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Toe



1.


That night Gabriel thought about how he yearned. He desired to be seen as he truly was. In three weeks he would be a lodestar set before Michaelangelo’s David and there he would be gazed upon, a body people craned their necks to admire, a monument with a weight that was enough to crush, an object, pure and perfect marble. Lying in his bed, he stared upwards at the brown stain on the ceiling, content at long last, 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.



2.


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 dryly. Jonas watched him for a while but did not say anything.“I said congrats,” and when Jonas’s face did not move, he guessed: “You haven’t heard?”

Jonas blew a river of cigarette smoke towards Gabriel, said that he had not. Gabriel shrugged,

“I can’t say that I’m surprised he’s been speaking about you a lot recently. Did you know that? That’s what sparked the first suspicions. He has a disdain for us. Models are not interesting, models are clothes hangers, with an endemic lack of charm/intelligence, are dispensable, can be, should be swapped in/out at a whim. Finding a good model, for Walter, is like finding an effective nail file, or a steamer. He wouldn’t create a fantasy around a model, how could one after all fantasise about a nail file? It’s far more cerebral than that. He’s an intellectual. It’s dressing as an intellectual exercise, its the idea of a cloth, it’s a way of thinking, it's not just the garment. It’s never so literal as that. It’s a philosophy of aesthetics. That’s what he understands, what I understand. That’s why he likes me. That’s why I felt sort of special, why people have told him me that I am, to him, I mean. I am in some ways his muse, he actually once said that. You might have expected that I would have had a bigger role in this show. Did you? He’s a genius. It doesn’t bother me.”

Jonas removed his sunglasses and put them in his bag, “Gabriel what is it?”

“So. Good luck, I mean it.”

“I am opening tomorrow?”

“And closing.”

“He told you that?”

Gabriel nodded, Walter had changed his mind.

“You must be seething.”

“You don’t know me as well as you think,” Gabriel said sharply, “You are his David. Beautiful as you are, blonde as you are,” Gabriel was pointing his finger at Jonas, leaning on a shaking elbow, “And you’ll do well". His breath was hot and wet.

Jonas dipped his head and stood up, wandering off in search of a bathroom. 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. He 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. He stared at the flushed pink of his finger tip then brought another to his lips to test it. 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 a minute afterwards, was still shivering when Jonas had returned to the table.



3.


“I know what you did,” said Walter later, his slim figure folded into a corner opposite Gabriel. They were in the bathroom of the restaurant holding the afterparty, the room was painted with mirrors so that Walter saw Gabriel in three directions. In his drunkenness, Gabriel had swung his arms around Walter’s thin neck, could smell his aftershave. At this time Gabriel had cast off the unsettling incident at the show, and was at that present moment much more stimulated by, buoyed by, the many waves of adulation being sent his way. Walter’s voice needled into his eardrum as he was pushed 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?”

Walter was quiet, and Gabriel now cornered, began to raise his voice.

“What?”/“Did you put something in his drink?”

The pair stood in silence, Gabriel could see a blank fury in Walter’s eyes. 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 finally that “Jonas has a stomach bug” and swiftly left the room.



4.


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. Gabriel was no longer booking, Walter had spread the word. Gabriel 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 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 the series of events because devoid of distraction Gabriel was now fixated on what had happened at the show, 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 heard and saw what physically was not there: a hairline fracture falling down the stomach of the David piercing the navel.

Gabriel had felt a connection to the statue as he had walked towards it, a divine weaving. Spiritual, vital, real. When he had walked they had all felt it, everyone who had watched him. And when he had experienced that crack forming, he had sensed an equivalent cracking inside of himself, a chip that was only going to widen. He knew what would happen, and waited everyday to hear news of it. The David was unstable. The fissure would open. The statue would crumble and fall to pieces. 



5.


In 1991, Pietro Cannata made headlines 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 read exhaustively about the statue, and he learnt about Cannata. When Gabriel had searched for the painting of La Bella Nani of which he had spoken, he saw to his horror that he recognised the face of the woman depicted. It was the same face that had appeared to him in a brown stain on the ceiling of his old apartment. Illuminated to him then were the ways in which he was aligned with the spiritually embattled soul, the ways in which his future was decided, his feelings 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 second 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 way to return things to as they were, and restabilise both himself and the statue, 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 thin coffin shaped hotel room in the town centre, smoking cigarettes out of the tall 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 days later. Each time he had been to the gallery he felt himself prepared but then backed out. His fervour however was mounting, and everyday he felt it was more right. When his will waivered, a thought would come to mind with routine, it said that: he would be remembered.

Another week 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 hammer came down with such force it sent a shudder through 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.



6.


Gabriel spent two years in hospital and the time there passed slowly. When he walked from the facility he was very different, he was not greeted by anyone. 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 talking about the story anymore. It had been a news item for less than a week and then was swiftly forgotten. The David had been repaired; there wasn’t a mark to remember what he had done, no line on the Wikipedia. But when Gabriel opened his Instagram he saw that there were many who remembered. There were a million of them, all of them waiting to hear from him. Some had left cruel comments under his photos, there were also kind messages too. None of this registered immediately, but eventually the notion made him feel warm. A week later he set his phone up in the garden on a tripod on the back lens, and set his Instagram to live stream. His mother’s garden was verdurous with the height of summer, it smelt of roses and the wild fecal scent of compost, standing on a plastic box from the garage, Gabriel posed, leaning slightly, his hand to his shoulder, hip flex, nude, 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, gushing like an abundant sea, sending hearts that sprung upwards. Around him the birds in the garden made noise and the sun warmed his skin, the colours seemed to brighten with each person that saw him. Gabriel fought a smile which threatened to crack his face in two. Gabriel held his pose looking away with the same determined gaze as Michelangelo’s muse, he thought of Walter,  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.




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