HONORABLEMENTION
Gemini Magazine
2011
Short Story Contest
He went to the woman who was the
best stone cutter in the county because he
wanted an angel carved in marble for his
wife's grave.

For a long time George Moody had not loved
his wife, but he had been very careful not
to let her know. In fact he would have flung
himself off the upstairs porch before he
would ever have let her know. But now he’d
come to the stone carver to have his wife
honored in a distinctive work of art, to
make up on a gravestone for what he had
not given to her in the last three years.

What was the stone carver's name? Already
he’d forgotten...named for a nearby city.
Fortuna? Arcata? He reached in his pocket
for her business card, but before he could
find it there was already somebody at the
door. Her son, he supposed. Skinny and
sneering. An abundance of blonde hair
partially subdued with a rubber band at the
nape of his neck. Then a woman's voice cut
a groove through the narrow trailer. "Don't
just stand there, Ivan. Have them come on
in."

Ivan flicked his thumb in the direction of
the back of the trailer and George stepped
into the tiny  kitchen, maneuvering through
the piles of laundry, bags of dog food, and
stacks of newspapers. He met the stone
carver as she was coming in from the back,
wiping her hands on her overalls covered
with a fine dust. Despite bad teeth she was
unafraid to smile when she extended her
hand to him. “You’re George, right? I’m
Carlotta.”

Her hand was freckled and thick like a
man's. The hard-knuckled hand did not
seem to match her lenient body, softening
everywhere into the comfort of overalls.

“The funeral parlor called today about your
stone,” she said. “They said you'd be by."

His right hand was still in his pocket, still
on top of the card reading, "It's never too
early to consider your monumental needs.”
Quickly, he took out his hand and shook
hers. "I heard about you in town. They say
you do fine work. I was told you’re the best.
I need...the stone is for my wife. My
recently departed wife. She died last
month.”  

Had he made her blush? No, only he was
blushing. Too many words maybe. He hadn’t
spilled out so many words for a while. How
he must sound to her!

The woman nodded her head and led him
through the side door of the trailer and out
to a gravel yard in back where she said they
could look at the marble and granite. There
were piles and slabs of stone, stacked and
leaning against a shed. Tufts of dried grass
grew around some of the little statues and
giant sized pieces of marble, colored like
the evening sky, grey and rose and
everything in between.

"I can do anything you want," she told him.
"Usually, I try to do the things country
people like. Pine trees. Birds. Deer. I do
lots of deer. Probably that's what I do best.
Deer. Wanta see one over there?” She
pointed to one of the monuments.

"No. No deer. It has to be an angel," he
told her. "I’ve already decided that. It’s
what she would want.”

“Sure,” the woman said. “That’s fine.”

“I brought a picture...what I had in mind.”
He handed her an old Christmas card. She
stopped walking and looked at it. Two
angels with their wings spread out like
hawks.

"Something like that would do. Think you
can do it?” he asked her.

Carlotta held the card up to the sunlight
and stared at it a minute.

“This would work up nice in a good quality
marble. It calls for some fancy detail but I
think we can fix you up.”  She continued
walking and talking in front of him and he
followed after her, catching only the drift of
what she was saying.

“...haven’t done angels for a while, for five
or six years. My husband Orvis used to like
doing them. He’s the one taught me the
trade. But I do all the carving now, he
mostly drives the truck, goes down with the
boy and gets all the granite around
Sacramento."  

She asked him where he was from and what
he did for a living. He told her he lived in
town. Drove a school bus.

"Kids can drive you nuts, huh?” She
laughed. He hadn’t expected so much
talking.

“I have a couple of my own,” she said.
“Boys. We started this business because of
them. But now they're grown they don't
want no part of it. The oldest one ran away
last year. I suppose it's for the best. I don't
want them to stay here for the rest of their
lives anyway. Orvis, he’s been doing it so
long he got emphysema from all the dust.
Before we put the fans in.”

She stopped walking for a minute, waiting
for him to catch up. “Over here you can see
some samples of what I do.”

He nodded his head and she led him over to
a corner of the yard, talking the whole way.

“Orvis, he's got into the whiskey some, so I
do most of the work you see here.”

They stopped in front of a pink fluted stone
where she had carved two pistols
suspended in mid-air having a shoot-off.
"Would you believe somebody would want
something like that?"  Carlotta folded her
arms across her chest and looked askance
at the stone. "Died of arguing, I guess. I've
done guns before. Did a sixteen-wheeler
once. Trucker killed on the highway. They
brought me a picture of his truck. It was
what the family wanted.  I don't dispute
with them."

Back inside the trailer, they decided on two
flying angels hovering over a tree. Carlotta
sat at a rough hewn table and sketched
quickly on a big white pad. The sun showed
up the silvery strands in her dark hair. She
chewed on her pencil while she talked. "I’ve
done dogs and wolves, men fishing, even a
turtle once. Some people—like you here—
want to design their own. They bring me
something they want copied out of a book
or a photograph maybe, whatever means
something to them. I never question what
people want. After I work it up some I'll
start sketching in pencil right on to the
stone."  She turned the pad of paper around
while she talked so that he could see for
himself, the two angels positioned like the
two matching .45-caliber pistols in a
shootout.

She put some water in the tea kettle. He
watched her move through the tiny kitchen,
her hips grazing the counters. He watched
her come toward him. He decided she was
one of those beautiful women whose eyes
have made her so.

She set a cup and saucer in front of him.
There was a tea bag on the side of the cup.
"So, what do you want to say on it?" she
asked him.

He was startled by the question. Of course
he would have to say something, but what?
He told her he was searching for the right
words but they hadn't come to him yet.

After his wife died, this is what he did:

He cut six cords of wood and pushed it by
the wheelbarrow load to stack against the
side of the house. It was enough wood for
six winters.

He ran every day, rain or shine.

He ate dinner at seven sharp, standing up
over the kitchen sink and later rinsing his
plate off under the faucet. The whole
process took about five minutes.

They never had children. He took the things
she left behind he didn't want to remember
and he made a big pile of it and had a
bonfire in the backyard. He sat on the porch
with a beer and watched it all go up in
smoke. He pictured his wife, resplendent,
floating like an angel among her
possessions, moving like smoke straight up
through the trees. He felt like one of the
pecked-out pines in the middle of the field.
He wondered how long he would stay
standing upright.

His wife had never been beautiful. She
always said she considered herself lucky to
have found him—"so good-looking"—a
dapper man who decked himself out so
good some people took him for a fag.  That
is why he was so surprised when someone
else found his wife attractive. He'd always
thought he would be the one to have the
affair.

She was unbelievably shy for one thing, and
seldom dressed up or went out anywhere,
hardly even socialized with other women.
Which is why he was pleasantly surprised
when out of the blue she told him she'd
decided to join an amateur theatrical group.
She even had been chosen for a part in a
play.

Months later he was astonished when he
finally saw her on stage sporting a clinging
dress from the forties and a superb British
accent. He had to recheck his program to
make sure it was her. After the performance
they ate out in a restaurant. People actually
stood up when they walked in. Everyone
rushed her, talking over him and
reassembling themselves around the star of
the evening--his wife. He was very proud
and took her right home to bed, delighted
to have found this new woman.  

But as she became more and more involved
he shrunk down into less and less, and then
a few months later she left him to move in
with a fellow actor. Someone from the play,
in a role he couldn't even remember. "No
hard feelings,” his wife told him. “Gary and
I just have more in common."

He never got over it.

                     * * * * *

He stayed put and waited in a kind of
seething torpor, but he never saw her, not
for two years even though she lived only
one town over. Then inexplicably, she called
him.

She wanted to meet and talk—he supposed
about divorce. He went anyway, spurred on
by his own animus and not a small amount
of curiosity.

He was amazed at how terrible she looked.

Before he could say much she got right to
the point.

“I want to come home,” she said.

Well, wasn’t this his moment?

“Why?” he asked. He scratched his chin and
with a touch of irony added, “didn’t things
work out?”

“I NEED to come back,” she said. In a few
sentences she told him she'd been to a
doctor and was ill and he immediately
realized her illness was what he was seeing
in her face. She told him her “situation” was
critical.

“What do you mean?” he cut in.

“I mean the worst,” she whispered. She told
him she had only a short time left, and it
had forced her to take a hard look at things,
that now she was in the serious business of
dying and needed a different life, a quiet
life that could get her through it all.

“I know I’m asking the world of you,” she
said, “especially after...after what I did.”

“Never mind that,” he said.  He motioned
for her to go on.

“I have nowhere to go. I’ve left Gary. I had
to. He’s not up to it. He’s not the type.”

“And I am?” he smirked.

“Yes. In a sense you are.” She averted her
face and stared out the window. “Gary’s all
about himself. Most theater people are. I’ve
learned that much.”  

He stared at her reflection in the window,
avoiding looking at her directly. “Okay,” he
said, and begged his mind to agree with
him.

                     * * * * *

With a few swift strokes the diagnosis cut
him into a new life. Soon he was the man
who took care of an invalid, the man inside
the house where the shades were always
drawn.

Now that he had her back he wanted her
back entirely. If they had only these last
weeks together, the least he could do was
love her for this short while. Know her. Yes,
he burned to know everything. To talk
before she left him for good, to hear in her
own words what he had been in her life.

He grew bloodthirsty for details about her
affair. He wanted his wife to fill him up with
filthy talk, the dirty joke of her past, drag
him way down into grief, further than he'd
ever been, so he could bury his hate for her
forever.

He considered coming right out with it, ask
her point blank, “Can you tell me why
everything changed between us?”

Then he considered her probable answer:
I
don’t want to talk about that. Not now.

Day after day went by without their saying
much. She was too weary, too far gone
now, to be stirring up such feelings. Even at
the last minute, when he wasn’t sure she
would even be able to hear him, he bent
way over her to listen in case she had
something to say. A resurrection of her
memories. A resurrection of anything. But it
was all too late. Even now, just thinking
about it, his knees shook.

                     * * * * *

Weeks later, after running a race with
himself on the high school track, he found
himself sitting on a wooden bench outside
the stone carver’s trailer. Carlotta brought
out two cans of soda and put one in front of
each of them. There were chickens let loose
into the front yard.  A little bandy-legged
rooster charged a speckled hen twice his
size. The rooster caught her finally and
climbed aboard. George pretended not to
notice, but Carlotta laughed. It was the
kind of laugh that drove right up alongside
his brain and waved at him.

“I’m glad you dropped by,” she said. “Now
that I finished that stone I need you to
decide on some words—something on it
besides her name and all.” He realized he
had never gotten beyond the name and
“beloved wife of...”

They walked into the yard, down the narrow
paths between the headstones. She took
him over to the fence and showed him the
dome shaped gravestone leaning there. The
two angels were carved into it, two angels,
floating apart, but touching fingers. He
knelt in front of the stone for a while,
tracing around each crystalline figure with
his palms.

"This is perfect,” he said. “She’ll love it.” He
realized how silly that sounded. “I mean
she really believed in angels. She had a
picture of one she saw in a book. An actual
photograph somebody took over in England.”

The stone carver leaned forward and
listened.

“It had these giant wings that looked fake
to me, but to her it was the real thing.” He
turned back and sought Carlotta’s eyes.

“But she always believed in all kinds of
weird stuff,” he said. “Not just angels.
Ghosts. Spaceships. Bio-feedback to cure
her headaches. Let me tell you she was into
some strange things. Some people are like
that.”

“You don’t seem that type to me,” Carlotta
said.

“No, I’m not. Not at all.”

“People come in here and say the dead go
up into heaven and become angels or
descend somewhere into demons. They tell
me this all the time. So, what do you think?
Do you think of your wife as an angel?”

She was watching him, deeply interested.
In the distance he could hear the hum of
the highway.

“No,” he replied. “I think of her as devious."

He was immediately sorry he'd said it.

                     * * * * *

He didn't know why he ended up telling
Carlotta everything. It was like she'd
emptied out his pockets and everything he'd
hidden or stolen was laid out right there in
front of them. “I tried to love her. Really I
did. But it would be dishonest because...I
didn’t...couldn’t.” He even ended it with
tears. “I'll get over it. I'll get over it."

She patted him gently on the shoulder. He
began to feel afraid that she would keep on
touching him. Then he was afraid she would
not.

"Hey, sometimes people bring things on
themselves. My Orvis is an example. I shut
him off a long time ago. I'm not about to
make love with a drunk."

They stayed like that for a while, both
stooped down in front of the stone. Then
she stood up and walked around to the
other side of a pile of headstones and he
followed her. She looked at him and slipped
down the straps of her overalls. Suddenly
he was filled with this frightening need.

It was a quick fling down to the earth and
they were moiling and groaning in the dirt.
He got on top. He already committed
himself to the act, busied himself with
breasts and nipples, navel, tongue,
whatever appeared. He was all limbs,
stretching reaching into every corner, nook
and cranny twining himself all over and in
between folds of woman flesh, always
seeking the darkest dampest spaces.

With her tongue she carved out her territory
from his nipples down to his crotch. He
pounded the earth with his hands. Turned
her over so he was on top again, made his
entrance carefully but blew apart once
inside her.

"I'm sorry.  I don't know what happened."

She roughed up his hair with her hands and
laughed. "Oh, horse droppings," she said
and got up. He pulled up his pants quickly.
He was afraid the skinny son was watching,
had seen everything.

"Can we see each other again?” he asked
her. She stood before him, holding so much
power over him now he couldn't stand it.  

"No,” she said, “this was a onetime thing."
She began walking slowly across the yard
and he walked alongside her.  

"I just wanted you to feel good," she said.
"So maybe now you'll remember how."  

                    * * * * *

He walked back to the car, still panting for
breath, still undizzying himself. He opened
the door and got in, pausing for a moment
to look into the rear view mirror for a
glimpse of her, but she was already gone.
He put his head down on the steering
wheel, letting himself feel for a few
minutes her big granite-carving hands, and
for a few minutes more, the renewed
beating of a heart he had thought was
vandal-proof.


Ann Marie Samson's short fiction has appeared in
Zyzzyva, Inkwell and other literary magazines. She
has taught creative writing to people of all ages
through California Poets in the Schools. She has also
taught at the local college and "blabbed some" on the
radio. In ordinary life she's been a gardener and a
struggling but aspiring flamenco dancer.
by Ann Marie Samson
THE STONE
CARVER