The Lady with the Vase

Grace with Urn

by JoAnn




At the forge they melted me, shaped me, seared me strong. I was proud at first. I was designed to reflect the glory of Greece. Wearing flowing robes over a strong torso, I balance an urn upon my head, held by my steadying hands, offering a vision of classic womanly beauty for all to behold.

Yes, I was proud at first. My color was bright, unblemished. The men who made me and my sisters bragged about how their works had impressed what they called the Right People. I was destined for a place of honor in a magnificent new building in New York City. I looked forward to the admiring glances of important men in the halls of power.

Alas, my high expectations were dashed. Although I was placed within that impressive edifice, it was not in a place of honor, but rather in a shadowy niche at the far end of a long, unimportant side corridor. No admiring throngs huddled at my feet. Almost nobody came down the hallway to visit the niche where I stood so straight and tall – only the old janitors who cleaned the floors at night, and they were always looking down as they twirled their mops. They were bored, dull men. None ever looked up at me, none admired my beauty – no homage was paid to the flowing pleats of my garment, to the delicate arch of my forearms, to the massed splendor of my hair.

In vain I yearned to be noticed. Years passed. I grew green and pitted. Cobwebs hung from my elbows, dust filled my urn. My beauty was masked by grime and neglect. Pride had long since dissolved into despair. But I found that despair was not the worst. Oh, no. For, after decades of being ignored, I was declared … unwanted.

Men in overalls came one day and removed me from my niche. At first I was glad of the attention, relieved to abandon my dusty niche. Now perhaps I would be placed at an intersection of corridors, or even before the great wide doors I recalled passing through when I was first brought here. At last, I could claim my rightful place!

But the men were clumsy and rough with me, dropping me and denting my skirts, my face, then wrestling me onto a cart. As they rolled me with no ceremony out of the corridor where I had spent so many lonely years, I saw a now sad and neglected building surrounding me. There were no more crowds, no one around to be aghast at their treatment of me.

They rolled me into the glare and noise of a city street. Then I rode in the back of a truck along with a dozen of my sisters, our fates sealed by changing times. We bumped and rocked in our carts as the truck navigated the city streets, and I sustained more scrapes and dents along the way. Finally we stopped inside a cavernous storage building. There we were unloaded, manhandled off our carts and shoved by straining workers into the dim recesses of the place.

Ignominy. My sisters, mute in horror as I was, stood behind me. Lights were turned off. We stood in silence, in the gloom. Abandoned. I never imagined I could miss the shadowy niche I had occupied for so long, but now I did. For now, not even bored old men with mops and pails passed me by. In that dark place, with the skittering of rats across my toes and the aroma of decay around me, I sank into a deeper despair than I thought possible. If my shoulders could have sagged, I would have put down my lovely urn and wept into my hands.

Time passed, interminable. No light or movement pierced the hours, except on rare occasions when detritus deemed of some possible future use was dumped – as I was – for storage. Nothing was ever taken out of that horrible place. It was as if some cruel creature created this limbo for me just to mock my beauty, to remind me that I was created in vain, for no one would ever see me, no one would ever admire me. I wished I could close my eyes to the futility of my existence, but because of what I am, that mercy was denied me.

Then, one night, I was reborn. A man came … one unlike any I had seen before. He had the most unusual face, and the clearest, most interesting blue eyes. He arrived so silently, like one used to furtive movement. I caught his attention as he prowled among the cast-offs, and his cape swirled around his ankles as he paused before me. My beauty, even begrimed and ruined by casual handling, was enough to stop him in his tracks.

For one magic moment of communication we took each other’s measure. I recognized the admiration in his eyes and if I could have preened, I would have lifted the urn a bit so I could toss my head back, exposing the lovely column of my throat to him. I give him credit - he recognized my worth immediately. I saw him nod to me, a slight smile on his face. He turned and murmured something to another man standing close behind him, and then … so unexpectedly I might have dropped my urn if my arms could have done so … the odd man and his friend lifted me and carried me away.

We traveled outside into a cold, misty night, then into another darkened building and down a winding stair. They paused often to rest. I am a strong, large statue, and although these men were strong as well, their way was perilous and long. But they were gentle with me, taking pains not to damage me further. I was moved by this – finally, someone treating me as I was forged to be treated!

Eventually my journey ended. Careful with me as if I were precious, I was brought into an amazing underground chamber filled with eccentric and lovely objects. I realized I would be one among many there, but the thought did not concern me overmuch, for it seemed I would keep company there with the unusual man who had regarded me so intently in the warehouse.

Others have come to his chamber to admire me, marveling at the intricacies of my crafting. I have heard them relish the thought of my presence in their own chambers. The strangely beautiful one will not give me up, however. Instead he offers to return Above and bring one of my sisters Below. And thus he has rescued many of my family. We reside now throughout these chambers, kept company by children and adults; we are cherished objects among these folk, adopted into their lives, welcomed as we never were in the vast and glorious edifice Above.

Time passes here as it did Above, but for me it is no longer a thing to dread. For the man – Vincent, he is called – is a friend to me. We have spent much time together, he and I. He has spoken to me often in the darkness of deep night, when only one candle holds back the blackness.

He is a wonderful caretaker. He keeps the cobwebs away, lovingly brushes the dust from my skirts. When he does this, well … If I could, I would shiver at his touch, for it is warm, strong and kind. He treats me well, never neglects me, keeps me company … and admires me, even my flaws. If I could thank him for rescuing me, I would. But I think he knows how good it makes me feel. Only a being who longs for the same knows the pain of not being wanted … he would not visit that on another.

I have watched over him as he slept, as he sat at his table writing in his journal, as he read stacks of books about a life he cannot live. I think of my years in that niche in the dusty corridor Above. How cruel, to be brought to life with expectations and dreams … and find yourself shunted aside, left to a lonely existence, unable by circumstances beyond your control to achieve all you could. No wonder I have also watched him weep in despair … so often … so often. Sometimes I think my urn would overflow if I tried to catch all the tears I’ve watched him shed.

No one else sees; no one else knows. It is our secret, Vincent’s and mine. He is lonely here in this chamber. Sometimes his Father visits him, sometimes other friends … but I know, I see what no one else does. His loneliness is not abated … except by one.

Sometimes … not often enough for him, I know … a lovely young woman comes to his chamber. Her name is Catherine. The first time I saw her, he brought her here to save her life. But I think now she saves his – every day, every hour. Her love for him has lessened his tears … although they still have not stopped. But when she is near, when she is close … those times he does not weep, does not despair.

Although I have regained my pride, I long to be human for just a moment, to tell her what he’s confessed to me. To let her know he longs with a soul-deep craving for her. To reveal his secret dreams of her, his utter devotion, his complete besotted love.

He will not tell her any of this, stubborn man that he is. He believes she must walk another path, one that does not follow beside his. He is so foolish. Even I can see how much she returns his love, how her dreams nestle perfectly within his.

He doesn’t know, but sometimes … when he is away … she comes to this chamber Below and she speaks to me.

The words she utters are just like his.

* * *

What an odd day this has been! My urn was filled to overflowing with cascading garlands of roses, and Vincent left this chamber several hours ago, dressed in clothes I have never seen before. He looked glorious! When he returned, Catherine was with him, wearing a beautiful gown, more lovely even than mine. Then, the oddest thing happened. She removed the gown … and threw it over me! I can barely see through the lace and silk, but I hear them murmuring to each other, hear the soft rustling of sheets and quilts, and …

Oh, my!!!!!

My lips are sealed.


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