Sculpted in Stone

“It’s such a lovely summer afternoon. Let’s take the dog out for a walk down by the river.”

Reluctantly, I put my book aside, search for my battered felt hat and meet my wife outside on the driveway. Leashed, the dog is already panting in the afternoon heat.

We stroll down the street and cross the bridge to Old Hartford Avenue past the newly christened Old Stone Village—refurbished historic houses converted into a condominium complex. Today there is an open house, and we stop to chat with the realtor. He shows us one of the units for sale and hands us a card.

On the way back we hop the guardrail and descend to the river. A multitude of cedar waxwings dart about above the water, feeding on the latest hatch of insects. I point out their field marking—the yellow edge of the tail—to my wife.

We pick our way along the bank to the base of the old bridge abutment. Great redstone rocks are strewn over the steep slope. “There must have been a retaining wall here at one time. It may have been washed away in the flood,” I muse.

My wife stoops to pick up a rock—a much smaller stone, smooth and grey with two flat surfaces and irregular edges. “This looks like my grandfather’s whetstone that I brought back from Spain,” she says.

“It does look similar,” I agree. “It reminds me of those stones for sale in the gift shop at the Florence Griswold House.” We had trekked down to Old Lyme to view the collection of paintings by American tonalists and impressionists the day before.

“I didn’t notice them. Do you think anyone will mind if I take this one home?”

“A rock is a rock,” I smile. “Finders keepers.”

We push up the steep slope and cross the barrier onto the street. My wife hands me the rock to carry. I turn the stone over in my hands, feeling its smooth coldness. Uncut, yet having two flat faces, it reminds me of headstones in the cemetery on the hill.

“When I was in high school, there was a boy two years behind me who used to sculpt stone like this one,” I say. “He had a wild head of hair, and always kept to himself.”

“What happened to him?”

“Academically, he came to nothing—a hopeless case. But artistically—” I pause to remember, “the stones he sculpted were quite beautiful: round and smooth with clean curved lines. They were on display in the art room. It was a pleasure to turn them over in your hand.”

“So, did he become a great artist?”

I stop and stroke the stone again, feeling its cold smoothness in my hand.

“No. He never graduated high school. They found him one day with a bullet in his brain—self-inflicted gunshot wound. His other hand cradled a stone he had been sculpting—smooth and grey with clean curved lines.”

My wife pulls the dog up short on the leash. “Why did he do it?”

“No one knew. He came from a large family; his parents had split up. Like a lot of other young impressionable artists, the world killed him, I suppose.”

We retrace our steps across the bridge. I cradle the stone in my hand and pause to watch the waxwings dancing above the water in the late afternoon light.

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