Lawrence Russell

Reluctant Hero

§§ Where the hole had come from, he had no idea. Perhaps he'd heard a shout in the night, and a thud, but he wasn't sure. When he went to sleep, the wall was intact; when he woke, the hole was there, ripped through the masonry by a mysterious force. The hole went through to another room, one which he didn't know was there, although he was a new tenant, so anything was possible.

For a while he lay in bed and stared at it, trying to recall what he'd heard, or if he'd heard anything at all. The morning sun cast an elongated image of the window frame on the wall just to one side of the hole, a familiar shadow play he'd seen in various rooms and various places many times before. It was pleasant, and it seemed the day would be pleasant... except, what would his landlady say? Was it his fault? Did he sleepwalk and attack the wall? He checked his hands for abrasions, twitched his feet... all seemed normal. He got up, dressed, all the while contemplating the jagged hole, assessing the damage. There was some plaster and sharded lathe on the floor, which suggested the blow had come from the other side. He crouched down, looked into the other room which was dim with dust and indirect light. On the bare floor boards he saw more plaster and smashed masonry, so, which side had the blow come from? From this angle, he couldn't see much, although there was someone or something standing there, facing away.

Hello, he said.

There was no answer, no movement.

Hello, he said again. I'm the new tenant next door.

If there was a person in there, that person was either asleep or rude. He put his arms and head through, pulled himself into the room. It was larger than his, and empty except for two life-sized statues, so he was thinking it was an abandoned studio or perhaps a warehouse for public works figures. One was a naked woman reclining on a white rectangular dais, like a Greek figure on a tomb. She was quite realistic and erotic in detail. One arm was raised with a hand behind her head, the other resting by her side. Her face was familiar, almost intimate, and to his shame he found himself aroused as he reached out and touched her cold breast. What was the matter with him? It was just a statue in a odoriferous, forgotten room.

The other figure was a tall man of heroic physique, also naked. He was positioned near the window as if watching something even though the heavy curtains were drawn, so there was just a slot, a relaxation in the hang, through which he could see. He was also quite realistic in detail, including his powerful genitals and athletic posture. His right arm was broken, missing the hand. Was this an artistic conceit, or had the statue been damaged?

Absurdly, he looked back towards the hole, as if expecting to find the missing hand in the rubble. Obviously, though, the figures had been arranged as a mise en scene, acting out some mysterious drama. What was the man looking at, or was he meant to be thinking? Strangely, the face had no features, except two depressions where eyes should have been, an eerie testament to incompletion in the moment of maturity. He was anonymous, yet ideal, both a lover and an executioner.

The curtain gave off a shiver of dust as it was drawn back. There was a large courtyard outside, closed on two sides by bland buildings, one with red brick and no windows, the other a crumbling arcade with ocher plaster. The courtyard was empty, and at the distant end the sea was visible with a long beach that disappeared at the horizon. He could hear the surf, although there was something strange about the view, as if the shadows in the courtyard and the arcade were mismatched, illuminated by two different suns. It was morning in his room, but what was this? It could be morning, or it could be evening, such was the melancholy distortion of the setting.

But what was the statue of the faceless hero looking at? It had to be the sea, with its inscrutable surf and timeless beach. There was a white speck on the sand, perhaps a sea shell, but too far away to be recognized. Whatever it was, it seemed to be the focus of the statue's eyeless gaze.

He stood there for a long time looking and thinking, trying to reconcile the mystery of the hole, the statues, and the world outside. He wondered if he should go back, seek out his landlady -- perhaps she had the answer. He slowly circled the statue of the reclining woman, admired her lovely figure, then rejoined the statue of the man. There was a beauty in this mystery, despite the ominous staging, and he knew he couldn't go back through the hole... at least, not today. He touched the man's broken arm, traced the dull white fracture, looked again at the rubble near the hole, then looked -- as the statue looked -- through the window at the distant beach.

No, he couldn't go back. He was a student, he had lots of time, and the hole in the wall was just one mystery inside another mystery. The white speck on the beach was the real mystery, he felt. He didn't know why, but he felt a compulsion to act, as if instructed by a woman on behalf of an injured man.

There was a door at one end of the room. When unbolted, it opened onto a set of stone stairs that descended into the courtyard. The stairs were a bit skewed, perhaps due to age or faulty workmanship, and there was no railing. Although there was some danger, he would go down these steps into the courtyard, and head for the sea. He could see the sea and he could hear it, and it should be easy to access the beach, find out if the white speck was what he hoped it was.

Success wasn't guaranteed, however, as it was a long way and the angles deceptive.

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Reluctant Hero © LR 2008