Once upon a time there was a girl whose mother had died soon after her seventh birthday. Her father, a reasonably successful merchant, was driven almost mad with grief. He commissioned a stonemason to make a magnificent, life-sized effigy of his wife, recumbent and slumbering, to cover her stone coffin. It was an almost perfect likeness. So much so that, for a few years, the merchant would visit the tomb in the church and sit for hours, reading aloud, just as he had read to his wife in bed while they were married.
“See?” he’d say to his little daughter, as he wiped the tears from his eyes, “She’s still with us. She’s only sleeping.”
As the child began, more and more, to resemble her beautiful, dead mother, it might have been expected that her father would have been gladdened by his daughter’s growing resemblance to his late wife, but that is not what happened. Instead, he looked at her with increasing disgust. He drank more and more, and when he came home, the rosy glow of drunkenness would turn to rage. He would spit at her and hit her and call her an interloper and a whore.
His rages became so common and so violent, that his neighbors in the town noticed it. And they noticed his daughter frequently came to the market with cuts on her lips, or bruises on her cheeks, or blackened eyes. And it seems that someone, at least, was brave enough to take the matter up with him, because the merchant abruptly decided his daughter should be married and, before she had any say in the matter, he’d promised her to one of the other members of his Guild.
For her part, Adela – for that was her name – had borne her father’s rages with some understanding. It could not be, she reasoned, anything but painful for her father to be reminded, day after day, of one’s lost love. But the man her father had chosen for her to marry was a revolting old lecher and, as much as she loved and pitied her father, she simply could not be obedient to his wishes. She couldn’t marry the man he’d chosen.
A week before the wedding was due to take place, one night after her father had fallen into a drunken stupor, Adela folded up her newly embroidered and gold-threaded wedding dress, crept out of the house and went to visit a witch who lived on the edge of the town.
The witch’s house, a crumbling hovel built of pilfered stones and rotting planks of wood was at the end of a damp and muddy lane. But for all its humbleness, it was a frequently visited place. There wasn’t a woman in the town who had not, at some time, been to visit the witch – either to purchase a bottle of cough syrup for a child with the croup, a draught to ease stomach cramps, a salve to sooth swollen ankles or a potion to bring about a miscarriage. It’s not that the people in the town feared the witch but they were often in her debt – which caused them to resent her. She knew things they didn’t know and, over the years, had accumulated a store of many secrets that, if ever revealed, might have led to scandal and humiliation. In addition, the witch often charged people almost more than they could afford. People grumbled that she took advantage of them in their time of need.
Precisely for this reason, Adela carried with her the only thing she possessed that she knew was of considerable value. For what she wanted to ask of the witch, she suspected, would cost a very great deal.
By the light of a full moon, Adela picked her way down the churned up, muddy path and knocked politely at the door of the shack. At first there was no answer, so she knocked again.
“Alright, alright,” called a gravelly voice from behind the door. “An old body can’t even have a fucking wank in peace anymore.”
There was rustling and shuffling and the door finally opened.
“What the bloody hell do you want?” asked a wizened, diminutive stick insect of a woman.
“I’m sorry to bother you…” began Adela.
“No you’re not,” said the woman, and turned her back on Adela. “Come in. It’s fucking freezing out there.”
Adela hesitated at the threshold. For now, it seemed to her, she had been unforgivably foolish. The thing for which she’d come to this woman was, surely, impossible anyway, or if possible, then far more expensive than she could afford. The rumours about the witch’s avarice and temper were obviously true.
“Don’t stand there gawking, you stupid cow! Get in here and shut the door. My rheumatism’s acting up again.”
The one-roomed hovel was very dimly lit, and there was a dying fire in the rude, stone hearth. It smelled of damp oregano and unwashed body. Adela stood in the middle of the room, clutching the parcel to her newly formed breasts.
“Whatcha want?” asked the crone, settling herself into a pile of rags close to the fire.
“My name is Adela,” she said, “and I’ve come to…”
“I know what you’ve come for,” croaked the witch. She held an old bone pipe between her teeth and was lighting it with an ember from the fire. “It’s all over the town.”
“You do?” Adela was confused. Even she wasn’t exactly sure what she’d come for. She just knew it was going to be almost impossible and very costly.
“You don’t want to marry that disgusting bucket of piss your father’s betrothed you to. Can’t say I blame you, girl. I can do you some arsenic, cheap.”
“Oh!” said Adela. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“No? Jesus, woman! You really are stupid.”
Tears welled up in Adela’s eyes and she clutched her parcel tighter.
The old woman pulled on the pipe, coughed and then looked at her. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, don’t start blubbering. Come sit down by the fire and tell me what you do want.”
Despite the coarse language, Adela felt there was something tender and understanding in the witch’s voice. She moved towards the fire, and settled to her knees on a second pile of rags.
“I don’t know if you can help me, really.”
“Tell me what it is and I’ll tell you if it can be done,” the crone muttered. She leaned towards Adela and in something like an encouraging whisper said: “I helped your mother on a few occasions, you know. Dryness. Not an uncommon problem.”
Adela was confused.
The crone shrugged. “Of the skin. Go on. Tell me.”
“I don’t want to live with my father anymore. And I don’t want to marry either. I want to escape, but I don’t know how or where to go. I just don’t know what to do!”
The last words blurred into a series of hiccups and sobs.
“Well, you don’t need me for that. That’s simple. You can be a whore.”
Adela’s jaw dropped. “You horrible old woman!” she cried. “Is that your only solution?”
“It’s not such a bad life. Admittedly, some women take to it better than others.”
“Filthy! You filthy, decrepit witch! How is that any better than marrying a disgusting old man?”
It was obvious the crone didn’t like being insulted. She smiled, exposing her mostly rotten teeth. “Variety?” she said, and cackled.
“I want to be like my mother,” Adela demanded. “Beautiful and pure and perfect. Everyone loved and was kind to my mother. That’s the life I want to have!”
The witch rolled her eyes. “Oh, like your mother now?”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that!” Adela shouted. “Just like her.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure!”
The witch shrugged and, with a couple of grunts, hanging onto the stone mantelpiece, pulled herself upright. “Well, that’s not going to be cheap.”
“Don’t I know it,” said Adela. “You’re just as bad as everyone says. You’re mean and miserly and nasty.”
A phlegmy cackle rumbled in the old woman’s chest. “Show me what you got, then, girl.”
Adela stood also and handed over the package. The witch took it over to an herb and pot cluttered table and undid the wrapping, revealing the beautifully worked and bejeweled wedding gown. The silken threads and tiny stones in the fabric’s design glinted in the weak light.
“Nice. Very nice.”
“Can you do it?”
“‘Course I can do it,” the witch snapped. “Take off your clothes.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I’m not a fucking magician, you know. I can do what you want, but not with you all covered up that way. Flesh. I need flesh to work with!”
Reluctantly, Adela took off her cloak, and her shoes, and then unlaced her tunic, shrugged it off and stepped out of it. She shivered in the damp chill of the hovel. Even in her white cambric undersmock and her woolen hose.
“All of it. Come on, I ain’t got all night!”
“But I’m cold.”
“Runs in the family,” the witch muttered. Looking sternly at Adela, she said, “Believe me, little girl, this is the last time in your life you’ll ever feel the cold.”
Off came the hose and, a little shyly, Adela undid the ties on her smock and pulled it over her head. She stood, teeth chattering in the dark, dank hovel. The witch shuffled around her, viewing her from every angle and began to chant in a low, broken voice, in a language Adela had never heard. Reaching a large, fat pouch, high on the wall, the witch took it down, worked it open, reached inside and pulled out a fistful of white powder. Without any warning, she threw the handful at Adela. Then another, and another, and another.
It stung her eyes, and went up her nose. The bitter dust covered her lips, and felt like sand between her teeth. She coughed as it made its way into her lungs. But the witch kept chanting, louder now, while she showered Adela with clouds and clouds of the fine white dust.
Panic siezed her, but even as it did, a strange numbness also took its hold. She tried to speak, but her lips wouldn’t budge. She tried to bring her hands up to her face, to shield it from the snowy storm, but her arms wouldn’t budge. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t see, couldn’t yell, couldn’t escape, and then, quite abruptly, the world went dark.
* * *
“There we go. It’s done.”
At first, Adela only hear the voice at a distance.
“Not bad, if I do say so myself. Quite a likeness. Quite a likeness!”
It as the witch. The milk-white haze that had enveloped Adela cleared, and she could see the witch, brushing the chalky powder off her own clothes and out of her grey, scraggly hair.
“It is?” asked Adela.
“I have to say, you’re the spitting image.”
Adela tried to look down at herself. At first, she wasn’t sure she could move at all. Just the effort of lowering her chin felt odd, but when she did, she could see that the witch had turned her milky white.
“What have you done?” cried Adela. “I’m a statue!”
“Well, not exactly. But bloody close.”
“I can’t… Oh, God… I can’t move.”
“Yes you can. You just move… different. Takes a little practice. That’s all.”
And indeed the witch was right. Moving didn’t feel normal. She couldn’t feel her muscles. She didn’t notice her limbs move, but something like a puppet, she was first in one position and then another. As if time froze in slices and held her trapped there until, having willed herself to be in another position, she’d moved there without moving.
“I can’t speak. Can you hear me?”
“Well, I can’t hear you exactly but I know what you’re sayin’. I got the gift for that, you know.”
“So, I’m mute, and crippled!”
“Right then, that’s you sorted,” said the witch, yawning and shooing her towards the door of the hovel. “Bugger off now. I’m tired.”
Even as she made her way back down the muddy path, she could hear the old witch laughing.
“And don’t bother coming back,” called the crone. “What’s done is done for good.”
So strange and new was her body, that it wasn’t until Adela had reached the centre of the old town that she noticed two things. Dawn was coming, and she was absolutely naked. She was terrified. Where could she go? What could she do? For what seemed like a long time, she stood paralyzed in the square, wanting to weep and being, somehow, unable to even do that. The first shafts of autumn light shot over the tiled roofs of the houses.
The church. That’s where she’d go. And in that strange, halting, stuttered motion, she made her way to the church. When she reached the porch, the door was already open. She could see, through the gloom, that the old priest was inside, lighting the candles in the large, iron candelabras. He was talking to himself, maybe praying. She couldn’t go in there.
The churchyard was old. There were many graves so worn that the writing on them could not be discerned. An enormous yew tree, almost strangled in ivy stood to one side of the church, and that is where Adela took sanctuary. Among the crosses and stone angels, she lay down in a tangle of ivy. The leaves tickled at her skin, and its creeping branches bit into the notches of her spine.
Why didn’t she feel cold? What had she done? And what, Adela wondered, was to become of her? She pulled the dew-drenched tendrils of ivy over her, not for warmth, but for comfort, and wept, and slept.
* * *
It was full dark when Adela awoke. The moon was high in the slate sky and the stars were out. All around her frost rimed and glittered on the leaves and stone. Once again, Adela was taken aback at the way her new body moved. She went from horizontal in the ivy to upright, and standing by the church doors in the blink of an eye. And odder still, she could not feel herself blink at all.
The church was dark and empty now. It smelled of moss and bitter incense. She made her way to her mother’s tomb, tucked along the side, surrounded by a latticework of iron, with the other prosperous tombs.
There she lay: her beautiful mother, not naked like Adela, but milky white like her. Hard like her. Dead like her. Not sleeping. No. Gone from the world. Again Adela wept, although she knew she shed no tears. There was no comfort for her here. How could she have ever wished for this?
Before, when she had been a girl of flesh and blood, she had a home. Not a happy one, but a home nonetheless. And she had had a future. Not a happy one either, but something known. Something she could understand. But where did she belong now?
As Adela moved around the old church, she realized there were many things like her. St. Sebastian with his staff in one hand and the Christ child on his shoulder, readying himself to take a step. The Virgin with her dry, hollow eyes and her flowing veil frozen in a breeze that had died long ago. Little imps and deformed creatures perched on the tops of the columns. And up at the altar, Christ, stopped in his middle agonies, drooping off the cross. There was no one here like her. No one real. Where could she go?
A memory came to Adela. A warm summer’s day, long ago when she was a child. A feast day, she thought, when the whole town had been alive with garlands and music, and people milling in the square. She remembered that her father and mother had taken her up to the enormous manor house just a mile or so beyond the town. There were games, and dancing. Music and people in funny clothes, and meat grilling on open fires. There, just beside the huge stone house, was a garden they’d walked through. It had high, clipped hedges, and spiny red roses. There were benches and a fountain and row upon row of white, stone statues. Just like her.
Her father had never taken her there again. Perhaps the Manor Lord never invited the townspeople back, or perhaps, once her mother died, her father had not wanted to revisit the place. But that night, moving in her strange, flitting way, Adela took the east road out of the town and headed for the garden full of statues.
She passed two drunken cooper’s boys on the street leading out of the town, but it was as if she wasn’t there at all. How could they not see her, she wondered, gleaming white in the moonlight? Then, a little further on, a cart came by and, had she been like she was before, she would have asked for a ride, but she didn’t feel tired or cold. Besides, both the horses and the driver overtook her, without even slowing down, as if she weren’t there at all.
The road to the manor curved around a copse of trees, but when the huge house came into view, it was just as Adela remembered it. She could see a dim light glowing through one of the tall, arched and curtained windows on the ground floor. There were sheep, bleating in a field to her left.
Yes. There was the garden, with its high hedges. The roses were gone, and one of the benches had cracked and collapsed into the weeds. But there, in the garden were the statues. Beautiful girls, posed and naked, one with an urn in her arm, another caught in the moment of a turn, a third’s eyes were downcast, as if she had noticed the slow tickle of the little snail making its moist way up her leg. There were boys, too. Some bashful, some brazen. A pair of lads, bare as the day they were born, clasped in each other’s arms, engaged in a wrestling match that would last forever. The fountain was dry. In its centre, stone fish stood cleverly and forever on their fins in a fishy dance around a frightening giant with a big beard, and a pitchfork and a curled and scaled tail.
Adela flitted amongst the statues, learning each of them by heart. Noting each position of their limbs and each expression on their faces. This, she decided, was where she belonged.
She struck a pose, one leg straight, and the other bent, and demurely set ahead of the other. Tucking one arm behind her back, she raised the other into the air as if she were just about to catch a leaf wafted by on the wind. She froze, and slept again.
* * *
Time passed in the strangest way. It was the sound of footsteps on stones that brought Adela to alertness. Not that she had been unaware of the world around her before, but it had receded, through the starry night, into a muffled jumble of owl hoots and scurrying claws, and layers of darkness as clouds crossed the face of the moon on its way behind the hedges.
An old man pushed a barrow over the frozen ground. He was bent, and almost bald and wrapped up against the cold in a ragged woolen cloak. He picked up some of the few fallen branches, gave the broken bench a grumpy kick, and pushed his wheelbarrow on. He didn’t even give Adela or any other of the statues a second glance.
A little later in the morning, a tight, giggling knot of girls came past. All huddled together, with their plain shawls pulled tight around their shoulders. They were talking and laughing. Servants, thought Adela. None of them noticed her either.
A bank of grey clouds boiled across the sky in the early afternoon, and the wind picked up, whipping dead leaves around her bare feet, twirling and dancing them between the statues, fluttering into rustling clumps at the bottom of the empty fountain. A crow landed on the top of the bearded man’s head. It sat there and cried out its displeasure at the wind.
A man, young and richly dressed in a fine burgundy cloak trimmed with rabbit strolled into the garden. He wore no hood or cap, and his straw-coloured hair danced around his head in the breeze. At first, he didn’t look at the statues, either. He was talking to himself and looking up at the sky. But then he sat on the unbroken stone bench and looked straight at Adela.
He saw her, she was sure of it. Not only could he see her, but she could feel his gaze as it roamed over her body in a way that would have made Adela blush if she’d been flesh. She could feel his eyes moving from her hip to her breast, up her arm, then down again. Over her face, along her neck, and around the curve of her shoulder.
She wanted, more than anything, to move, to cover herself. And yet she knew that if she did, he would know her secret. Perhaps he realized she didn’t belong there. Would he say something to someone? Would they make her leave? She should hide. Now. Now before it was too late. Before someone made her go.
Just when Adela thought she could bare his eyes no longer, he muttered something to himself, reached inside his cloak and pulled out a small book. It was covered in calfskin, the same colour as his cloak. There were fine scrolls picked out in gold. He opened it, turning its thin, delicate pages, until he settled on one, and began to read.
Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That hills and valleys, dales and field,
Or woods or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the rocks
And see the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.*
His voice enthralled her. He stood and began to pace as he read, through the open spaces between the statues.
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroider’d all with leaves of myrtle.
A gown made of the finest wool,
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair linèd slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.
Knowing his back was to her, for she could hear his voice dying as he moved away, she turned to watch him walk and read. Every so often, he’d stop beside a statue, raise a hand, and touch it. A shoulder, a breast, a hip, a buttock. Once he leaned close to a marble head and whispered the line into its ear.
Now she could make her escape, before he reached the end of the row and turned around. Adela spotted an area beyond the fountain, where a holly bush broke the line of the hedge. With a crackling of branches she could only pray he didn’t hear, she pressed her white form deep into the tree’s thick, green embrace.
She listened to the cadence of his voice, but could no longer hear the words. As he turned and strolled back towards the unbroken bench, he took the same liberties with each of the statues in that row. A caress here, an little pat there. He stopped in front of the beautiful girl with the urn and trailed a forefinger over her enigmatic smile.
“Hello, my lovely,” he said, loud enough for Adela to hear. “Did you miss me?” Then he paused, waited, as if he was sure the statue would answer him. In truth, Adela thought the lady with the urn might indeed answer him, or move to swat his hand away from where it had settled on her bottom. But of course, the statue did not speak. Did not move.
“No, you have plenty of finer friends to amuse you. Don’t you?” he said, and moved on.
When he reached the spot where Adela had been standing, he stopped and looked puzzled. He glanced around, as if searching for her. Then closed his book, tucked it back beneath his cloak, and turned a full circle, as if he’d lost his way in his wandering.
“John?” called a woman’s voice from somewhere behind the hedge, closer to the walls of the house. “John?”
“Here, Mother! I’m in the garden.”
A proud, mature woman in a black gown and cape, wearing a fur-lined hood stopped at the entrance, in the gap between the hedges. “There you are! Silly boy. It’s too cold to be strolling. Especially here, in this Godless, sinful bower.”
The woman cast her eyes over the statues with distaste. “Your father was such an odd man. I do hope he’s in heaven. But only the Good Lord knows for certain.”
“They’re just statues, Mother. I’ve read that there are thousands of them in Rome.”
“Rome. Ha!” his mother huffed. “Come along. Your uncle’s arrived, full of boasts and ready to eat our larders empty. Let’s not keep him waiting.”
The young man joined his mother at the garden’s entrance, took her arm in a gentle way, and they were gone.
* * *
The following morning at, from what Adela could tell, exactly the same time, John came to the garden again. He sat in the same bench and let his eyes roam over the statues, but today Adela had been careful and positioned herself towards the back of the garden. She reasoned that if she did not place herself somewhere too obvious, he would never be able to tell her apart from the other statues.
Like the previous morning, he took out his book and read aloud while pacing through the frozen effigies. A line of poetry made him laugh aloud, and slapped one of the wrestlers on the back as if he were a childhood friend.
As he made his way up the row, he had a word to say for almost all of them and, when he reached Adela, he smiled.
“Ah, there you are. What beauty. How is it that I never saw you until yesterday? How could I have been so blind as to overlook your lovely form? I wonder where my father found you? Venice perhaps? That’s where all the most wanton wenches come from.”
Without hesitation or even a blush, he reached up and covered her left breast with the palm of his hand, gave it a mock squeeze, and moved on down the row.
* * *
When the rains came, he did not come to the garden. When the snow covered the statues, he did not read, but walked past the hedged garden to take his exercise elsewhere.
But each morning without fail, Adela took her place amongst the statues, just in case he should come. Worried now that, if he noted her absence, something dreadful would happen. On the mornings he did come to visit, sometimes he’d notice her and speak to her or touch her, and sometimes he’d pass her by.
She found, on the mornings he would speak tenderly to one of the other statues, it annoyed her. She’d grown to like his attentions, to anticipate them. even. When he showed some special affection to another, Adela was overcome with jealousy.
Early in the spring, he was absent from the garden for two whole weeks. Adela took her place each morning, but John did not visit. When he finally did return, he stopped at the girl with the urn and repeated the words she’d first heard him address to her.
“Hello, my lovely. Did you miss me?”
“She didn’t,” Adela wanted to shout. “But I did! I’m the only one who did.”
The next day John returned and, feeling desperate and yearning for his affection, Adela moved her position and posed just before the stone bench he always took as his seat at the beginning of his visit.
At first he looked confounded, then a smile spread across his lips. “Tricky old rogue,” he muttered. He laughed, as aiming it towards the heavens and shouted. “You can’t fool me, Fenton. I know you’re moving them about!”
“I beg your pardon, sir?” answered the old gardener, turning the corner of the hedge with a shovel in his hand.
“You’re a sly old bastard.”
“If you say so, sir.”
“Be off with you. Leave me to my madness.”
“Right you are, sir,” mumbled the old man, confused, and shuffled away.
John stepped right up to Adela and cocked his head, his lips right next to her ear. “I bet you’re his favourite. Aren’t you? Lusty old beggar, he is. Spawned more than a dozen brats,” he whispered. “I’ll wager he’d make a dozen more with you, if he could.”
Adela fumed. First her father had tried to marry her off to a degenerate, poxy merchant and now this man was trying to marry her off to his is decrepit, half-witted gardener.
“Not that I blame him, you understand.” John slid his hand down the smooth nakedness of her back and over the high, plump globes of her arse. “Does he touch you when no one’s looking? Like I do?”
It took all the strength she had not to move. Not to turn into his touch. Not change the position of her head to face him.
“Ah, well.” He sighed, patted her rump and moved down the row.
His habitual progression was slower today, as if his belief that Fenton was moving the statues around prompted him to take more notice of them. He stopped at the girl with the urn and read her a few lines of bawdy verse and then spoke to her in a voice so low that Adela couldn’t hear.
She burned with jealousy and anger. Didn’t he notice she was different? How could he treat her just like all the others? Why did he not see that she was real and all the others just lifeless statues?
* * *
That night, as spring rains fell and the thunder rolled through the heavens. As the frogs sang in the filling fountain and the warm wind whipped and whistled through the hedges, Adela’s anger grew.
She could not bear for him to show affection to the others. She wanted him to herself. She cursed the day she’d gone to see the witch. Cursed the witch for the cruel gift she’d bestowed on her. As the lightning lit the heavens and the garden, Adela moved from pose to pose, from place to place, in frantic slices of illumination.
A flash glazed the wrestlers’ rain slicked muscles, the tips of Neptune’s trident, the plump knee of a bashful nymph, the graceful shoulder of the urn girl. Damn you, Adela thought. You he loves. You he remembers. Just because of your urn. He doesn’t see you, you stupid fool. He only sees the urn.
In a moment of rage, she moved into the space where the urn girl stood upon her pedestal, feeling the wet stone grate against her own. She did it again, and again and the statue began to rock. Lightning scraped the garden with light and Adela, watched the delicate stone form pitch sideways, catching another on the hip with her head, which broke away with a soft crunch and rolled across the grass to settle under the lip of the fountain’s basin.
* * *
“The wind must’ve pushed it over, Master John,” said Fenton, the following morning as John followed the old man through the storm-strewn garden. He stooped and picked up the marble head. “Sad, though. Your father liked this one very much. It was the first one he brought back.”
John nodded, and surveyed the rows of statuary. “Yes, it’s a pity. Can’t she be fixed?”
“Well, if it were just the head, I reckon we could probably find a stonemason ’round these parts to put it back on, but,” the old man said, stepping through the high grass over to where the broken body lay, “but one arm’s broke clean away and there’s a big chunk come off the leg, also.”
“Alright, Fenton. Well, see what can be done, won’t you?”
“Indeed I will, sir.”
“And, if she can’t be fixed…” John stood for a moment and closed his eyes. “Give her a decent burial, won’t you?”
“Burial? I’m not sure that’s proper Christian.”
“No? Maybe not. Well… just …. I don’t want to find bits of her filling gaps in one of the stone outhouse walls. Understood?”
That day, John didn’t read aloud in the garden, nor did he stroll down the rows, speaking to the statues. It shamed Adela. Not that she felt bad for having broken the girl with the urn, but because it had caused John pain to see her broken.
* * *
But he came back. All through the summer, John spent his mornings in the garden. Sometimes he’d read aloud and sometimes he’d stroll in silence. Once Adela listened to him sing a song, in French, she thought, as he walked the rows and caressed the stones. It was sad. That’s all she knew. So sad.
When he came to her, he smiled. With a single finger, he stroked the flat plane of her brow. “Like it? It’s a song about a broken hearted courtier who lost his lover to a richer man.”
The melody had so moved Adela, she was weeping tearlessly. Not for the words, because she didn’t understand them, but because the sound of a heart breaking was there in the sad sweetness of his voice. And before she even knew what she had done, she’d moved.
John pulled his hand away, as if something had bitten it. “Good Lord!”
He shook his head, leaned closer to Adela’s face and peered at it with a combination of curiosity and fear. “No,” he muttered quietly to himself, withdrawing. “That’s what I get for drinking soured sack.”
“No more bad wine! Not good for the wits.” He moved on down the row.
* * *
The first time Adela had moved in his presence, it had frightened her. Not just the slip of her composure, but the awful consequences she imagined it could have wrought. But then she realized that it was also the only way she could show John that she wasn’t like the other statues in the garden.
So the next time he stopped to caress her, she moved again. He had spoken some line of verse, so close that she could feel his breath on the surface of her cheek. He settled an affectionate hand upon her belly and, instead of playing the part of the frozen woman, she’d simply shifted her weight from one hip to another.
Again, he’d pulled his hand away in horror. In fact, he’d stepped back so abruptly that he’d tumbled onto the grass. From that position, he glared up at her whiteness and, after pushing what Adela suspected were some darker thoughts from his mind, laughed aloud. “Oh, cunning Venus!” he said, squinting in the bright sunlight. “Thou hast unmanned me with thy charms!”
To Adela’s growing frustration, no matter how she moved in his presence, or even under his hand, John would simply shake his head, and brush it off as some flaw in his own balance or perception.
She moved places, moved her limbs into new positions, turned her head, raised her foot. It made no difference. He quipped that he might be suffering from fever, impending madness, or that he’d read too much love poetry for his own good. One morning, he pressed his lips to her cheek, even after she’d changed the cant of her head, and told her it was time he found himself a wife.
Gradually, Adela came to understand that there was no way she would ever be able to persuade him of who or what she was, because he was not inclined to know. There were nights when, Adela, the only living statue in John’s garden, considered leaving it, so terrible was the grief of knowing he would never see her for the living thing she was. But each morning, he’d return, reading his poetry in his sweet, low voice, and offering her the fleeting touch of his warm desire.
If she could not make him see her for what she really was, then at least she had the comfort of knowing he saw her at all.
*N.B. The poem quoted in this story is Marlowe’s “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love“