They face each other across the void at the heart of the Guggenheim. The Calder dangles between them, curved white walls peppered with a temporary show at their backs. The married woman looks down eight museum floors. He can see her manicured nails, even from this far away: Red-y for Anything. She lives for dark irony. Black hair falls around her face like the final curtain of an opera no one enjoyed. His eyes find what they both seek: another tourist has set a digital camera on the floor facing up to the pretty ovoid ceiling of the Guggenheim. The red light indicates the timer has been set. It flashes like a steady heart monitor.
It flashes double-time.
He says the words in a quiet, quick voice. In English, without a discernable accent. Standard American English was their agreed-upon language. She had dismissed Russian, German, Italian, and Spanish out of hand. He couldn’t speak any Asian tongues. They had briefly considered French, but they didn’t want to be mistaken for Canadians. Even in the 1.4 seconds it would take them to perform this piece, they wanted to be known as worldly American artists. He had traveled the world and his last words would be in his native tongue. A fitting end.
“One, two, three, go.”
At the signal, their feet leave the floor.
They push up to perfectly mirrored handstands on the low curved wall. They have trained for this. He is wearing gray Bermuda shorts and a Ralph Lauren polo, but an old one, where the logo is too small to easily identify. She wears matching gray: a mini-skirt that flutters against her thighs while her long hair sweeps the white railing– adding points to the artistic portion of their program. She has also chosen a Ralph Lauren polo top, though her logo is huge.
The young man’s back is to her now as they hover on their hands, backs perfectly straight, pointed toes in the air, and he has a fleeting thought that the railing is cold. In his sightline, upside-down, is a piece from the exhibit she had called, “thrown together, but getting great reviews.” He realizes that he actually prefers this piece –it’s Emilio Vedova’s Image of Time (Barrier) – viewed from this angle. Abstract, geometric art can be funny that way.
Their bodies curve and their feet fall into space then they tuck their knees quickly and spin into a downward dive. Their abdominal muscles tense up as they spin: one, two, three full spins and then a twist and look at that extension! – He thought he would never be out of debt, the commentators will tell us later, while she is wealthy by middle-American standards. Perhaps this is why before today, no one has ever taken her art seriously.
They plummet just as the tourist’s camera flashes. People scream and dive out of the way. The artist’s arms sweep out to their sides and then behind their torsos in perfect butterfly harmony. People are still screaming. Still scrambling. Her head smashes to the cement one one-hundredth of a second earlier than his, but the snaps of their necks and spines, the crumple of bone against floor, their iPhones’ crystal displays cracking—all this happens as one. No one notices a speck of extra red on the Jackson Pollack at the foot of the famous spiral staircase.
On an instant replay, you would be able to see the woman briefly smiling, the man’s legs not entirely tight, his toes in black leather Kenneth Cole’s not entirely pointed, really, the team could have choreographed this better, but no one is videotaping this event. This will be their first and only run.
Even though the circular lobby and its fountain and frosted skylight are generally camera-friendly, the Guggenheim guards tell the guests “no photographs” as if this is just another special exhibit.
In the morning, the preprogrammed Tweets begin.
They always arrive at 9:12 am, for no apparent reason. People following the synchronized suicide hashtag on Twitter speculate that the numbers represent a date of importance, a birthday or anniversary. The only people who could explain it are dead.
Day 1 - Yesterday was a good day to die. #synchronizedsuicide
Day 2 - Kindof reconsidering the whole death thing. #synchronizedsuicide
Day 3 – Afterlife sucks. #synchronizedsuicide
Day 4 – What are the papers saying about me? #synchronizedsuicide
Day 5 – Here’s a link to my kickstarter campaign to fund #synchronizedsuicide
The two identical Tweets appear simultaneously, on separate feeds. This too, is noted. A forum starts up, and within a week, someone has thrown together a website for fans of the new art form.
By Day 25, the Kickstarter campaign has crowdsourced enough money to fund another pair of young artists. The biggest donors get an email saying where they should go to watch; the grant winners, who are randomly selected from the pool of applicants are an emerging visual artist and a photographer who refused to go digital.
The pair has been practicing daily on the ten-meter platform in the Palladium Athletic Facility at NYU and are looking Olympic. They are scheduled to jump off the roof of the Met in early September 2014. Click here if you are a critic, interested in reviewing the piece.
ContributorM. M. De Voe
M. M. DE VOE is a Manhattan-based writer whose short fiction has won many literary prizes. mmdevoe.com