|The fire in the stone|
Looking for me
In the following months, I only saw Alonso briefly, and there was no possibility of us getting into a discussion, nor did I desire it. I heard no more of Alonso Basler’s struggle with his stone, and I forgot them both until a mutual friend asked me to go with her to Alonso’s house. He had called her late in the evening and, in a weak voice, pleaded her to visit. His work was finished. For now, it was perfect.
If only I had never agreed! At first, I didn’t notice anything unusual about Alonso, apart from his somewhat pale and sickly appearance, but I attributed this to weeks of hard work. He led us to the house, served us white wine and pastries, and I noticed that he was less garrulous than before. He spoke very little, and the discussion amongst us was mostly between my friend and I. In someone less whimsical, this silence could have been taken as impoliteness. So I worried, and as the time passed and darkness began to fall slowly across the house and garden, when Alonso said no more than necessary, nor took the opportunity to show us his new work, I asked him when he would allow us to look at his stone.
Alonso paled and went silently to the door which led to the garden, without looking to see if we followed. He switched on the light, and the area in front of his workshop was illuminated. We only needed to stand beside Alonso at the open door to have a magnificent view of what Alonso Basler called a living stone, a living work of art.
I never want to see her again. She stood voluptuous, light and shimmering under the weeping willow. Her hands held up her breasts, which strained greedily towards us. Her abdomen arched forward in a light curve, and with sensual naivety, her nether lips offered a kiss. Her gaze was clear and open, and her mouth formed a lovely smile. Her thighs curved gently forward. The whole figure was so full of life that it hurt me deeply.
The statue can only be described as having a forbidden beauty. I understand now why the Greeks believed that people who saw a god in its real guise would die. This was a goddess who presented herself shamelessly to our view, a disreputable goddess of matter, a nymph of stone. We stood for perhaps a few minutes. I began to feel ill from growing desire. I expected this chiselled stone to move, to come towards me, to cover her nakedness. We stared speechless in the open doorway at the perfect body which stood motionless in Alonso’s garden.
With a convulsive movement, Alonso switched off the light. The garden plunged deep in darkness. The weak light from the room, falling through the open door and window, did not spread very far. The goddess could be seen under the greenery only as a faint notion. I turned to Alonso. His teeth rattled, drops of sweat ran down his round cheeks and his brow shone. I shook his hand, timidly. He did not reciprocate but went back into the room and closed the door carefully. Alonso Basler looked at us, and all at once he was an old man. He raised his short arms, opened his fat hands, and looked us each in the eye, distraught. With a helpless gesture, he bid us to leave.
We left him, and as terrible as it sounds, I do not regret our going. We drove home through a heavy storm and exchanged few words that evening. An ungrounded, unknown fear moved us to stay together that night. We reassured one another of our presence with a chaste touch and fell asleep in the early morning hours.
Apparently, the door of the veranda had been splintered as though a hand grenade had been thrown against it. The floor of the salon and the wooden floorboards in the hall were broken in some places. Chairs, tables and cupboards had been splintered. The damage was so astounding that the police were unable to explain how one or more people could destroy so much in such a brief span of time. There was no trace of Alonso Basler.
This was explained to us over the telephone the following morning, and I drove out to the house immediately. The description had been true to reality. The veranda was torn to pieces, as though its foundations had been smashed by a huge fist. The living room, where we had eaten and drunk with Alonso yesterday, looked like the ground floor of a house which had been broken in two. Nothing was whole — everything lay in pieces, strewn helter- skelter by an inconceivable fury. The traces of a barely imaginable struggle led through the house right up to the attic, as though someone in dire danger had fled to the last refuge, which had not borne up long. A few stairs were strained as though by an imponderable weight, and as my acquaintance had already said on the telephone, the floor of the salon was so totally demolished in places that the bare earth beneath it was visible.
The destruction must have made a great deal of noise, and I discovered that it was the neighbours who had called the police about one o’clock in the morning. They had attributed the rumbling and crashing to the heavy rain and thunder of the storm which had begun as we were leaving the house. I went out into the garden. The Venus had disappeared, and only a sunken area in the place under the weeping willow where she had stood proved that what we had seen yesterday was not a hallucination. My glance fell on the other statues which Alonso Basler had made twenty years ago, and I noticed again how all wore his face. I followed the path through the garden and visited every one of the chiselled stones, and all appeared to be sad and bereft.
As I returned to the weeping willow, I noticed the deep prints of bare feet in the soft earth. I followed them. They led to the door of the veranda, then away from the house. They must have been made by the largest feet I have ever seen, but graceful, well formed, and so deeply pressed into the earth that I could hardly imagine the weight of the burden they carried. They led me through the garden to the gate and into a meadow, across the meadow and towards the edge of the woods. They were easy to follow in the damp, rain-soaked earth until they reached the street, where they were lost in the asphalt. tlm
Translated from the German by Allison Williams and TLM
Tadeus Pfeifer is a Swiss poet, critic, novelist and short story writer.
He writes in German and lives in Basel