Previously in Unbound Fiction:
"Dreams of the Old Green Man," by Poe Ballantine (November 17, 1999)
"Be Here Now," by Lisa Zeidner (October 20, 1999)
"The Bell Rope," by M. J. Clement (September 22, 1999)
"Everyone Please Be Careful," by Lucia Nevai (August 25, 1999)
"Fundamentals of Communication," by Thisbe Nissen (July 28, 1999)
"Vigil," by David Gates (June 23, 1999)
"Meredith Toop Evans & His Butty, Ernie the Egg," by Alex Keegan (May 26, 1999)
"Introducing Unbound Fiction," by Katherine Guckenberger (May 26, 1999)
December 29, 1999
en people stood in the Tribune of the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence.
The three adults were physicians. Dr. Finlay Finch, superbly mustached, was a cardiologist in his middle forties. Although he wore the regulation tourist outfit -- pants, shirt, leather pouch -- no one in his party would have been surprised if he had drawn a mailing tube out of his pocket to auscultate the statues' chests.
His wife, Dr. Mary Finch (she had changed her surname at marriage), was small and meek looking. She was an anesthetist. His sister, Dr. Amanda Finch (she had not changed her name at marriage), was a tall, beautiful redhead. She practiced psychiatry.
Amanda's husband -- Dr. Harold Logan -- had not come to the Galleria that morning. "The David can wait," he had told Amanda. "Today I will lounge in bed. I will examine the shadows of the leaves on the ceiling. Later I will take a long bath."
Of the seven fidgeting young Finches and Logans in the Tribune of the Galleria, three were male and four female. Their ages ranged from seventeen to eleven. Two were twins.
Dr. Finlay Finch began to talk. He was in good voice. He did not use the thunderous baritone he had employed for the Richard II speech two weeks earlier ("this royal throne of kings," etc.); but the Galleria Dell'Accademia was a lot smaller than Trafalgar Square. Nor did he adopt the more-in-sorrow tone that had distinguished his impromptu denunciation of the Pei pyramid at the Louvre. He wasn't oratorical, either; he was planning to fulminate against Cataline next Wednesday, on the Roman forum. Today he was merely thinking aloud, offering a few anecdotes about Michelangelo. His inflection was, for him, chummy.
"Snatched from his mother's arms at birth," Dr. Finch observed, "thrust onto the bosom of an indifferent wet nurse, miles away from the home he did not yet know, the little boy started life as an outcast. What an affinity he must have felt for that misshapen block of Carrara marble, botched by an earlier sculptor, waiting forty years for his hands. He alone could release the warrior within." Dr. Finch turned toward the statue. "Artists often represent mythical or historical figures in the nude," he remarked.
It was as if the apples from the tree of knowledge had fallen directly into their mouths. Laura Finch and Laura Logan (born a few weeks apart thirteen years ago, named for their mutual grandmother) had seen naked figures in the museums they had raced through in other cities. But this was too much. Confronted with genitalia so florid, they began to snicker. Dr. Finlay Finch bent upon them his mild frown. The snickers turned into giggles. Dr. Amanda Finch shot them warning glances. The giggles became hiccuping laughter. Dr. Mary Finch, summoning an authority usually reserved for the operating room, waved them away. With eyes and noses hysterically streaming, the Lauras ran out of the Galleria.
Now the visitors numbered eight.
Dr. Finlay Finch went benignly on. "Florentine Renaissance statuary," he said, "was not intended to be a mere imitation of nature. Nor was it intended to function as pure symbol. Every statue, as in the case of every human being, was like no other. Each burned with an interior life."
Burning with their own interior lives -- appetite and mischief were the chief components -- the twins fled. Miles instigated. Matt was willing.
Mary Finch sighed, but did not stop her sons. Nothing was demanded of the eleven-year-old boys except to remember the name of their hotel and to carry a map between them. (They were doing this literally in Florence. The map of the city had been pulled in two during an altercation; one half reposed in each twin's back pocket.)
Finlay Finch told the reduced audience (six now, himself included) about the original placement of the statue. Intended as a civic monument, it was meant to adorn a buttress of the Duomo. But it was too delicate and too beautiful for so remote a situation. The citizens had to put it elsewhere. Where?
Alan Finch wondered if his cousin Vera Logan had anything left of the grass they'd bought in a cool gray corner of the Palais Royale.
"Michelangelo had wanted his work to stand in the loggia of the palace."
Vera Logan wondered if yesterday's friends would be back on the Ponte Vecchio today.
"But people of influence had preferred the palace courtyard. A fiery debate ensued. The courtyard won the statue. And there it stood, victim to the weather, until 1882 when it was moved, not to the loggia, but to this cramped location. Meanwhile, a poor copy was erected in the courtyard; many an unsuspecting traveler paid homage to that ersatz masterpiece."
Alan and Vera exchanged a glance. They dawdled separately out of the Tribune and out of the Galleria. On Via Ricasoli they fell rapidly into step.
That left four: Nina Logan and the three adults.
Finlay Finch in a rapturous flashback told them of Michelangelo's untiring work on his assignment. "Genius doing its job," he said.
Mary smiled at her husband. Her admiration of him had remained undiminished through the years, partly because she knew when to transfer her attention elsewhere. Now she murmured a few words and wandered into the next room, where she found one of her many namesakes.
"See the cautious eyes," said Finlay. "See the knitted brow. See the colossal right hand, hiding the stone. See the steady left hand, lightly holding the sling."
And see the curls, thought Amanda: like Harold's hair after a bath. She wondered if her husband were in his bath yet. She wondered if he were still in bed.
With the ardor of a loved wife and the stealth of a kid sister, Amanda glided sideways out of the Tribune.
Dr. Finlay Finch moved discreetly backwards. He had done his learned best.
Nina Logan stood facing the masterpiece. Its nakedness had unnerved the Lauras. Its beauty had been lost on the twins. Its politics had left the potheads cold. The biography of its creator had wearied her aunt. Its pose had sent her mother off on a mysterious errand.
Nina stepped forward.
She was fifteen. He had been about the same age. She was the middle daughter of two psychoanalysts. He had been the youngest son of a shepherd. He would slay Goliath, become Saul's favorite. He would be a great king. He'd get into trouble with women. His son would rise against him. He'd end up feeling a failure.
But all that history lay ahead. This boy was not yet David the king. This was not even David the slayer of the giant. This was David before the battle -- wary, unproven, hopeful.
She could taste his anxiety. How would he measure up against the Philistine? How long would the people applaud if he prevailed? How long would they mourn if he went down? Could prophecies of greatness be trusted? And was this crowd worth saving, anyway? This band of warring tribes?
But she shared his confidence, too. He had yet to be beaten in a fight. Though his voice was still sweet and high, he knew himself to be a man. He loved his harp, his sheep, and his hills; but he felt the lure of statecraft, of generalship, of empire. In his mind's eye he could see Jerusalem, as he would build it. The enemy approaches. Courage. One step at a time.
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Edith Pearlman's collection of stories, Vaquita (Pittsburgh University Press), won the Drue Heinz Fiction Prize in 1996. She is working on a new collection, which will include "Girl and Marble Boy."
Copyright © 1999 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.