Stuart watches a boy with spiked-up hair enter the gallery with his parents. The father has a Nikon hanging from his neck. The mother carries an iPad. They arrange the boy in front of a suit of armor and snap pictures. As the father lowers his camera, the boy releases his pose. They study his image as they leave the gallery.
The world, Stuart thinks, perpetually posing for itself.
He listens to the banalities surrounding him. People striving so hard to sound intelligent to themselves and each other, walking past without acknowledging him. He tells himself he likes the invisibility.
Snippets of conversation weave around him like cigarette smoke.
“These big museums just bring in big artists…They don’t want to invest in small time…”
“When I lived in Munich in ’86…”
A puffed-up man reeking of mothballs queries his wife: “When does life become art?”
He hears a snicker and turns to his right. A beautiful woman stands there. Gorgeous red hair; bright green eyes; petite. He reaches for his crutches and pushes himself up: He doesn’t want to waste her time.
He is surprised when she doesn’t move. Normally, when he stands; when he reveals the part of himself that is missing, people quickly discard him. “When I was a boy, I dreamed of war.”
She nods and puts a cigarette into her mouth.
“Then I barely lived through it and the sheen of war fell away.”
“Why do you guard this room?”
“It’s the one they gave me.” He eyes her. “I’ve heard the museum staff aren’t very bright.”
She laughs and her eyes are merry.
“I wonder,” Stuart says, surprising himself, for when he lost his leg, he lost the easy confidence he used to possess, “if, a hundred years from now, the shattered remains of my leg will be on display in this museum. ” He paints an imaginary marquee in the air. “Effects of modern war.”
She takes a drag on the cigarette.
“Works better if you light it,” he says.
“I’m trying to quit. Besides, the guard will kick me out.”
He laughs. “Stress?”
“You could say that.”
“Where do you work?”
“Oh, yeah?” He is pleased. “You new?”
“I’ve been here four years.”
“I’ve never seen you until today.”
“I’m the director.” She meets his eye and gives a laugh. “I’m holed up in my office most of the day.”
“I guess that means I’m fired.”
“No.” She extends a hand. “My name’s Josie.”
“Stuart,” he says.
“I know who you are.” She feels herself blush.
A girl with oversized sunglasses walks in, nodding her head to the music being pumped into her ears. A woman sits on a bench and promptly falls asleep.
“God this is boring,” Josie says when the museum closes. She smiles. “Join me for dinner?”
And Stuart’s life suddenly feels beautiful and new.
This piece, part of a larger story, was posted for this week’s Write on Edge link.