I fly around the world to see original works. I will sit or stand in front of a painting for twenty minutes or more, and once a certain slack-jawed tiredness builds up, continue to stare. It sounds foolish, and it has puzzled a deadpan museum guard a time or two, but it is my way of dispelling automatic classifications, of not over-thinking a piece. BA, MFA and Ph.D., at a distance of twelve or so years, probably no longer conspire to bring about more than three degrees of separation, you might say, and yet some part of me – a large part I think – feels the need to let a work’s meaning sink in more instinctively. Of course this does not always happen. Sometimes, reaching that odd sensation of museum exhaustion, which in a decade as an art columnist has never been absent, I return to my lodging in whatever city I’m in – St. Petersburg, Rome, Cleveland – with no fresh insight and a deadline approaching. In such cases I drum something out. In such cases a drum-it-out approach, which means secondary sources will be probed as much as the artwork itself, works well enough, and has even brought about a few ‘polished gems.’ I account it professionalism, am careful to quote or note any ideas not my own, and secure lodging near the next museum I’ll visit. Recently in Amsterdam, however, I lost my bearings a bit.
I sat on a bench in front of a Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum. I tried not to think. I put out of mind who said what about it, and when, and why, and to which ‘ism’ it belonged. I shut out its historical context, and even its title, and just saw newlyweds, standing together. I just saw two people. I just saw the colors, the shapes. He has long dark hair, and his intelligent, tender expression is attuned to the look on her face. She is equally thoughtful in a rose dress, staring off with a kind of quiet bliss. One of his arms curves around her shoulders, as if protecting something infinitely delicate, while his other arm, draping a voluminous shirt sleeve of saffron-brown-gold, crosses in front of her body, his hand lightly at rest on her breast. Her hand, on his, gently accepts.
I sat and stared, unwavering, for some twenty minutes, then stood for ten, until my slack-jawed tiredness really sunk in. I confess it shuffles up to ludicrous, and certainly does not convey an erudite, let alone professional demeanor, this woozy, practically drooling way of allowing some essential gesture to lift off the canvas, but after a time ‘a sensual blessing’ seemed the heart of the painting. As mentioned, when a simple essence hits me like that I open my sketchpad and jot down thoughts, or with contained zeal hop to the laptop, as secondary sources will more or less support my own take on the piece. But this feeling was big. Just being freed from footnotes, from the opinions of former experts, those experts having dressed themselves in the opinions of those who came before – as if one’s own fresh thinking were somehow indecent – gathered a whole lot of force and I started to jog.
I could not recall the last time I ran, in a fast sustained way, through streets teeming with people. I sensed a certain conservatism take note as I loped along like a grownup (I wanted to laugh, and in fact almost did), face composed even as my legs ran off on their own. An anatomy class I’d taught after grad school occurred to me then, as I felt the coordination between hip-socket, lower lumbar and femur, between vision and the instinctual fall of my feet around bottle tops, scraps of trash and other knickknacks. In youth, about ten, I guess, I’d thought it uncanny when I ran at low tide on the beach, how my footfalls naturally landed in-between so many stones, bits of smooth glass and seashells, spread like a galaxy on a wet stretch of sand. As the galaxy poured past it seemed my feet knew on their own where to go, as if countless directive messages came easy, unforced. Now jogging along a canal – the Prinsengracht – respectable townhouses etched in autumn sun rose out of their own reflection, as if groundlessness were the very thing that grounded them, and I found my feet taking me to a table at an outdoor café where the previous day I’d chatted with an art student/waitress about this and that. Our conversation had been welcome punctuation during an entire morning and midday spent doggedly responding to letters and emails regarding my previous articles, and I wondered how the Rembrandt, capturing a moment of early marital bliss, would go over with a predominately upper-middle class, often twice or thrice divorced female readership.
Connecticut Lives, occasionally referred to as the Connecticut Cosmo, had substantially expanded since I was brought on, and my relationship with my readers, primarily via a backlog of letters and emails now the size of the Northeast itself, was perpetual. To what extent contemporary art is temporary art I no longer pretended to know, nor, thankfully, did I have to, as according to our marketing department (aided by consultants and focus groups) Francis Bacon or de Kooning or Lucian Freud or Pollock and other such moderns were about as modern as our subscribers wanted to go. So in my first two months at Connecticut Lives – a trial period leading to a fork in the road – when upper-middle class women, be they divorced, recently divorced, recently divorced and professional with children, be they childless, single and professional, in a sloth of depression, actively grieving or relentlessly cheerful, be they happily married but momentarily lonely, be they some confluence of two or three of these things, or (increasingly common) boasting several distinctly different personalities, when such women wrote or emailed me about the symbolic significance of this or that peach, the serpentine leg of a couch, or the bluish torso of an up-rearing horse, I grumbled a bit.
It was, I think, after my fourth article (a well-received drum-it-out piece on a Chagall), that I began to comprehend the additional workload, and its attendant politic importance that came part-and-parcel with my bimonthly column. I experienced a private rebellion then, grouchily rooting about in a closet for a tattered, paint-splotched jean jacket I’d never thrown out, and grousing to Sherry, my extraordinarily patient wife, that I could not possibly respond to 476 emails, a full ¼ of which, perhaps not so oddly, made mention of a magical goat. “Not Possible!” I’d said, raising a retired croquet mallet, then unfolding the jacket from a cardboard box, thrashing my arms into its sleeves, half-expecting bats to fly out. I remember pausing in the hallway of our 1 ½ bedroom apartment, pleasantly confused, if only for a moment, that the old jacket still fit and smelled of acrylic. Sherry, who, to me at least, seemed to possess the properties of sherry – dark glossy hair, voluptuous in a contained way, measured and tending toward ritual – finding my frustration credible yet charming, tried to pat flat my unruly hair, exhausted and calmed me in bed, and after, in the kitchen, while stirring cream into mugs of fresh coffee, made suggestion of a noble calling. Thought-provoking dialogue between me and the community was a value-added activity, she said. And she rightly noted that many of the letters and emails did not point to a magical goat slumbering in the collective unconscious of Connecticut’s wealthier women – we sipped coffee at the new butcher block and laughed over that – but were sober-minded and savvy, and some possessed a genuine reflectivity, and that, at least in part, was what art was about. (The thoughtful Ms. Larson, for instance, after reading my piece on a Caravaggio, concluded that she would no longer attend her Sunday service, where light streamed though widows, illuminating the affluent only; and the highly successful Phyllis Jeeter, responding to my article on Turner, humanism, and the industrial revolution, impulsively drove an hour out of Manhattan, button-holed me in the lobby of our formally modest office, saying she realized that a person should not live in a city so big that they can’t walk out of it and into the countryside in the course of a morning. That she had in fact placed her Madison Avenue apartment on the market made me feel rather important.) It was at that butcher block – a pricey blond-wood Martha Stewart sort of thing for the upwardly mobile – that Sherry, with deep cleavage and recent law degree (intellectual properties), suggested that, given the positive and often volatile responses, I should negotiate additional compensation based on a small share of the gross revenue generated by my articles (our circulation at the time was 36,000). I mulled this over, then gave it a go. I shall never forget the light spring in my step when the arrangement was accepted. It was as if a marriage of convenience nevertheless possessed its own vitality and breath, and I began to more fully accept the pseudonym – Julian Curry – that I’d chosen long ago to place distance between myself as the painter, and myself as one who made the monthly nut by foisting opinions. (Opinions, Plato deduced, were brought about by an intermediary faculty, inferior to knowledge or some deeper Truth, though more recently my own sense had been that no theory could really stand up to a bowl of good onion soup.) Be that as it may, over the years at Connecticut Lives, the volume of correspondence became so great that I spent far more of every morning than I could comfortably spare answering the savvy sticklers, sincere inquirers, and lonely hearts whose pleas the Postal Service and electronic pathways so consistently delivered, sunrise sunset, season succeeding season, a routine necessity akin to shaving each day, Amen ($).
Somewhere along the graceful bend of Prinsengracht a clock tower gonged the first of three gongs, and I slowed to a walk, then stood in one place, stomach moving in and out like a bellows. A recollection started to surface, as I absently stared at a window, tall with a glossy black frame, its base overflowing with flowers, red and violet and pleasing. The surfacing thought was some statement, attributed to Van Gogh, concerning the very same painting, the Rembrandt I’d gazed at just moments ago. The third bell stopped, though I had the vague sensation that its sound kept coming out of the flowers. Then the sensation grew deeper and opened, even as it seemed to amplify the cringingly earnest thing Van Gogh said: that he’d be happy to give up ten years of his life if only to go on sitting in front of that painting for ten days with nothing but a dry crust of bread.
I walked on, recalling that even in my idealistic days of grad school that statement of Van Gogh’s struck me as rather dramatic, taken literally or not. It is spiritual, of course, or so Professor Brewer informed us. Brewer was a robust, bass-toned man, a sort of sea captain in a pressed white shirt, whose corpulent face appeared stapled in place by a permanently arched eyebrow. He said the statement alluded to the so-called nourishment of the soul. Lady-chaser and not-so-secret sensualist, Brewer had quite a capacity for steak, potatoes and strawberry shortcake, and on occasion he would morph from droll to jocular, and from jocular he might theatrically bellow, as when he went on to say something like, “That would be a long ten days indeed, with the grandeur of suffering perhaps wearing thin, and the tradeoff – a decade for little more than a week – well, good god man â€¦” I recall a mirthful release: “let’s go for a martini!” Everyone laughed. It was a big laugh at some ponderous or impossible absolute necessity. It was human and freeing, as if strings had been cut between my hands and heaven. Or, having read a little philosophy and tending to atheism, as if hope and despair, with their curious link, were not only unlinked, but with a certain secular swagger transcended completely. Brewer, or course, fiercely went on to extol Van Gogh, but after his joke – a universal solvent of sorts – the heretofore reserved art history class went out for drinks, and I’d first spoken to Sherry, for whom the course was a requirement, that very evening.
I came to a row of tables running along the edge of a mid-sized canal and paused. I was to set down 3,000 words for about as many dollars and I would not go hungry, let alone cut off my ear. But that’s glib. In fact, I sat, and with a vitality I’d not felt for years, banged out the article. For a by-and-large upper-middle class, often alcoholic and overwhelmingly lonely readership, I wrote of its feeling of peace, its desire arising from trust, its intimacy evoked with saffron-brown-gold, a soulful tone that penetrates deeply and is not found in the rainbow. I made my case for a sensual blessing being its central impress, and I even tossed in Van Gogh’s statement about the dry crust of bread.
In the mean time three hours had passed.
“I was hoping you’d be here. I didn’t forget what you said.”
It was the art student I’d spoken to the day before, arriving now for the night shift.
“Oh. Yes, ah â€¦ I’m sorry â€¦”
I could not recall her name, let alone what I’d said. Across the tree-lined canal a breeze rippled leaves like shimmering coins. I managed to remember that the art student had grown up for a time in the Finger Lakes district of upstate New York, though she was Dutch.
“Ava,” she said.
She was mid-twenties, with a tomboyish face, which every so often slackened with thought, as if her introspection took place in public, the way some residents in Amsterdam leave their curtains open, so you might see someone vacuuming, arranging flowers in a glass cylinder, reading or just thinking in a chair. It seemed to me that the original cause for this – the Calvinist ethic, ‘we live right and therefore have nothing to hide’ – had lost its staunchness, though the habit of trust remained, along with a low crime rate, perhaps.
“Have you not left the table since yesterday?” she asked, smiling.
“It’s a steady stream of correspondence,” I said.
Her blue jeans were speckled with paint, her body somewhat awkward. She sometimes moved jerkily, as if a sudden thought at the center of her reverberated outward. I had a kind of indefensible knowing that while life was relatively new to her she was nevertheless beyond her years, that she was drawn toward that which can’t be easily defined or fixed on a grid. She sunk into a hip, one arm akimbo, and looked off the opposite direction. For a moment she was entirely elsewhere and I remembered with unease and even dread that she had confided something the day before, that something important had slipped out in passing, and now I could not recall. It was one of my shortcomings, and it had been happening more and more. Some important thing would be spoken concerning cancer or suicide or surgery or what-have-you, or perhaps some seminal experience would be imparted, and I’d go and forget about it within twenty-four hours, even as I was quite able to get my column off to Juliet, our pinched but exquisitely proficient Associate Editor, in enough time to review notes and revise as I saw fit. At what point this slippage, this missing of immediate things (other than things about me), started to happen is unclear. Perhaps after my salary was raised, after my traveling expenses became more elastic, and, especially, after the small share of the gross revenue began to add up to quite a tidy sum indeed, perhaps after all this, the impulsivity of a purchase – a forest green Volvo – should have sent up a flag. (The doors close with a snug ‘thump’, sealing and completing the modular look everything has now, the way cell phones, with their plastic spacecraft design, their silly magical sounds, not only resemble both Japanese and American automobiles, but even those whose heavy-duty frame and various air bags abate primal fears.) Perhaps I should have sensed something, not askance, exactly, but tastefully insulated – as if wearing socks on the beach, socks a charcoal-tan cashmere perhaps – at some point after we’d moved into the new office, whose exterior is a kind of three story Volvo itself, only silver and glassy, and whose interior is beige and spacious and soulless, with corridors evenly lit, carpet cleanly seaming the walls, so that the soles of your shoes silently sponge along as you walk, and the Xerox machine, which does all manner of things, hums like a god.
“I cannot recall what you told me, Ava,” I said. It came out unforced and loud. It came out in a kind of clear or calm confession and I heard Ava laugh. “Maybe I should not have bought that new car,” I said. “Never mind the house, cedar deck, skylight, and all.” She laughed again and in the raw unplanned sound of her laughter, I liked her a lot.
“That is okay,” she said. “I have forgotten your name. What is it again?”
Julian Curry was a Royal Shakespeare Company member in the 1930s, ousted from a restaurant called Rules for his outrageous behavior. Nobody remembered the 30’s Julian Curry, and the name, with its certain distinctiveness, and had long since become me.
“Michael,” I said. “Michael Weaver.”
It was Michael Weaver who’d run on the beach, a little north of San Louis Obispo. It was Michael Weaver who at eight watercolored a series of whales breaching, or square riggers, keeling, sails full-blown. It was Michael Weaver who, at twenty, with jean jacket, easel and girlfriend, rattled coast to coast in a Volkswagen beetle, feeling the bumps on back roads, the warm whir of the transmission below, the dank mattresses of shoddy motels.
“Do you have onion soup?”
Ave looked across the narrow road separating the canal from the café, and back to me again. “Maybe,” she said. What a smile came over her face. Her eyes were brown, and for a moment they shone with mischievousness, as if she might push me into the water, which was far, far closer than I’d realized. It was, in fact, no more than a yard off, and quite a drop down. But then, suddenly, she said: “You said yesterday that a person can lose their lover or their leg or five dollars and it is noticed right away, but a person can misplace themselves somewhere along the line of life and not even know it.”
A leaf, not much larger than a dime, detached from its limb, fluttered down, silver and orange.
“I suppose that’s true, yes.” I looked forward a moment. It was chilly and the trees had a tin-like quality as the sun reflected off the water, warming my face. “You know, in my early twenties, and even before, I was passionate about existentialist thinking. I had in fact gone after my girlfriend with a lot of heated talk about Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Sartre, pacing in front of my easel out in some wheat field in Kansas.” I laughed a little, sensed Ava’s breathing where her jeans and t-shirt and sweater didn’t quite meet. She was comfortable in a pause. She absently pulled at her ear. When a small earnest vow fell from her mouth—“I will not misplace myself” – she was charming. She looked off and let me watch her. “Do you like your work?” she asked.
I told her about David Larkins, amiable Chairman of the Board, who MCs the Christmas parties where the band plays electronic pop and our accounting team, sloshed, participates in the dreadful samba, and Juliet Sanders, a tenacious Associate Editor, and the lonely likable Andy Blum, the in-house computer man who maintains our system with the regularity of a heartbeat in deep slumber. I told her how such people often say they envy my job. You get to travel, they say. You get to read a great deal. They say this as if HR, Research, Production or whatever their area was terrible beyond comprehension. Sensing I might offer a downside, Director of Marketing, Thomas Archer, quickly placed a hand on my arm, then slowed, his smile watery, widening, the press of his fingers like the soundless yet certain close of a door: “Julian, your life is all about art.” It brings me up short, sure, as I do enjoy being away from the office almost half of the year, and it’s fantastic, I guess, to rove about the globe and learn a great deal. “It’s all right,” I concluded.
What seemed the owner of the café – a grave, unshaven man of about fifty – appeared at the doorway. He clutched a rag and glowered. “I’ll just have a glass of seltzer, thank you,” I said.
She crossed the small road between the canal and the café and I heard a creak, an oily squeak, along with the whistle of a bird, and bicyclists passed. They were a middle-aged man and woman with baskets holding groceries and a small dog. The bikes overlapped by half a length, the pair of peddling legs and revolving crankshafts, not quite in sync, but seemingly linked like the various parts of an old locomotive, fluidly moving as one. That some interior calm, something numinous between husband and wife in the painting by Rembrandt – with its conference of her beauty, of the abundance of her body, the sanctity of their union and union itself – that the whole harmonious sock of it (a right cross for Van Gogh, a man who in marriage likely would not have gone many rounds) had resulted in the outpour of words that comprised my article was a hopeful or compelling idea. But no, the painted couple (poignantly, the subjects remain unknown) would have to go day to day, not necessarily to the last syllable of recorded time, but to make their own meaning out of some forty-odd years, and Shakespeare’s comedies often end with lovers meeting. And there to begin. Sherry, who had lovingly and, at times, not so lovingly, encouraged me to form more fully into my professional identity, Sherry, who had called me Michael, then Julian, then Jule (which I always heard as Jewel), who had lobbied heavily for a new home, a modernized colonial resembling the homes of those for whom I wrote, and who liked the new Volvo, eventually not only agreed, but saw clearly, that we should divorce.
It occurred to me then, sitting on that canal, that I had secretly felt a little naïve way back when in Brewer’s class, or if not naïve, then alone, even as I joined in with the joke. That statement of Van Gogh’s – its earnestness notwithstanding – had been the one thing I’d underlined in our assigned reading.
I saved the rough draft on a disk. I set it on the table. I picked it up again, pressed it, slid it into the pocket of an old jacket I’d brought along, faintly paint-splotched and tattered, about the right weight for this kind of weather. I had worn the jacket while painting in a heatless studio one winter, quite poor and over a decade ago, for five and six hours at a stretch, every morning. It was painful, or satisfying in a painful way, to see how blind I could be, that some underlined sentence could be lodged inside me for all of those years, and yet I was being paid to shed light, to highlight meaning, to enlighten and stimulate thinking. I sometimes comported myself like Mr. Authority, and the glossy photo at the top of my column, with lighting moody and low, showed me as dashing. I’m in clothes not my own – pressed button-up, sweater vest, and mod leather jacket – with a slight lift of an eyebrow, with hair slicked back wet and black. Kat, our ex-Art Director, whose lower back like a perfect piece of supple sculpted wood was forever blotched with a ghastly tattoo, consulted with Thomas and the photographer, considered our demographic, called Editor-In-Chief Sally Ray-Morton, who half-jested about the use of hair gel to suggest a magical goat, and after four rolls of film the photographer finally captured me as an alert yet calm man, brainy with wireless glasses. I am not wearing the glasses, but holding them near my cheek, as if they sort of hinged away from my face, revealing ‘eyes that see.’ In fact, I don’t wear prescription glasses, but just the magnifying kind you get at the drugstore. My hair rarely lies flat. I have developed a somewhat unorthodox or zombie-like mode of viewing paintings, which would certainly disturb at least a few of my readers, and I hurl myself at most articles: twice a month, twenty-four per year, two hundred and forty in the course of ten years, give or take a few issues. Give or take.
Ava came out of the cafe. She stood by a small table, took an order, paused, then impulsively looked up and waved. The two of us laughed. She had intuited that I was watching her, probably knew I was smitten from a distance. That was okay. It was evening and my shadow stretched out and out, lapped along paving stones, then jutted upright on a tree, hair pronging. That business about the saffron-brown-gold particular to Rembrandt and not found in the rainbow was ripped off from Oswald Spengler’s tome Decline of the West. If I did not note it, certain readers surely would. Not Christina Kraus-Muller, a sad but passionate and immensely well-connected subscriber, but Sue Larson or Jean Sinclair or poor Marcia Palmer and hundreds and hundreds of others, would seize upon the oversight and correct Julian Curry with emails, emails, emails. Out of one thousand, ten met for lunch. Out of those ten, two were potential board members, or knew potential board members, or could host a function, or were not only ‘connected’ but the connection themselves.
One of my articles, The Lonely American Beauty of Everyday Places, focused on a painting by Edward Hopper. It showed, of course, a female nude standing in a spare room with the inevitable slant of sun. I spoke of the haunted erotic undertones, the profound isolation, the separation between subject and viewer in much of his work – a window, railroad tracks, the rail of a porch. This article held the record for responses at 892, and ultimately resulted in brighter than average daughters being brought in as interns, a powerful and (more importantly) active board member, and a revamping of the actual printing warehouse, including a fleet of new trucks. This came about through Christina Kraus-Muller, depressed banker, formerly of Munich, with a displaced aspect. Perhaps she had given up the most attractive part of herself, not by dwindling into a wife, exactly, but by marrying a brute who owned a pharmaceutical company, polluting the Connecticut River. She had written me, initially, desiring clarification between naked and nude, contrasting a Lucian Freud figure sitting on a stool, with Andrew Wythe’s earthy Helga reclined in a barn. She had asked with a certain lonely bluntness, at lunch (we openly ate burgers at the Riverfront Lodge), where Hopper’s figure fit into the naked/nude schema. She wore a wool skirt, a white blouse buttoned at the neck, pasty make-up making her look forty more than her actual thirty-six years, and the ongoing absence of a physical relationship with her husband made her brood. (“I miss the green heart of Germany,” she’d said in a long low voice, sort of testing things out upstairs at the woodsy lodge, sunlit in front of the window, looking out as if to the valley where she’d grown up – or was she somehow recalling herself?) Eventually, she threatened to leave her husband if he would not finance the renovation of our printing plant, a thing she’d hoped, in part, he’d refuse. But he got on the horn with Sally Ray-Morton, and in return for the renovation received ad space in seven consecutive issues for his anti-depressant and sexual enhancement medications. The ludicrous irony actually made Christina laugh – a good thing to see – her unpillowed eye looking across the sheets as she said that income generated by the ad campaign more than covered legal fees brought about by environmentalist groups and a few homeowners whose children paddled and splashed with an innocence occasionally rendered by Winslow Homer, down-river.
Our circulation had broken one hundred thousand. The Rembrandt article I’d banged out moments ago, in its rough draft form, would bring in no more than 300 responses or so. An understated eroticism, something, in fact, on the edge of indecent, incites people to buy, to look and to email, to occasionally lunch, and would meet with approval by Sally, who huddled with Thomas, Director of Marketing, who had an American and European background in advertising and a shaved head so glassy it reflected his halogen lamp. The sensual blessing interpretation, heartfelt in essence, would have to be tweaked just a bit, would have to imply primal trust, yet merge a little more with the erotic, and that would sell copies.
I fly around the world to see original works. There is not a city I visit in which correspondence with emailing readers, often offering places to stay, the interiors of which appear on the tiny screen of my cell phone, does not take place. The world is becoming larger and smaller, simultaneously. Traveling, Emerson said – a fool’s paradise.
A blackbird sliced down, landed, and took two hops into my shadow. It disappeared in there, but then quickly pivoted its head, hopped again like a small black spring, and it may have been then that I realized the legs of my chair were wedged, and wedged firmly, between paving stones. I think it was, yes. I took hold of the arms. I had that terrible feeling of not being able to break free from a dream. I abruptly scooted the chair forward; a great clumsy lurch forward. I felt a thump on my solar plexus, and with one clean bounce my laptop splashed into the canal. It was one of those startling moments made all the more odd because nobody saw it, as when a big thing happens – not as big a thing as divorce, of course – but as when a big thing in the material possession category happens alone, and even nonbelievers sense a cosmic wink. My body jerked upward, froze in a half-rise, arms thrown up in the air, a little ecstatic. I decided in that instant to simply give Sherry the house. I decided, too, that I was not Julian Curry any more than I was Michael Weaver and I supposed I could go by Michael Curry or Julian Weaver and what difference would it make? I got out my sketch pad and, rather than jot clever thoughts, drew the window, the one that was tall with a glossy black frame, its base overflowing with flowers. A sense of the bell having stopped, but its sound continuing out of the flowers, would be a difficult, if impossible, thing to get down.
I would give notice tomorrow.
I would go back to that colorless office and pack up belongings. I liked my colleagues, even Thomas, but traveling spreads one thin, and, among other things, that forest green Volvo, with its sturdy frame, its front and side air bags abating primal fears, just cost too much.
My gaze held on the place the computer went in. I likely blinked once or twice, though I don’t quite recall. What I remember is that farther out a long boat of tourists chugged on. They were pinkish and leery; Scandinavian perhaps, or perhaps, given their plumpness and the primary colors they wore, from the Midwest. Yes, their heads were drawn back to produce double chins, which struck me as grain sacks. Be that as it may, it seemed their collective heaviness pressed the boat flat as it passed. My ThinkPad was packed with opinions, and I imagined it sinking to the bottom of the canal like a depth charge, then exploding, blowing up a geyser of water and words. Fragments – desire arising … not found in rainbow – and a few flopping fish, would rain down on the boatload of well-ordered tourists. I leaned back, lightened, a sense of warmth expanding inside me, though perhaps it was simply that Ava approached. I watched her speak, pretended to listen. Her enthusiasm – something about Protestants and Catholics in the time of Franz Hals – was lovely and I let her talk on, applying an internal layer of paint of my own. I smothered the laptop accident for thirty seconds or so. This was made easy as she was side-lit while behind her a birch tree bent in wind, ruffling silver and green, and an unexpected feeling began to well up inside me. Leaves let go, making a big sort of shimmer, but it was only after she set down my sparkling water – crackling and glassy in sun – that it happened. My gaze found the dark under the stony arch of a bridge. A bicycle glinted up and over its hump. Water reflected silver-green blades and my body grew hot. My torso and shoulders and face radiated as if a layer of gunk burned away.
John Stewart is a writer living in Brooklyn.