The marble was flawed. Anyone could see that. Though the translucent block of pearl-white stone appeared whole and lovely, moving into a different angle of light clearly revealed the tiny webs and fractures that made it all but useless for sculpture. The Sculptor eyed the marble with a critical and irritable eye.
"Perhaps Michelangelo could create from this damaged stone," he thought, "as he created the timeless 'David', but I am not Michelangelo!"
He turned and walked around the block where it stood on his artists' pedestal, again and again, taking in the sight of both the glory and failing of the stone.
"I cannot work with this," he sighed. He laid his hand upon it, and felt the tingle of mystic power within the vibrant pillar -- deep in his mind he felt fashioned the image of what lay hidden within.
The Sculptor stepped back to his worktable and took up the narrow-bladed chisel and the small wooden mallet, the tools of his artistry. Then returning to the marble he carefully placed edge against the stone, lightly tapped it with the hammer, and the first shaving of his creation slipped away like gossamer on the wind...
Caleb MacDhougal was impossible. He was intractable. He was rude, and curt, and foul-mouthed. He was unapproachable, solitary and unkind. Very few persons in the graduate program for Art Therapy at Brakespear College held much hope for his success in that field. Very few persons wanted anything to do with him, because he was so all- around unpleasant. But in spite of all the negative things he was, he had a way with whatever medium he chose to work in, and the spark of genius could be said to burn in him somewhere.
"If only he weren't so damned secretive and arrogant and unsociable!" said Lindy Walker as she walked with friends toward Hillyer Hall, the site of the first of many practicum classes for art therapy grad students. She spoke to her circle of friends, gathered in the previous year of the program.
"And strange," added Alex Burton. "Always wearing that hood and cape and those tan leather gloves!" He pursed his lips. "I've even seen him in the studios painting or drawing or whatever, still wearing the hood and gloves. I think he's obsessed."
"With what?" asked another of the group. She was a newcomer to Brakespear, having transferred to the school to finish her degree. Alex looked her up and down, as if to say "I don't know you, so why should I answer your questions?"
"Jyl-Ann Korotev," she ventured by way of introduction, and at a slight nod by Lindy, Alex continued.
"I think he views himself as some kind of eccentric artiste, with his put-on airs. He won't make much of a therapist, though, with whatever emotional baggage he carries along with him all the time. That's why he's so rude, you know?"
Conversation ceased as the group entered their classroom. It ceased not because of their entering, but because the subject of their discussion was already there, seated defensively with his back to the far wall, facing the door. Jyl-Ann got her first look at the much- discussed genius cum s.o.b.
There wasn't a lot to see. Caleb MacDhougal wore a long, midnight blue cape which sported a deep hood. This effectively hid his face in deep shadows, even in the bright fluorescent light of the classroom. All that could be seen was the slight movement and angry sparkle of his eyes. His jeans poked out from beneath the cloak, and the hint of a dark shirt could be seen in the sleeves that were firmly overlapped by the ends of long, tan leather gloves covering his hands.
He studiously ignored the others after their entrance, and they all took seats on the opposite side of the room from him.
Jyl-Ann was intrigued. Caleb radiated quite clearly that he wished to be left alone in whatever private hell he was in. Jyl-Ann couldn't imagine what could tear a person up so... or she could, but having dealt with her own darkness with the help of a loving husband and a committed priest-counselor, she sometimes lost sight of the pain and anger that could twist and gnaw and destroy a person's self- respect and self-love.
Rather than join the others in their rejection of Caleb, Jyl-Ann walked over to the seat next to his and asked, "Is this seat taken?"
The hooded head jerked up and bright blue eyes turned to glare up at her... she sensed the utter rage trembling beneath the eccentric clothing. Nothing was said for a moment, then he croaked hoarsely, "No, sit wherever the hell you like," and returned to contemplation of the sketchbook he was holding.
Jyl-Ann cautiously stole a glance at the image of charcoal tiger lillies and cornflowers on the paper. It was elegant, and she said so. Caleb snorted in disgust, whisking the sketchbook closed and slamming his books upon it with a finality that reverberated across the room. Gingerly she took the seat next to him, surreptitiously finding Lindy's gaze, hoping for support, but finding nothing but tense astonishment there and in the eyes of the rest of the class. It was with relief that she realized Mark Kaiser had entered the room and begun taking role call.
When finished, Mr. Kaiser turned to Jyl-Ann with a reassuring smile. "Ah, yes. A fine new face in our midst. Would you like to take the floor and tell the class something about yourself?"
"Sure. I've been interested in art therapy since I was a senior in high school. I took one of those general interest computer tests and realized art therapy was the perfect combination of my love for the visual arts and what I believe to be a gift for helping people. I don't want that to sound conceited, but I have been told over my lifetime that I'm sensitive -- sometimes overly so -- to the hurt felt by others, and have wanted to alleviate that hurt as best I could whenever possible. I've been working toward this degree on and off now for over seven years, and am very glad to settle down and finish it here at Brakespear."
"Well, good. We're glad to have you here. Now for an icebreaker to get everyone loosened up for the year ahead. Think of an object or group of objects that symbolizes what you would like to accomplish this year. Using any media you have available, depict that object or objects, and then partner up with one or two people and tell them about your goals."
Jyl-Ann watched Caleb while arranging her materials. He sat still, but for twirling a silver pen, staring into space. She settled to work, mentally sighing and asking for prayerful guidance. Her gentle scrolls were abruptly interrupted by a series of low growls from Caleb and the scrape of rough strokes of charcoal meeting paper. Then silence.
She shifted her weight to lean closer to the dark form next to her and cleared her throat expectantly. "Caleb." A nudging. Soft. He began twirling the pen again. Before him on the page lay a stark, reflective hunting knife glistening with fresh blood. He said no word.
"Caleb." She brushed his shoulder with her hand. He started violently and leaned back away from her to stare viciously. "My friends call me Jyl. Um, my goals are depicted here" she moved the pastel scrollwork of vines and leaves around a glowing cross closer to Caleb's workspace "by the obnoxious growth of these flowers... I hope not only to be taught how to be an art therapist, but also to be my own client, working with others and God to better understand me and my inner soul."
Caleb stared at her with clenched jaw until she squirmed uneasily, then slowly turned to his own drawing, tapping a slow beat on the blade of the knife with the pen at each uttered word. "Revulsion. Fear. Mutilation. Death."
After class Lindy caught stride with Jyl, popping with questions. "What do you think of Caleb, Jyl? How could you stand to sit next to him? Did he say anything to you? Haven't you heard the stories about him? Did you get a look at his face?" At this last Lindy put on a contorted expression.
Raising an eyebrow in question Jyl replied cautiously, "Alex was right about Caleb having a lot of baggage."
"His face and hands are withered and welted with ghastly scars! Jason told me during class that he caught a glimpse of them when Caleb was rinsing his face in the men's room during that heat wave last summer. Caleb tried to get him to keep quiet about it, but Jason's a born blabbermouth."
And you're certainly not helping matters, thought Jyl, looking around guiltily at the throng of people they'd entered near the Towers snack grill.
"And Alex says he heard that Caleb got those scars from attacking a woman with a knife and trying to rape her--but she got a hold of the knife herself and cut him up!"
"Knife?" Jyl gulped as she remembered Caleb's chilling drawing in class.
"But Sherry says he was caught in a horrible house fire while babysitting two boys."
"Did they survive?" Her voice held a note of sarcasm as she recovered from her personal panic at the rape story. All of this was probably an active textbook case of rampant rumor.
"No. Personally, I think he murdered them and hid them in the basement."
"Lindy, that's ridiculous."
She quickly put a finger to her lips as a threateningly cloaked figure stepped in line two or three people behind them.
"Do you think he heard us?" rasped Lindy in an ill-disguised stage whisper.
Eyes flashing warning, Jyl shook her head curtly and said, "Even if he didn't, which isn't likely, most of the students in our class are probably wondering about him, and I'll bet your talk has piqued interest in our present company, too. Has anyone actually asked Caleb why he wears his cloak?"
"Are you out of your fucking mind?! I won't go anywhere near him!"
"Uh-huh. Which means you've compounded his isolation. Now instead of simply an obsessive oddity you've created grotesque reasons to be both ridiculing and curious of him.
"I want to be your friend, Lindy. And Alex's, and Jason's, and Caleb's, and everyone else's friend. If not close, then politely amiable. I doubt Caleb trusts anyone. But believe me, I want to change that. After all of this spewage gets around, whether or not it is true, Caleb will be doubly hellish, I'm sure. If you have curiosity to cure, confront him yourself. I want no part in your cruelty."
Jyl turned away from Lindy's shocked open-mouthed "O" with sick grumblings in her stomach...but not before they both sensed and saw Caleb gazing steadily at them.
It was with a great shuffling that the girls gathered their food and moved into the room. Jyl stopped and looked apologetically at Lindy. "I'm sorry. He scares me, too. But I'm determined not to let my fear keep me from trying to get to know him better. I'll see you later. I'd like to be by myself for awhile." Jyl moved away slowly and took a seat in an almost-deserted alcove and picked dejectedly at her salad, her appetite long gone. Brooding, she glanced up to see stark blue eyes gazing at her from the depths of a hood not more than two table lengths away.
The form was there. A basic, rough-hewn shape almost clawed from the stone by the chisel laying inert now in The Sculptor's slick- sweated hand. A precarious balance was held in this block. He traced the dark flaws with his fingertips, straining in his mind to see how he might integrate this ugliness into the frozen beauty he wished to create. A misplaced tap, a too-eager breaking out of the form toward the details he saw deep within the rock could end in absolute, shattered chaos. It was a precarious balance indeed.
Jyl stared at her salad for a long moment, stabbing at it with a trapped vengeance while under Caleb's scrutiny. Why does he watch me so? "...trying to rape her..." It's only a vicious rumor... right? She pushed her bowl away in contempt. How could she allow herself to fall into that talk trap...even momentarily? She set her chin in the cup of her hands, fading into thought.
So what's wrong with admitting I'm afraid? He does cut a menacing figure, even if I don't know the true reason why. How would he react to such honesty? Is he afraid of nothing? The memory of his staccato croaks, "Repulsion. Fear. Mutilation. Death." echoed in her mind, causing her to narrow her eyes and lean into her hands to attempt to read the suddenly guarded sparkle staring back. Or does he soak up all fear and hatred and shock encountered from others to reflect it out again in a front of omnipotence? If it's only a front...
But even if it is a front, I still can't bring myself to ply excuses for Lindy's "revelation" about him. Surely he heard. And I doubt he's a fool.
The best I can do is try to find the good in him and focus on it.
What if, inside, hidden beneath the shield of dark shadows and wicked silence there is a man repulsed, afraid, and lividly hateful of himself?
Then I can only accept him as he is, reach for the good, and continue to be honest. Perhaps he may come to trust me.
At this she walked over to him and waved meekly. "You've frightened me, watching me this afternoon. What do you find so fascinating about me?"
Caleb snorted, retorting, "You're afraid. Good."
Jyl felt a shiver of dread pale her face ashen. "They're only rumors!" she screamed to herself.
"As to fascination, I could ask the same of you." He rose then, towering above her in a swirl of cloth and scent of soap, and stalked from the hall, whipping his dishes on the conveyer belt with a clatter.
Over the next few weeks, Jyl gently and persistently greeted Caleb every day in their classes with a soft "Good morning" or "Hello". Tense and silent, he turned his back on everyone while working, jealous in his protection of his project plans before completion. Jyl never intruded, but she let her presence be felt by tentative verbal nudgings when the frustration of artistic failure loomed too closely.
One morning, Jyl came to class early to gain some quiet time for finishing a project, and Caleb's entrance was felt more than actually seen. Her greeting to him was subdued and preoccupied. He settled with a huff, then grumped a low "Hi" in her direction. Jyl froze for a fraction of a second, her eyes grown wide at the gutteral sound. Her smile of pleasure was evident despite her attempt to control it.
Another sliver fell away. With an exasperated expulsion of air, The Sculptor pushed away from the table and stood to stretch. The faint hint of a leaf. But that damn flaw held him in check. He was tempted to crack it with one deft blow...but that would shatter the grace he'd been coaxing from the stone. Little pieces of marble, some no longer than his thumbnail, littered the floor. This was the only way.
To Jyl's dismay, her classmates did not share her desire to befriend Caleb. Most simply ignored him. One or two bordered on the obnoxious with references to the "Phantom of the Opera" and "the Shadow knows". And of course there were the rumors. The frequency of halted conversations at her entry and Caleb's increased gruffness caused her to be afraid.
Did Caleb even notice the energy she used to protect him from Jason and Alex's incessant teasing and spying? She tried to pierce his menace by being present for him, tried to remain vulnerable and accepting to ease him into a friendship with her. She shuddered with the realization that he could heartlessly rend what threads of watchfulness and privacy she'd already drawn with only a few curt words or actions. He was cold, arrogant, and sealed in a shroud of crushing bitterness. Was she really up against the monster Lindy hinted lurked in that hood? One who did not want her protection nor her attentiveness no matter how subtle she was? This possibility had not occurred to her before. And it hurt like hell.
Maybe she could work out some of her anxiety in the ceramics studio. Clay didn't move as freely as a pencil and paper, but she did find it was safer to punch around than most other solid objects, like apartment walls.
Anxious and pensive on entering the room, she found a little relief in that there were only a few people present, but not so much that Caleb was one of them. Her greeting to him was barely a whisper. He shifted his weight uncomfortably, gave her a shallow wave, then returned his attention to the potter's wheel he contemplated. She quietly stepped up beside him and studied the cylinder of clay with him. "What will it be, Caleb?"
"A study in clay netting. Coiled lace on the outer walls."
"You must have very deft fingers for detail work like that, Caleb. I'm sure it'll be gorgeous." Jyl turned to slice off a chunk of clay from the storage supply, and began kneading it and mashing it just for its energy absorbing properties. Caleb fired up the wheel and began weaving the shining coils around his vessel. As the pattern grew, Caleb half stood in his concentration. Out of the corner of her eye Jyl saw Christy lugging a five-gallon bucket of glaze behind Caleb, trying to get through a space too narrow. With a clunk and a splash the bucket hit Caleb in the back of the knees, throwing him forward.
The sound of Caleb's work collapsing beneath his body seemed loud in the sudden silence of the room. For a moment, everything seemed frozen in a tableau. Then Caleb was straightening up, whirling on Christy who backed down the aisle between two worktables, terrified at the angry fire in his eyes. Caleb's arm was an accusing lance pointing at her as he hissed, "You clumsy... stupid... fucking FOOL ! DAMN you!"
Jyl covered the distance in two strides, yanking on Caleb's shoulder in urgent determination. "Caleb! Caleb, stop it! Look at me!" Jyl stepped between Caleb and his quarry, near-desperation in her eyes. She took his hands in hers, encased though they were in clay-mucked plastic and leather gloves, and peered into the deep hood.
She would have recoiled at the danger she saw there, but suddenly the pressure of control between them was not hers. "Caleb?" she whispered, fighting down the apprehension as she stared at the shadowy fissures and weathered parchment that were the left side of his face.
"I have been working for two months on this piece, and she doesn't even have the grace to say 'excuse me'? I could have moved aside, you know." Christy's inane babbling apologies caused Caleb to turn on her, still gripping Jyl's hands. "You're careless. You're an idiot. Why didn't you just ask me to move? I don't know how you ever got into this program. You've destroyed two months of my work!"
Jyl tugged on his hands, drawing his attention back to her. "Caleb, was this a project for one of your classes?" she asked.
"Hell, no," he said bitterly. "I was just doing this for... for... me. Just because I like ceramics... and sculpture... just because..." His anger was lessening. His grip on her hands weakened. And finally, his lips pursed tightly in a thin pale line, he brusquely pulled his hands from Jyl's. He turned to the wheel, swept the crushed fragments of his creation to the floor, and strode coldly from the room without a backward glance.
Jyl didn't know if she should give chase or remain still. But she probably should breathe again. With a whoosh she let the tension of the last few minutes go, and sucked air into her lungs once more. Christy was crying. "He's not a monster, you know." Jyl looked at her defiantly, threw her poundings and Caleb's fragments into the scrap barrel, and left.
A quick stop at the front desk confirmed Caleb's apartment being a floor up from Jyl's. She climbed the stairs, and soon found herself poised to knock on his door. But the muffled sounds of metal against stone stopped her. Working again. Didn't his ideas ever stop? Didn't he ever get blocked? Didn't he ever get tired? Jyl smiled, shook her head. He's okay. And she snuck back to her rooms as quietly as she'd come.
Jyl remembered she still had to mount three drawings for the critique tomorrow. It was actually a finalist judging done by the art professors for the Brakespear Student Art Show. They would choose no more than five entries from each class. Hope and competition was high in the studios this time of year.
Jyl hoped Jason wouldn't throw a fit about Christy. They'd been going together for two years, and he was almost fanatic about his protection of her from Caleb. Nothing had happened. Jyl had seen to that. But events like that always managed to blow out of proportion. She sighed and settled to work. Only morning would give the answers.
When Jyl entered the gallery the next day where the judging was to take place, Jason and Caleb were already having an argument. Or rather, Christy was standing off to the side with a smug look on her face talking to Lindy while Jason yelled at Caleb. Said midnight tower stood his ground in silent contempt.
"One of these days, Mr. MacDhougal, you'll go too far. Then you'll be sorry you ever haunted the Brakespear campus." Jason never addressed Caleb by his first name. The formality lent more non- humanity to his attacks.
"Don't threaten him, Jason." Jyl walked over.
"Oh, so now you've got a guardian angel, Mr. MacDhougal. Is she acting as your tongue today?"
"No." One word.
"Let it be, Jason. Caleb didn't hurt Christy physically, and he was rightfully angry. Caleb lost a piece of artwork. Christy lost a little courage. It's over."
"That's what you think." Jason crossed the hall grumbling.
Jyl didn't like the look of things. She shot a side-long glance at Caleb. He met her gaze. "While the profs are puttering around, how would you like to do a tandem critique of our own work?" she asked.
"You want to know what I think of your work?"
"And I'd like to see what other ingenious ideas you've tried and been successful with. That vase was fantastic."
"Yeah." Gruff. "Well, come here then."
Their voices were low as the judges started their rounds. Jyl was careful to praise and encourage, and to ask Caleb before handling any of his pieces. They were all sculptured in some form.
"How do you do that, Caleb?" Jyl remarked on a three-foot-high marble carving of a gnome. "It's stone, for God's sake. How do you get a creature like that out of stone?"
"You've seen my woodcarving, right? It's like that only the surface is much harder." Caleb moved in front of Jyl's softsculpture train. "I think your embroidery balances the cab and cars well. You're talented in sculpture and details too, Jyl." Jyl blushed under the fond warmth in his eyes.
They sat on a bench to critique other students' work for the rest of the afternoon. And immersed as they were in their world of color and symbolism, they both started when Jason exploded in fury at the judges' announcements of the show entries.
"I should have been in this show. Not YOU!" He pointed a vicious finger at Caleb. "What did you do to weasel your way into this thing, you son-of-a-bitch?"
"He didn't do anything other than produce work better than yours, Jason." Jyl looked from Caleb's gold -starred gnome to Caleb with a smile.
Jason turned on Jyl with disgust. "And you!" Jyl's head snapped up in surprise. "What the hell do you get out of being near him? A good fuck? Is he "loveable and capable"? Do you "ease his pain" with sexual favors? You're a goddamn fucking SLUT!"
Jyl sputtered and shook at the absurd cruelty of Jason's words. She suddenly felt very small. Choking back a sob, she ran from the room to escape the eyes that stared at her.
Caleb rose slowly from his seat, and glared at Jason squarely in the eye, measuring him. "I usually let shit run off me like water off the back of a duck. But not when it involves my friends." He hauled back and hit Jason in the stomach, doubling him over. Caleb looked at him dispassionately and then stalked from the hall.
The Sculptor had been working for hours. Paper was strewn over the table and floor in utter disarray, sketches of the form before him. Maybe it would work. Why hadn't he thought of it before? Could he actually make the flaw a fair part of the statue?
The next day, Caleb's chair in class was empty. Jyl tapped her pencil on the table. He'd never missed a class. She looked furtively at Jason and Christy. The former was stonefaced. She traced circles over her paper with her fingertips, made some weak scribbles. She frowned. Was he sick? Had something happened to him? She made a face at her work and threw it away.
Afterwards, Lindy came up to her with awe in her eyes. "You should have seen what Caleb did to Jason after you left!"
Jyl's stomach took a flip. "What did Caleb do after I left?"
Lindy put her arm on Jyl's shoulder confidentially and said, "He rumbled something about crap not affecting him unless it had to do with his friends, and then he slugged Jason in the gut!"
Jyl's eyes were wide with concern."What did Jason do then?"
"He just doubled over moaning, and Caleb walked out of the room."
Jyl looked around, hoping to see the familiar dark shadow, but he wasn't there. So why hadn't Caleb been in class?
She practically ran to Caleb's apartment, surprised to find no answer to her knock, and the door unlocked.
But more astonishing was the fragile marble cluster of flowers on the table. Polished and glowing, it sat in elegant splendor among a sheaf of scattered sketches, which showed various views of a deep flaw in the stone. Jyl traced the delicate form with her fingertips, then remembered why she'd come.
"Caleb?" She walked to the living room. No one. She walked down the back hall, and knocked softly at his bedroom. No answer. She peeked in. He lay sprawled on his bed in peaceful slumber, bare to the waist. His scars extended down his arms and chest, slightly warping the muscles in streaks of white and faded brown. Embarrassed to find him so vulnerable, she approached slowly, and drew the cover over him to his neck. Her touch awakened him.
He pulled back somewhat, his eyes shifting between question and guarded uncertainty. "What are you doing here?"
Jyl's embarrassment increased. "You...you weren't in class this morning. I...I was worried about you. So I came up here to check on you."
"Oh." He burrowed deeper in the blanket, gazing at her uncomfortably. "Why were you worried about me? Why bother?"
Jyl smiled and gently touched his scarred cheek. He started to pull away, grimaced, then allowed himself to come back against her hand. "Caleb, you're my friend." She squeezed his shoulder, then rocked back up on her feet. "C'mon. Get up. I'll go in the other room so you can get dressed."
She walked out in the hall, then called back, "Those flowers on the table are gorgeous."
"Oh that. I've been working on that for a long time. The biggest bitch was trying to work around the flaw."
"How did you do it?"
"I realized I had to work with the flaw, and not against it. I think the whole thing is stronger now."
"Like Michelangelo's 'David'?"
They were silent for a few moments, then Jyl scuffed her toe on the carpet and asked, "Why didn't you go to class today?"
A long pause, then a sigh. "I had some thinking to do."
Jyl nodded to herself, stroking the scars on her arm, remembering the hopelessness and pain in a young girl's mind so many years ago. "Do you want to talk about it?" She moved to the living room as Caleb emerged in jeans and a green short-sleeved shirt.
He stood running his fingers through his hair, watching her. Abruptly, he turned to trail his hand along the edge of the table. "I've been working on this all semester, you know." He grazed the petal edges of the statue with his fingertips. "Do you recognize it?"
Jyl moved to stand opposite him. "No...you've never done... wait a minute! Cornflowers and tiger lillies!" She locked her gaze with his in confirmation. "It's from that drawing I saw the first day of class, right?"
She crouched down at eye level with the piece to scrutinize it more closely. Then she turned and said softly, "Does this tie in somehow with what's bothering you?"
"Yeah." He ran his fingers through his hair again, not looking at her.
"Caleb." She rose, taking one of his hands in hers, gazing at him plainly. "I'm your friend. Talk to me."
He pulled away and strode to the window. For some time he simply stood gazing out at the lawn. "When I was in third grade my art class took a field trip to a glassblower's shop," he spat through his teeth.
"A field trip."
"Yeah." His face took on a pained expression, his knuckles white on the sash of the window."Some of the finished pieces sat on a shelf, cooling. They glowed. I thought there was some kind of magic inside." Then he turned and slowly sat down on the couch. "Why the hell am I telling you this? You don't need to know this! I feel like it's being pulled from me one fucking word at a time."
Jyl wondered if he'd ever fully trust her. Her voice was very quiet as she spoke. "What do you think I'm going to do to you if you keep talking, Caleb?"
"I don't know. Go away."
"That's right. You don't know. And I'm not going away, either. That's what everyone else has done, isn't it? Talk to me."
Caleb turned to stare at her. The light in his eyes was hard. "What do you know about what others have done? Except run away from me as fast as they could because they were terrified at what they saw?"
"Caleb, I didn't run away from you. And I don't blame you for your being scarred. Did you ever think that the others ran away from you not because of what they saw, because you've always worn your cape, but because of what they've felt from you? When I approached you that first day of classes, I could almost tangibly grasp your anger."
"Of course I know that!" he exploded. "I drove them away! That fucking cape is my protection against this whole shit-filled world!" His voice caught and he covered it over with a cough. "But hiding doesn't work anymore." he added softly.
He sat there for a minute or two, clenching and unclenching his fists. Then he laughed without mirth, saying, "When no one was looking, I put my hands around one of those fucking vases." He mocked childlike wonder and the fateful action. "The shock sent me into convulsions, and the glass spread and splattered over my body like the Blob." He rubbed at his arms and hands as though to scrub the scars off, then wiped his hands on his thighs. He looked reluctantly at Jyl. "The damage was already done by the time the teachers could get there to help me."
Jyl sat still for a long time, letting his words sink in, trying to send acceptance to him. She slowly held out her hand. "Magic is a great thing, you know. And I think there's still a spark of it inside you, because you've managed to become a successful artist despite the pain you experienced."
He glanced at her then, and back to his open, welted palms. "Yeah. Pain. It's interesting, isn't it, that I'm a sculptor now, and that I work with cold things... clay and marble and the like." Uncertainty still lingered in his voice.
"Jyl." He gingerly placed his hand in hers. "I realized yesterday that I've never let the bitterness go." His grip tightened. "For all these years I've clung to the rumors, to the teasing and the cruelty and the ugliness, and let them devour me into a shadow." He took a shaky breath, looked at her squarely. "I've never stood up for me as a man. I...I've always lived as the monster everyone's said I am. I've had to come to terms with that."
Jyl smiled at him, stroking the back of his hand with her thumb. "You've taken some large steps toward that goal right here, Caleb."
"I know. But I think I've still got a long way to go. I've only begun to break my own shell." He paused, thoughtful. "I realized something else, too."
"Being present and listening to a person is 95 percent of being a therapist. Not jabbering advice." He looked at her with a spark of hope in his eyes. "Thanks for being here, Jyl."
"That's what friends are for."
They sat that way, in comfortable rapport, for the better part of half an hour. Then they stood, and Jyl moved to give Caleb the hooded cloak hanging by the door. But he stopped her with a wave of a disfigured hand.
"No, I don't need that anymore."
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 1, Number 1 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1991 Andrea Payne.