Miles away, The Sculptor wiped the spittle from his father’s chin. Instead of seating him as he usually did in the big chair by the window, The Sculptor had served his father his supper in bed that evening. He had played a few episodes of The Shadow on the CD player inside the old Philco and thought he saw the left corner of his father’s mouth curl up ever so slightly during the introduction.
Then again, The Sculptor could not be sure. His mind might be playing tricks on him, for he was tired-very tired. And he had been working very, very hard lately. His Piet`a was completed-had come together in just over two weeks from the afternoon he picked up RounDaWay17 at Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence. Then again, in a way he had cheated, for The Sculptor had finished off many components of his Piet`a over a year ago-the metal frame, the rock of Golgotha on which the Virgin would be seated, the contours of her flowing robes. And of course, the most important parts of the Virgin herself-her head, her hands, her breasts-had been preserved, articulated, and painted long before Bacchus and his satyr went into the pressurized tub of chemicals.
Back then, when he first started experimenting with pieces of the women, the Plastination process took much longer than it did now-just as long as it still took von Hagens and his team over in Heidelberg, Germany. But The Sculptor had made improvements on von Hagens’s methods; he found that he could speed up the process considerably by alternating pressure and energy currents through the solvent, as well as by inserting thin “conductor tubes” at key points around the body between the various tissues. And unlike von Hagens, who skinned his subjects to display the muscles and internal organs, The Sculptor, who had no need for the insides, found that hollowing out the torso and placing a single conductor tube along the spine would help speed up the process even more. And so, whereas it took von Hagens months, sometimes a whole year to prepare and then pose a figure, it now took The Sculptor-working diligently, around the clock-just a little over a week.
Yes, The Sculptor could have made quite a bit of money patenting the improvements on von Hagens’s Plastination process if he wished. But then again, The Sculptor was not concerned with such base matters as money.
Ironically, it was the skin that had always given The Sculptor the most trouble, for during the process of preparing his figures The Sculptor found that, after dissolving the hair with depilatory cream and removing the lipid tissues from underneath, the skin became loose and slippery and very difficult to work with. And only through trial and error with the pieces of the women did he finally find the right balance of traditional tanning techniques and the methodology he adapted from von Hagens. The result gave him a tighter surface through which he could articulate the veins and muscle tissue underneath for desired definition and detail, yet the skin remained porous enough so that his mixture of special paint bonded with it nicely.
Indeed, once you got past all the trial and error, all the experimentation with this or that much of yada-yada-chemical, the rest of the process was pretty straightforward. After The Sculptor hung and drained his material from a large hook he had attached to the bottom of the mortician’s table-and after the internal organs had been discarded and the preliminary embalming of formaldehyde complete-The Sculptor followed his improvements upon the Plastination process until it was time to pose the prepared figures and let the silicone harden in a bubble of plastic sheeting heated by UV lamps. Unlike with his Bacchus, the appendages of which required a much more complex articulation process to get the positional ratios correct, the Rome Piet`a did not take nearly as long. The Piet`a was much tighter, much more compact in the way the original figures’ limbs had been carved from the marble. The real trick had been getting the angles right-the Virgin’s arms, the tilt of her head, the degree of incline of Christ on her lap.
As with his Bacchus, The Sculptor discovered that he could save himself a lot of trouble if he got the angles of the iron frame right first. And since the Virgin’s body would be almost entirely hidden under her robes, there was really no need to worry about damaging that material. Thus, The Sculptor had much more room for error, much more room with which to play in terms of manipulating the figure onto the frame. Then once both of the bodies were cured, stuffed, and mounted-and once the Virgin’s head and her hands and her breasts had been attached and the last of her robes laid on and starched into the right pattern of folds-The Sculptor adjusted Mother and Son’s plastinated limbs by tying them off and suspending them at various heights from rows of smaller hooks that he had fixed to the underside of the mortician’s table. After enclosing the statue in a ring of clear plastic sheeting running from the underside of the table to the floor, and after the silicone rubber had hardened under the heat of the UV lamps, all that he needed to do was sculpt the epoxy compound for Christ’s hair and his beard, let it dry, then layer his paint on with his pump sprayer until he achieved the desired finish.
The last of the paint had gone on that morning.
And even though he was tired, even though he had worked feverishly for days with little or no sleep, as The Sculptor pulled the blankets up to his father’s chin, he was nonetheless pleased not only with how quickly his Piet`a had come together, but also with how beautiful it had turned out in the end. Even better than my Bacchus, he thought, smiling. The Sculptor could not help but feel giddy when he imagined what Dr. Hildy’s reaction would be-knew that when it was all over she would thank him when she saw, when she understood how his work had changed the world. Yes, very soon she would learn to appreciate him.
Of course, in the end, it was really he who appreciated her. Oh yes, The Sculptor had much to thank her for. And hopefully, when she saw the DVD he sent her, when she understood just one of the many reasons why fate had brought them together, maybe she would already start to appreciate him.
Just a little.
The Sculptor knew that Dr. Hildy would most likely receive the DVD today or tomorrow-might have already watched it, for that matter. He hoped she had, for the information she and the FBI would get from watching it would help him in his plan. The Sculptor had wanted to deliver the DVD personally-had wanted to slip it in her mailbox himself just like the old days when he used to sneak into the List Art Center to deliver the notes, his heart pounding with fear and excitement. But now things were different, and he dared not get too close. Yes, The Sculptor knew the FBI was probably still watching Dr. Hildy very closely; which was why, since the unveiling of his Bacchus, he had driven by her place on the Upper East Side only twice-in disguise; in his third car, his ’99 Porsche 911. The Sculptor always used his Camry to drive by the Polks’-much less conspicuous in that neighborhood. The Sculptor could tell by the metal mailbox next to Dr. Hildy’s front door that she was still picking up her mail even though she was staying with her friend Janet-the older woman, the one who looked like that tennis player from the 1970s, Billie Jean King.
Tennis players. The Sculptor hated tennis players.
As the Shadow set off in pursuit of this week’s villain, The Sculptor watched his father closely. And when he saw his eyes begin to flutter, The Sculptor removed the syringe from his forearm and dabbed the needle mark with an alcohol swab. He had given him just enough of the sleepy juice to keep him dreaming until morning. Yes, The Sculptor knew deep down that his father dreamt-had to be dreaming from the way his face jerked and his eyes twitched when The Sculptor sat in the big chair by the window watching him when he himself could not sleep. Indeed, The Sculptor had conditioned himself over the years to sleep very little-had no need for it other than to repair and rebuild the torn muscle tissue from his strenuous workouts in the cellar. And unlike his father, as far as The Sculptor knew, as far as he could remember, he never dreamt himself.
The Sculptor replaced his father’s colostomy bag, washed his own face and hands in the upstairs bathroom, and lay down naked on his big four-poster bed. He had many years ago redecorated the room in the baroque style of which he had always been the fondest, but his bedroom still carried with it the memories of his youth, especially memories of his mother who, sometimes-when his father was away on business and she had had too much to drink-would crawl into bed naked with him to apologize, to warm him up from the ice baths into which she often plunged him facedown when he was naughty.
The Sculptor reached for the remote control and pressed the On button-the DVD player and the big television in the armoire flickering to life simultaneously. There was no TV reception here-no cable hookup in the main house. No, The Sculptor merely thought of the big TV in the armoire in the corner of the room as his “memory box.” Yes, he would relax for a while in the old routine-he might even allow himself to take a little nap before the big night ahead of him.
The Sony DVD logo dimmed, then was replaced with the trip to Niagara Falls -the first of the eleven 3-minute-long Super 8 films The Sculptor had strung together and digitized onto DVD. The trip to Niagara Falls was silent-shot in 1977 when the boy named Christian was only two years old. There he is in his mother’s arms, waving to the camera by the old-style, coin-operated observation binoculars-the falls misting like ghosts far off in the distance behind them. The mother-a lovely looking woman with large lips and a yellow scarf around her neck-whispers something in the boy’s ear. He laughs and waves again.
The boy is now in his father’s arms, standing next to the same coin-operated binoculars. He waves happily as his father bounces him up and down. No, unlike the man in the room next door, the father has no trouble moving-looks young and handsome and strong in his tight white polo shirt. And his eyes-so full of life, of love for his son and the woman out of sight behind the camera. He blows her a kiss. Does it again. Speaks to his son, and then they both blow her a kiss.
Panning across the falls.
Close-up of the mother at the railing. She gazes out at the scene before her, unaware that her husband is filming. She looks happy, but lost in thought. And The Sculptor, watching from his bed, wonders, as he has done now for many years, what she was thinking at that moment-knows that it is too early for her to be thinking about the tennis pro, the man with whom she would have an affair years later. The mother realizes she is being filmed, smiles, and mouths to the camera shyly, “Eddie stop!” But her husband goes on filming. The wind blows her hair, her yellow scarf, as she tries to look natural. She starts to speak-
The mother with the boy looking out over the falls. The boy has his thumb in his mouth and is snuggled tightly against his mother’s bosom. He seems somewhat afraid-is not crying, but looks only at the camera while his mother speaks to him.
The mother-smiling, holding the sleeping boy in her arms-gets into the passenger side of the white Ford LTD.
The mother, again with the sleeping boy-darker, this time filmed inside the car from the driver’s seat. The camera zooms on the boy named Christian-his thumb still in his mouth.
The father driving, laughing, and speaking to the camera as his wife films him.
A quick series of shots of the road, of the scenery, and then the first reel ends.
The rest of the Super 8s-shot over the next three years-follow the same happy pattern: Lake George, the Story Land theme park in New Hampshire, a trip to the beach at Bonnet Shores. But only the last of the eleven has any sound-shot in 1980, when the boy named Christian was just five years old.
It is his birthday party, in fact, filmed outside in the backyard, against the woods on a bright sunny day of ice cream cake and pin the tail on the donkey. The boy named Christian opens some presents-a soccer ball, a Tonka truck-while other children and people whose names The Sculptor has long forgotten look on with oohs and ahs. The Sculptor knows all the dialogue by heart; he has watched this film many, many times.
“What’s my present gonna be, Mary?” asks his father from behind the camera, to which his mother smiles and replies, “How about a fat lip?”
The partygoers laugh.
There are a couple of quick shots of the boy named Christian kicking the soccer ball across the lawn with a little girl, then finally the scene The Sculptor has looked forward to for thirty-three minutes-the scene for which he always waits so patiently.
The boy named Christian is sitting alone outside at the table-the open canisters of blue and green Play-Doh barely noticeable amidst the paper cups and frosting covered plates that litter the plastic Empire Strikes Back tablecloth. He is hard at work on something-entirely unaware that his father is filming him.
“What are you making, Christian?” asks his father from behind the camera.
“My friend David,” says the boy perfunctorily, not looking up.
“Who’s David?” whispers another man off camera.
“His imaginary friend,” the father whispers back. “Says he lives out back in the carriage house.”
The unidentified man off camera mumbles something inaudible. And with the sounds of partygoers, of happy children echoing off in the distance, just as the camera begins to zoom in on the boy named Christian and his blue-green Play-Doh sculpted man, the home movie of The Sculptor’s fifth birthday party abruptly cuts to black.