It was sound that woke me: a crack, muffled and thick. I shuddered as it reverberated through my porous bones.
Each crack made me feel lighter, less dense. Free.
It lasted forever, and the darkness remained.
The noise softened, quieted. Became soothing. A balm that promised more than I’d ever dreamed. Again. And again.
Light fell across my face. Just light: pale, shining and still. The cracking had stopped, and in its place was a new sound, repeating the same way, but pitched higher. A caress instead of a punch.
Soon I felt the light on my neck, my collar, shoulders, then forearms and breasts. A piece of cloth fluttered against my skin. I was cool and soft from the curls of my hair to my elbows and stomach. Below that, everything remained encased in heavy blackness.
The first words he said to me: “There you are.”
I felt his fingers brush fine powder from my cheek. There was only light, sound, and his touch. He focused on my face, carving free my lips, the line of my jaw, my brow, and finally, my eyes.
His skin was pale with white dust, except where sweat trickled through, cutting darker rivulets like calcite impurities in otherwise pure marble. The residue gathered at the corners of his eyes, spreading out in webs toward the dark hair at his temples. He was rough, hard, strong. And his hands never hesitated. He was sure of himself and of me.
I watched every move as he uncovered more of me. The arc of the hammer, the crack as the chisel cut away chunks of darkness from my hips and thighs. I stared at the shine of grey in his hair as he leaned in with sandpaper to mold the curve of my breast, to score the details of my hand, the ripple of cloth at my waist.
His fingers caressed my shoulder, the softness of my inner-elbow, and he put his cheek to mine. His breath ruffled my hair. He was so warm.
He never left. A nest of towels served him for a bed, and when his stomach cried out for food he had it brought to him. The farthest from me he went was the next room – where I could always hear his humming. Purple blossomed beneath his eyes, and the particles of marble dust caked beneath his ears. His hair darkened and jutted out in spikes where he ran tired, filthy hands through it.
“You are standing on your toes, aren’t you?” he asked, staring through the stone under my knees. “Ready, not waiting. Not complacent. I see the longing in the tone of your stomach. In your lips.” He stepped onto his stool so that his face was level with mine. “I’ve never seen anything like you.”
I stared at him, as he stared at me. He touched a finger to my bottom lip. Then he shook his head and bent back to the rock at my feet. “It will be difficult to find the balance.”
As the final darkness fell away from me, I began to fear. I was so near completion. He would leave me.
I wished I could close my eyes. The abrasion of his pumice against the arch of my foot, on the tension of my calf, tormented me. Aching everywhere, I shuddered again and again, tiny, impossible tremors.
He stood, his left hand forming a long caress up the side of my leg, tickling my thigh and tender on my hip. The marble cloth that wound down from my shoulder, over my heart, my side, and coiling to flutter from my waist, teased us both. Hooking the stool with his bare foot, he climbed onto it and continued the caress. Over my ribs, the curve of my breast, plane of my collarbone, quiet sinews at my throat, and over the smooth surface of my jaw. He cupped my face in both hands and we watched one another again.
Perhaps it was he, and not I, wracked with trembling.
His eyes were dark in the dusty whiteness of his face, and his skin was as still as stone as he leaned closer. “I am a fool,” he told me. So am I, I thought.
He put his cold, hard lips against mine, and my mouth was soft. Wet. I reached my arm up and touched his stiff hair.