Jiri loved art; Jiri loved museums; and Jiri loved history.
He didn't have much time for people, so he spent his days travelling, gorging himself on all the world had to offer. He had seen the large collections of Europe and in the United States long ago, and now spent his time searching small towns to find some piece or other that he had heard about in his travels.
More rewarding, however, was to find an exceptional or unusual piece in some country backwater, where the curator, if there was one, had not noticed the piece, or not realized its importance. He would often relay news of these finds to one of the big institutions; there was no money in museum pieces these days, but, fortunately, money was never one of his concerns.
Jiri was standing outside a museum he had stumbled across while travelling the Greek islands. The building appeared very old; the fresh white paint on the outside he thought concealed large blocks of stone, surprising in a small place such as this. It could have once been a temple, such was its stature.
A pleasant young lady looked out from the cool interior, and beckoned him inside. Most would see her as beautiful, but Jiri rarely looked at people at all.
The price for entrance seemed very high, but Jiri paid without complaint. He had travelled this far, and was resigned to paying dearly for his hobby. In any case, he knew the difficulty of keeping such places in order in such a small town.
She gave directions to view the collection. She had a melodious voice, and spoke perfect English, unusual in these parts, although with an accent he could not place.
"There is a door at the end of the corridor. Only one visitor is allowed each day to the temple, such is its delicacy of its contents. Please take your time."
She gently directed him towards the rear. As Jiri passed down the corridor he was pleasantly surprised to find many votive candles lighting his way, and countless small alcoves. A pair of stone figures adorned each alcove, each pair made up of one male and one female. Jiri examined the figures carefully: they were exquisite! The detail in their construction was remarkable, and he was surprised at the difference in the shapes and sizes of the people figured in the images. Not all were classically beautiful; but all were represented with expressions of serenity on their perfect faces. Slightly naughty, too: each male had an erection, and every woman, her legs spread as if to invite penetration.
A single door, which appeared to be hewn from stone, was at the end of the corridor. Jiri was able to open the door with some effort. As the door swung noiselessly closed behind him, Jiri moved into a room which was almost bare save for a single plinth, nay, an alter, in the centre. He drew in his breath as he beheld the figure, the woman, for which he realized the building had been constructed.
She was a goddess. She was carved in the whitest, smoothest alabaster he had ever seen. She was lying on her back with her arms laid by her sides, and her legs slightly akimbo. The detail in the stone was magnificent; every pore, every fingernail, the delicate lines on the backs of her hands, even the individual strands of her pubic hair, all had been carved with meticulous detail, all were as white as the cleanest snow.
But her face! The strength of those features, the finely chiselled femininity, the cupid's bow of her lips and her enigmatic smile, the beauty of that face held him still. It was only the whiteness of her stone eyes, staring ever upwards, that gave Jiri a sense of her eternal stillness.
Jiri moved over to her, and stared down at her beauty, and stared into those cold, alien eyes, searching for some blemish, any imperfection, some sign that she was not human, or perhaps some sign that she was.
His cool appraisal of the magnificence of the figure began to give way; he noticed the passing of his detachment with some surprise. This ancient statue had been modelled on one woman, he was sure. He tried to imagine her as a person, someone with feelings, friends, family. He tried to put a voice to her, a laugh, a frown. He felt sorrow when he contemplated what had become of her in the distant past: She must surely be dust by now, while her perfect statue endured, untouched by time.
Without consciously realizing it, he reached down to her face, to cup a cheek in his hand. As he touched that cold, perfect skin, he felt the stirring of emotions he had never felt before, never felt for any other person. He caressed that perfect face, knowing that he should not: even stone will be worn away by human touch, however gentle, and a figure of this age would certainly be maimed by the touch of countless thousands of hands over the centuries. For the first time in his life, he felt like a young man fascinated by his first love, and began to feel his first stirrings of desire.
He held her face in both hands, and bent down to kiss her perfect lips. As he did so, he felt his years of sterile sensibility washed away by a passion to possess this one woman: all his strivings for the artistic, the clever, for artifice, were as nothing compared to his blossoming love for this stone figure with the cold, white eyes. His mouth gained no entrance to her cold lips, but the feel of her skin was electric, and his mind was alive with fantasies of those lips becoming warm, and soft, and moist, and red.
Soon his passion, with no possible hope of reciprocation, became maddening, an itch he could not scratch, but he wanted to feel more of that cold skin against himself, and layed himself over her, covering her with his whole body, nestling himself between her legs, his head upon her chest, as if trying to hear a heartbeat that could never be.
As he lay there, tears of both happiness and devastation welled from his eyes. He had, for the first time in his barren life, found love, yet he knew that that this love was an illusion, could never be reciprocated, could never be consummated.
A fantasy began to bloom in his mind. He need never leave; he could stay here forever in her stony embrace, loving her. Surely, if there were any justice in the world, her memory, her ghost, the soul of this woman must still survive. While not a spiritual man, Jiri began to clutch at fanciful notions to provide any means for her to return his devotion.
As he lay there, he heard a voice. He could not tell from whence it came; for all he knew it could be inside his head. The voice wa like that of the curator, yet was not hers.
"Wait a while here with me, Jiri. Please, stay with me, give me your love. Let me love you, let me love you as you love me. Stay with me, let your love feed me."
Jiri closed his eyes, and let himself relax into her hard curves. She did not stir, as she could not, but he felt comfortable. For the first time, he felt the comfort of human companionship, and did not want to let go. His manhood pressed against the downy stone, and as it hardened he imagined her as a woman of flesh and blood, welcoming him into herself.
Hope and fantastic imaginings flared briefly in his brain, but soon his rationality convinced him of the impossibility of his position, and all emotion fled. His body stiffened and he extricated himself from the statue. He imagined he heard an impassioned plea, a plea of disappointment and sorrow, but discounted it. He kissed her lips briefly, averted his eyes from her captivating beauty, and fled.
With a slightly clever smile, the young lady at the front asked him about the statue.
"She is uncommonly beautiful, don't you think? People on this island are poor, and some save for years before they can afford the price I ask to see her. They all return soon enough, though, they all return."
Jiri looked at her with new eyes; for the first time in his life, he looked at a human being and found himself wondering who they really were. He also looked at her face for the first time, and surprised himself.
"You could be her sister; the resemblance is remarkable. But that is not possible; she must have been dead for thousands of years"
Her smile was inscrutable, and her piercing eyes focussed upon him unsettlingly; quite unlike the white orbs that had captivated him previously. "Perhaps, but you must realize that the soul is eternal, and all souls are connected. I am a sister to all women, you know; not all know it, and not all would admit it, but I hope that you are able to see it."
Jiri suddenly realized the time; he had been hoping to wander around the island, but the sun was now low over the horizon. There were only two ferries a day, and he had almost missed his return. He would have to leave immediately.
"There is another," the young woman told Jiri earnestly, "you must bring her with you. You must bring another if you wish to return."
Jiri had to tell someone. There were many people of his acquaintance who would appreciate knowledge of his find, but an unfamiliar feeling of jealousy had him discount all the males. He had a confidante in Diana, a curator working at the Smithsonian, who had spent her life studying ancient works of art. Jiri considered her a confidante; but none of their confidences concerned affairs of the heart. She was a confidante in the mysteries of the purchase and attainment of cultural artifacts, which certainly had its own black magic and intrigue, even its own kind of romance.
He rang Diana as soon as he could get himself back to the United States. The urgency of his request allowed him to see her without delay, although she always had time for him. As he would arrive in Washington on a Friday evening, he suggested meeting at her office on Monday. He was surprised and grateful when she suggested that he come around to her house the following evening; there was nothing new for him to see in Washington over the weekend, after all.
As he wound his way through the dark streets, he found himself unusually joyous at the prospect of seeing her again. She was always so sunny and engaging when they met, and Jiri started wondering about how she spent her life outside the museum. She was certainly an attractive woman, but she had never talked about any outside friendships. Indeed, he had often called in on her at odd moments, and their meetings had often extended into a dinner at her house in Bethesda, but there was never any evidence of anyone else in her life.
"Diana, I am so glad to see you" beamed Jiri when she answered the door to her house. In answer, as she always did, she gave Jiri a brief hug. These moments were usually somewhat awkward, and they usually got down to business straight away.
This time, however, Jiri found himself reciprocating. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed Diana on the cheek. Smiling, she returned the kiss, on Jiri's lips, and they held each other for a while. Diana was a very attractive young woman, and she had invited Jiri to her house for dinner. Some things that Jiri had ignored for his whole life began to connect in his brain. He felt her heart beating, surprisingly fast, and her cheeks were flushed.
With a new kind of awkwardness, Jiri released Diana and came into her house. Diana became more animated and sunny than usual, and Jiri helped her prepare the dinner. As usual, it was a magnificent spread, and the accompanying candles and fine wine made for a lovely meal. Jiri was accustomed to eating this way, but realized how little he had done so with friendly company.
Soon, they were back onto more familiar ground, with the exchange of gossip about the latest acquisitions of all the museums. Jiri was eager to tell Diana of the statue, but told himself that it was business, it should wait until after dinner. He did not let himself realized how unsettling it was in the back of his mind.
Diana was again disconcerted as Jiri enquired about all the people of their acquaintance; his interest was very unusual for him, but, with the world of museums being so small, there was plenty to talk about. It seemed to Jiri that Diana knew everyone else's business, and lapped up the news of new romances, babies, disappointed marriages and a few carefully guarded affairs. As they talked, and without thinking, he took Diana's hand.
It was warm and somehow familiar in his touch, and as he gently caressed her hand with his thumb, Diana's conversation tailed off, and she looked into his eyes.