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“Lift out of order.”
Cedric Mayfare painstakingly deciphered the hieroglyphics scribbled across a piece of torn cardboard hanging from a broom handle wedged so as to prevent access to the redundant lift. He limbo danced beneath it and pushed the button marked ’13’.
He sighed and made his way to the stairs. It was ironic that the lift was always working in the morning when he was going down, and away collecting its dole in the evening when he had to climb. But, then, what else could be expected from living on the 13th floor of a place called Ropey Mansions, he thought, beginning the slow climb.
As he reached the second floor, the caretaker, loaded with boxes and on his way down, swung round from the next flight of stairs leaving Cedric no time to take evasive action. The catastrophe was inevitable. The caretaker jerked to a halt a moment before impact, but the pile of cardboard boxes, unaware of this sudden braking maneuver, continued on, tumbling downwards out of control, hitting the concrete stairs and splaying multicolored unwinding toilet rolls across the lower landing.
“I’m glad I bumped into you, Burt,” Cedric said in greeting to the distressed, fast balding caretaker, totally ignorant of the chaos he had precipitated about him.
“My sink is blocked again. I tried the plunger you gave me last time, and it hasn’t worked. I wondered if you would come up?”
The poor caretaker, sprawled across the stairs and completely dazed, was understandably more concerned with the carnage below, his mouth kept opening and shutting like a concussed fish.
“Oh, and by the way,” continued Cedric. “The lift is not working.”
In the circumstances the caretaker was very controlled, he mentally counted to ten in an effort of sheer willpower. Then lost his temper.
“I know that, Cedric,” he exploded. “Why do you think I put the sign there? Why else would I be carrying boxes of toilet rolls down twenty three flights of stairs? And why, why do you think the lift is not working? Can you guess why not, Cedric?”
Cedric thought, then shook both head and large thick rimmed spectacles in opposite directions. “No.”
“Because some very silly person has overloaded it.”
Cedric was none the wiser.
“With a huge slab of marble, this morning.”
Cedric suddenly beamed, lifting himself to his full height of five feet four inches. “Oh good, so they delivered it.”
“Apparently on your orders.”
“At last I can get down to some work,” he ran excitedly up to the next landing. “Thanks for telling me,” he said, pausing from moment.
“And Burt,” he added. “Don’t forget the sink.”
Cedric had already unfastened his donkey jacket as he threw open his front door. He stepped in, closing it behind him by means of a sharp tap with his heel, while simultaneously plucking the morning paper from the mat and shrugging his jacket from off his shoulders, throwing it at what he must have imagined to be an invisible coat stand. It hung suspended for a second before slumping to the ground atop his other overwear.
A couple of hours later the caretaker also managed to safely negotiate both himself and his plumbing tools up the stair well to the 13th floor.
“Thank goodness you’ve arrived,” Cedric said in greeting, biting a toasted piece of buttered charcoal into . “Come on in. Can I get you a cup of tea? I think there’s one in the pot.”
Burt eyed the beverage in Cedric’s hand, a skin of congealed milk barely, concealed the chilled dishwater beneath. “No,” Burt declined decidedly. “I don’t think I will, thanks all the same.”
He stepped into the living room, if that it could be called, workshop would be a better description. Furniture and carpet were alike littered with tools, rags, books and a multitude of rubbish of all types. In one corner was a large heap of junk, while the sideboard had so much on it that it was like a mountain, needing just the slightest trigger to initiate an avalanche. But the piece de resistance was in the center of the room. There stood a huge chunk of marble, the size of a double wardrobe, an object, Burt noted, seeing the little piles of clothes about the apartment, of which Cedric seemed in great need.
“I’ll leave you to get on, then,” said Cedric. “I’m just grabbing a quick bite to eat before starting. I’ve got a lot to do tonight.”
“I thought he said you were a road sweeper,” Burt said, side stepping a pile of marble dust and instead landing on a plastic ballpoint. There was a crunch, but he didn’t draw attention to it, hoping that Cedric hadn’t noticed.
“I am,” Cedric said. “And don’t worry about picking up the pieces. I’ll do it later.”
“Sorry. But what all this for, then?” he asked, indicating the marble.
“Just a hobby. Something to do in the evenings.”
It was no wonder that the sink was blocked. Having unscrewed the trap, he found it to be full of marble sediment, tea dregs and a pair of false teeth. How they got down there, Burt didn’t hazard to guess. He merely kaçak iddaa cleared them out with all the sludge and left them displayed on the drainer.
By the time he’d reassembled the plumbing Cedric was busily running a tape measure over the marble lump, puzzling over some incongruity in its dimensions. Burt leaned lazily against the doorjamb and watched him amusedly.
“What’s it to be?” he asked at last.
“An elephant,” Cedric answered, clambering on a chair to reach its upper face. “For a zoo, somewhere or other, I never can remember the details.”
“Do you make many, er, well…”
“Sculptures? No, not really.” He looked approvingly at the tape measure. The figures seemed to match up at last. “Not this size, anyway. I can’t be bothered anymore. Not since Ariadne.”
“Ariadne? What’s that?”
Cedric laughed. “You mean who’s that. She’s a woman.”
“Oh,” remarked Burt, confused for a moment. “But made of marble?”
“Yes, of course. I only work in marble. There’s a dog on the sideboard somewhere if you want to see something that’s finished.”
Burt was reluctant to disturb the overloaded assortment on the sideboard merely to observe a piece of amateur sculpture. But without needlessly offending Cedric, there didn’t seem to be any way he could refuse.
He delicately fished about amongst the variously sized chisels, dusty cloths, hammers and all the other paraphernalia, until he found the artifice and prized it out.
The dog was about eighteen inches long and was a German Shepherd. Burt was impressed. It was far better than he had anticipated.
“It’s excellent,” he said, examining how the fur had been carefully carved, and even the dog’s teeth faithfully recorded. “You’ve got every detail there!”
“It’s nothing,” Cedric corrected, brushing back his greasy hair.
“But it’s splendid!”
“If you saw Ariadne, you’d realize how poor it was in comparison.”
“I don’t believe you. Nothing could be that much better.”
Cedric looked up at him, slightly angrily, yet undecided.
Then his mind was suddenly made, and he crossed to the bedroom door. “Come on, if you don’t think I know what I’m talking about, I’ll show you my Ariadne.” He opened the door slightly before pausing.
“I’m not sure whether I ought to be doing this, she’s never been seen by anybody before, except me.”
Burt waited patiently until Cedric motioned him in. As opposed to the living room and the kitchen it was comparatively tidy. No junk: clean floors; dusted furniture. The statue of Ariadne was in the middle of the far wall, dominating the room through both its size and its nature. The statue stood upon a rug of Kandinsky. Ariadne was a Greek woman draped in a voluminous transparent gown that flowed from her shoulders to the ground in a viscous liquid stone. She was beautiful, she was magic, she was gorgeous. Cedric’s chisel had hewn a grace and dignity Burt had but once seen before.
“Did you have anyone in mind when you carved this?” he asked quietly.
“No. She is my dream, my dream of perfection. There is no one that could ever be so beautiful.” As Burt continued to look he concluded that perhaps Cedric was right.
For the statue shone. There was a kind of iridescence about it. Like a Madonna. A powerful aura ebbed out that seeped into Burt, turning his legs into unset jelly and preventing him from turning away. It was a masterpiece of art and devotion. Every line of her fingerprints had been lovingly etched, every hair of her head individually sculptured.
The curves of her face were accurate and smooth: they flowed, one into the next. Her body was flawless and barely concealed by the gown that pretended to cover her. Her breasts stood high upon her chest and her nipples were clearly discernible. Burt almost imagined that she breathed, that he could see the rise and fall of her chest, such was the effect of its realism.
“You made this?” he croaked, still unable to tear his eyes away.
“No,” corrected Cedric. “I created this. This is Ariadne. She is my advisor, my oracle, my lover.”
“What?” Burt exclaimed, incredulously.
“She is perfection. She is forever, and I love her.”
He looked up devotedly into the smiling eyes, yet behind the intense adoration Burt perceived a strange sadness.
“But she’s a statue,” he said. “Only a statue.”
“Of course,” Cedric agreed, and the sadness seemed suddenly more pronounced. “She never complains that I’m too small, too skinny, that I’ve got glasses, that I’m not clever, not tidy, that I’m too old.”
Burt nodded. He understood. “When did you make her?”
“A couple of years back.”
“Before you came here?”
Cedric agreed. “I’d never even heard of Ropey Mansions then. I lived nearer my mother on the other side of London.”
Burt was about to ask something, but paused, and thought better of it. “I think I’d better be going,” he said instead.
As he was about to close the front door, he remembered his wrench. He’d left it under the sink. He was about to fetch it when suddenly kaçak bahis from the far room he heard a suffocated moan.
“Ariadne,” he made out. “How do I make you talk? Please help me someone. Say something.” Burt decided that the wrench could wait, and he quietly left.
There was something not quite right when Cedric returned home from work the next day. He knew it from the moment he opened the front door: things had been moved. He rushed to the living room and stared dumbfounded. He’d had burglars: that was obvious. The heap in the corner was no longer there; the chaos of the sideboard now consisted of three metallic toolboxes. Someone had been rooting through his things and in doing so had tidied them up. The sofa and the chairs were untouched, but…
Suddenly, a horrific thought struck him and he rushed to the bedroom, throwing open the door.
It was empty.
She was gone. Ariadne was missing. In her place was a vast emptiness that filled the room just as her presence had done. Cedric felt ill, it seemed as though his heart were now filled with mercury instead of blood, and it had to fight just to keep pumping the heavy poison round his body. In his stomach on the other hand, a vast void was fast appearing that was now expanding to fill the whole of his lower abdomen.
There was only one thing to be done.
He needed a cup of tea.
Suddenly there was a noise, a sound of cutlery in the kitchen. Were the burglars still here? Were they clearing up in the kitchen too?
Cedric was no hero, and certainly wasn’t going to charge about like some medieval knight catching the villains in the act. He grimaced: he really did need to sort out his muddled metaphors.
He peered through the crack in the bedroom door. No one was in the living room. He crept out and slunk to the kitchen where he came face to face with a strange young woman looking just as terrified as he.
Now this young woman wasn’t just strange in the sense that she was unfamiliar. There was one other fact that seemed to leap out immediately at Cedric without him trying exceedingly hard. This was that she was almost naked. She wore what looked like a loose nightdress, except that it was transparent, enabling Cedric to discern very clearly that she wasn’t wearing underwear. Cedric had never met a burglar before, but he was sure that this was highly inappropriate attire for a burglar, and thus she qualified to be described as ‘strange’.
He managed to restrain his urge to run, mainly because the front door was behind her and fleeing thus required reserves of courage. These, Cedric had only in short supply. So, instead, he tried to look fierce, standing on tiptoe to give himself an extra couple of inches.
“Who are you?” the strange woman asked nervously, seemingly unaware that her body was open displayed and creating an observable event within Cedric’s trousers.
“I was about to ask you that,” Cedric responded tentatively, unable to avoid staring at her nicely trimmed pussy. “Who are you?”
“Is this heaven?” she asked, not answering his question.
“Heaven?” He thought she must have noticed him gaping and was about to apologize for the ardency of his admiration. However, it seemed this was not necessary.
“I looked through there,” she explained, pointing to the window, and her nipples poked against the transparent cloth most exquisitely. “And it was such a long way down that I thought this must be heaven. I must say this isn’t what I expected.”
Cedric was utterly confused by this unexpected development in the conversation, until it dawned on him that she was trying to trick him, trying to bluff her way out of his apartment.
“Where’s my statue?” he asked, redirecting the conversation to a subject of more immediate concern. “Where’s Ariadne?”
“I’m Ariadne,” she said, surprised. “But I’m no statue.”
“Are you mad?”
“Oh no. Don’t say I’ve come to the wrong place. I’m not mad, I’m dead.”
“You are mad!” He was convinced.
“I’m not,” she protested. “Look it up. You must keep records of this sort of thing. I can give you all my particulars. I died in Delphi, Greece, of Cholera, in 302BC. And my name’s Ariadne.”
A sudden realization bolted through Cedric’s brain at the speed of cold porridge as he stared into the warm living face, and his heart both rejoiced and sank still further at one and the same time. For he recognized the features as being the very ones he had molded with his own chisel.
“I think I need a drink,” he moaned. “This is impossible.”
He poured out two stiff lucozades and handed one to the girl. “You’d better drink this,” he said. “I’ve something to tell you.”
“This isn’t heaven, is it?” she asked nervously taking the glass. “I had a funny feeling it wasn’t. And they don’t drink in heaven, do they? Is it hell?”
“No, it’s London.”
“London,” she was puzzled. “Where’s London? I never knew that dead people went to London.”
“They come here all the time,” Cedric replied. “London is in England.”
“But where’s that?”
He illegal bahis scowled, for he was unused to such cross-examination. “Many miles from Greece.”
“But it can’t be,” she said logically. “Because I’m dead.”
“You’re not dead,” he exploded, suddenly losing his temper. “You’re a statue. Made of marble. Or you were. As to what you are now, heaven knows.”
She sipped at her lucozade, and said quietly, “Then it’s a shame this isn’t heaven, or we’d know too.”
Cedric sank into the tin of assorted nuts and bolts that he kept on the nearest chair. “Oh, why does this have to happen to me?” he asked dejectedly. “And on the night mother’s coming too. Everyone else seem to lead such simple lives.”
Before a suitable answer to this profundity could be discovered, there was a knock at the door. Cedric looked up, startled.
“Quick, hide in there!” he said, pushing the astounded newcomer into the bedroom. “You can’t be found here.”
“Why not?” she queried, innocently.
“Because I don’t know who it is, that’s why,” he explained tersely.
The door rattled again, and Cedric hurried over to discover Burt on the other side. “I left my wrench here yesterday,” he said.
“I don’t think you could have,” replied Cedric shortly, just as the bedroom door behind him squeaked open.
“Under the sink,” Burt added, curiously trying to look over Cedric’s shoulder into the apartment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you had company.”
“I haven’t,” Cedric lied, closing the door to a slit so that Burt wouldn’t see past. “It’s probably the elephant,” he continued inventively. “I’m using it as a model for that sculpture I was telling you about.”
“You have an elephant in there?” Burt was incredulous. “How did you get that up the stairs? You didn’t get it in the lift?”
“It’s only a baby. I got it from the zoo.” The lies grew in inverse proportion to the size of the elephant. “Hang on a moment, and I’ll get the wrench,” and he banged the door shut, leaving the puzzled Burt out in the hallway.
Cedric rushed to the kitchen, opened the cupboard door, and saw the offending wrench lying on the shelf. He picked it up and rushed back to the front door.
Ariadne was poking her head out of the bedroom. “Is everything all right?” she asked.
“No, it’s not. Get back!” Cedric hissed. I’ll only be a minute.” He waited until she’d again reluctantly closed her door before opening up on Burt.
“One wench, I mean, wrench,” he stammered, thrusting it into the astonished man’s hand.
“Is everything all right?” asked the concerned Burt.
“No, it’s not. I mean, yes, it is,” snapped Cedric. “And if anyone else asks me that I shall scream. Goodbye.” And he shut the door.
“Who was that?” Ariadne asked, coming back into the living room, and clearing a space to sit.
“The caretaker,” replied Cedric. “And that settles it.”
“You can’t stay here. Not that there was any question of it, anyway.”
“But I’ve got to live somewhere,” she wailed.
“Yes, I know. But not here.”
“Well, where then?”
“I don’t know. I’m not the council. I haven’t anywhere for you to live.”
She suddenly brightened. “Do you want to fuck me? I am very good. Shall I undress?”
“No!” Cedric screamed, horrified.
Her face screwed up. “No one ever says no,” she moaned. “You don’t like me. Why did you chisel me like this if you find it so repulsive.”
Cedric panicked. Surely she wasn’t going to cry. She was.
“Please don’t do that,” he pleaded. “You are extremely sexy. And it’s not that I mind you crying, but it makes the carpet damp and we might get mildew and you just can’t stay here.”
“But why not? I like it here,” she cried, tears running down her face.
“Because it’s not proper,” Cedric explained, turning away and wringing his scraggy hands. “It’s not right. And people will talk.”
“But who’ll know? No one knows I am here.”
“My mother, my mother will know. Oh please don’t cry,” he implored. Somehow in his dreams he had never imagined his perfect Ariadne crying. She had always been most self-assured and helpful. “She’s coming for the evening.”
“But I could hide while she’s here.”
He paused. There was no reason why it shouldn’t work, and if it would stop her from flooding the carpet…
“As long as you leave by tomorrow night,” he conceded.
“But where am I to go?”
“I don’t know,” he said irritably. “Who do you think I am? I didn’t ask you to come to life.”
“And I didn’t ask to be brought back to life, either,” she protested angrily. “Or for you to come along and make a statue of me. That was your choice. Who do you think you are, anyway? Going round making statues of people without asking them first?”
“But you weren’t around to ask. You didn’t exist. I made you, hacked you out of a lump of stone. If it wasn’t for me, you could have been made into a fireplace or the entrance to some hotel lobby.”
“Exactly,” she exclaimed. “If I had been one of those things then I wouldn’t be worrying about somewhere to live. But no, you have to interfere and make me into a statue. It seems to me that you have to take responsibility for your actions. You have responsibility for my welfare.”
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