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The girl was seated on the bench again. For two weeks she had returned, again and again, and always she sat in exactly the same place. The bench she sat upon seemed altogether ordinary, it was a simple wrought-iron with dulled black finish and a back at precisely the wrong angle for comfort. This did not appear to affect the persistence of the girl’s visits at all. For it was not the bench she cared for.
The girl hurriedly turned the page of her Algebra textbook. She had no patience for numbers. In truth, when she sat on the bench, she had patience for very little. She reminded herself of the pace she had set for Algebra. Five problems in between each look. Five problems, she thought to herself again. Only five.
But it was so tempting to break the promise she had made to herself. Every time she heard a tourist gasp, her heart began to thud with anticipation. On the outskirts of her vision she saw so many kinds of shoes shuffling along the limestone floor and stopping short as they admired the spectacle before them. But it was the shoes that paused for less time than it took to check a watch that upset her. “You fools,” she wanted to scream, “are you so blind that you cannot realize the beauty you are passing by?”
She finished the fifth and last Algebra problem and brought her eyes up to the space before her. And all over again she felt the world fall away.
It was the marble likeness of a young man. He stood elegantly with his face turned slightly, gazing just away from the bench. One alabaster hand rested at his side, while the other was raised to his waist, his fingers spread in a quiet reach towards the emptiness before him. He wore two things, a gladiator’s armored skirt and an insistently gentle expression.
To the girl he seemed more alive than anyone she had ever met.
She had seen him first fourteen days ago. She was certain that if she had stayed for another evening of solitude in her room, she would have lost her mind. Instead she decided to wander. She had moved with her mother to the metropolitan city only a few months prior, and it was still almost entirely unfamiliar to her. As she wandered, she was surprised to discover an art museum with no charge for admission. It was almost too appropriate.
She spent perhaps an hour milling around, studying this or that piece or painting, never staying too long. Until she came to him. Her simplistic black flats stopped suddenly as she was struck by his magnificence. An overwhelming urge to touch him arose beneath her skin. But, alas, he had been placed behind a gold chain, restricting his marble form from the public. A plaque stood before the chain reading:
“Roman Boy: Artist Unknown. Discovered among the collection of Mr. Charles Hebben after his death. No previous record found.”
The girl slid her fingers across the engraved letters. This Roman boy was something extraordinary, she knew. There was the appearance of a breath paused in his chest. Life seemed to have left him behind in some distant century, and he stood suspended in a movement, waiting to rejoin the living. It seemed unreal to her that he was created by a sculptor, and located somewhere inside a slab of marble. The idea that his skin was cold and unfeeling was absurd.
She stumbled backwards then, to the bench, gazing at him in the same fashion as she did on a day two weeks later.
With her schoolwork finished and evening coming to an end, the girl knew her excuses to stay in the museum had run out. She gathered her things as slowly as possible. She finally stood from the bench. It was by sheer will power she was able to tear her eyes from the beautiful statue and leave for the fourteenth time.
Each step in the direction of the apartment her mother had rented felt like an abomination.
When she stood outside the apartment door, she took a moment to organize herself back to normality. When she was sure she would not display any signs of her usual emotional upheaval, she opened the door. The living room was empty, and as she walked by her mother’s bedroom she heard the faint sound of a TV laugh track. She continued to her own bedroom, setting her backpack on the carpet and shutting the door quietly.
The girl immediately slid between the covers of her bed. But the chill she felt was not the air, and nor was it sickness. It was the chill of existence. Of being both clueless and resolute simultaneously.
The girl’s thoughts returned to the statue. It had occurred to her that she could not specifically define what it was that so affected her. It was not the boy’s physical beauty, truly, it was an infinite something. Something that grabbed her and held her fast to itself like a magnet. No reason or rationing seemed to apply at all. As she floated through a sea of metacognition, the girl fell asleep.
The dream that came to her was not one she had expected. As she became aware of her surroundings in the dream, she recognized them as the limestone floor and black bench of the museum. And there before her was the statue. But something was different. The museum was dark. A sort of night-time hush had fallen in its corridors. No one else was there. The girl stood from the bench. Cold surrounded her. Once again the great urge to reach out and touch the statue filled her.
She walked nervously forwards until she reached the gold chain and the plaque. Once more she felt the plaque and its uninformative indentations. She lifted the gold chain above her head and ducked underneath. Her close proximity to the statue resonated in every one of her cells. She cautiously took another step forward. Ever so slowly, she brought her hand to meet the one he had outstretched. It was warm. Feeling a sudden burst of daring, the girl cupped the statue’s cheek in the palm of her other hand.
And the boy completed the movement he had begun so many centuries ago. He turned his face to lock his eyes, so suddenly blue, with hers.
The initial shock the girl felt at the dream was short-lived. It had seemed too clear to be meaningless venting of thoughts. It was like a memory of tomorrow, some premonition from deep within herself. The only reasoning that seemed to apply. In a haze she readied herself for school and waved goodbye to her mother who stood watching the microwave. The girl’s feet carried her to school with no instruction from her brain. She was barely aware when she arrived.
Her first two classes seemed to pass in minutes. Her algebra was turned in and her assignments written down, but the girl had no memory of doing this. All she could concentrate on was her dream of the statue. Again and again, she ducked beneath the gold chain. Again and again, she felt the human flesh on her palms. To her, it seemed plausible.
Her third, fourth, and fifth classes passed by like a sleepless night. Her thoughts had taken a violent turn towards clarity, which made her previous stupor impossible. The girl knew that the dream was no coincidence.
She was meant to awaken the statue.
She was certain that this could be no ordinary marble figure. He was too full of living. And much too warm. All she must do was wait there while the museum closed and avoid being seen. Then she would return to him and cross the gold chain. She would awaken him, and she would introduce him to the world that had left him behind so long ago. She would touch his face.
As the last bell rang, her steps out of the school became purposeful and precise, bringing her steadily closer to the statue and her impending future. The doors of the art museum seemed to open with no effort, and as she walked to the bench all she felt was skin beneath her fingertips. Once she sat before him, her schoolwork was done with many more interruptions than were allowed. It occurred to her that once the statue awoke, he would leave an empty space behind the plaque and the gold chain. Never again would any pair of shoes stop to admire him, or pass him by. He would be regarded by all as stolen art, which made it all the more necessary for her to stay at the museum undetected.
As the museum began to empty, the girl took a sheet of clean, white paper from her backpack. She wrote in large letters, “Out of Order.” It took only a moment to find a piece of tape, and so equipped, the girl left the bench and entered the bathroom.
She placed the sign on a stall door, then locked it behind her. She hesitantly stepped onto the toilet, awaiting a search by the night watchman. Apprehensively she stood, anxious for the waiting to end. When she heard a heavy step in the door, a mixture of fear and relief flooded her. In only a second the night watchman was gone.
The girl waited for several more minutes, until she was fairly certain the night watchman was well on his way to the other side of the museum. She stepped off the toilet and unlocked the door. Quickly, she took down the sign and folded it into quarters small enough to fit in her pocket. The danger of what she was about to do thudded in every step she took out of the bathroom.
When she reached the bench, she automatically sat down, her eyes fixed on the statue. The museum was dark. She stood slowly.
A chill of existence coursed through her bones.
She took determined steps towards the statue. She paused only a moment at the gold chain. It would no longer serve as a restriction. She raised it out of the way, and stepped across its threshold.
The chill ran deeper.
She laced her fingers with the hand that reached out for her unknowingly. And very gently, she touched his face.