Monday, June 22, 2009

1,000 Words for Charity - Greg

Title: The Gallery
"Three" words provided: Red5 First-Date EmmaB
Word count: 1,000 again
Might be useful: to read Tagged first. Just kidding, I know it's super long. But the below would make a heck of a lot more sense to you if you did.

“I like this one,” Emma says as she pauses to study a smoky skyline, all greys and blacks and reds. A quick glance at the label tells me that it’s another piece by Greg “Archimedes” Benito, an extremely talented street artist that tags his pieces with random math notations. After a few seconds I spot two pedestrians contorting to form an aleph symbol. “The city could be lit by fire or a sunrise or... whatever I want it to be.”

We’re in the Shady Waters Art Gallery and, since it’s two hours after closing, we have the place entirely to ourselves. I’d had to promise the owner, Kirsten Beamer, positive reviews of her next three exhibits in order to get the key for tonight. Journalistic integrity at its finest, I know.

I nod and smile, just like I did in response to her last three comments, and we continue our limping progress down the hall. God, why can’t I think of anything to say?

This was a huge mistake. I should have just left this as the perfect, unattainable dream of a relationship – the reality is proving to be a crushing disappointment. I can’t believe how awkward this feels. You would think that after all we’ve been through together a first date would be easy. Instead it’s more like Wilkerson, Grozny, and Joel are our tour guides and they keep pointing out our shortcomings.

We stop in unison to stare at a canvas covered in a kaleidoscope of colors that hint at a hidden image. It’s a little bit like staring at one of those cheap stereogram paintings you can get at the dollar store – if you look at it long enough you either see a picture or you get a migraine. I always seem to get the latter.

“Want to make a bet what it’s supposed to be?” I ask, aiming for playful and landing on stilted.

“Sorry, I already cheated,” she says with a smile I would label shy on another woman. On Emma I’d say it’s captivating. She points to the small white card next to the painting and reads, “Architeuthis in heat – version nineteen.”

“A horny giant squid looking for some action? I’d love to see the previous attempts at capturing such a... magnificent spectacle.” Emma gives a little laugh that lifts my spirits and we continue, walking a little closer now. I catch a whiff of her perfume and breathe it in deeply; it’s light and inviting, with a hint of... caramel? I like it.

We’re in the final hallway now and sweat is beginning to gather in uncomfortable places. In unpleasant contrast, my mouth is getting dryer and dryer. As we pass the second to last painting without stopping I open my mouth once, twice, three times but no words are able to escape safely.

“It’s strange being here, with all that madness behind us,” she says as she slows to gaze at the final painting in the hallway. My nerves ease as her focus remains on the swirling clouds of green and yellow hovering above a brick factory. She hasn’t noticed the flickering coming from around the corner yet and, ridiculously, I can’t stop myself from thinking there is still time to turn back. “It’s hard to know what’s real anymore. Was that the dream and this the reality? Or are we sleeping now, only to wake at any time to gun shots and terror gripping our insides?”

Once again I can think of no fitting response, but this time it feels more appropriate somehow. I want to reach out and take her in my arms, to give her comfort and security, but my arms remain dangling at my sides, useless.

“Jeremy, I know you didn’t ask for any part of it,” she says as we approach the end of the hallway, “but I just wanted to tell you that...”

Emma falls silent as we come around the corner and enter the final room on the tour. My chest constricts painfully as I try to discreetly monitor her reaction. I know it’s nonsense but I can’t help feeling this is the critical moment for us. I stand teetering at the precipice and wait for her to push me over or grab my hand and pull me to her safety.

There is only one painting in the candlelit room, covering most of the wall which faces us. On the left edge Q sits at a computer, the electronic green light revealing his grim smile. On the far right a handcuffed Wilkerson is getting shoved off canvas by yours truly – my face is mostly hidden by shadow but the red numeral five on my jacket sleeve erases any doubt about my identity. Slightly to the right of center Puppy is drawing something in chalk on the ground beside her fallen father, her face and expression obscured by her cascading hair.

And standing center stage, one foot placed triumphantly on Grozny’s chest, is the enigmatic Emma B. Her face radiates satisfaction and the entire scene is lit by the brilliant flames of her hair. I open my mouth to explain that I left Joel out of the painting because I didn’t want to ruin it, but the realization that putting that belief to words would have the same effect clamps my mouth shut.

The silence draws out, deepens, and changes colors but I’m unable to make sense of it. I swallow nervously and wonder if there’s something that should be said that I’m completely missing.

But then Emma’s hand finds mine, she rests her head on my shoulder, and all the pain, all the stress, all the tension of the past few weeks melts away in a soft warm glow. We stand like that, side by side, hand in hand, until the candles flicker once, twice, and then go out, returning us to the darkness we have become so accustomed to.

This time, though, the dark feels warm and safe and peaceful. It feels like home.


Rose said...

Ok right this is awesome Marc!! What a good idea (kudos to Greg)! I always wanted Red and Emma to get together!!
Wonderfully written and I could really feel Red's nervousness! ohh!! /wistful sigh.
I'm really looking forward to my story that you do for me! :D This is exactly the kind of thing I like! /gleeful
How do you always get it 1000 words! lol

g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

The nerves permeated this piece, but it wasn't overbearing. I'm guessing this is a possible epilogue, but I could even see bits and pieces of it, properly tweaked, as a future before-end segment. That said, it works perfectly as an epilogue. It just works, y'know what I mean?

Nothing short of awesome, mon amigo.

Marc said...

Rose - thanks very much :D

I write them in Word and there is a word count in the bottom left that I keep my eye on. This one was originally sitting on 1,011 I think and I went over it like three times to knock it down to 1,000 :)

g2 - muchos gracias :D

Yeah, I could see tweaking it a bit to be a 'before-end segment'. We'll see how things play out :)

silent said...

Wow, this is a great epilogue! I found Tagged on Protagonize and loved it so much that I read the whole thing :) It such a good story! And this is an awesome ending for it!!

Marc said...

Silent - aw, thanks very much! I'm so glad you're enjoying Tagged :)

Hopefully we can pull some sort of ending together in the near future - be it this one or another :)