That night in his shitty apartment Gabriel thought about how he yearned. He desired to be seen as he truly was, as large, as impossible, as something beyond compare, beautiful more so than others. In three weeks he would be the lodestar of Vincent’s show in the Galleria dell Accademia set before Michaelangelo’s David and there he would be looked upon as a work of art placed above all others, something people craned their necks to admire, a masterpiece whose weight was enough to crush, an object, pure and perfect marble. Lying in his bed, he stared upwards at the brown stain on the ceiling, a distant pleasure dancing on his nose, and as he blinked a face flashed before his eyes. Gabriel started; it was a woman’s face with blonde hair, a round head, two large watery eyes. And suddenly, quite strangely, he found that his black face was wet with tears. He was crying because she understood.
Gabriel sat opposite Jonas with folded legs and a cigarette in one hand, it was the day before the show and still early, the morning was exacting, Gabriel was squinting from the light. The pair were crowded around a cast iron table on the terrace of a café.
“Congratulations,” Gabriel said dry-like. Jonas watched but for a while did not say anything, “Sorry?”
“I said congrats,” and when Jonas’s face didn’t move, he surmised: “You haven’t heard then.”
Jonas blew a river of cigarette smoke towards Gabriel, said that he had not.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised he’s been speaking about you a lot recently. Didn’t you know that?” (This was what had sparked the first suspicions). Models did not interest Vincent, he held an honest disregard for them, understood them to be clothes hangers, frequently bemoaned their lack of charm/intelligence, they could be swapped in/out at a whim. Finding a good model, for Vincent, was like finding a nail file that was particularly effective, or a steamer that worked wrinkles out quickly, he wouldn’t create a fantasy around a model, ‘fall in love’ with one, how could one after all fall in love with a nail file? And that’s why Gabriel had felt so special, why people had told him that he was, “I know that I am in some ways his muse, he actually once said that I was his David, did you know that? So you might have expected that I would have had a bigger role in this show but the man is a genius, you shouldn’t question it. It doesn’t bother me.”
Jonas removed his sunglasses and put them in his bag, “Gabriel what is it?”
“So. Congratulations and good luck, I mean it. You’ll do great. I know that you’ll do the show justice, when you open.”
“I am opening tomorrow?”
“He told you that?”
“Yes, there may be other things too, if you know Vincent,” Gabriel trailed off.
Vincent had changed his mind, as it turned out Gabriel was not ‘his David’ as he had believed, Jonas was. Jonas turned the corners of his mouth down in doubt or ignorance and chuckled, “And you’re saying that you are happy about that?”
“That is what I said,” but not what he meant.
“You must be seething.”
“Perhaps you don’t know me as well as you think.” Gabriel said sharply, “Because I’m trying to tell you congratulations, Jonas. I am trying to tell you good luck.”
Jonas then, half nodded and looked off somewhere to avoid the intensity of Gabriel’s gaze.
“You are David. You. Beautiful as you are, blonde as you are. You are David,” Gabriel was pointing his finger at Jonas, leaning over the table on a shaking elbow, “And you’ll do exceedingly well". His breath was hot and wet.
Jonas dipped his head and stood up, “Where’s the toilet?” That Gabriel ignored, and Jonas wandered off to find it on his own. Closing his eyes, Gabriel contemplated the rising speed of his heart and the wet slick he could feel under his pits, the sun felt uncomfortable, his body was filled with termites. He let his eyes creak open and slide over to the terracotta brick of the building opposite, he scratched at the chipped basil paint on the table. Gabriel felt increasingly disturbed, more so with each second of Jonas’s absence, his foot was thumping up and down. Only a minute had passed when, running a finger along his lip, he felt a wicked pain and drew the hand away. Gabriel could feel skin burning, the sensation awful: a spasming. He stared at the flushed pink of his finger tip then brought another to his lips to test it — it seemed that his saliva was eating him, it had burnt the other finger too. He was still watching his fingers when he began to hear Jonas’s voice coming back down the hall to the table talking to someone, and as the voices got closer, just before Jonas emerged from the building, Gabriel summoned the hateful bile to sit like a pearl on the edge of his tongue, it was a material so wrong and so acerbic in nature that it would leave a raw trail on Gabriel’s insides for the two days following, it was a bile so hot and so venomous, so evil that when he spat it out into Jonas’s glass the water continued to shiver for several minutes, was still shivering when Jonas had returned to the table.
“I know what you did,” said Vincent later, he, and his slim figure folded into a corner opposite Gabriel in the chandelier light of La Poggio Torselli, the villa holding the after party, they were in the bathroom and it smelt like tarragon, the room was painted with mirrors so that Vincent saw Gabriel, saw Gabriel, saw Gabriel in three directions. In his drunkenness, Gabriel had swung his arms around Vincent’s turkey neck, could smell his aftershave when pressed up against the man’s slight frame. At this time Gabriel had pushed the unsettling incident on the runway far off somewhere, heaped it up under piles of nonsense in the recesses of a mind which thought only ever about him, and he was at that moment much more stimulated by, buoyed by, the many waves of adulation being sent his way — they loved him. Vincent’s voice needled into his eardrum as he pushed him back.
“I know what you did to Jonas.”/ “To Jonas? Jonas is sick,” he said./“Did you meet up with him before the show?”
The two men watched each other.
“Yes. What are you saying Vincent?”
Vincent was silent, and Gabriel now cornered, began to raise his voice.
“What are you saying?”/“Did you put something in his drink?”
The pair stood in silence until Gabriel said, "If you thought that then why have me walk?”
Gabriel could see a blank fury in Vincent’s eyes, “I don’t know,” he said.
A face (Gabriel’s, perhaps, though he was at this point lost to his body) grown flat and emotionless, mumbling in a voice which was barely audible, said again that “Jonas has a stomach bug” and swiftly left the bathroom with stinging tears.
The one o’clock sun was streaming into the room and making fire of the spokes of dust that slid through it. Gabriel was playing with a cigarette, cajoling smoke out of the window, he was sat up on the kitchen counter tapping the ash. Vincent had spread word amongst his friends and Gabriel was no longer being booked for anything. He had spent the past months locked away refreshing his IG messages and an email inbox of phishing scams. He had had to move out of the flat share with Jonas, as they (the other flatmates — who had caught wind of the story) had all insisted he do, he was using the little savings he had now to rent a box room in Whitechapel with a strange family of four.
He wasn’t particularly perturbed by what had happened to his career because devoid of distraction Gabriel was now fixated on what had happened on the runway. The incident. His walls were plastered with his drawings of it. He heard the sound of it on nights and in the morning. When Gabriel had walked the show, opening and closing in the place of Jonas, he had experienced in a visceral way that the David was collapsing, he saw it in his mind's eye, he heard a cracking in his ear, he heard and saw what physically was not there: a hairline fracture falling down the stomach of the David piercing the navel, he heard it, deafeningly loud when he was trying to sleep, so incredibly loud when he did sleep that he would wake up with a start sometimes.
Gabriel had felt an incredible connection to the statue as he had walked towards it, he had felt something primal, it was like devolving into an original form and speaking with God. There was something so vital so real about it. He knew then that it was only he who could have opened and closed that show, it was his show. When he had walked they had all seen it, everyone who had watched him. And when he had experienced that crack forming, he had felt an equivalent cracking inside of himself, a chip that was only going to widen. That is why he knew what would happen, and waited everyday to hear news of it, the David was unstable, the fissure would open wide, and the statue would crumble and fall to pieces. The thought made his breathing unsteady, he felt grief, incredible grief.
In 1991, Pietro Cannata won the world's attention for disfiguring Michaelangelo’s David, he took a hammer to the statue’s left toe. Cannata was apprehended by aghast tourists and later confined to a psychiatric hospital where he spent two years. Upon his release he went on to reoffend, vandalising: a mural by Filippo Lipi in the Prato cathedral; The Adoration of the Shepherds Before Baby Jesus by Michele di Raffaello della Colombe; the plaque at the Piaza della Signoria; and by happenstance (for he was looking for another painting when he came upon it) Jackson Pollock’s Undulated Paths. Cannata was 47 when he took umbrage with the David, when asked of his motivations he said that he was acting on the orders of a woman in a painting, he explained that: “It is all a story of spirits, linked to a Venetian woman of the 16th century. It was Veronese's beautiful Nani who told me to strike the David.” In the months spent in his room in Whitechapel, Gabriel had formulated a convoluted and unreproducible path of reasoning which would align himself with Cannata and determine what he must do next. It all began with his readings. He had read exhaustively, learning about the David’s dimensions, it’s materials and history, and it was this way that he had first learnt about Cannata. When Gabriel had searched for the painting of La Bella Nani of which Cannata had spoken, he saw to his horror that he recognised the face of the woman depicted, it was the same one that had appeared to him in a brown stain on the ceiling of his old apartment. It was at that moment that his future was decided, all this time he had been thinking about that moment in the Accademia and the pressentiment which had registered with him so profoundly that the David would collapse, and his feelings had been immediately and miraculously confirmed with that woman’s face staring back at him from the blue light of his computer screen; he was in that moment ordained. When Cannata had struck the David, and Gabriel was certain of this now, the impact had left enduring instabilities, it occurred to him therefore that there was only one thing he could do to return things to as they were, to restabilise both himself and the Art and bring things to how they should have been, he had to strike the other toe.
And so Gabriel had been haunting Florence for weeks, he had scraped together his last pennies for the easyJet flight and was living in a box room at a hotel in the town centre, smoking cigarettes out of the large bay windows and eating sunflower seeds. He’d been to the Accademia ten times already, lurking around the edges of the place, only looking at the David from afar. Gabriel had bought the hammer on his first day back in Florence from a hardware store a couple of miles from the centre of town and had found a way to sneak it through the metal detectors in the Accademia on the seventh day. He wasn’t sure he would have the nerve to do it in the end, each time he had been to the gallery he felt himself prepared but then backed out at the last minute. Yet his fervour was mounting, and everyday he felt it was more right. When his will waivered and grew porous, a thought would come to mind with routine, popped up like a Jack from a box each time, it said: that should he succeed to do it, ignoring for a moment the repercussions, he would be remembered, his name would be beside the David’s as Cannata’s was too, always, so that when people said David they would so too say Gabriel and in that moment they would have no choice but to think about how beautiful they were.
A further three weeks had passed before he felt truly certain. It was an early morning and Gabriel had booked a guided tour to skip the queues. Florence was raining and it was washing down the sand coloured tiles and into the streets. As the tour guide, a tall silver man named Alberto, explained to the group why the statue’s head and hands were so big Gabriel broke away from the group and made his move. He walked swiftly towards the David removing the hammer from his bag and leapt over the barrier. The alarm sounded immediately but was useless. Gabriel was too quick. He had rushed forward and was hitting the statue on its right toe, the other toe. Thwack. The hammer came down with such force it sent a sinister shudder through all of his joints, it made a mechanic sound, the marble chipped. He went in again. People screamed when they saw what he was doing, made sharp cries of pain as if the hammer came down on their own feet, soon enough there were hands pulling him away and one hitting him very hard on the back of his skull.
Gabriel spent two years in psychiatric hospital and the time there passed slowly. When he walked from the facility he was very different, he was not greeted by anyone, but skulked away, nudging himself along through shadows with the rodents in the street. He took a plane back to the UK with the little money left on his card and holed himself up in his mother’s house in Hull. It seemed that no one recognised him, no one was even talking about the story anymore. It had been a news item for less than a week and then was swiftly forgotten, two years on it was little more than a shadow on Time’s long meadow. The David had been repaired; there wasn’t even a mark to remember what he had done, not a line on the Wikipedia.
When Gabriel re-downloaded his social media however he saw that there were in fact many people who still remembered, there were a million of them, all of them having heard about what he had done, all of them waiting to hear from him out of curiosity or boredom. Some had left sick comments under his photos but there were also sweet messages too. None of this registered immediately, but eventually the notion made him feel warm. It was only one month afterwards that he set his camera up in the garden. He put his phone on a tripod on the back lens and set his Instagram to live stream, his mother’s garden was lime in the height of summer, it smelt of roses and the wild fecal smell of compost. Standing on a plastic box from the garage, Gabriel posed like the David, leaning slightly, his hand to his shoulder, hip flex, naked, and he was still, he only glanced occasionally at the silent black circle of his iPhone’s camera lens. Thousands of people flowed into the live stream like the gushing of an abundant sea, sending love hearts that sprung upwards or comments with hatred. Around him the birds in the garden made noise and the sun warmed his skin, the colours seemed to heighten with each person that entered the live and saw him. Gabriel fought a smile which threatened to grow wider and wider as he felt the many people's eyes. You are seen Gabriel! You are seen! he thought. Gabriel held his pose looking away with the same determined gaze as Michelangelo’s muse, he thought of Vincent, he thought of his mother, la bella Nani, the David, himself. A tear fell down his cheek and as the live reached 10,000 people Gabriel turned instantly to stone, infallible marble.