Leo was in love. From where he stood, he could clearly see the object of his adoration across the room. She was lovely, glorious, and sublime, and he had absolutely no doubt that she was the most exquisite woman who had ever lived.
The fact that she was a twelve-foot–tall marble statue made not a lick of difference. The only thing that mattered was what he felt inside—a raging tempest with a still, sweet center. He wanted to run and embrace her, climb up her mighty form. But visitors of the museum, not to mention the guards, might take that amiss, so he listened instead to the quiet core of his obsession that counseled caution. Slipping into a sheltered nook behind a ceramics exhibition sign, he scrunched down, minimizing his already slender, stunted body. Then, he waited.
Night. Everyone had left—the tired parents and sniffling kids, the gawky teenagers, and the dying elderly on fixed incomes. Crouched in hiding, Leo waited long after the lights were extinguished and a shroud of silence descended. Finally, when the moon appeared above the skylight and lit up the darkness with its silver wand, he emerged from concealment.
He crept across the floor, passing other sculptures that meant nothing to him, men and women and gods and mythical beasts that were no more than ugly masses of stone carved by blind fools. To him, the waiting form of his beloved was the only thing of consequence. As he approached, she watched him, her huge, voluptuous thighs parted in greeting, one of her hands half-extended while the other coyly touched her breast.
Halting before her, he gazed up. “I’m here,” he whispered.
His words seemed to sink into a bottomless well while his beloved’s face brightened with a silvery sheen.
He looked at the metal plaque. WAITING WOMAN it read, along with some meaningless sculptor’s name. Trembling, he inched forward and reached out, touching the white texture of her rounded thigh.
So cold, and yet it enflamed him. He thought of the emptiness of his life, the lost jobs, lost friends, and above all, the women who rejected him with a single blind glance. WAITING WOMAN. Was it possible she could really be waiting for him?
“I love you,” he said.
He stroked her thigh, then emboldened, stepped onto her pedestal. Reaching up, he embraced as much as he could of her vast waist and pressed his face against her cold flesh. “Please,” he murmured, “not you too. I’m a man, and I have so much love to give you, so much to share.”
Silence reigned, terrible and pitiless. He gazed up at her with tear-filled eyes. “You’re like all the rest!” he hissed. “You don’t care, you don’t even notice me!”
But then he saw her lovely lips curl in a smile. Come to me, she seemed to say. I have been waiting for you.
His heart sang with the hope of salvation. Sobbing, he tried to climb her body, only to feel his hands slip down her marble glory. Frantic, he tried a few more times with the same result.
His clothes—they were getting in the way, making it impossible to climb! He must remove them at once, be as naked as she. Stepping down, he stripped off all his clothes. Despite his nakedness, he felt hot, his body burning with fever. He trembled, then approached her again as if she were an altar. Please, he prayed silently, don’t refuse my love.
Lest she speak and do just that, he climbed back on the pedestal and immediately began his ascent. First, he planted a foot on her slightly bent left knee, then grasped her right arm. After that, it became easier, and he soon found himself straddling her waist, wishing she would close her arms and hold him safe and tight against her.
He peered up at his beloved’s lovely, moon-bathed face. The broad expanse of her brow, the regal slope of her nose, her lips like the nacreous blossoms of a celestial flower. Only her eyes, he saw, were empty, bare white stone as blind as the women who would not see him for what he truly was.
“Please,” he moaned, “I love you. Don’t be like all the rest.” Closing his eyes, he pressed his burning cheek against the cold enormous swell of her alabaster breast.
In the darkness, he felt her arms close gently about him. Cradling him, she began to caress his hair.
Leo started to open his eyes, then stopped. What if it were only an illusion born from his misery? For the first time, he wondered if he could be losing his mind. Yet she was so beautiful, and in his loneliness, he had felt that only she understood and cared about him. They shared a bond, and he yearned for its consummation.
Leo, she whispered in his mind, I love you too. I am real, but I am not like other women at all.
He panted against her breast. “T-thank God,” he said. “You are real, aren’t you?”
“As real as your love is for me,” she answered, her voice as sweet as his dead mother’s. “Oh, Leo, I love you so.”
If he had died then, he would not have cared. He was happy.
“But I am lonely,” she said. “Even lonelier than you.”
“Lonelier than me?” He opened his eyes and leaned back to study her face. In the moonlight, she looked as frozen as ever. She did not breathe, and no pulse beat beneath the cold stone. Yet her arms were about him—he had not imagined that!
“Yes,” she said, “even lonelier. For I am a statue. And statues are only a mockery of life.”
“Yes,” she said, her voice sadly sweet. “Look about you, Leo. Look at the others.”
Turning his head, Leo did so, then focused on the closest. Twelve feet away, a marble man in a decorative costume stood with his hands outstretched, a desperate expression on his face. Leo had no idea who he was, or what his problem was. Indeed, he had never cared.
“I-I don’t know what you mean,” he said. “They’re only statues.”
“No, my dear. We are more than that. People shape and form us out of stone and clay, give us souls with hammers and chisels. But once created, we face eternal misery, our spirits imprisoned forever.”
“Yes.” Her great fingers ruffled his hair. “Just as you, Leo, are imprisoned in your childlike body and lonely life, so are we imprisoned in our death-in-life. That is why I felt your longing. That is the essence of our bond. But terrible as your loneliness is, mine is even worse. During the day, your people come and swarm about us, mocking us with their vitality and life, with their ability to move and run, laugh and cry, reach out and embrace life to the full! We can only stand here and watch.”
Stunned, Leo shifted his body and peered about. In the moonlit stretch of light and shade, of ghostly chiaroscuro, stone figures stared rigidly into eternity, their lips silent as the grave.
“Are all statues like this?” Leo whispered. “Throughout the world, wherever we go, they live and think and watch us?”
“Yes,” she replied. “And when your people are with us, we are good only for their amusement. After they leave, they seldom even think of us. Like those women who barely see you, they don’t suspect or even care if we have feelings. But we do, Leo. We suffer and envy you so. And we want you with us.”
Her fingers left his hair and began to caress his shoulder. “My dear child, bless you for loving and wanting me. Because you did, I can move a little, if only for a short while.” She pressed him closer and kissed his forehead. “Be with me forever.”
He tried to speak, then realized his body was no longer hot and feverish, but growing cold and stiff. It was as if her chill essence were seeping into his skin, invading him. Shivering, he lifted his head with difficulty and gazed about the museum, seeing dark tapestries and gloomy reaches that appeared to stir with half-glimpsed phantoms. In the shifting shadows, he noticed the costumed man again. The tense expression and outstretched hands—it looked as if he were trying to warn him. But that was ridiculous!
His beloved’s fingers…they were stroking him so oddly. It was almost as if…
A terrible fear struck him, and he peered up into her face. Suddenly, she no longer seemed lovely. The great lips curled in an ominous smile. It was infinitely cruel, filled with a cold and ancient knowledge.
He tried to get loose, but he could barely move now and her arms squeezed him even closer, drawing him into her. Forever, her voice thundered in his mind. Forever, my dearest!
Leo opened his mouth and screamed, but the sound was buried beneath a wave of joyous laughter. The laughter went on and on, long past the time when he could still hear it.
The museum guard gazed down at the small pile of clothes.
“What is it?” a coworker asked, joining him.
The guard nodded at the clothes, patted his cellphone. “I’ve contacted the desk, initiated a full-scale search.”
“Good.” The second guard looked at the clothes, then glanced about the vast chamber. “Think someone got in here, deactivated the alarms, and stole something?”
“That’s what we’re going to find out.” The first guard knelt, searched the pants, then rose. “Nothing in the pockets. I think it was just some bum who eluded our closing sweep. Probably still hiding somewhere.” He frowned. “Let’s hope he didn’t damage something. The art here must be worth—”
He froze, his eyes on the statue before him. WAITING WOMAN gazed back, her great legs parted.
“Ugly bitch, isn’t she?” the other asked.
Ignoring him, the first guard went to her. “That’s odd. I never noticed before.”
He raised his hand and touched her broad, slightly rounded stomach. If I didn’t know better, he thought, I’d swear she was pregnant.
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