Real Talk, by Kevin Francey
Inside, he always feels blocked in. Claustrophobic. Like he’s trapped between the edges. Outside, he feels the same, with only his imagination to break all boundaries. Art harnesses that same power, pushing it ever outward and beyond the limits of space. Yet great art can also stifle the unknowable chaos within, imbuing the viewer with shades of the eternal, while the remarkable artist remains, forever entombed, a loud brush stroke in history.
"You see how blue and swirly it is? Tortuous, and yet torturous depending on which shade you consider."
"Oh come on! How long have you been waiting to slip that into conversation? Since you read your first pocket dictionary? Honestly, I’m struck by the oranges and the red. Like the whole world’s ablaze or something."
"Well yes, the red is where the whole idea originated. The red is important. It’s illumination, essential. But it's the blue you should be focusing on...because, well, you know how you get." The man with the hair and the chiseled features feels moved to touch it, to reorient himself, but the bald man knows better. "Though, I wouldn't do that if I were you."
Already nervous, Cheekbones agrees. "Security would be on me by the time my arm reached the canvas. Which is funny because this probably isn't even real."
Baldy laughs, but it looks almost like a scream. "What's real anyway? If everyone in here thinks it's real, then it's real."
Cheekbones swallows his anxiety with an audible gulp. The harsh light above only worries him more, the sweat dripping like mist from an ocean wave. He removes his glasses. "I suppose that's true. Do you think they think it's real?"
Baldy knows better than to look behind him. It would be rude. "I'm certain they think it's real. Otherwise, what's the point of being here?"
The depth of Baldy’s comments surprises Cheekbones. Thoughts like these already plague his restless mind, so he takes a moment to look at the bald man, to seriously consider him. Anything to forget the mounting dread. Baldy’s face seems vacant, despite all the emotion teeming within. Cheekbones then says, "I never really understood the appeal of expressionism. I was always a fan of the old masters. You know, the authentic depictions. The realism."
Baldy laughs again. "There you go, throwing around that word ‘real’ again. Is this not real? Does the painter not evoke a feeling universal? I mean, if you could touch it, would it feel more real?"
“Well, that’s a series of questions, but yeah, sure, probably?” Cheekbones could certainly feel it now, that oppressive reverberation tunneling through both ears. That chaotic rumbling, pained as it is, would otherwise leave him rudderless in the creative pursuits that soothe him. It’s a paradox simple enough to explain it all. “I mean, you can trust your hands more than your eyes, that’s for sure. But you’re the expert, always trying to touch your face. How does it feel to you?”
Baldy laughs, but the act is tinged with despair. “Oily, if I’m being honest. My face always feels oily. But I don’t touch it. There’s a clear line of demarcation I never cross. I daren’t make it worse.”
Now it’s Cheekbones’ turn to laugh. “That mug of yours? It clearly has a line of demarcation from skincare products. But I’m not talking about your face. I mean the art.”
The barb leaves Baldy unchanged. “What’s the difference? Just look at the painting. Truly examine it. Notice the garish nature of the brush strokes. The humanity lost in the whims of nature’s enormity, almost drifting out of the foreground. You can feel my anguish, can you not? So, I ask again, what’s the difference?”
Suddenly overwhelmed, Cheekbones’ eyes bulge. “Wait, are you the artist?!” By now, the guards twitch in patient frustration. It was time to allow others an audience with the painting, especially in this gallery known for its strictness.
With eyes ever averted, Baldy says, “There’s much debate about that, but what’s certain is how the modern man is awash in anxiety. Nature and technology, a conjoined bastardization of progress, constantly squeezing against our chest with the weight of their development. The world changes faster than we can…”
The guards are finally on him, like waves inevitably crashing upon a bridge. The larger of the two, a well-built blonde, speaks first. "Is there a problem here sir? You’re talking a lot"
Cheekbones looks around, failing to find a ‘No Talking’ sign, nor any further explanation for such forceful intrusion. Confused, he whispers, "It speaks to me."
The smaller, less patient, but equally Norwegian guard steps closer to Cheekbones. "What was that sir?"
Cheekbones cowers slightly. "The painting. It really speaks to me. But some senses are more reliable than others.” With brooding to match the bald man, he adds, “I think we agree on that."
Large Blonde speaks next. "Yes, sir. The painting is very powerful, so we have many guests. Please move along."
Cheekbones laughs, but it sounds almost like a scream. "I know, I know. But I’m friends with the artist.” Cheekbones winks at Baldy. He gets no wink in return, but the way Baldy opens his mouth is proof enough of mutual understanding.
The two guards look at one another, now confused themselves. Small Blonde says, "Sir, please move on, or we'll be forced to remove you."
Cheekbones wonders why the guards ignore his new, bald friend. He must be the artist. With a puzzled look, Cheekbones gestures towards Baldy. “What if I’m with him?”.
Large Blonde quickly guesses why Cheekbones was muttering the entire time. This piece can attract a certain type of person. To avoid a scene, the guard speaks in a soft, sympathetic voice. "Oh, we understand sir. He's a fascinating guy. We have another pai..."
Small Blonde recognizes the patronizing inflection and its usual purpose, so he nudges his partner.
"...nstakingly built, uh, relaxation patio where you can speak with him some more. He's even more interesting out there. Would you mind following us?"
Out of nervous instinct, Cheekbones lifts his hands to touch his cheeks. Yet one look at Baldy reminds him of those ever-ubiquitous lines of demarcation. "What do you think, Baldy? Should we just meet outside?"
Faces glowing yellow-white, the security guards share an eerie rolling of the eyes.
The bald man laughs again in his familiar, terrified way. "I hate to break it to you handsome, but I may never leave this place. I am a painting after all." Then the bald man screams, but no sound comes out. The people behind him show no reaction either. Only the swirls of oranges and blues seem to indicate any movement at all. The strife of an entire species, caught in a breath.
And as the two security guards delicately guide him towards the exit, the man with the cheekbones finally realizes the appeal of expressionism.
The paintings can speak!
Kevin Francey is a yet-to-be-discovered writer from Somerville, Massachusetts. He likes writing comedy but also things that are funny.
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