Alex Thurmond stood by his work and stroked one of the turrets affentionately with his index finger. "I played with the idea of it, sir, for about two years. The actual construction took me three months. The hardest part, of course, was carving the statuettes in full relief because they are each only a quarter of an inch high. If you put a magnifying glass up to the statue of Madonna, you will see the creases in her dress. All great art is made of small details."
"Astounding detail! Yes, magnificent," agreed the man, leaning down as his face neared the Madonna. He straightened up again and turned to the architect. "Oh, may the photographer enter now?"
"Of course." The photographer shot an overhead picture and photos from all six sides. The man in the suit gestured for him to stay.
"Dave, be a good fellow and take a shot from this angle. That way the back of the statuettes are showing. You need to give the computer as much information as possible. Good, good, that'll do." After the photographer left the gallery room, the critic turned back to Alex Thurmond. "This is on display for a month, I believe, and then I presume it goes to the Disintegrator?"
The architect's first reaction was a slight flinch, then he forced an uneasy smile and a nervous giggle. "Oh, well, I'm a slightly nostalgic fellow. I am an artist, after all. I'll probably keep it on display in my house for a few weeks and them I'll bring it to the Disintegrator to recycle all it molecules. After all, if I didn't recycle the stone, then where would I get new stone to carve?"
The critic eyed him with raised eyebrows. "In your house, eh? Well, to each his own," he said, carefully feigning nonchalance. "But off to the Disintegrator after a few weeks. A delayed, but inevitable fate. Recycle. Yes, recycle and conserve. There is only so much room for new things in this world."
* * * * * * *
"'To each his own,' he said, 'To each his own!' It makes me sick!" Alex pronounced angrily. "He didn't make that building with his own hands. He didn't feel it slowly grow and form into reality. What would he care about it? The idea of that building has been inside me for so long. Now that it's been realized I can't just throw it away!"
"Alex, have you ever Disintegrated any of your art?" Janet asked.
"Well, some of it. Yeah, every once in a while. My art is a part of who I am. Disintegration - well, it's like I have no self-respect!"
"But you're not throwing it away. It was photographed. It will be saved forever."
"Janet, somehow having a computer compile those photos into a 3-D rendering of my art just isn't the same. You can't feel or smell it. Your shadow will never fall across it just so. I know , those are just details, but-"
"Great art is composed of details. You told me already. Alex, I am an artist, too. I love to sculpt ice, and each sculpture is a part of me. Just because the sun melts my work doesn't mean I am losing my self. My sense of self is too strong to be shaken by a silly little thing like that. Alex, you wnat to find your self so badly that you cling to your art as if therein lies all the answers. Your art is beautiful - it's amazing, but it's not you. Once you learn to let go, rip away the excess, then maybe you can find your self. Your self will come while you are not looking for him."
* * * * * * *
Alex carried the stone monument into his house and scanned his living room for a place to set down the sculpture. Older pieces of art covered every surface of the room and much of the floor and so he set it on the kitchen table. "Maybe I should Disintergrate one of these pieces to make room for the new one. No, I could never do that. Somehow I will find room for them all."
He rifled through his new mail and jerked when he saw the mailer's address. He quickly opened the envelope and read the letter anxiously. Grimly, he refolded the letter, put it back in the envelope and let it fall gently on the table. He then grasped a sculpture with both his hands and launched it across the room with an enraged yell.
* * * * * * *
"They said that although I am highly qualified for the job, they have chosen an Italian woman to construct the new building. Ever since I was little I knew that I wanted to construct real buildings, not just the eight-inch high stone models I've been making my entire life. I guess I'll never get the chance because a new building is constructed only once every thousand years.
"It wasn't always like this, you know. Buildings were destroyed by fire, tornados, and earthquakes, not to mention the ever-so-slow erosion of great stone temples caused by exposure to the elements. The world gave an anguished cry when someone dared say that the pyramids in Egypt would one day crumble into sand. Thousands of years later, posterity must still enjoy the Egyptian pyramids - it's part of our heritage!
"So, we learned to neutralize earthquakes and tornados. We coated our buildings to prevent fires and damage from sun and rain. All the great architectural wonders were preserved. Every beautiful structure built since then was preserved. The result, of course, is that today every building is a work of art.
"The problem we've finally come up against is that there is no more room for anything new because we cling too tightly to our past. Our culture is becoming stale because no one appreciates new art. Naturally, our art is preserved just like we preserve everything, but in the much smaller living space inside the memory of a computer. We are foced to shrink our art to small proportions, them we Disintegrate it because there is not enough room for it."
Janet had listened patiently until then, and when she saw that Alex had finished she said, "If we don't preserve those buildings, won't we lost part of our heritage and identity?"
"People are constantly evolving," Alex replied. "Artwork from thousands of years ago has a beautiful intrigue, but it doesn't express the essence of present day society."
"You're saying that getting rid of previous artwork is not denying one's self, but rather accepting the constant evolution of the self. Is that it?" Alex remained silent. "Then why aren't you contented with Disintergration?"
"This work is choking me! I am limited in the size of my work, and in how long I get to keep it. My creativity is wilting because I can't exercise it to its greatest potential, and I am withering with it. How can you, as an artist, stand for such a thing?"
Janet looked at him with a worried expression, and her voice took on a pleading quality. "I never said I liked how our work is shoved in a back closet. I could never say that, but there comes a point where you have to just let it go. No, the world is not perfect - not by a long shot - but the world is real, and in the end that's all that counts. There are people that fight for principles and there are those that fight for survival. My art never gets any recognition but I don't worry about that. I just go on surviving. You can't blame me for that."
"I'm not like you are, Janet," Alex said. "I can't just keep on surviving. It's going to kill me sooner or later."
"It doesn't have to. You're just confused, that's all. This isn't the way to solve your problems. Come with me. Be like me, I'm doing fine. You're saying all this because you are in conflict with yourself. You need to find your self."
"You're right, Janet," Alex said softly. "I need to find myself."
* * * * * * *
"I came as soon as I heard," said Janet, breathlessly. "Where is he. Someone said-"
"The Disintegrator, Janet," confirmed the manager of the museum with a nod. "Down that hall, first door to the left." He walked her into the room.
"I thought that Disintegrators were made small, to prevent this sort of thing from happening."
"They are, dear, but not the ones in museums. Those are bigger because the artists need to Disintegrate their artwork, which tends to be a large size. Large enough for him to do the job."
Janet gasped when she saw the headless body sprawled out on the floor. Presumably, he had opened the Disintegrator and Disintegrated his head. Then, she noticed a small flashlight that must have fallen out of his hands. "What could this mean?" she thought. "It meant something. He is the master of details."
"I can't seem to figure out the flashlight," said the manager. "It appears he was searching for something right before he died."
"Yes," Janet breathed softly. "He was searching for his self."