I was attending a session of an ancient courtroom. The room was traversed on either side by banks of open stone arches which bore no windows, leaving the room completely exposed to the cold. It was deep winter and freezing, and the frost and snow dusted into the room. The gallery of spectators all huddled under woolen blankets as they watched the proceedings. The advocates, heated by the animation of their arguments, still occasionally wrung their hands to warm them. They wore grotesque bird masks that made them seem strangely predatory, alien to the affairs of men. The accused sat recessed in the shadows on the witness stand. A shrunken creature horrified of the condemnation directed at him, I could just make out the anguished black pools of his eyes and mouth wailing mutely in the darkness.
There was a sense that the case was being rushed along at a clipped pace due to the discomforts raised by the cold. There was a concern that justice would only be given its most perfunctory due, and that the patience of all parties involved would soon break and the prospect of retreating to warm dens to sit before well fed fires would seem far more appealing than the duty to give this poor man his proper hearing. A brisk snap of the prosecutor’s voice, a number of obligatory bleats of objection and wheedles of outrage from the defense, and a few muffled grumbles from the corpulent judge sitting high atop his bench, appeared to be all the indulgence that the weather would grant to the pursuit of truth that day.
But just as the case was drawing to a close, there was a stirring in the gallery among the spectators. The judge brought his gavel down to restore order, and just as it hit and the sound of it rang in the grey air, everything else went completely silent. Startled, I lifted my head and looked around me and I could see that all the figures, the spectators, the advocates, the judge, and the accused alike, they were all figures carved from the coldest stone. They had been stone all along. This was a museum piece, a sculpted reproduction of a historical setting. I had sat here lost in reveries of those long lost days.
I wandered among the stone figures, getting a better look at the scene. The prosecutor stood defiantly pointing an accusing finger towards the witness stand. I slid my gloved hand across the smooth contours of the beak of his bird mask. Ice crystals had settled here and there in the pores of the stone. I studied that anguished expression on the face of the accused, all those exquisitely rendered wrinkles of pain and worry, all the more impressive because the sculptor had perfectly gauged the effect the figure would produce when viewed from the gallery across the room, all those details subtly suggested from the shadows.
I pulled my hand from my glove and held it to the side of the accused figure’s face, almost as much a gesture of compassion as one of appreciation. The stone was cool and richly lacquered. The face just stared back with that same expression, the head slightly tilted, as though my touch had only momentarily eased a toothache. This was the crowning piece of the whole scene. I turned and considered all of the hostility of the room, all of the hostility of the world, focused on this one figure. And then I put my hands in my pockets and went out into the snowy fields beyond this exhibit, my footprints trailing through the stone archway behind me.