claim him before he could finish. He ate, drank, and attended to the details of his life before resting for an hour on a small, spartan couch near his foyer.
Anatoli stared at the front doors, not ten steps away. He could go outside, get away. He could snatch at one of the occasional callers to his home; perhaps have them drive him out of this place. But he could not see the point. She would still be waiting for him. And he would still desire her at any distance. Anatoli dozed, a glass bottle of fine water in his hand.
He awoke to find himself licking his fingers. Anatoli looked down at his hand, a little blearily. His chest and arms were covered in a thin wash of dust from the sculpture, and in his sleep he had been stroking his body, bringing up traces of the dust on his fingertips. And tasting it. His nipples were taut and hard, every bump of the aureoles testing the air. His groin was harder. Anatoli stood, stiff and pained, and put the bottle to his lips to wash down the dry powder. Wanting to be presentable for her, he managed to stave off returning to the studio until he had bathed. Then he ran, still wet, through the halls and into his studio, her shrine.
Anatoli had not bothered with clothing, and his dripping body shook as the cold air struck him. His nipples hardened again under the chill caress. His phallus, undaunted by warm bath or bitter air, seemed to tremble at the sight of her. She waited, uncaring, in her prison, somewhat more complete than he remembered leaving her. Anatoli slowly approached and then circled her, then turned his attention to the chaotic rubble at her feet. Or what would be her feet, soon. He had not thought it possible to do so much, so quickly. He said her name, or thought he did, and then waited for the grotto to surround him. He stood for a time, wondering if it had been a hallucination, his member an aching reminder that something was real here, more real than he.