They put up a statue in the middle of the town square. None of us knew how it had got there. We all flocked around the stone base, afraid to get too close. Even the children, usually unquenchably curious, did not touch its smooth surface. They lurked behind our billowing skirts, playing tag between the long cotton folds.
None of us recognised the figure immortalised in stone; none of us could read the inscription carved into the base. In the end we just left, hoping it would go away again.
But when we returned from work that evening, hands stained and arms aching, it was still there, standing proudly in the centre of the square. No signs of construction or transportation, it seemed as if it always had existed in that very spot, staring down at us all with a stern look upon its face.
That night we dreamt of the statue. Meeting outside Susie’s house in the morning, cloaks wrapped tight and packed lunches in hand, we shared our stories, pondering rumours and speculations. The children ran ahead, waddling in bundled layers as they skated across cling-film frost which the sun, still just a chipped scintilla, was unable at this early hour to deice.
As we approached the square we bunched together, hoping that, if we wished it hard enough, the statue might have vanished. But rounding the corner, there it was, the hunk of stone still obnoxiously blocking our view. Somehow it seemed to have grown even bigger. Now it carried a sword in one hand and a book in the other, a tall hat placed on top of its head. We all stared in mixed disgust and curiosity then, bewildered, hurried on our way. We could not be made late, not by the statue. This time the children hung behind, circling the base, daring each other to prod the cold stone.
For the rest of the week, the statue remained in place. Every time we passed, it seemed to make itself a little more at home. It grew mould behind its ears, the stone eroding, as if it had been there for years. One morning, we asked a passing policeman why the statue had appeared. “It’s always been there” he confusedly replied, laughing as he walked away.
We tried to take a different route but, as almost every road in the town passed through the square, it was too impractical to avoid it. Instead we made sure to hurry past, averting our eyes and sweeping the children along in front. We did not trust that statue.
It invaded all our conversations, sneaked into idle thoughts and dreams. Every morning and evening it mocked our passing, hewing away at waning morale. Weeks stitched together, folding into each other like flour in batter, one worry-filled sponge baked on full heat. Before long, we knew we could take it no longer. We had to act.
Gathering at Susie’s house, we made a pile of old fabrics; spare sheets, clothes the children had long ago outgrown. Hurriedly, we tied them all together to make a patchwork quilt. Susie’s husband rolled his eyes, but didn’t say anything.
In the cover of darkness, we stole back out to the square, hastily tossing our makeshift veil over the statue. The smothered shape loomed above as a shapeless god; features screened in the dark. We stood and stared, praying that somehow magic would occur, like the tricks we saw at children’s birthdays, where birds and rabbits vanished underneath the cloth. We wished we knew how to perform such spells. Hands held, eyes squeezed shut, we channelled all the powers we knew, minds filled with witches and churches, any unearthly spirits we could dredge from the forbidden mere of mysticism. At last, we tore our eyes away, scuttling home, relieved. Fate was in another’s hands now.
When we nervously reached the town square in the morning, the sheet had gone, no sign of our homemade patchwork. But the statue had not been taken with it. We met eyes in despair, stomachs sinking, each of us thinking: why did it not work? Did we use the wrong words, were our prayers just not heard?
But as we moved across the square, we realised with a sickening lurch that a magic trick had happened. The expression on the statue’s face had changed. Now it was laughing.
All day we worried what it meant, what spirits had performed this act. After work, we reconvened at Susie’s house. Huddled together, a second plan was concocted. Leaving the children playing upstairs, we hurriedly dispersed, heading home to gather supplies. Ransacking drawers, we smuggled out cutlery and mashers, hammers from our husbands’ tool kits. Then, well-armed, we wrapped thick coats around our hoards, slipping back into the ink-spilt night.
We met each other at the base of the statue, surreptitiously pulling out our tools. None of us moved for a while, waiting for some sign, some indication that this was the moment to act. Our breath made steamy puffs in the frigid air, and we shuffled a little closer, dark cloak fabric stitching us together. The tools weighed cold and heavy in our hands while the statue’s mirth-filled eyes laughed down at us, mocking our indecision.
We weren’t quite sure who started it; just felt that sudden frenzy as we all took to the stone, pulling out hammers to whack and maul the beast, lashing out as hard as we could. It was strong, but we were persistent. Some of us clambered up, taking hammers to scrape off the laughing face; some concentrated on the foundations, sending large chunks crashing from the base. Our own feverish strength amazed us. When we’d finished the statue was chipped and battered, large chunks chiselled from the stone. We bundled up our tools and cloaks, not one of us looking back as we fled the scene.
We worried all night, gathered in Susie’s kitchen drinking cup after cup of strong tea, then, when that was no longer enough, her husband’s whiskey. None of us liked whiskey, but in that moment it felt like the right thing to drink. The children curled together by the fire, too small not to sleep with simple dreams.
Our eyes were red and puffed from lack of sleep as we hurried out of the house in the morning. In cold daylight, last night seemed like a hazy dream, a manic fantasy we couldn’t translate into these familiar streets. The children clung close to our hems, sensing something was not right.
But when we reached the square, expecting daylight to illuminate our manic artistry; it was empty. No sneering face, no chipped stone base. No statue.
We froze, confused, staring at the spot we’d gathered in last night. We thought of the stone, how it had crumbled at our touch, the power we’d felt in our strong arms, used to labour.
“Where did the statue go?” we asked a passing policeman. He looked at us, bemused, shaking his head with a supercilious smile.
“There’s never been a statue here.”
We looked down at the scratches on our hands, the memories we shared, too vivid to be dreams. The cold of the bitter evening and itchy fabric of our cloaks, the acid bile from the whiskey we’d downed, pungent liquid burning our inexperienced throats.
But we couldn’t stay. Glancing up, we noticed all at once that we were late. Pulling up our skirts, we gathered in the children, shepherding our pack as we hurried on.