Category Archives: Fiction

Exhibit A

That girl from last night, the one that asked him if she brought the tabs could they both do it together? Then the multitude of other options. Mom asked him once “why do you need to do all these drugs Barral?” why not, right? what is it everyone is waiting to happen.

That girl from last night, blood on her face, nose dripping bright red as she was laid on the board and loaded into the ambulance. “What a drag man” goes the guy who owns the house, only a couple of years older but he looks like he’s 49. And Leslie doesn’t even answer his call, knows he’s calling with another life crisis, another ‘seen the light.’

So Barral gets on the train, because he can’t think of anything to do other than what he always does. Gets off at 43rd street and notices that the junkie that’s been there almost every day this month is gone. Then on to the 3rd floor at Capord and Larriant. Pipes creaking, all the other tenants have their doors locked shut, Mariano the only one with his door open and some abstract Eastern European music playing at full volume. Mariano doesn’t care about pretty much anything, except you don’t bring drugs into his house. Which keeps a fair amount of the artist crowd away. But not Barral, because Mariano’s a fucking genius. Whenever you need some clarity, Mariano’s the man to see. It’s like a headshop for thinkers. Mariano was a successful artist in his day. But not extremely famous or rich, because he had his chance to kill himself like every other misunderstood savant and he passed on it. So he said to hell with the art scene and started working at Metro Transit, except every now and then he would talk with young artists about their work.

Which is how he met Barral. At the 11th street station on the L-Line, where Barral was putting up an unauthorized exhibit just inside the tunnel. “I’m gonna let you put up that exhibit kid,” says Mariano, “but if it sucks you’re taking it down.” In fact it did suck and Mariano said so, made Barral take the exhibit down and gave him his address, 91719 Capord, Apt 319. “Come see me if you’re ever serious and don’t want to just put something up to piss people off.”

After their first couple of meetings Mariano explained that it was okay to shock, but important to have a next step for the viewer. “You can’t just mess up their heads and let it sit, that’s your opportunity to reshape how they think about their world…and don’t get all ambitious, you try to do to much and you end up doing nothin.”

But let’s face it, hell of a lot easier to shock than to actually think about what you wanted people to get out of your work. That was the part that always messed with his head. It’s not that he didn’t have any intention when he started a new series, he just didn’t want to have to think about everything all at once. And even more importantly most of what he did was practice living on the line, it was a feeling that started his paintings not some well thought out essay that the art crowd would appreciate. Barral knew that when he went to those art openings with the classical guitar and wine an artist had to be ready. If you weren’t ready than good luck keeping the mystery/intention in your work. Without mystery you won’t be selling anything. You have to make sure they don’t know why they love you.

Plus, the dealers and public generally need to know what drives you, because it gives them a justification for buying or appreciating work. And truth be told, he got that you don’t always know where you’re headed but sometimes you figure out what you really meant after you put it on a canvas.

That was another thing Mariano taught him: that you don’t have to have it all figured out. If you can just be quiet in your mind sometimes the best work comes out of your soul, out of your body. So Barral was a frequent and appreciative visitor to Mariano’s building, because he didn’t feel the obligation to do or feel anything around the old man. It was a place where you could say anything, even words strung together that you hadn’t realized you were thinking about.

This time, Mariano laughs when Barral comes in he door “Well young artist,” says the old man, “visit too often and you’ll wear out the carpet in front of my door, if not your welcome as well!” Barral grins. He knows the old man likes the visits, and it took a long time to get from “scram, kid” to placing the tea kettle on the stove when Mariano heard the younger man’s footfalls in the hallway.

“Sit down, tell me about that prick that told you what your work meant.”

“You heard about that” grinned Barral, with a touch of surprise.

“Of course I did, and you probably don’t read but he also retrod the same material in his column this morning.”

“Huh,” nods Barral, “yeah it was bullshit in a whole new way.”

Pause. The old man nods.

“I wasn’t sure what to say, normally I’d call him on it, but Ragnam and a couple of other dealers were there, so I didn’t want to get heat for that later.”

The old man nods again, “very wise, not the act of a coward but of a smart man. Nothing to be gained by pulling his proverbial pants down in public. And what pants they must have been, all covered in stripes and pinwheels, hypothetically speaking of course.”

They both laughed. That was another thing about the old man that Barral liked, that he didn’t care about convention. He’d seen Mariano around some of the most influential artists and collectors, and he was incredible, they loved him. But you could also tell they feared him, because of moments like this one. They knew he didn’t really have a lot to lose, so it wasn’t much to him to say how it actually was.

We were lovers but we did not make love.

The calls came with the consistency of rent payments, but 2 or 3 times per month instead of once. His “hey,” soft and slow, a hint of Tennessee or Georgia or somewhere South.

Both of us played occasional movie roles, jokes with a slight edge “you know one of us is going to break the other’s heart” or “the sex is so good I might have to fall in love with you” but he knew as I did that it wouldn’t last.

It’s true that I miss his breath on my chin, staring into my eyes with a mischievous smile. And I long for the casual way he runs his hand down my back and over onto my hip, it could slip off at any moment but it doesn’t. I would fall back into the same routine if he showed up, but I know he won’t. Whatever dreams he had are being played out with a girl I don’t know, perhaps he tells people he can’t believe how he lived without her before, something I’m sure he never said about me.

On Thursdays I still go to the Tap. I get into careless, heated conversations with the same set of grad students and Marly occasionally checks in from behind the bar.

Continue reading We were lovers but we did not make love.