When I look up he’s standing in the doorway of my cubicle with his coat on. He says, “Let’s go.” I get my coat and we go upstairs to the front of the building but he doesn’t turn the way I expect. He heads for a different door. I follow, uncertain. I ask, “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to see art,” he says.
“We said. We’re going.”
“So, we’re just…having an es-cape?”
“Yes we are, Alice.” My name’s not Alice. He’s referring to Arlo Guthrie, and how people his age have never heard “Alice’s Restaurant” but he has. In the middle of one’s day, life can be very predictable. Though your eyes are open, you may be asleep. Suddenly, I’m wide awake. Everything interests me. The campus bus we’re sitting on is cavernous. The seats are improbably fuzzy and colorful. The other passengers are epic poems. The gray snow sky is velvety. The bare trees are skeletal and acquiescent. I tell him that when I was a teenager I traveled back and forth between my parents’ homes on those interstate buses and Aqua Velva smells like bus toilets to me. He is a child of the late eighties and early nineties; the idea of parents buying a bus ticket for a teenager and saying, “Call me next month” is quickly followed the picture of that teenager on a milk carton in his mind. Yes, but Lassie and Timmy were always home for dinner.
The bus stops at Monument Square which isn’t a square at all. It’s a triangle. When you tell someone to meet you at this location you say, “Meet me at the triangle. You know, Monument Square. And don’t play in the fountain. You’ll get a disease.” I skip off the bus. He walks behind me, lighting a cigarette. I quit smoking a few weeks ago but I like the smell of smoke. I turn around in the wind to let him catch up. He’s having trouble with his lighter. I point. He futzes. It’s taking forever. I point. “Don’t play in the fountain,” I say sternly, the Oracle of the Crossroads. Eventually the cigarette lights and we cross the triangle, then the street. A woman walks behind us shouting, “Excuse me!” We turn. She’s not talking to us. We don’t know who she’s talking to. She shouts again and again. I say, “Watch – a thing is about to happen.” Ahead of us, a security guard turns around. She asks directions as he walks back to her. Something interesting *is* about to happen, but we’ve made an es-cape, and we’re on the clock.
The gallery has seven rooms consisting of one large main room as you enter, two rooms to the left and four rooms to the right. We have both been here many times but never at the same time. He went to school here. I visited school here, when the school was across the river and so not here at all.
We walk around the main room. I’ve seen most of these paintings before because I visited the studio of Lala (no relation) recently. There’s one painting in particular I’m hoping to see. It’s not in the main room, so I think she’s chosen to leave that one out. Quickly, we walk through the rooms on the left. He asks me about a painting we both survey and feel it’s unfinished. He asks why. I point to a corner, and swoosh across, and come to a stop where a line is too sharp, mumbling the whole time. He says, “I had the same reaction but in the exact opposite places.” Still mumbling, I stand in the middle of the room on one foot, extend my arms and lean sideways. “Yes, yes,” he says, and we both know the painting is off balance. We race to a room filled with plants and large plastic containers. Water is moving, motors race, pencils dance on unfamiliar surfaces. It’s not as exciting as I’d hoped from the enticing noise. The videos in the next room also leave me cold but video work often does. In the next room, we find more of Lala’s paintings, including the one I hoped to see. It’s several different shades of green, with some other hints of color. We look at the last room’s white vellum on white canvas works. There are also rocks piled and shaped. I can’t tell if that’s Lala’s work because the wall labels aren’t crystal clear.
We make a break for the door, and the street, and the bus stop. A bus comes. I am talking about the green painting. I am talking about an incident from Lala’s childhood. I say this painting feels like the doorway into all the others. If someone had taken a picture of that incident, violent and horrific, and blown up the photograph beyond recognition, and if that someone noticed a microscopic corner of green grass or mossy riverbank became cool green pixels, and someone painted that, that’s the painting, and that’s the way into the story, and that’s what’s left for us to see of when the neighbor killed his little daughter and burned up her body.
Now, I say this on the bus. And we are almost immediately back at our building, and no one really noticed we were gone, and my lunch is still where I left it, half-eaten. And I am wide awake.