In a Museum
In a museum, echoes are devoured by Navajo cloths and Renaissance canvasses. The broken walls are laid out in a maze to keep the patron walking, gazing, reading, admiring, but also to give the guards a tactical advantage. We slip in silently, hands behind our backs, and catch people at all moments: sheepish ones, when they have just realized that Rembrandt had a last name; hissing ones, when they scold their children for reaching out to the beckoning sculpture; and silent ones, when they are drowning in paint and light and meaning, when words seem insignificant.
The sun rose with a vengeance that day, with something to prove. Lazy dragonflies circled around the parking lot light poles, drawn to the shimmering pools left over from a hazy rain shower. All morning I stood my post at the west third-floor window, overlooking the sculpture garden’s rusting treasures. Usually on weekend mornings only the men wearing shorts, black socks, and sandals come out, their loud wives always three steps ahead of them. The guards spend their time sobering up or, like me, gazing out the green glass onto the streets below. The city doesn’t bustle like it used to, or so I’m told. Downtown has seen political and social battles and the casualties lie in the hollow storefronts with For Sale signs raised as white flags. The older ones tell me it’s all cyclical, and that a renaissance of the city’s own making will occur in a decade or so. I’m not sure I believe them.
He was fairly inconspicuous. Alone, with a green messenger bag slung over one shoulder. I was standing arms crossed behind the giant green pane, listening to the air conditioning kick on and off every other minute or so. He made his way through the garden, inspecting each sculpture and stepping in puddles without noticing. His jeans darkened at the cuffs. He was lanky, with short mussed hair the color of sand. I watched as he sat on the damp bench and gazed, cross-legged, at the sculpture of the fat woman reclining, her ample bronze flesh pooling into a pedestal. I had seen that sculpture a thousand times and grown sick of its mottled brown, but he sat unperturbed, gazing at her massive thighs. The sky cracked and a light mist fell in the garden, and still he sat.
I padded slowly through the room lined with a dozen Peter Paul Rubens sketches, empty except for a wadded tissue someone had dropped. I stooped to pick it up, and he came round the corner, his long fingers in his hair, smoothing out the moisture. He smelled of rainwater and grass and damp clean skin. His bag was now dark green. Beads of water trembled on his shoulders and slid down the nylon of his jacket. I stepped back and let him pass. He nodded and smiled politely. He stepped past me, his soles squeaking. I should have kept walking but I stood, feet apart with hands behind my back. I looked away, but he must have felt as though he was being watched, because he came back to me.
“Excuse me,” he said quietly. “Can I take pictures?” He held up a small silver camera to show me. His eyes were green and his blink was soft. “No flash.”
“Sorry, not in this room,” I said, suddenly guilty that I had to tell a patron no. “This collection is on loan, so there’s a rule against photography. I don’t know why. Sorry.” I felt silly and like I had said too much and sounded too informal. My heart writhed and I had to will it to keep beating. But he nodded and smiled again, and placed the camera in his bag. He should have walked off and let me finish my rounds, but he stood by me there beside two roped-off cast iron chairs. I felt frumpish in my uniform, with its thick-soled black shoes and unflattering black pants. I caught myself holding a pained smile for a beat too long but he was looking at one of the sketches, letting his eyes graze the yellowing lines that formed a hunched man’s back muscles.
My eyes darted and saw his mouth crooked into a smile and I thought about my mouth on his, the flick of his tongue against my teeth, his hands on me, quickly and nimbly freeing me from the uniform, us moving silently through the galleries toward the rooms closed off with a plastic tarp, awaiting an exhibition of their own, us fused together by spit and fire, sliding down the stark white wall onto the floor, where my hair would become matted with dust and sweat and his face would glisten, damp from rainwater and exertion, and he would breathe into my ear again and again and again and then when it was over, kiss my stomach and smile a goofy smile and stand up, clumsy and lovedrunk, hauling me up with one hand and helping me get re-dressed, both of us peeking out from behind the plastic to make sure no one had heard.
It felt like forever but it was only a few minutes and I blinked and gulped and he was gone, headed toward another wing, trailing tiny drops of rain behind him.
I felt a coin in my pocket and turned it over and over in my fingers, feeling its warmth pressed tight against my flesh. The sun shot a beam of brightness through the plate glass and I blew a speck of dust away from my face and stood. And I waited.
published by The Great and Secret Thing, June 2009