Sunday, 24 April 2011

Let Me Tell You A Story

Tonight's blog is a short story i wrote a year or two ago, one which i've always been quite proud of as it was an interesting experiment. As most people will know i write quite a bit and have made several attempts at writing fiction. All but one of the stories i've written have been based in the here and now, inspired by and working around the people and relationships i see around me on a daily basis, but this was different. I guess this would fall within the 'fantasy' genre if you were desperate to put a label on it and the nature of that school of writing granted me a freedom i haven't usually enjoyed to stray into the world of metaphors and figurative speech.

I post this because i assume two things; Firstly that if you're reading my blog you have at least a vague interest in what i have to say, regardless of whether it's about current affairs or the products of my imagination. Secondly that you know the kind of guy i am and so you won't be shocked by the nature of the story. Here goes, i titled it "The Statue" but it's very much a working title.


The boy was sat on the balcony of his bedroom, enjoying the feeling of the sunshine on his skin and the breeze through his hair. He was staring out across the countryside, over the river which split the visible land almost perfectly in two and was flowing fast and strong with the added water of the recently melted snows. The gradual shift from white to green as the predominant colour of the landscape had pleased him; the beginning of spring always seemed like a hopeful time to him, a time with promise and potential.

He paid little attention to the herds of cattle, even happier than him to see the green shoots of grass return. The land was fertile and most of it was used for various forms of farming but his focus was on the mountain which dominated the horizon.

The snow was slowly retreating up its sides, driven back by the comparative warmth of spring after the cold of a harsh winter. It still clung to almost the entire top third of the mountain, gleaming in the late morning sunshine. The mountain was out of bounds to the boy, by order of his parents who felt it held too greater danger for him.

The very fact that it was forbidden made the mountain almost unbearably desirable to the boy, for he was in many ways a perfectly normal boy, and it is common knowledge that to make something infinitely more tempting and interesting to a boy you merely have to make the thing forbidden.

However as the boy had grown up, his wish to visit the mountain had changed in nature from merely wanting to disobey his parents in an attempt to claim independence and make himself seem grown up, to a longing to visit one particular point on the mountain.

Over halfway up the steep and rocky sides of the mountain was a monument. Built long before even his grandparent’s time, the tall gold and marble statue was visible even from where the boy sat now, more than a day’s walk away. He could see it was there, could almost make out some details, but it was indistinct, he wished to see it closer. Almost 10ft tall, the statue was that of a woman. The boy himself had never seen the statue close up, but everyone who had ever seen it said the woman was almost painfully beautiful, that the expression on her face was so serene and kind that it was impossible not to feel a great calm and sense of well being fill you as you looked upon it.

The mystery was a major factor in the boys consuming interest in the statue, the fact that it was reported to be so beautiful, yet only a handful of people had ever seen it, that you had to earn the beauty, made him long to make the journey to see her.

More than once he had walked to the limit of his family’s land which skirted around the base of the mountain. From here the gradient of the slope meant that the statue disappeared from view, hidden behind outcrops of rock that looked ominously sharp. On two separate occasions he’d even taken a rucksack full of the equipment that his common sense and a climbing book had suggested would be needed for the climb, much of it stolen from his father’s supplies. He’d stood at the base, staring up in the direction which he knew the statue lay in; he’d stood there for hours, daring himself to start climbing, but in the end he’d turned around and gone home, replacing the things he’d stolen and hoping his parents were none the wiser.

If it had merely been a case of wanting to disobey his parents, he’d already have attempted the climb. But as he’d grown up he’d begun to realise that his parents rules had reasons behind them, that the climb was quite probably beyond the skills of an inexperienced young boy.

One of the reasons why so few people had ever seen the statue up close was that the climb was considered highly treacherous as well as long. It was a full days climb for an experienced climber to the statue, meaning you had to stay overnight up there.

The knowledge that there were several good reasons why he should give up on his ambition to see the statue did not serve in any way to diminish his urge to make the climb and see it. The very idea of its beauty captivated his mind in a way that nothing had even come close to before.

The obsession did not lessen with time or distractions, the boy attempted to fill his life with friends, with music and with sport; he showed a particular interest in rock climbing, and he was by all normal standards, a happy boy, but it could not be denied that he felt like something was missing, like to be complete he must visit the statue.

His parents had at first feared he would do something stupid and injure himself in the process, but as time passed their fears for his physical safety subsided slightly. However the idea of him coming to some serious physical harm had always been only half their reason for forbidding the child from climbing the mountain. Many of the climbers who had visited the statue had spoken on their return of things they had previously viewed as beautiful seeming dull in comparison, that the rest of the world held nothing for them that could compare to the statue. This realisation had led many of the climbers to suffer from depression, for it is fair to say the statue, though the most beautiful thing they had ever witnessed, had spoilt the rest of the world for them.

Most people live their lives in the pursuit of beauty and happiness, so it is an interesting and unfortunate thought, that to succeed in that pursuit would not actually make you happy, but depress you; for if you know you have seen the most beautiful sight, and felt the purest of happiness, then what is there to search for, what is there to keep you going?

The boy’s parents were terrified; they couldn’t bare the idea that their child could find himself drifting at such an early age, without hope or drive, so they had done everything in their power to make sure he didn’t even attempt to reach the statue, claiming it was just that the climb itself was too dangerous.

The boy himself could not effectively explain to his friends, his parents or himself, why it mattered so much that he see the statue. To put the intensity of his desire into words seemed both impossible and undesirable. He didn’t consider himself skilled enough in the ways of the words, to do justice to the emotions which the statue evoked in him.

The boy sat on the balcony, his thoughts orbiting around the statue, circling it, both drawn to and afraid of thinking directly about it.

His gaze was momentarily drawn to a bird of prey soaring high on currents of air, it’s wings spread majestically so as to make the task of flying and hunting seem almost effortless. As always when he looked upon the birds that flew overhead, he felt a great jealousy towards it. That bird could visit the statue whenever it wanted, could choose to soar all the way there. To the boys mind it was unfair, that something like a bird which would have no real appreciation of the beauty of the statue, could visit it whenever it wanted, yet he, who would cherish even a second of looking at it, was unable to go once.

The boy continued to grow, going through life as a fairly cheerful and successful person, becoming a young man who was loved by many, and loved many in return. The older he got, the more the statue scared him almost as much as it amazed him. He was now old enough to appreciate the commitment that goes into loving something or someone. To accept your own love for something is to accept the pain and fear that would come with losing the item of your affection. He knew it wasn’t wise to love something he’d never even seen, but he knew now that it was love that he felt, for the statue, and for what it represented.

When he thought about it he realised the features of the statue in his imagination were not always the same. That as time changed they shifted, taking on elements of the girls he knew, the girls he found attractive. The thought didn’t bother him, for he was certain that the statue would be so beautiful that nothing his imagination could create would even begin to do it justice. It struck him though that as of late the statue always resembled one girl in particular. She lived near him and he saw her nearly every day. He didn’t deny for a moment that she was stunning; in fact he believed her to be the most beautiful girl he had ever met and her smile at times captivated him to such a degree that he lost his grasp on his location in time and space such was the way it filled his thoughts, nor that he enjoyed her company; if he could choose to be with anyone for any length of time it would be her. But he simply did not feel that it mattered overly much, for from his point of view, he wasn’t interested in finding a girl, his heart and his mind were committed to the statue, for better or for worse.

His friends were frustrated by him much of the time, for his obsession with the statue blinded him to much of what he could enjoy in life. It was common for his attention to drift away from them to the statue, even whilst they were talking to him. They pitied the girls who liked him, for it seemed they were competing with something which could not be beaten. There was one girl who it saddened them to see was just as beyond the boy’s attention as everyone else; for she was beautiful and kind and intelligent, and she loved him despite the disinterest with which he often treated her. She was known for the skill with which she could carve wood, a hobby of hers, and she was widely considered to be a highly skilled and creative. The boys friends wished there was some way to make the boy realize the real happiness he could feel with the girl, rather than this to them unhealthy love for a statue.

In many ways the boy’s friends were right, he would be better loving the girl than the statue, but they failed to understand the complexity of the statues appeal to the boy.

The boy did not just love the statue because of its mysterious beauty, he loved it because of what it represented. To him the statue spoke of perfection, of his first and truest love, of the care and passion with which it must have taken to create such a statue. It reminded him that there are things of true beauty in a world which at times seemed dark and cruel to him. It taught him to appreciate the potential within human beings for acts of great creativity and emotion.

One day, near his 20th birthday, the girl declared to him the strength of her affection, telling him that she loved him and handing him a perfectly carved wooden heart, telling him that he had hers and she wished he would let her have his. His reply was kind, and to his mind considerate, but in the negative and the girl left with tears in her eyes. The boy felt anguish at causing the girl pain. He had been thrown by her declaration, for he had never truly considered the affection between them to be more than that of mild interest. But the statue meant so much to him that though he attempted to consider it rationally and comprehensively, there was only going to be one outcome. His heart belonged to the statue, it would have been wrong to give the girl any other impression. He placed the small, smooth piece of wood in the pocket of his shirt so that it rested over his own heart and had gone to meet his friends.

The boy’s friends were furious with him when they heard what had taken place, for to them it seemed inconceivable that their intelligent and generally kind and caring friend would be so blind and stupid. The conversation between the boy and his friends grew heated and the boy stormed off, angry and upset that his friends could not even try to understand what the statue meant, that it was more than stone and metal, but the basis for his beliefs, his attitude and his hopes.

Still in a state of anger and confusion the boy returned home and made a decision as much informed by anger as any logical motive, to climb the mountain that day and see the statue. His stubborn and intense love for the statue had meant that he had defended his decision when his friends had challenged him, with a passion and certainty that was evaporating with every beat of his heart, bit by bit.

Like anybody whose faith is challenged, the boy was desperate for some affirmation, some proof that the belief he had felt all his life for the beauty and power of the statue was not misplaced. The very thought that it could be filled the boy with a sick feeling.

In his state of near panic and certain disillusionment, he set off towards the mountain. The walk to the mountain base took much less time these days, his long and strong legs allowing him to cover the distance in a matter of minutes. The sun was high in the sky as he started to climb the mountain; at times he could walk normally and at others he was climbing almost vertically, relying on all the skills he’d spent his teenage years learning to make any ground.

Several hours passed and he continued to climb, stopping only briefly to drink from the flask of water that he had brought with him. He turned at one point, to look back towards the village and saw that the sun was just beginning to sink below the line of the forest which bordered the village on the far side from where he was now stood.

Realising he needed to reach the statue before nightfall he pressed on and it was only another quarter of an hour before he reached a small plateau. He could see that after quite an easy 10 metre climb further he would be on the plateau which held the statue, he could just see the finger tips of the statues right arm, which he knew from reports was raised above her head as if to wave at the village far below. His heart started to race and his mind was filled with an intensity of anticipation that had him laughing out loud to himself at the thought of actually seeing the statue.

He started to scramble up the slope when a misplaced foot stemming from over excitement and poor light sent him falling face forward towards the rock. He managed to get his hands up to protect his face, but his chest and knees took the full brunt of the fall. As his chest hit the earth he felt an intense pain in the left side of his chest; a blow which felt like it could have broken a rib. He reflexively rolled away and as he did so the shirt pocket which had been torn up by the stones, spilled out the girl’s wooden heart and it fell to the floor on the lower plateau. Moving slowly and gingerly he climbed down to it and picked it up. He turned it over between his fingers, and felt tears start to form in the corners of his eyes and his knees went weak as he looked at it; half of the heart was as immaculate as when she had first given it to him, the other was scratched and dented. His knees gave out and he sat down on the rocky plateau. He couldn’t quite understand why it hurt him so much to see the heart like this, but hurt it did, an intense pain in his own chest and a lump in his throat that threatened to choke him caused him to wish there was some way to undo the damage, take back the mistake.

The girl had carved this so carefully, clearly putting a great degree of emotion into the piece of wood, and he realised as he sat on the cold earth, that that effort was a sign of the strength of her affection. The statue created haze lifted for a moment and he understood that he should have been aware of her emotions long before it came to as open a declaration as the one earlier that day. She loved him, she had loved him for a long time, and he had been blind to it, so filled with his passion for the statue.

Abruptly the boy felt that he was no longer sure which mistake he most wanted to take back; the misplaced step, or the misinformed and misjudged words he’d said to her earlier. The wood was cold between his fingers as he ran his thumb slowly over the bumps and scratches inflicted on the wood by the stone, and it pained him to know that he had inflicted worse on the warm and beating heart of the girl.

It was now night, the mountain lit solely by the moonlight and the stars. Under that silvery light the boy was filled with a simultaneously familiar and confusing longing. He longed with all his might to see something awe inspiring, to wonder at the complexity, serenity and passion in the world, to feel that belief in love, creativity and pure beauty rewarded. But as he glanced over his shoulder towards where the statue stood, closer to him now than ever before in his life, he found that the longing did not draw him up the mountain but down. He wished to walk through the village which he knew would be silent by now, to see the thatched houses and listen to the rushing sound of the river. He longed to walk to the girl’s door, to wait there patiently and then as light came and she awoke, to see her, to talk to her, to hold her and try and heal the heart he had hurt.

The night passed and slowly the boy drifted asleep under the watchful gaze of the crescent moon. One hand was behind his head in an attempt to make the cold rock more comfortable, the other rested on his chest, fingers wrapped around the piece of wood, holding it tight as if he feared it would disappear while he slept.

Eventually day came and the boy was awoken by the cry of an eagle soaring high overhead. He realised as he slowly and stiffly stood up that he no longer need be jealous of the bird; it would be the simplest thing to climb the last little slope now in the light, and look at the statue in all its undoubted glory. He had just as much freedom to view it as the eagle. He could finally look at it after all the years of waiting and wishing. But he didn’t want to. He felt only the mildest of curiosity at seeing the statue, for the invisible rope which had gone from his heart to the statue, pulling him towards it, guiding him through his life, giving him a certainty of purpose and meaning, was still attached just as firmly to his heart, but it no longer bound him to the statue. His point of meaning, his basis of belief and cause of hope was back in the village and so he followed that guide just as he had for the past 15 years, picking his way down the mountain as sure of foot as he was of purpose.

As he walked towards the village he reflected that many people would expect him to feel regret that he had “wasted” so much time on his obsession with the statue. But he didn’t feel it was wasted time and he definitely didn’t regret it. The statue was the reason and the cause for his belief in love and beauty; it had brought him great hope and happiness over the years and had brought him to this place as the person he was; a person experiencing for the first time the all consuming thrill of falling for someone who loves you back.

He hadn’t needed to see the statue in the end, for he had finally grasped that everything that the statue had ever and could ever promise to mean to him, was completely dwarfed by the need to see the girl’s smile, to look into her eyes and see that there was still hope, that he could repair the damage done to her heart and start to earn the love she had so generously and beautifully shown him.

He had by now reached the door of the girl’s house and by his reckoning it was around 10 o’clock in the morning. He stood there, his shirt torn and his hair a mess, but the feel of the wooden heart in his hand told him not to worry about that. He turned briefly and looked back the way he had come; he could see the statue glistening in the morning sunshine, and he felt his heart fill with hope. He smiled to himself as he knocked on the door.

He could feel his own heart of tissue and blood beating hard as he waited, hopeful but nervous. Slowly the door opened and there stood the girl. The boy stared into her eyes for several seconds as her face went from upset to surprised to confused to hopeful. The boy reached out and took her hand in his. He took a step towards her and neither of them spoke as he slowly raised her hand until it rested on his chest, touching the bare skin through the ripped shirt. The boy knew the girl could feel his heart pounding beneath his chest. The smile which had captivated him even while he was blind slowly crept across her face and the boy felt almost light headed, a ringing noise filling his ears as he took in the beauty of a smile on her lips because of him

The boy waited while the girl’s eyes were on her hand as they stood there in silence for more than a minute, then slowly the girl’s eyes looked up and as their gaze met, the boy spoke.

“It’s yours.”


Today's song is one i only heard for the first time this evening but i'm liking it quite a lot, it's called "Lemonade" and it's by a band called "Braids".

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