The Stone Men
The first time Ari spoke with a stone man was on the night of her first New Year’s Eve in Budapest. She, Rita, and Fanni, stumbled out of a house party on Rákóczi Street at midnight with a bottle of champagne, staggering toward the park on II. János Pál Pápa Square, where Rita and Fanni watched the fireworks every year. The streets were flooded with drunk locals and tourists alike, whistling and blowing their tasseled horns, so that when they arrived at the park to find a subdued crowd, Ari felt a sudden shift in atmosphere. The Törley bubbled in her brain as stiff, gray faces emerged from the dark periphery. She realized then that the low, harsh grumbling that echoed throughout the park was the sound of their conversations, like a bucket full of pebbles being stirred with a spatula.
Ari had seen a few stone men before, heard Rita and Fanni talk about them, knew they were the projects of female students in many of the city’s art colleges, and that they had been made for sex, with permanently erect stone cocks. But that was about all she knew, because as someone whose mother was from this city and who was sent here every summer growing up and now lived here, she couldn’t get away with calling herself a tourist any longer, and locals weren’t supposed to ask questions, they were supposed to have answers.
But living in a country you only knew at brief intervals throughout your childhood is like growing up with a joke whose punchline you’ve heard a million times but still don’t understand. Ari was seeing more by the day how patient her mother was for living in a foreign country.
“What are they doing here? What is this?” she asked.
“We’ve just won the lottery,” Rita said. She shoved the bottle into Ari’s hand and put her own arms in the air, clapping her hands above her head like an amateur swimmer prepping to dive.
“I’ve never seen so many of them in one place,” Fanni said, “I hope they’re not trying to leave the graveyard and move here, or else our backyard is going to become a whorehouse.”
And that’s when Ari remembered hearing that when the artists who made the stone men went off to get married and start families, they would set their creations free, who would then go join the community of stone men who lived in the Fiume Road Graveyard beside the tombstones of the Russian soldiers who’d died here before the Iron Curtain fell. In the nine months Ari had lived in Pest, she’d yet to venture into the Graveyard, even though it was only a few blocks from her apartment, but she often heard packs of drunk women hollering about all the cock they were going to get as they stumbled past her building at night.
“They’re always whoring around on Népszínház Street, and that’s just a farmer’s spit away. I don’t mind them in our backyard if we get discounts,” Rita said. “Look at the bulge on that one.” She pointed to a stone man in a purple muscle tee and neon green running shorts. Though his tee came down past his groin, it did little to cover what projected from his shorts. The gray, bulging muscles in his arms, back, and neck were accented with blue lines that mimicked veins.
He was the least dressed of the group, the growing crowd of stone men all bundled up for winter like the rest of the locals, their stone cocks discreetly hidden under their many layers. Somewhere beneath Ari’s mounting desire for him, she admired his bravery for flaunting his body without shame. She wondered, though, if he would’ve dressed like that if the others hadn’t been around to protect him.
A group of police officers sauntered into the square. Their easy strides sharply contrasted with the stone men’s rigid and heavy steps.
“Quick, let’s each grab one before the pigs ruin our fun,” Rita said.
The stone men’s chatter quieted as they scanned the park for exits. Ari could feel them tensing up, like any sudden movement or noise might cause them to scatter with fumbling steps.
Rita nudged Ari, hard. Ari lost her footing on the slick grass in her high-heeled boots and smacked square into the stone man in front of her. Blood gushed from her nostrils instantly, warming her cold face. She tilted her head back to disrupt the flow and met his gaze.
He looked like a carbon copy of the Michelangelo’s Dávid. The same stiff mop of intricate curls. The slightly furrowed brows, bushy but sculpted to look combed to perfection. The full lips with fine edges. The crease on the bridge of his nose, the very same place where he was now touching Ari’s face, his two fingers pressing against her nose to stop the bleeding as he apologized in his raspy voice. His hands weren’t warm, but they weren’t the cold she was expecting. Every part of her body pulsed. She felt proud for finally gaining that sense Hungarian women had of determining with a single look if they want to take a man home or send him back to his mother’s twat.
“Please forgive me,” he said again. “Let me take you to the clinic.”
“No, it was my fault,” she said. “Plus, we live right there.” She pointed blindly toward a high rise next to the park. The blood was traveling down the back of her throat. When a clot dropped onto the back of her tongue, she coughed and spat it between their feet. By the light of the streetlight, she watched as a few red specks spray Dávid’s boots, loose and worn from years of trekking around the city.
“You should take her upstairs, tend to her,” Rita said.
Ari swatted at her arm, but Rita moved aside. “You don’t have to do that,” Ari said to Dávid.
“She’s right,” he said. “This was my fault.”
“Damn right,” Rita said. “You wouldn’t want us telling the cops you broke our friend’s nose.”
“Don’t listen to her,” Fanni said. “She’s drunk.”
Dávid rolled his finely detailed eyes, which sounded like marbles slowly circling a drain. He placed a firm hand on Ari’s lower back and guided her toward the crosswalk.
“Don’t waste a condom on that one,” Rita yelled after them. “You don’t need to with them.”
“I’m sorry about her,” Ari said. “She’s harmless. Usually a treasure. When I called her up after graduating and told her I was thinking about coming out here, she invited me to live with her and Fanni without a second thought.”
“Where did you move from?” Dávid asked.
Dávid’s eyebrows emitted a squeak as they rose on his face. “I couldn’t place your accent, thought maybe you were from up north.”
It wasn’t the first time she’d heard something like that. Usually, she could mimic the rhythm and lilt of Rita and Fanni’s Hungarian, but a few drinks in or just out of sleep, her accent always wormed its way into her tongue.
In her bedroom, Dávid took off Ari’s coat. His stone hands brushing against the polyester sounded just like her fingers did when they rubbed against her panties under her covers at night. She laid down on her bed.
“Here, give me your scarf,” he said. “I’ll throw it in the wash.”
She unwrapped it slowly, keeping her head level with the mattress. Blood still trickled down the back of her throat, though at a much slower pace. She handed it to him but told him not to worry about it. He laid it across the back of her chair, then gave her tissues from her bedside table. Ari dabbed them against her nostrils.
“What else can I do for you?” he asked.
“Well, since you’re asking,” she said, “you could satisfy my curiosity. You’re the first one I’ve ever met.”
He let out a laugh that sounded of something perfected over years of practice. “I don’t provide those services.”
“That’s good, because I don’t have any money.” She forced out a genuine-sounding laugh to one-up his.
It had been a long time since she’d tried with anyone, but it had also been a long time since anyone had made her stomach flip. The last man she’d been with was someone she’d picked up at a popular, dilapidated ruin bar on Király Street the girls took her to her first weekend in the city. The guy was someone Ari probably would’ve forgotten had he not pulled off the condom in the dark of his bedroom without telling her. When she told the girls what he’d done, Rita said, Oh, that, which Fanni followed up with a, Could’ve been worse. Ari didn’t dare ask how. For weeks afterwards, an incessant itch followed her everywhere, but even after her results came back negative for STI’s, she still felt a tightness in her stomach every time her phone rang, fearing this was the call that the clinic had mixed up her results with another patient’s.
The front door opened. Rita and Fanni stomped in, burring their lips against the cold. The sound of pots clanging echoed in from the kitchen.
“I don’t imagine I’ll have an easy time leaving now,” Dávid said. He sat down on the
edge of her bed. The mattress sunk deep beneath him, and Ari pictured what the mattress of the artist who made him must’ve looked like before she found herself a husband.
“I’ll be a whore if I stay and an asshole if I go,” he added.
“Sounds familiar,” Ari said.
He slipped off his own coat, scarf, shirt, and walked over to the radiator, which creaked
under the weight of his hands.
“If you’re trying to warm yourself up, you’re out of luck,” she called to him. “They turn them off at six.”
“I don’t need it,” he said. “I was doing it for you.”
He came back to the bed, every abdominal muscle perfectly holding its place with each heavy step. He carefully removed her socks, which she expected he would have more trouble doing given how tightly she was keeping her toes curled no matter how relaxed she tried to seem. As he unbuttoned her jeans with his strong, delicate fingers, she thought to tell him that they didn’t need to do this if he didn’t want to, but by the time her pants made it to her ankles she forgot what it was she’d wanted to say, forgot she’d wanted to say anything at all.
He grabbed her down comforter and threw it over them, then moved in between her thighs. His lips were cold, but his breath was warm, and the sensation of the two together had a dizzying effect. The pressure of his tongue was as strong as an index finger. And the feeling of smooth stone against Ari’s clit, well—it reminded Ari of how she’d bake her bikinied body on Venice Beach for hours before stepping into the cool surf. The contrast of the cold water on her blistering skin was thrilling. Her body felt more alive than ever before. If she had to put Dávid’s touch into words, it was like that.
When Ari’s body shook to climax, Dávid gripped her thighs, and the weight of the convulsions rang to tips of her extremities, the ends of every hair on her body. She rode those waves until they rocked her into a fast sleep.
When she awoke, Dávid was lying next to her on his back. His eyes were open, but when she crooned a helló he didn’t respond. She traced the outline of each of his hand-crafted muscles, but still he did not stir. He slept in gray boxers, only a few tones darker than him, but Ari didn’t see that familiar bulge she’d seen on the scantily dressed stone man outside. She feared the woman who’d made Dávid really had imitated every detail of Michelangelo’s statue. She thought back to what Rita had said about winning the lottery, and that if that was true, then letting Dávid rest was like taking the money home, locking it in a safe, and never spending it.
Ari slipped her hand into the waistband of his boxers and yanked them down in one fluid motion. All she could see was a nub, shorter than the length of her thumb and the tip of it concave, like someone had broken his cock off at the base.
Dávid spasmed awake.
Ari yanked her hand away, as if suddenly it had lit aflame.
“God, I knew it.” He fumbled out of bed, looking for his pants.
“I’m sorry,” she reached out for him. “I was curious. Just don’t—”
“None of you are ever satisfied. I swear, you all made us just so you’d have someone to grind into the mud.” He gathered his remaining clothes and stormed out.