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A sculptor in the house

LORCA. Not the fiery Spanish poet and playwright, but a quiet young woman sculptor who has been our roomer for the past six years. Her parents named her Lorca simply because they liked the name, not because they were special fans of Federico Garc'ia Lorca. And in so choosing, they guaranteed her a unique and melodious first name. Now that she has moved away, I find myself thinking of her so often. She was five years old when I first saw her; she was being escorted home by her mother from the Episcopal school in Manhattan both she and my daughter attended. Her mother was having a bit of a struggle with her because of her current obsession: She was always pretending to be a dog. Her mother was gently entreating her to get up off all fours and walk like a human being. Lorca was not behaving badly - not staging a tantrum or screaming - she was simply doggedly determined to be a dog, in a quiet, frolicking sort of way. I noticed her long, straight black hair, her tan skin, her snub nose, and her gorgeous brown eyes.

She and Jennifer became fast friends in first grade. They were about a year younger than they were supposed to be to enter. Then they skipped second grade together and became even faster friends, now being two years younger than their classmates. They understood each other remarkably well. I later regretted that I did not tape their extraordinary conversations. When they were six, they created a ``Union of Existent Beings'' for their many stuffed animals. It boasted a map and a fairly complex government.

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A few years later, they produced together the Intellectual Stag, a newspaper that recounted the doings of a community of deer in Maine. It included many well-illustrated ads. There was one for Ivory Antler Paste. The copy read, ``For the beautiful antlers you've always wanted.'' Another was for ``Mountain Pine Stag Cologne - for the aroma Does will love.'' Typical article titles were: ``The Racial Situation in the North,'' ``Sailing Season Opens,'' and ``Teen-age Idol Appears in Morterbury.'' Besides cartoons, each issue included a piece of light verse under the heading ``Today's Nonsense.'' Example:

There was an old Canon named Best

Who wore a green checkerboard vest.

He was late for communion

Because of a high school reunion

And that was the end of

The Canon named Best. I feel sure Lorca was the author of this one; she was always fascinated by the cathedral clergy. This publication was printed at my office and distributed among their classmates, who, although they tolerated it, regarded it with some suspicion.

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Once, when they were about 9 and I was walking them home from school, they were discussing a classmate who was to be sent away to a special boarding school. I expressed concern, fearing he might be homesick. Lorca looked at me wonderingly and asked, ``Haven't you ever heard of being adaptable?''

She herself had been taught to be. When she was five, her parents put her on a plane for Seattle to visit a grandmother she had never seen. She made the trip with only her parakeet for company. When she was 12, we were visiting one day when the subject of vacation plans came up. Her parents were planning to go to Paris again for a month. To my astonishment, Lorca remarked that she didn't think she'd be going to Paris this year. ``Oh,'' replied her mother in faint surprise, ``you aren't going to Paris with us this summer, Lorca?'' And Lorca said, in her quiet little voice, ``I think I'll go to Seattle to visit Grandma.'' Independent. Adaptable. And she still is. DURING high school years, the girls attended different schools but kept in touch. Jennifer was studying piano, Lorca violin, and they often played together. Then came college, and after college Lorca began to wander - first to Hawaii, then to Japan, where she eked out an existence by teaching English. She stayed three years, and we began to despair of ever seeing her again. She had always been told in school she should ``accomplish something,'' but she had no idea what it was she should accomplish.

Then she discovered painting, and not long after this she returned to New York. One day the phone rang quite as usual, I picked it up, and at the other end was that light, high voice saying, ``Hello. This is Lorca.''

``Lorca, you're HOME!'' I screamed into the phone. Quiet laughter at the other end. How marvelous to have her back among us - her own unique, humorous self.

Somewhat later, it developed that she needed inexpensive housing while she went to school at the Art Students' League. My daughter and I had been thinking about renting our extra room. We said, ``How would you like to live with us?'' She thought she could stand it. Thus began a six-year relationship that was beneficial to all three of us.

She was sort of invisible and inaudible much of the time. She had a way of unlocking the door so quietly that you didn't even realize she'd come in. She hardly cooked at all, and when she did, it would be a one-dish meal poured out into a white bowl and carried to her room. She spoke softly and seldom, rarely initiating conversations - yet somehow she was not standoffish. Occasionally she and Jennifer had long conversations in the kitchen which included lots of laughter. Lorca's was light and breathy; Jennifer's was on the shrieky side.

It wasn't long before painting gave way to pottery, then pottery to sculpture. No modeling in clay - that was too easy - this girl hacked stone! Obviously she couldn't do much of that in our apartment, so she found a little basement studio across the street to work in. She would chip and tap and hack away there half the night after returning from her ushering job at Carnegie Hall. She had found her thing, after all the years of searching. Sculpture completely absorbed her.

For the next five years she continued, being in a show here and there, selling a couple of pieces, but mostly just working, working, working. Most of her works were large, but she did some lovely smaller ones, too - a marble angel that she took with her to London one Christmas for her mother, and some semi-abstract birds, one of which she gave to Jennifer. Eventually I was the recipient of a piece called ``Hydra.'' It is long and serpentine, with five heads; the heads are flat and innocuous-looking, with enigmatic faces. A couple of them appear to be winking slyly. How like her to make a hydra that is not a horrible monster but a humorous, harmless, undulating creature.

Six years is probably the longest Lorca has ever stayed at one address since growing up. I was gratified that she remained that long. It's true that she spent most of the time in her room, but there was always that quiet presence, that thoughtful face, that unfailing humor. I miss her occasional cartoons informing us of her plans; I miss that key turning ever so softly in the lock. I miss her materializing suddenly in the kitchen and gliding over to the stove, barely answering my overcheerful ``Good morning!'' I admired her inner and outer strength as she sculpted day after day. When her studio was no longer available, she could be seen any fine day on the grounds of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, hacking away. She had kept up her Episcopal connections, in spite of intervening Buddhism. She is a kind of all-inclusive person.

Now she is in England - still sculpting, of course. I received a card from her showing Kew Gardens. She reminded me how in Rebecca West's trilogy (which we had both read) the family always went to Kew in time of crisis. And I felt sure, as I read this, that her spiritual strength would pull her through any crisis she might ever face. There is a reason why she is a sculptor in stone.

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