Sunday, 18 August 2013

Hidden gargoyle

The tea was refreshing and bitter, and Geraldinium stared out at the sunset.  Her studio was the attic rooms of an entire row of terraced houses, whose occupants were unaware that they had even had attics once.  The view of the sunset was through a huge window that was the width of number 17 in the terrace, slightly angled because of the slope of the roof and was soul-shiftingly vivid.  There was a storm on the way and the saccharine colours that reminded her of the kind of cheap paintings you could find in pound-shops, all horses on the beach and unicorns shedding tears for sleeping teenage girls, but at the edges there were hints of darkness, clouds that edges themselves with hate rather than silver.  It seemed like an auspicious night for her sculpting.
When she set the tea-cup down on the scarred wooden table in front of the window she picked her hammer and chisel back up again.  The noise of her sculpting would undoubtedly cause worry to the Daily Mail reader in the house below where she sculpted, but she considered that to be something readers of that vile rag to deserve.  She crossed to the keystone, and paused.  While she’d been drinking her tea and watching the sunset, surely no more than half-an-hour, three spiders had emerged from somewhere and built webs on and across the stone.  The webs covered the gargoyle’s lumpy, sketched-in head, and two of the spiders were sat, staring malignly at her, right where she’d intended the gargoyle’s main eyes to be.  The third spider scuttered away at her approach and had disappeared down the side of the stone.  She regarded them for a moment, and then picked up a rough cloth from her work desk and wiped the webs and spiders away.  They were too early; they could come and contribute to the project when she was done with the carving.
The rhythmic tap of the hammer on the chisel, and the steady work of looking at what had been removed and what had been discovered as a result of that was soothing work, and as she steadily brought the gargoyle out of hiding and into the light her mind wandered back to the records from the Orphanage.
The Orphanage had originally been called the Home for Wastrels and Waifs and had been founded by a Mr. and Mrs. Gentlescot in the early 1800s.  The founding date wasn’t written down anywhere that Geraldinium had been able to find, but allusions to various events in the records suggested that it was probably somewhere between 1810 and 1816.  He had been a butcher, and she appeared to have been a monster hiding in human skin.  There were a number of letters written by her, in a crabbed hand that needed careful study, to various dignitaries and philanthropists of the time, which had been returned with responses to her pleas for money (and occasionally unwanted children).  The letters revealed that she viewed the children essentially as a cash-crop, a way of extorting money from people with either principles or emotions or both, and she would describe their piteous states in elaborate detail in an attempt to ensure a cheque by return of post.  Reading through these descriptions Geraldinium had been struck by the unneccessity of them: if this woman had spent more time (and money) looking after the children then they wouldn’t have been in this state yet.  When she described the four-year old being washed in cold water by a one-armed girl and a blind boy Geraldinium noted that two paragraphs earlier there had been mention of children far more able to look after ablutions.  The accident that had caused the girl to become one-armed sounded contrived to her as well.  There was, to her mind, a definite whiff of unpleasantness around the butcher’s wife.  The implicit threats in her letters, too, “Please send money as it seems unlikely that poor Clara will last the night without it; rest assured I shall keep you abreast of her progress…”.  There had never been any hope for these poor children.
She tapped a new part of the keystone sharply, and with a sudden crack a thin rectangular piece of stone broke free and fell to the floor, smashing.  Geraldinium cursed, and then paused.  The piece of stone had revealed a date incised into the keystone, and she realised that the rectangular piece must have been added later on to cover up the date.  This had to be the founding date that wasn’t written down anywhere, but… it said 1618.  For a moment her skin crawled and she wondered if she hadn’t made a mistake in choosing this stone.  Then she looked at the gargoyle, now appearing almost to be clawing its own way out of the stone and knew that this creature needed to be on display and not hidden any longer.

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