Authors: Pearl S. Buck
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Life, #Historical, #Cultural Heritage, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Domestic Life, #Contemporary Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Literary
“No, I mean a real one,” she said.
“Oh, that,” he said carelessly. He was at the attic door, shaking it. “Why, it’s locked!” he cried impatiently.
“I keep it locked,” she answered.
“Open it,” he said, and she opened it and they went in together and he looked at his own drawings which she had left upon the walls just as he had put them.
“Those old things,” he said. “They weren’t so bad for a kid, were they? Do you know, I believe it was working here with you that showed me I really wanted to paint.”
“Have you gone on?” she asked eagerly.
He nodded. “I’ve had lessons ever since. I shan’t go to college—it’s a waste of time for me to do anything but paint. I’m going to Paris. But I shan’t do any French stuff. I only want to learn how to use paint. Then I’m coming back to paint—gosh, the things I see every day to paint! You know, hardly anybody’s painted America. That woods is not bad, is it? I might paint you, you know.” He was so at ease, so sure, so full of energy that she felt small and left behind. “Now what have you done, seriously?” he insisted.
“I tell you, nothing!” she replied brightly, hardily.
“Not a thing?”
“Not one thing!” she said. She did not now mention John because she did not think of him. It seemed to her she had been completely idle.
He stared at her, his blue eyes accusing. “You ought to be ashamed,” he said at last. He went and looked at the figure of the child, and then at Mark’s head.
“Just as they were,” he murmured, “unfinished.”
“Unfinished,” she repeated.
“And you,” he said, turning on her, “you’re happy, you’re satisfied to have done nothing at all?”
He was staring at her, piercing her, his long young forefinger stabbing at her, and she could not lie to him.
“Not quite,” she said faintly. And then, as though he were a grown man, she began humbly, “The circumstances of my life—”
But he was not listening. He was not interested in the circumstances of her life. He began to talk as though she were not talking.
“There’s a man—David Barnes, the sculptor—who’s taken a house near here—the old Grainger place—and last night he was at our house for dinner. He saw that head you did, and he just shouted when he saw it, ‘Who did that?’ And when Mother told him, he said, ‘Tell her to come and see me.’”
“Oh, Michael—did he really?”
“Yes. Partly that’s why I looked you up today. Will you go?”
“I don’t know.”
She was looking at his picture, the wood dark against the sky, the small figure on a horse rushing toward it dangerously.
“Yes, you will.”
“Will I? I don’t promise.”
“You’ll go tomorrow.”
“I don’t know.”
“You’ll be sorry to the end of your life if you don’t.”
She turned to deny it, but she could say nothing at all. Her eyes were full of tears and her heart was dismayed with feeling she could not understand.
“Goodbye,” said Michael gently. “I shall call up Dave Barnes tonight and tell him you’ll be there tomorrow at three. You know David Barnes—He made that enormous statue last year which won the Chicago prize—early Titan, he called it.”
Then Michael was gone and she stood in the attic alone, lost in a yearning so huge, so deep, that nothing she had ever known was like it.
“I can’t leave John and I can’t take him,” she thought, but underneath she was planning quickly. “I could ask Mother to come and sit with him a little while. Then, if I have to, I can make arrangements later for someone regularly—”
She went downstairs, bathed and fed John, and made the dinner carefully. And when Mark came she said nothing at all to him of what she knew now she would certainly do.
She pulled on her gloves quickly at the door of the living room, glancing about it. Everything was in order. Upstairs John was asleep. Her mother sat in the big chair, her shoes off, her feet on a footstool, a magazine in her hands over which her eyes roved.
Susan said, “If he wakes before I get back he can have some orange juice and a piece of toast. But I’ll be back soon.”
“Shall I do anything for your supper?” her mother asked, staring at the picture of a lurid salad.
“Everything’s ready to put on the stove. I’ll be back long before then.”
“All right,” her mother said, and she turned the pages to a story and her face grew vacant as she began to read.
Susan closed the door behind her and went out into the bright spring afternoon, and walked down the street to the bus stop. She would ask the driver to drop her as nearly as he could to the gate of the Grainger place. And then she would go up the path under the drooping old hemlocks, and then, and then—she had no imagination of what would happen. But she would go into the house where a great sculptor did his work, and she would hear him talk of what he did and she could ask him all the questions for which she had no answer alone, and whom no one she had ever met or known could answer. All her life she had been like someone wandering in a dark wood alone, and now she was coming into light. She was going to learn, to know how, to make what she saw to make.
But when she stepped down before the Grainger gateway she stepped upon other ground. And she was afraid. What was she beginning, and what would be the end? She might have turned and climbed the steps of the bus again had it not roared on in a cloud of dust. She might have turned and walked away if she had not lain awake those hours last night, imagining this moment, dreaming of it, still forbidding it to herself, although she knew it would come because she wanted it too much to refuse it to herself.
“What’s the matter?” Mark had asked out of his sleep when she turned on the light, not able to bear the reality of her dreaming. She had to make sure of the room, of her bed and chest of drawers.
“Nothing,” she said, and put out the light.
She walked now, as she had dreamed, straight through the gate, between crumbling red brick pillars, up a wide winding sanded path to the columns of the old colonial house. She mounted the steps to the door and rang the bell. Nothing yet had been done to stay the decay. The steps were loose, and the floor boards warped beneath her feet. But her dream stopped at the door. She had no dream of what was beyond it. He would be perhaps tall, rugged, large, like his own work, a sort of Titan, creating Titans.
But the door was jerked open and a small man with a heavy black beard stood there. He was inches smaller than she was, and his figure was paunchy, his shoulders round. She saw in the same flash his hands, square and strong as a miner’s hands, grimed at the nails.
“What do you want?” he said.
“I am Susan Gaylord,” she said. “Michael sent me.”
He stared out under bushy black eyebrows, under rough black hair. He was as hairy as a gorilla.
“You’re that girl,” he said. “Come in. That was a good head, abominably cast. You could have cast it better yourself.”
“I don’t know very much,” she said, ashamed. “I got the name of that place out of a sculptor’s handbook I saw advertised somewhere.”
He did not answer, and she followed him into what had once been the great room of the old Grainger house. It was full of crates and boxes and figures half unpacked.
“Sit down,” he said, and she sat down on a crate, seeing nothing.
“Well, what do you want?” he asked abruptly.
“I don’t know,” said Susan. “I’m not sure I want anything.”
He rubbed his broad flat nose with a thick forefinger.
“You’d better stay here and look around until you do know,” he said, irritated. “I’ll be back after a while. If you’re not here I’ll take it you don’t want anything of me.”
He rolled off the crate where he was sitting and walked out of the room as clumsily as a sailor, and she was left alone. But after a little while she perceived that she was not alone. The figures of marble and of bronze which had been nothing when she first came in now began to come alive, each with its own meaning. Voice after voice, as she paid heed to one and to another, began to speak. There were two dancers, a man and a woman, rising up from the swath of wood and sacking in which they had been packed. They were people of some savage island, their bodies long and narrow, their faces flat, and the eyes oblique and full. The woman was crouched, her head flung back, and the man was springing over her. They spoke to each other, not to her, but she could hear them murmuring in words she did not understand. She stood before them a while, seeing how their smooth slight strong muscles were moving, or about to move, under the dark supple smooth skin. He had seen them somewhere like that, in a temple or upon a shore by a hot sea. She moved on to the figure of a woman, a silent waiting woman whose hands were locked together in waiting, her head bowed. But under the delicate brows the eyes were anxious and waiting, and from the warm marble of her body she was asking, “Has no one seen him? Has no one seen him coming to me?”
Behind her was a full-length figure and looking at it, Susan saw it was Michael, his beautiful body bare, his hands clenched. And all about her were packed crates, and she could feel presences bursting from them. She could scarcely keep from tearing at them to let them free, that she might see them.
There was a mass of clay thrown upon a table and she went over to it restlessly, and broke off a piece and rolled it in her hands, impatient, hungry, craving the textured mass of it in her hands. She crushed it together in her hands and then opened them. It lay in her hands, marked with her finger prints, and she began to press it quickly into a shape.
“What are you doing?”
She heard his voice so sharply that she leaped and there was his bearded face at her shoulder.
“I don’t know,” she said, and held out the clay.
He took it from her and looked at it a long time. There roughly was his own face, and he recognized it.
“What shall I do for you?” he asked.
“Teach me what I must know,” she begged him.
He put down the lump and began to move among his own figures, so much larger than he was.
“A woman!” she heard him muttering in a whisper. “Damn, damn, damn, that it’s been given to a woman!” He stopped and turned on her and stared at her furiously.
“You’re strong, anyway,” he said. “You look as strong as a man.”
“I am,” she said.
“You’ve got to be—and stronger,” he said, and pulled a frowsy brown tweed cap out of his pocket. “Well, come on!” he shouted.
“Wherever you keep your things,” he said. “I’ve got to see something more than that abominably cast head. I’ll have to teach you from the ground up. Look here, you’ve got to learn how to do it all yourself, casting, everything. They all think they’re too grand for that nowadays. They shape out their little bits of models and they pat out little lumps of mud and send them off to be finished!
don’t! My stuff is mine from beginning to end. That’s why it’s what it is.”
“I haven’t done anything to show you,” Susan said.
“You must have done something,” he roared and jerked off his cap and put it in his pocket again.
“No, I haven’t,” she said miserably. She forgot all the rooms she had swept, the meals she had cooked, the beds she had made. She forgot Mark and John, and she said at last, “I’ve made two small things, a head and a child, and both are unfinished.”
He pulled his cap out of his pocket again and flung it on his head.
“All this delay!” he muttered, and stalked out of the room, and she followed him.
There at the bottom of the steps was a small very dirty car, and he clambered in and waited an instant until she was beside him and then with a frightful clatter of gears they were rushing down the drive and up the road toward her own house.
What time it was she did not know, and it did not matter. When she opened the front door, her mother was asleep in the living room, her magazine upon the floor. She led the way past her and upstairs. From the nursery she could hear John calling to be taken up, but she went on to the attic. Behind her came tramping heavy footsteps. He was panting a little as she opened the door to the empty room. She swept her arm about its emptiness.
“You see I have done nothing,” she repeated.
But he did not answer. He went up to the child, curled in its primeval shape and now covered with dust, and stared at it for a long time, and said nothing. Then he went to Mark’s head, and took off the cheesecloth covering.
“Ha!” he said, after a moment, “you didn’t get that.”
“No,” she said.
“You tried to make it from life.”
“Maybe there wasn’t enough to make,” he said. “It’s a queer thing that you can’t make anything in our trade unless there’s something permanent to be made.”
She could not answer, not being able to say, “It’s my husband.” But it did not matter to her at this moment who it was.
He turned away abruptly and said, staring at her, “Look here, I’m going to Paris at the end of the summer. You’d better arrange to go with me. Meanwhile come to me twice a week. Begin tomorrow.”
Still she could not speak. For he was commanding her to the impossible, which she knew she must perform.
“Don’t come down,” he added, and tramped to the door, and there he turned again and looked about the empty room.
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” he said. His voice was cold and his red-brown eyes were angry. Then he was gone.
She could hear John’s voice, now turned to wailing. She ran down into the nursery and picked him up from his crib and held him. But he could not at once be consoled for neglect. He cried loudly, and soon she heard her mother’s hurried step on the stair and the door opened.
“Why, you’re home! I didn’t hear you come in,” she said, surprised.
“I’m only just back,” Susan answered, hushing the child in her arms.
“Is there anything wrong with him?” her mother asked half guiltily. “I guess I must have dropped off—I didn’t hear him until just now.”
“I’ll wash his face and take him downstairs,” said Susan. “He’s just hungry.”
Her mother yawned. “Then I’d better go on home and fix your father’s supper.”
“Yes—and thank you, Mother.”
“I didn’t do anything—it’s kind of nice to sit in somebody else’s house for a while. He is a good little boy.” She gazed at John with dim affectionate eyes. “Well, goodbye, dear.”