Most of Pete Malone’s adult life had been spent sculpting in granite. He’d received much gallery attention and, in 2004, was named the Outstanding Artist at the Northeast Kingdom Regional Art Faire in St. Johnsbury, VT. The constant battering of hammer and chisel against the rock surfaces had damaged his hands. Now, suffering from arthritis throughout his body, Pete retired at age 72, moved to the west coast of Florida, and began working in wood as a chain saw carver.
He chose a secluded residence where he could continue the solitude he left behind in VT. Pete was a loner, never married, and never had much of a relationship with any woman.
He purchased a small chainsaw with a dime tip carving bar and several Pico chains. He had a Forester helmet with the attached acoustic earmuffs and a full-face shield. Wearing flexible leather gloves and safety chaps, he bathed in the spray of chips and sawdust. He skillfully crafted the wooden shapes.
Pete began with small animals cleverly drawn out of the rough pine logs into lifelike shapes. An array of rabbits, chipmunks, shorebirds, and a four-foot-tall blue heron standing on one leg began to draw the attention of the people driving by his home. Soon, an article about him appeared in the community newspaper. Pete was talked about in the local art scene.
With the intricate movements of the eight-pound saw working his limbs and muscles, Pete regained strength and began feeling more alive than he had in a decade. He looked at people differently and took an interest in women. Someone suggested he take his work to a local Farmer’s Market.
The following Thursday, Pete drove into town and parked a block from the market. Walking up the street, he was overwhelmed by the activity, the people, the colors, the scents, and the sounds. The following week he brought several small pieces, set them out on the grass, and sold out in half an hour. The next week he came there with more of the same. Someone suggested he do more substantial pieces, perhaps a life-size dolphin.
Pete had a deal with a local logger and bartered his art for log pieces. He ordered a large stump and produced a six-foot Madonna and child for the market. To be fair to all the interested buyers, Pete announced that he would take bids on the sculpture throughout the day. Record these in a notebook and at 2:30 p.m. would announce the winning bid and deliver the work with his truck.
This brought Pete a lot of attention. The following week he did this again, and the next week. This time, something new happened. He spotted the perfect woman. She wore an orange tank top that hid nothing of her ideal figure. The black Lycra shorts clung like Saran Wrap on her shapely legs. She was tanned, with flowing long blond hair, and smiled with a glow that set her apart from the crowd. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was a living sculpture.
This week, Pete had brought a dolphin cresting out of a wave. It was 7 feet from base to nose and had been sanded and sealed and rubbed with finishing wax. It glowed in the sun, as did this gorgeous woman.
She raised her sunglasses, placing them on top of her head, stepped away, then went around the back of the statue, coming closer to it. Pete was watching. When she made eye contact, she smiled, her eyes crinkled a little, and her perfect teeth caught the light as her hair caught the breeze. Pete raised his hand and gave a short wave. She smiled more and came to him saying, “It’s beautiful. I’d like to place a bid.” Pete’s hand shook as he recorded her details in his notebook.
At 2:30 p.m., with nine people anxiously waiting, Pete announced that the winning bidder was Jillian Galatea—even though she wasn’t. The disappointed bidders walked away. Pete shook hands with her and prepared the sculpture for the delivery. As she walked to her car, Pete watched her body’s movement as though she were Aphrodite walking on the crest of a wave. Her beauty overwhelmed him. Pete followed her to her house and offloaded the dolphin with a two-wheeled cart placing it in the center of the front yard where she had removed the sod and made a small circular arrangement. Several flats of flowers and four bags of dark red bark mulch were waiting.
After placing the sculpture in the middle of the bare ground circle and leveling it, Pete stepped back with a sense of pride. Jillian shook his hand and told him again what a beautiful piece it was and thanked him for his skill. He hoped she might offer some sweet tea, and they could chat for a while, but she didn’t.
Pete was exhausted by the time he got back to his studio. Still, his mind was racing with the image of this perfect woman and how he would start in the morning to create her ideal body in wood.
Several large pieces of trees were stacked vertically behind the studio, and Pete knew exactly which one he would use. He selected a seasoned black cherry log that had a twist about two-thirds from the bottom. In Pete’s practiced eye, this would allow a graceful curve to the figure, as a ballerina might do. Using his old tractor, he brought the half-ton piece into the open-air side of his studio. Standing it on the floor, he put a low bench front and back and connected them with two staging planks. Now he had access to that platform’s entire circumference and efficiently reached the sculpture’s nine-foot top height with the saw.
Pete studied the piece keeping the image of Jillian fresh in his mind. He embarrassed himself when he imagined the naked body beneath her clothing. He stepped back, walked around the log, studied the light patterns on the bark, and finally made the first cut. As the sawdust sprayed around him, his mind swirling and breath quickening, the vision began to take shape. He killed the saw, removed the helmet, and brushed out the saw-cut crevices with a dry paintbrush. Then he ran his hands over the work and traced the lines with his fingers. He had the rough form but quit for the day, not wanting to overdo it and make a mistake. This would be his most perfect sculpture, and this would not be for sale.
In the morning, Pete put a new chain on the bar. He would be making some intricate cuts today and finish them with a side grinder sanding disc. He began with her hair in long swept-back strands, curled slightly at the ends, ruffled by an unseen breeze. He worked carefully around the eyes and nose, capturing precisely the contours of the face vivid in his mind. When he came to her lips, he got down off the bench and stepped back for a better perspective. He brushed off the face screen with his hand, removed the helmet, and wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of a glove leaving a few grains of sawdust in his eyebrows.
Looking at the face from a greater distance, he saw that he needed to enlarge the lips to capture the sensual fullness and the enticing curve. He got back on the bench, gently brushed off the sawdust, and placed his lips on hers. Then he ran his fingers over the lips and proceeded to define them more perfectly with the grinder. He cleaned the face and brushed on the sanding sealer, wiping that in with a clean rag, pausing again at her lips. He felt the next part of the sculpture was critical and quit for the day before creating her breasts.
Pete didn’t bother with breakfast the following morning. He took a coffee travel cup out to the studio, donned his equipment, and proceeded to carve the bosom of his sculpture. He used the side grinder again after the saw cuts and finished by carefully hand-sanding the wooden mounds. Caressing them as if they were flesh. He reached a point on the log where the trunk curve became a playful arch in her body, turning slightly to the side in a coquettish pose. He worked at the back and defined her spine and the hollow just above the buttocks. He was sexually stimulated by this work, something he had never felt before, even when using live models for commissioned work in stone. This was different; he knew this figure and was creating her for himself. The snarl of the chainsaw and the whine of the grinder were replaced by his hands shaping and smoothing with sandpaper grit. Each step in the process finished with care, cleaning, and coating with sealer before any cracks or checks could appear in the wood.
He came again to the front of the piece, shaped her belly with a slightly depressed umbilical, and had to stop. He was breathing rapidly, working below her belly, into the V of her torso. His mind’s eye defining what he thought he could never imagine. He removed the chaps and helmet, sat in a worn deck chair, and finished the cold coffee from the travel cup while staring at his creation.
This emotion over an inanimate figure was something new and exciting. She was coming to life from the wood, and Pete thought of himself, not as a sculptor but as a creator. He rose once more from the chair, climbed onto the bench, and kissed her dusty lips.
She came alive that night, stepped off the base, and strode to him in his bed, her nakedness softly glowing in the moon shadows. She pulled the covers aside and lay down beside him, drawing close and urging him on. He awoke with a start, pajamas sweated. And sat on the edge of the bed, holding his head in both hands. Her living likeness seared in his mind.
It was only 2 a.m., but Pete could sleep no longer. He got up, dressed, and went to his studio. He didn’t care that the saw might wake some neighbors. Or that the dog howling in the distance was barking at him. He had to finish. He had to bring her to life. He worked feverishly, finally completing the figure with the tools. Then, he took a break before caressing it with the sandpaper and spread the liquid sealer, lovingly rubbing it in with his hands.
Satisfied with the body, he removed the benches and planks to finish the feet, which were sculpted as standing in a small pool of water, as though she could spring from the lake by the grace of Aphrodite. He worked slowly around the toes and each foot’s arches, carefully taking away a little more of the fragile base support with each pass of the grinder. A little more, a little more, a little more.
Jillian completed her garden around Pete’s dolphin sculpture and decided to fill in around the base with small woodland creatures. She called the number on Pete’s card tacked to her kitchen corkboard, tried it twice, leaving messages. Four hours later, without a reply, she drove down the dirt lane to his studio, stopped her car at the house, and tapped the horn, then walked out back to his studio.
After completing her statement, the police asked her if she’d like to be driven home. She wiped her eyes and told them she’d be okay now. She didn’t really know him, had bought a sculpture at the Farmer’s Market, and he seemed like a nice guy. She knew he was dead when she found him crushed by the toppled statue. She had no idea why they thought it looked like her and was embarrassed when they said that.
About the Author
Ed N. White is a Luddite sympathizer who struggles with the modern world. That is why he writes fiction. His latest endeavor, Miss Demeanor, The Case of the Long Blonde Hair, written under the pseudonym Celia J., is the first volume in a middle-grade mystery series. It is available at Histria Books.