Synopsis: A medieval stone mason loses his wife and carves a statute in her memory.
Evening was approaching. The sun was beginning to crawl down the backside of the mountains. The happy songs of birds had been replaced by the flittering sound of moths flapping their wings looking for a glimmer of light. Ranulf could feel the orange glow of the setting sun give way to welcome the darkness as the chill from the evening breeze began to envelope his body while tending to the final wisps of Susanna’s hair. It was getting harder to see in his workshop as the evening pressed on. He knew he would have to stop and light a candle but he was so close to finishing. Just one more bit of stone to smooth. He shuffled one step back from Susanna, gazed upon her lovingly, and nodded. Ranulf turned toward his only table. Made from sturdy oak, it was bare except for the wooden bowl and spoon he hadn’t used in days and the small bit of candle wax he used sparingly. The workshop had become a shamble with his over-turned stool next to what was left of the rotting bed he used to sleep in. Small undisturbed cobwebs made this their home. There were gaping holes in the walls where stones had fallen out which brought in the warmth of the sun Ranulf felt so little of this past year.
When Susanna first succumbed to the infection after giving birth to their only child, neighboring villagers brought what little food they could spare from their gardens and helped with the young child’s needs. Ranulf was no help to the child as his grief of losing the love of his life was too much to bear. He was so heart broken and obsessed with Susanna, he built a shrine around her body in the bed in which she had perished. He tended to her every day, gently washing her body with salve and water from the well, and placed fresh flowers at her side for days until a monk from the village came to visit at the behest of the villagers. Seeing Ranulf sitting at Susanna’s bedside while the child cried, lying in a basket of straw, the monk carefully swaddled and picked up the child and quietly handed him to a portly, elderly woman standing in the doorway. The monk assured Ranulf his son would be raised by a childless family nearby who could give him the love and nourishment he needed to thrive. Knowing Ranulf would surely die from a broken heart without some sort of divine intervention, the monk convinced him to give Susanna a proper burial and use his gift of stone masonry to create a statue of Susanna to place at her gravesite. Heartbroken and believing in his heart it was the right thing for his son and his true love Susanna, Ranulf agreed to the monk’s advice. With the help of neighboring women folk, Susanna was wrapped in her favorite linen cloth, which she herself had dyed lavender, and her body was tied with the stems of her favorite lavender flowers. Neighboring men folk dug Susanna’s grave under the great oak tree, where Ranulf and Susanna spent many evenings watching the sunset dreaming about their future together. Susanna was laid gently into the hard ground and flowers were dropped in as dirt began to cover her body. Ranulf did not utter a single word while his love was buried. When the last bit of dirt was mounded above her body and the villagers left him, Ranulf whispered, “Susanna” and fell to his knees. He wept for her until his sadness surrendered to exhaustion and he slept. He woke with the warmth of a new sun permeating his weary body. Opening his eyes, feeling the fresh mound of dirt with his hand, he remembered his promise of creating a statue to honor his beloved Susanna. He used this new purpose to exist, pulled himself up off the ground, and headed to his workshop to begin.
This evening would mark a year since Susanna had been laid to rest. The workshop was littered with small portions of her face, hands, and body chiseled into stone. Ranulf would begin to carve out her likeness only to remember how much he missed her and be too bereaved to continue. Those pieces were cast to the floor during moments of angry despair. After his grief finally wasted away the last feelings of anger, he was able to work on Susanna’s statue. His eyes were red, watery, and tired. His body weak from exhaustion and hunger. He had not eaten since the last bits of bread just over a week ago. No matter. He didn’t want to live much longer without her. He was tired. Not from working but from trying to remember every detail of Susanna’s face, body, and expressions. He had to finish this memory of her as his last token of love. Ranulf took the last bit of wax he had, placed it in the candle holder, and lighted it with a piece of iron kept warm by the slowly dying fireplace.
Ranulf turned toward Susanna’s statue, and with the glow of the candle, took in her beauty. He had managed to find a stone large enough to chisel a life size version of her. His love for her had turned into an obsession with her memory. Every detail was meticulously and painstakingly carved to reflect Susanna the way Ranulf remembered her. Every wisp of hair, the way her dress would fall at her waist and brush the top of her feet, and the twinkle in her eyes she would get those evenings under the oak tree. He missed her terribly but seeing her now in the soft, yellow glow of the candlelight he held, she was as beautiful as he remembered.
The evening turned to night as he stood there remembering their time together. He made his way to her and soon it was just Ranulf and Susanna under the glow of the single candle he set on a nearby shelf leaving the rest of the world in complete darkness. He gently placed his hand on Susanna’s shoulder and began running it down her arm, feeling the smoothness of the stone, imagining it was her creamy skin. He looked into her eyes and placed a finger under her chin as if wanting to tilt her face to him. He blinked and a bit of tear fell from his eyes onto Susanna’s sculpted face. “I will love you forever Susanna.” He whispered. Closing his eyes, he gently wrapped his arms around her and wept for her return.
Ranulf grew quiet after a short time, and as he stood there holding Susanna, he heard the sweetest sound he thought he would never hear again.
Ranulf, why are you so sad?”
“Susanna?” Ranulf whispered, afraid to move.
“Yes, it is me.” She replied.
Ranulf pulled his head away from Susanna’s statue, realizing by some miracle, she had come back to life! She was there before him! In his arms. He was holding her, feeling the warm softness of her body, looking into her twinkling eyes which gazed up at him as they had every evening when she was alive. He didn’t know what to do. He stepped back a bit, rubbed his eyes, and was afraid when he opened them, she would be a statue again.
“Ranulf! Why are you acting so foolishly?” Susanna laughed.
Ranulf had missed her laugh more than anything. He opened his eyes and she was still there! In the flesh. He was beside himself with joy and yet had grown so weary from lack of nourishment and grief, he just stood there drinking in this magical moment. Surely, this was a delusion. His obsession has made him mad, he thought.
“Susanna, I’ve missed you so.” Ranulf whispered wearily. “I’m afraid I cannot go on much longer without you.”
“Ranulf, that is why I have come to you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“My dearest Ranulf.,” Susanna began. “It broke my heart to leave you, but my body left me no choice. Your undying love for me has kept me near you all this year. I’ve watched our son become a chubby little thing.” Susanna’s eyes twinkled. “They call him Henry. Can you imagine it?”
“Henry. It’s a strong, fine name.” Ranulf softly replied.
“Yes, it is.” Susanna lovingly stretched out her hand and gestured to him. “Ranulf, come to me.”
He wanted to go to her. To touch her, caress her, and kiss her but was afraid if he did so, the spell he knew he had to be under would lift and she would be gone.
“Do not be afraid, my dearest, I’m taking you with me.” Susanna explained softly. “Come.”
Ranulf reached out and took Susanna’s hand. It was warm. Ranulf felt the electricity of life flow from his body to Susanna’s. They embraced. Ranulf, wanting to savor every moment, slowly drew his hand up her arm to her neck cupping her chin. Then with his finger, tilted Susanna’s face toward his, looked into her eyes, and said, “I will love you forever Susanna.”
“And forever it shall be.” She replied.
Ranulf leaned down, closed his eyes, and kissed Susanna’s lips. As he kissed her, the salt from his tears, turned him to stone. Leaving them in loving embrace intertwined for eternity.
Submitted to the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2020. My assignment was Fantasy / an obsession / a mason. Do you think I captured all three in this short story?
For more info on the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, click HERE.