Robert returned the nod from the attendant as he stepped inside The Gallery, knowing the acknowledgement was reserved for regulars. He remembered the man from that reception last month, to launch the BIR exhibition, or was it the PIX show? Sometimes it was hard to keep up.
He strode toward the sculpture room. Robert liked to work to a plan when visiting a gallery. Last month had been Portraits. He had enjoyed the XZX, the YYZ and the YZZ, and had finally got to see an XYZ in the flesh, as it were.
The memory of telling Hannah that over lunch made him smile. How pleased she’d been, since she was the one who introduced Robert to the work of XYZ. Lunch had been a particularly fine grilled salmon, he remembered, though the wine was a little sweet for his palette. She had paid though, so he could hardly complain. Which reminded him, he owed her a lunch, or a drink at least. Perhaps he should invite Eleanor along too. Those two would make a wonderful couple.
This month was Sculpture. Or at least it was meant to be. Robert realised he had been staring at a GHG for several minutes and had drifted past a GGH without even registering it. This wouldn’t do.
With focus screwed tight, he stood in front of a striking piece made of paint. Yellow spatters on a bed of red, twisted into a band like a ribbon of paint alone. How did the artist do that? Did they paint on to plastic or something then peel it away after? Who was the artist? Robert searched but couldn’t find a label anywhere near the piece.
That was amateur, he thought. This was a capital city gallery. One he had in fact signed up to as a Friend, though as far as he could tell this involved little more for his direct debit than being offered opportunities to spend more money.
He should email the curator. This was another slip. There had been the lighting issue last month, when it had been impossible to look at that minor YXY from any angle without a shine on the canvas.
Robert looked around the room with a sigh. It was so generic. The familiar white walls and stripped pine floor occasionally interrupted by some art. He made a decision. He would sit on the bench in the middle of the room, examine a piece, then change position so he could view the next, working his way round, missing nothing.
He found himself sitting in front of a large piece depicting a man with wings hanging uncomfortably in mid air. First flaw with the sitting plan. Robert would have to crane his neck to see the whole thing, which was too big for this space, now that he really looked at it.
Robert carried a notebook with him wherever he went. He could use his phone, he knew, but a proper notebook was so much more aesthetically pleasing. He wanted to jot down these irritants, as he knew they would be gone from him by the time he reached the gallery café for one of those gorgeous little pastel de nata’s.
A noise behind him startled him. Someone standing too close. This was turning into one of those days. Was it his imagination or were there more of these now? He had joked with Kelvin the other day that it was a sign of getting old.
What was that, a cough or a sneeze? Surely if someone was infectious they shouldn’t come to an art gallery. The last thing he needed was a cold. He had that thing at the Old Vic tomorrow night.
The noise came again. It was a sob. A stifled sob.
Robert turned to see a woman staring at the winged man statue. There was a look in her eyes that he couldn’t identify. Pain? Despair? Was she ill? When she dragged her stare away from the sculpture for an instant she seemed startled to see him, or anyone.
He made to stand but she put her hand on his shoulder. Whether she was trying to steady herself or stop him from rising he couldn’t tell but for someone so slight, the pressure was firm. He looked at her hand on him. Saw paint there.
When he looked up at her again her eyes were waiting, examining his.
‘Isn’t it amazing? The sins in it?’
She looked back at the suspended statue.
Robert looked at it too, forcing himself to look at it rather than her. He saw pain in the downcast tilt of the man’s head, exhaustion in the weight of the body, hope in the lift of the wings. It really was a much more powerful piece than he had noticed, but what sins?
He turned to say as much to the woman but as he did, she lifted her hand, turned and left, not glancing at him or any of the other pieces in the room.
Robert thought about going after her.
Instead he rubbed at a most peculiar shade of purple she had left on his shoulder. That might not come out. Sighing, he stood, gathering his notebook, phone and bag.
Robert circled the statue but again could find no labeling.
That really isn’t good enough, he thought, opening his notebook.
Tom O’Brien is an Irishman living in London. He’s been longlisted, shortlisted and placed in numerous competitions and publications around the web. He has a short story appearing in a forthcoming print anthology published by Blood & Bourbon.
He’s on twitter @tomwrote and his website is www.tomobrien.co.uk.