The house of the sculptress stood in the middle of an abandoned quarry where limestone had
been carved away, to leave a powdery grey, almost surreal landscape. She had chosen this site
purposely, believing correctly that the starkness might force her imagination into blossom.
There were times in the night, when she heard the wind and the cries of coyotes, she felt she
was in the desert. Yet the house was only a short distance from Taxco, the silver mine town, near
enough to send her gardener Ramon for food and supplies when needed.
Now as she lay awake she felt something akin to doubt, or was it expectation? The moon full,
it glowed with chalky light and made her bed effervescent.
Moonlight played in her studio as well, making shadows on the walls and on her newly
completed sculpture. Moonlight danced on the figure of the Mexican girl still emerging from
stone, so much like Michelangelo’s captives from the Boboli Gardens.
She turned on her side, her insomnia gaining on her. She decided she did not feel fear. She
had lived alone so long she feared nothing. No, if she felt anything in her bed in the gleaming
quarry, it was regret. But she had made the right decision, to fire Ramon. But she knew that, after
nearly a quarter of a century, Ramon was the only family she had, perhaps ever had. She had
always felt distant from her own people, even as she lived among them. They thought her mad,
or at least unbalanced.
Now an occasional relative would come from Boston or Baltimore to visit her, the eccentric
Margaret. They would return to the East and make a full report to the rest of the family. The last
visitor had been a niece, Gloria, recently graduated from college. Her graduation gift was a trip
to visit Margaret in Taxco. While Gloria enjoyed the train ride through the South, crossing the
border at Laredo, she disliked Mexico immediately. She found the house in the quarry
forbidding, even with the lovely garden surrounding it.
“Aunt Margaret, how can you live in such desolation? There’s no one to talk to, and hardly
anything to listen for,” she had complained.
They had sat on the veranda overlooking the garden. Ramon was there, as he always was,
watering or clearing weeds. Ramon knew the garden as well as he knew himself, as well as his
family he saw only at night when he work was completed.
“I find there is much to hear,” Margaret told her niece. ”After all, we hear what we want to.
Silence is good. Here I hear only peace, something I never heard back home.”
It was this peace that brought Margaret to this place so many years before. Even then she was
certain the quarry stirred with life. In Boston she sculpted in a rented loft off the Commons. But
after spending countless hours starting and stopping, then staring while waiting for inspiration,
she realized that time was flaking away as quickly as the clay drying on the table. It was then that
she made her decision, one she never regretted, to move to Taxco.
As she lay awake in the moon white stillness of the room, she remembered discovering
Ramon. He watched her through the studio window as she stood before the nearly completed
sculpture of the Mexican girl. She had pretended not to see him.
Ramon studied Margaret’s rapt attention to detail as she worked on the sculpture. He was
mesmerized by the angelic face of the girl coming into being, emerging from stone. One foot
already stepped free of the limestone block.
In another week the girl would be completely free. She would no longer have to depend on
Margaret’s deftness with a chisel, with whims of her wrist in combat with stone.
Ramon, a voyeur in the open window, watched and learned. Behind him the hills rose like
heavy clouds in the afternoon sky. Margaret wondered how the girl’s hands should be shaped.
Would they be delicate with the fragility of youth, or would they be coarse from a hard peasant
life? There was still time to go either way.
The look in the girl’s eyes was a distant gaze. She would never be the kind to stay in one
place. Instead she would wander, always anxious to know what was beyond the next hill, or what
happens at horizon’s end. She would be enamored of rainbows, Margaret thought. Then, without
looking his way, Margaret could sense Ramon moving away, returning to the garden.
Then Ramon began showing up late for work, and when he finally appeared he was drunk.
His work suffered, but Margaret decided to over look it. After so many years she would give him
the benefit of the doubt. But she wondered what it was that made him drink. Probably family
problems, she decided.
But it continued, and it was the garden that suffered. Margaret was unsure what to do. When
she took her afternoon walks she came across butchered hedges and flowerbeds choked with
weeds. She found carelessness with every step.
“Ramon, what has happened?” she asked him finally. “The garden is ruined.”
He apologized and promised it would not happen again. But Margaret was unsure if he was
sober enough to understand her. She was disappointed. He had never acted this way, not in
One morning she sent Ramon to gather rosewood from a place in the hills not far from the
quarry. He left quite early and did not return all day. Margaret busied herself in the studio but she
found it hard to concentrate. She knew the rosewood was only an hour away. She imagined he
was drinking somewhere. She worried he might end up in jail or worse.
Finally, late in the afternoon, as Margaret stood in the garden among the ill-tended beds and
dried soil, she heard a car approach in the distance. She followed its progression by a trail of
white smoke rising up from the road as the car sped downhill from the main road to the quarry.
The car emerged in the clearing and steered wildly into the driveway.
Ramon got out with a dazed expression on his face. He was drunk, and as he tried to gather
the rosewood from the trunk, the pieces fell from his hands to the ground.
Margaret followed him as he staggered to the studio with the rosewood. After he dropped the
wood into the bin and turned to leave, she stepped in his path.
“Ramon, I can’t overlook your behavior any longer. You’ll have to go. The garden is ruined. I
want you to leave, and not come back.”
Ramon listened and then slunk off, not making a sound. He walked back up the dusty road he
had driven down so wildly. Margaret watched him, a lone figure that seemed to evaporate into
the distant hillside, arms at his sides and his shoulders slumped. He walked into the hill like the
Mexican girl stepping free from the limestone, Margaret thought. In a few moments he was gone,
as if he had vanished into stone.
In bed she decided this was what bothered her. It was as though Ramon knew something
about the quarry, perhaps that he had discovered one of its qualities. She gave up trying to sleep,
her insomnia winning out. She got up, and as the night was chilly she gathered a robe around her.
In the kitchen she made jasmine tea. She walked through the shadows to the Mexican girl in the
studio. The girl’s eyes were wide open. That makes two of us, Margaret mused.
“Soon, dear. Soon you will be on your own,” she whispered to the figure in limestone as she
began the final touches on the statue.
A week later Margaret was awakened at dawn by the front door bell. She roused herself, put
on a smock and rushed to answer it. She so rarely had visitors, she imagined it was bad news
from the East. But when she opened the door she saw Ramon standing there, a small cloth sack
in his hands. Behind him she could see the rose-tinted limestone coming to life beneath the
breaking sky of dawn.
“I told you not to come back,” she said. “I’ve no use for a drunk around here.”
She was intimidated that he would return so soon. But she could not help feeling sorry for
him. He stood before her in his tattered clothes, his dark eyes overflowing with sadness.
“I worked in your garden a long time, nearly half my life,” he said, his voice cracking with
emotion. “I made something for you,” he said, handing her the cloth sack.
“What is it?” she asked, now embarrassed as she took the sack.
She opened it and found a carved rosewood figurine of the Mexican girl. Margaret recognized
it immediately. But the figurine was unfinished.
Margaret then realized that it was at the point of completion her own had been, a week before
when she had fired Ramon. She had since finished her own.
“I didn’t know how to finish it,” Ramon apologized.
“It’s beautiful,” Margaret said, turning it over and over again in her hands, her astonishment
Though it was crudely crafted, Ramon had managed to endow the figurine with a primitive
beauty. Margaret saw that, even it was a copy of her own work, the style itself belonged to
“For a long time I couldn’t see your people in the quarry,” he told her, his head downcast. “I
drank. I thought something was wrong with me. But when I went to get the rosewood, I finally
understood. I knew there were people in the wood trying to get out. I knew I had to help them.
But I drank more because I couldn’t accept it. Was it the same way in the quarry?”
What Margaret had so vaguely expected was now clear to her. She could see night stars
fading in the morning light, but she knew the stars remained., One only has to know where they
are, she told herself. In this lonely place she had never felt alone. Now she knew that Ramon
understood this as well. There were so many in the quarry waiting to be set free, and so little
“Come with me, Ramon,” she said. “There is so much more work to do.”
The Quarry previously appeared in Stone Voices.
Christopher Woods is a writer, teacher and photographer who lives in Houston and Chappell Hill, Texas. He has published a novel, THE DREAM PATCH, a prose collection, UNDER A RIVERBED SKY, and a book of stage monologues for actors, HEART SPEAK. His work has appeared in THE SOUTHERN REVIEW, NEW ENGLAND REVIEW, NEW ORLEANS REVIEW, COLUMBIA and GLIMMER TRAIN, among others. His photographs can be seen in his gallery -http://christopherwoods.zenfolio.com/ He is currently compiling a book of photography prompts for writers, FROM VISION TO TEXT.
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