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November 24, 2012
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Florence had been alive for sixty-three years.
All things created with intention, of course, are alive in their way; they have their essence of star-being, their little piece of a god, a part of an idea. If an artist is inspired, they are a deity in their chaos. With some skill, a vision, and a portion of determination, they infuse bits of themselves into their work.
The way a child draws her family, her pets, and the figures in her imagination, which makes her no less an artist than Picasso or Michelangelo. The only slight difference is that she uses crayons and printer paper, not a church ceiling and paints.
The man who made Florence was not a child; however, he was a rather young, rather creative son of a grave-maker. Or, as his father, Gordon Baker, preferred the term "Monumental Mason."
The fact remains that Gordon Baker made tombstones, and since his establishment, Baker's, was right across the street from a cemetery, business was just fine. As usual.
The cemetery itself was called Fairmount, a sort of oasis in the middle of the city, filled with gentle hills of grass and trees. A stack of brochures in the office boasted to be a wildlife preserve to hundreds of types of animals, with almost 300 acres of space and abundance of over 3000 trees.
Anyways, back to focusing on Gordon Baker.
Gordon's had started the business, looking for work in order to feed his wife and three kids. Seeing an empty lot across the street from a cemetery, well, a stroke of rare creativity struck.
So Percy Baker pulled a few strings, pulled a few loans, and set up shop. The only thing that gave him pause was the name, but then again, Percy was both a practical and resourceful man.
So why not just keep it simple? Baker's would do just perfectly.
Being the only child not to book it and run from their hometown of Gettysburg, when Percy retired Gordon inherited the entire store, and would in turn eventually pass it on to his own son.
Stephen Baker had always been a dreamer, from his earliest days to his young adulthood. He was an introvert, a hermit in his own head.
Stephen's mother had been so surprised to have such a quiet, self-amusing baby. Often she had encouraged him to branch out to other children at school, to make a friend or two. Surely even a youth growing up in the midst of the Great Depression could find someone to talk to?
No matter how much his mother insisted or his peers teased him, Stephen preferred to keep to himself and his sketchbook. Sometimes he'd sit companion-less in the reasonably empty graveyard, or in the park, or in his room.
But the cemetery was Stephen's favorite.
Not for morbid reasons, but for the saplings and young trees being strategically grown, the air always fresh with a scent of freshly turned dirt, the sky always seeming more vast without tall buildings and houses to cramp it up.
Stephen, the lonely dreamer, the simple son of a grave-maker, had the visions of an artist. He saw beautiful women and handsome men, the people of ancient civilizations. Fairies in the forest, the mischievous grins of foxes, and the barely formed words of birds, hidden in their songs. Invisible ghosts, giggling nymphs, soaring angels...
Stephen kept all his ideas in his journal, always scribbling away at something new. As he got older, he got more and more journals, and by his 24th year, he had a whole shelf dedicated to the storage of his concepts.
It was in the spring of 1949 that he drew Florence.
She was the loveliest thing he had ever created; a Grecian angel of sorrow, a fallen beauty. Long blond hair that cascaded past her back with just the gentlest of waves, slender frame and arms covered with a loose toga, and huge feathery wings that conveyed a sense of majesty and elegance, despite the large size. Her eyes were a soulful blue-gray of rain clouds, of distant mountains and the deep, deep ocean.
But the most beautiful thing about Florence was what Stephen put into her. He put into this creation his love of quiet spaces, the longing for a friend, the nature in which wants to love but has no recipient, where to gain and lose is a welcome sacrifice. Because though Stephen was an introvert, a quiet guy, always focused on things less complicated than people, things that did not retort back, he was, in a very basic sense, lonely.
Into Florence he did not only infuse this longing for companionship, but he also gave all the love he had to give, for nature and life and air, for animals and trees and newborn things, for stone and art and thinking and drawing. He put himself into the angel, just a tiny piece. Florence was his unnamed savior, his soul mate.
Since Stephen now worked in Baker's, he set to work.
White granite, he knew would be best for an image of true beauty and goodness--she was, of course, an angel, and such benevolence were bound to have expectations. Good was obviously light, bad was obviously dark.
He started with a rough form, slowly making out her posture. She was standing, a crown of wild-flowers held her relaxed hand; her other resting on her heart. Or, that's at least how Stephen saw her. All limbs and figure were still buried by these layers of stone; his job was to make her clear.
Contrary to his usual process, he started carving her face. He etched out those lotus eyes, slowly creating dark blue, starry orbs, lashes that flickered like a candle, like gently opening butterfly wings. Her cheekbones were high, her nose curved and delicate, and her forehead broad.
That was the moment Florence became conscious.
That was also the moment Florence first saw Stephen. Still skinny like he was in childhood, hazel eyes bright and open, wire glasses perched and slightly crooked on the bridge of his nose, large hands covered in dust, and a rare smile shining like seawater on his face.
How could Florence not love this artist, her creator?
And so he continued to mold her out of something remarkably un-moldable, with a chisel and a hammer. Her shoulders curved with poise, adorned by prominent collarbones, her robes clinging to her torso. Slowly, she was given proper form, and slowly, she discovered the joy of movement and thought.
Sometimes, though, he wouldn't work. He'd come in, and letting his tools rest, he'd place a hand on her cheek. The cool, rough stone would remind him that no, she wasn't flesh and blood, and Florence wasn't his in the sense that he needed so desperately. Stephen's eyes would tilt as the sides, the already obvious, gentle slant accentuated. He'd let his hand drop and then turn away, walking back to the office to find something to do.
Florence hated those moments, where she wanted to react, but she felt so frozen with fear and uncertainty, and yet so troubled by the pain of others.
What would she give, to return his warmth with her own similar gentleness? To lay her head softly on his shoulder, to not be quiet and alone but to be quiet and together. To not be so icy, so foreign, so different. Maybe Stephen felt like stone sometimes, but he wasn't white marble, like her.
She was terrified of upsetting her only friend. But it was getting harder and harder to resist the urge to move around him, to try. If she lost, it would be terrible, but if she didn't try, she knew she would be caught in this frightened paralysis forever… One fine, late summer day, when Stephen was silently drawing in the window seat, Florence unhurriedly, carefully flexed her fingers. He didn't notice a thing, he didn't look up.
Alright, she would try harder.
She lifted her heels of the ground; she took a timid step, and almost stumbled. A few small, grinding echoes were made, stone against stone. Florence frowned; legs were awfully strange and awkward when you had to actually move with them. The concrete floor of Stephen's workspace felt peculiar against her feet, but he didn't react.
Again she tried to move, this time a little more smoothly. A tiny echo sounded through the workshop, akin to a toddler's own first steps. Stephen paused, carefully setting down his tools.
Her wings quivered softly, as did her fingers and eyes.
"Stephen," She whispered tenderly, reaching out to touch him on the shoulder.
Cautiously, he turned around. Tears were running down his cheeks, his eyes wide and wet.
Florence's face creased with worry, taking her fingers and placing them gently on his cheek.
"Why are you crying, love?" She asked, uncomfortable with her voice. To her, it sounded like gravel, like pebbles in a stream, like sand through and hour glass—and Florence didn't like it, not one bit.
To Stephen, her voice sounded like the clear bells of Notre Dame, she was the bell ringing for whom it tolls, for him, all for him, sound barriers and birds.
"Isn't this a dream?" He asked in response, sitting perfectly still, with the only things moving the reflection of light in his eyes and the drops of ocean water crawling over his skin.
"No, no it's not… I'm real, I promise." She kneeled in front of him, resting her forehead on his thigh. "Believe me, please." Her hair fell over the sides of her face, like a curtain.
Stephen's hands were shaking as they lightly touched the crown of her head. Florence felt solid enough. She sat up with pleading eyes, and Stephen's expression softened.
"Florence," He smiled, like a kid on Christmas, like a man who had finally seen the light.
He had found his angel.
Florence and the Stone-Carver; inspired by a lovely cemetery angel and the story of Pygmalion and Galatea.
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