Love is, of course we all know, at the root of all things built of beauty. Can this be anything but true? Think of anything that glistens with that wordless essence that we perceive as beauty. Do you know – can you even imagine?- that it sprang from anything but that emotional maelstrom of human love? “Ah ha!” I hear you exclaim with glee in your eyes at the chance to dismantle my story before it has really been born, “but human love is indeed a maelstrom, a maelstrom of equal chaos and potential destructiveness as an actual maelstrom upon which your metaphor is presumably based.” To this I sit and wait for you to finish your moment of exalted, but erroneous, superiority whilst rolling my prepared retort around my tongue like a boiled sweet. “Love is equally capable of destruction or creations of horror.” I assume at this point because your self congratulatory smile and the way your folded arms sit across your jauntily reclined torso that you are indeed finished. I did, actually, very deliberately compare love, the only impetus towards creations of beauty, to a natural disaster that can impair your navigation to the point of destruction and drag you down to a world of horrible aquatic demons. You see, I am very aware that it appears as though ugly growths of jealousy, anger, neglect and destruction often spew from the wounds inflicted by loves claws on beauty. I am also aware that these wounds have often led to nihilisms mutated attempt at rearing beauty. I would offer as not, I suppose, a retort as much as an attempt to reconcile our different stances so that you continue with me on this story, that even these twisted impersonations of beauty are at least just that, an impersonation of beauty. At least in their foundations is no less than a sprinkling of the dust of that wordless essence. Upon these foundations may be built battlements and barricades but it can be easy to accidentally build the wrong thing. And, of course, just like a maelstrom dragging you of course, love can drag you from your bearings until you don’t know which way you’re facing. It’s hard to build straight when your all turned around.
I now assume by your lack of interruptions and the fact that you haven’t jumped up in disgust and stormed out red faced and high nosed at the scent of such airy story telling that I have managed to reconciliate the disdain you felt for the original premise of this story. Because this is the story, I’m trying not to call it a parable because you are probably the type who would enjoy nothing more than to storm out on a didact, but it is about a man we’ll name Carol, put your eyebrows down it is a man called Carol, I’ve never met a man called Carol but I just made him up and his name’s Carol. It is also about a woman who I’m going to call Glory, nice strong name, an aura of dignity about it I think you’d agree. It is also about Carol’s love for Glory, and the way he accidentally built the wrong thing for her because he didn’t know which way he was facing and his love got him all turned around. I think I’m going to end up feeling bad for both of them as this story grows so let’s both remember now that Carol and Glory do both love each other and I’m sure they probably always will, mostly.
Carol and Glory lived in what was undeniably a beautiful little cottage. The kind of cottage that everyone with eyes would agree seemed to have been plucked out of a fairy tale and plonked down in Carol and Glory’s life as a stage for their equally fairytale love. The cottage was scented with whiffs of cinnamon smoke and spicy tomatoes which were made even more dreamlike on account of the occasional gentle undercurrent of mischievous vanilla pods, so that even those without eyes would agree that it was a fantastical backdrop to the fictitiously idyllic love that blossomed between our two protagonists. Our two beautifully innocent and well meaning protagonists. Remember that innocence and good nature because it will be abandoned, although through no fault of their own and it is because of this I pity them despite their imaginary existence. Anyway, we must move forward.
Carol spent his time split fairly evenly between his glass workshop and home. He was a glass maker you see. Windows and the like were his main source of income but only a drop of his passion and glass sculpture was the exact opposite for him. He did make extremely beautiful sculptures, partly due to his ability to manipulate the molten glass with such intricacy and partly due to his secret procedure for imbuing such deep layers of colour to the glass that it would appear to change colour as your eye focused and re-focused. Some of the locals who saw his sculptures began to say that Carol’s coloured glass was the colour of the observers soul and it shed so much light on the nature of one’s insides that it was as if it turned your skin into glass and the beauty of its colour came from the reflection of your spirit – which was ironic as the way Carol managed to embed such deep colours in his glass also made it so your reflection could not be seen in it. Truly glorious. And talking of Glory she would often visit Carol in his workshop as she made her rounds around the village selling the vegetables she grew in their garden. Her carrots were good, her beetroot was regal in both colour and size, her sweet potatoes were so dense and filling that you could make a hearty stew with just one, but her tomatoes, well her tomatoes were beyond glory, they were scarlet orbs that people said must have been dropped from the heavens, knocked from the kitchen surface of perfectly glutinous gods. The truth was they were from Glory’s small vegetable patch, and like Carol’s coloured glass, she had a secret procedure which was never to be disclosed no matter how much one were to plead. But I’ll tell you what it was, because they both had the same secret… and it was love. “Oh, how quaint!” I hear you gasp. Well it is quaint, for now.
One day when Glory was out tending her small vegetable patch the morning after a particularly stormy night, the ground was especially squelchy and marshy and her boot became caught in the soft mud. She tugged at it but it would not budge. Suddenly the storm that all assumed to have passed by must have forgotten something important because it turned back around and began to batter the ground with hail and rain and buffet all uprights with violent gusts of force. Glory, being caught up in this fickle storm, dashed for the back door abandoning her boot to the mud and sprinted one wellied, one socked foot slapping on the play-doh dirt. Carol saw this through the kitchen window and he laughed as he saw his love running clumsily through the slippery muck, bootless but laughing with every failed lurch towards the door, every other step unhinging her as the bootless foot slips on her half removed muddy sock as much as the mud itself.
Glory, of course, survived the dirty dash to the door but her boot, the one surrendered to the earth, did not. When Glory went out the next day the boot was nowhere to be seen. She had more, the avid vegetable tender she was, but that was her favourite pair of wellies… she felt bad for the wellie she saved because it was no longer her favourite as half a pair, so she threw it out.
The day following, so two days since the storm, Glory awoke to see in the garden a huge, 6ft tall, glass sculpture of her lost boot. Carol stood in the garden arms up gesticulating dramatically at the big sculpture, a wide grin splitting his face in two. It looked almost identical, albeit gigantic and transparent. It was mostly transparent glass, but not just see through, it was such clear glass – on account of Carol’s secret purifying techniques – it was basically invisible. It had the same blue trim on the top and on the sole that the original boot had but it was inlaid in a way that it looked like it flowed through the glass, moving gentle currents inside the still, crystalline case. “How did you get it so perfect without a boot to copy?” She asked Carol, “Whenever I picture you, I picture you in those boots” he replied. Footnote, Carol actually fished out the boot Glory discarded in the bin but that doesn’t take away from his skill and emotion, nor does it render untrue the fact that Glory does indeed have on her favourite wellies when residing in Carol’s imagination but it does indicate that Carol sees romance as an event that doesn’t involve rummaging through rubbish.
As he stood and looked up at his sculpture he could see Glory’s beaming face in reflected faint outline against the pellucid canvas and it suddenly felt uneven, it suddenly felt unfinished. “Looks a bit lonely on it’s own doesn’t it?” Here Carol phrased his statement as a question but Glory failed to discern this undercurrent, she held his arm and responded, “It looks full, it’s made me feel full… full of your care”. She smiled at Carol and squeezed his arm. Carol’s smile was delayed and mechanical, all mouth no face, because his eyes stayed locked on the giant glass wellie and he was already planning how to make it feel even and finished.
Carol went back to his workshop that afternoon. This time it wasn’t the day after, or even the day after that when he reappeared with his finished sculpture. It wasn’t until a week later he returned. Why did it take longer? Well because this time it wasn’t just clear glass with blue trim. It was ornately carved glass, imprinted with layers of coloured glass that gave
Glad that Carol was back in the house and not at his work shop Glory sat on the sofa and stretched out. Carol held her bare feet tenderly and Glory rested her head back ready for what felt like the beginnings of a foot rub. Then she jerked back up as she realised Carol was putting paper mache on her feet. “What are you doing?” She enquired. “What? You think I only love you as much as two wonky hollow wellies… they need feet to go in those wellies, fill them up like I’m filled with love for you” he grinned, Glory looked at that wide grin and wondered how the top of his head stayed on.
Glory tamely resisted the big glass feet and was eventually convinced as Carol pointed out that they wouldn’t take up anymore room in the garden because they would be inside the boots. He assured her there would still be room to grow her tomatoes. So she conceded. Carol took the paper mache moulds he made of her feet and away he went to the workshop.
He said it would take about a month for the pair of feet to be done. Carol and Glory didn’t see much of each other for that month but it was ok to her because he was doing something nice for her and it was ok for him because he was doing something nice for her that he liked doing. After the month is up there is still no feet, no Carol, just two massive wonky wellies that Glory has to work around. So Glory goes to Carol’s workshop and there sits a big pair of glass feet – both unfinished. It took him longer because he decided he needed to really work the coloured glass and carvings in, “they need to be as pretty as the real thing” he explained. “But my feet don’t have turquoise and teal swirls in them” Glory protested. “Still… looks good doesn’t it?” Again, Carol phrased his observation as a question but this time Glory was aware of that and remained quiet, merely shaking her head almost imperceptibly.
Before she left Glory enquired as to when they’ll be finished because she missed having him around. She smiled when he said the feet would definitely be done in the next two days. But then as she was leaving she heard Carol say, somewhat to himself, “couldn’t tell you how long the legs’ll be though”. Glory spun around inquisitively, Carol saw her look and explained, “well obviously they’ll be up to the waist” Carol’s head splits in two at the mouth just as Glory knew it would at such a quip, she is unmoved by his smile, “well” he continued “there’s no point in making feet only for them to be stuck inside the wellie boots, they need to be seen, they need to be built to the sky, so I’m building it up for you. A giant glass Glory.” Real Glory left with a sigh.
Glory returned to the workshop every now and then to try and persuade Carol to come home but Carol was determined to show how much he loved her. The last time Glory went to the workshop she was desperate and exasperated, but unfortunately Carol was so absorbed in making giant glass Glory that he thought it would help her if he continued with it, the more exasperated Glory got the more he felt the need to build her up. You see how love was turning Carol around? The last time Glory left Carol’s workshop he was in the process of making a fully functioning, intricately hand painted, giant glass circulatory system for giant glass Glory. She pleaded with him that her heart was breaking to which Carol responded by pointing confusedly at the perfectly intact, giant, pumping, glass heart he had connected to the giant glass circulatory system laid out in his workshop.
From that day on Glory stopped pleading with Carol and she stopped making her rounds of the village because as glass Glory grew bigger and was inlaid with more colour the shadow it cast on her vegetable patch also grew and after a while it was the only thing growing on the vegetable patch at all. Glory only saw Carol every now and then through the kitchen window in the garden hoisting up new parts of giant glass Glory. During winter he made giant glass gloves, hat and scarf as well as a thick winter coat. During summer he made giant glass shorts, a giant glass summer dress and even provided a giant glass haircut. Each item seemingly more ornate than the last. Glory looked through the glass pane at the glass pain and wept. Her tears occasionally dripping into the soil surrounding the withered tomato plant she bought for herself when her vegetable patch was out of commission on account of the giant glass presents that filled the entire garden on Glory’s birthday. Whenever he was fitting a new item Carol would turn to the kitchen window where the weeping Glory stood watching, give her a big thumbs up and his face splitting smile (harder to see now days as his hair and beard were so long and matted since Carol had taken less and less care of himself as glass Glory got bigger and bigger) and nodded his head as he jabbed his thumb up at the new item with goofy self approval. Then he would leave through the garden gate and go back to his workshop to make more stuff.
One day just as Carol was giving his goofy grin and pointed at the new hat he’d made giant glass Glory, Glory became so enraged she grabbed her less than salubrious tomato plant from the kitchen window sill and rushed outside. Once outside she tore of the small tomatoes sprouting from the plant and began to throw them at Carol. He looked confused and ducked a couple, one caught him on the ear, one burst on his shirt. One of the tomatoes he had ducked splattered against the transparent original boot. When Glory had run out of tomato ammunition -this didn’t take long as her little tomato plant was far from fruitful- she slumped to the ground and stayed there at which point Carol emerged from his barricade made of his own arms and matted hair and went to polish off the tomato from the wellie boot.
As he removed the rag from the now clean transparent glass he paused, frowned and polished again. Then he repeated this, more quickly and more agitatedly. Then he stopped and let the rag fall to the floor and stared at his own reflection. He was old. I mean really old, especially when he thought he was still a young man. He turned and rushed to Glory who was still slumped on the floor. “How old am I?! What happened?!” Carol wailed as he raced towards Glory. When he got to Glory he hoisted her up and was about to ask again when he saw that she too was old and withered.
“How long was I making giant glass Glory” Carol asked Glory.
She looked at him through tired, sad eyes.
“How long?” Carol reiterates his question with a shake of Glory’s shoulders.
“Fourty-eight years” she whispered.
Carol gasped “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why would I have to tell you?” But Carol had been so obsessed with giant glass Glory he hadn’t looked in a mirror to groom or a clock to be on time.
“Couldn’t you see I was getting old? Old and sad.” Glory inquired.
“I couldn’t really make you out… I could only really see the reflection of her.”
“Who! Giant glass Glory? That abomination?” She gesticulated up at the statue.
“She’s not an abomin…” Carol trailed off as he looked up at giant glass Glory.
Carol had made so many different things for giant glass Glory that she now just looked ridiculous. He stared up at her standing there so tall, built to the sky, a monument to his love humiliated standing in just knickers, a blouse and wellie boots, with huge hooped earings, a giant purple top-hat, a green cape, glasses of the same prescription as real Glory, a parrot on its big glass shoulder (a left over from Halloween) and no trousers (Carol was midway through changing them).
“When you picture me, do you picture me wearing that?” Glory asked.
Carol looked away from giant glass glory and down at real Glory, her pink wrinkled skin bunched under her eyes, her strong warm eyes, glinting with life, her indomitable spirit almost visible but visibly weathered, in fact destroyed. Carol looked at her withered, old and sad but so beautiful it hurt.”Oh dear” thought Carol, “I took something unassailable and turned it into glass, turned it breakable.”
“I’ve ruined my love and wasted my life.”
He picked tomato out of his beard.