In a park across the street from Gallery 54, Leslie waited on a bench, under the maple and lace bark elm. The creamy white ridges in the bark had been as wonderful to touch as she had imagined. But after the man piercing bottles and trash with a pointed stick circled her a 3rd time, she clenched her thumbs and sat, taking in the matte dots of blue, yellow and orange in the beige haze created by the rustling of the leaves. Key of B, she thought. The wind here is in the key of B.
From this point, she could better see what the patrons saw when they entered the gallery. Her lady’s mantle, gossamer light and loosely woven of an iridescent blue and gold silk hung from the ceiling and gently fluttered whenever the door opened. Customers wanted to reach up and touch it. Leslie wanted them to buy it.
Before, people would ask what she did. Her answers of “I read a lot” or “what do you mean?” were as unsatisfactory to her as to them. She held no job, her late husband embarrassed more by that fact than she. And without a professional identity with which to neatly slot her, others lost interest.
After a few years of marriage spent waiting on a pregnancy that would never happen, Leslie returned to her childhood interests in spinning yarn, weaving and quilting, recreating the shapes and colors she felt she alone heard.
After a time, she did have an answer. “I made that.” And Dex’s friends and their wives soon wanted to see more. And she would show them. The small quilted wall hangings where she used color to manipulate the eye into seeing it in 3D, or made to look shot through with light via a judicious use of bleach. The skeins of hand-dyed and hand-spun yarn that gleamed with opalescence. Her handwoven stoles and veils and table runners. That she would appear to become unfocused before them, seeing words and hearing shapes in the linens where others only touched plain silk and cotton added to their illusion that she was an artiste worthy of, if not friendship, at least a seat at their dinner parties.
Only now, she needed to make money from it.
Leslie spied the man whom she wished to speak to, the gallery owner, as he opened the door and brushed off his hands, stamping his shoes. The mantle beckoned her, so she rose and crossed the street.
Inside, Quincy, the owner, was in motion, greeting her by name as he rapidly flipped through a trough of prints.
“Quincy, could I trouble you for a second?” Leslie hadn’t gotten to know many of the gallery owners on the tour, but the short, bald man with the well-trimmed Van Dyke seemed quite congenial, telling her to let him know if there was anything she needed. And she liked the black and white of dots and squiggles when he spoke. They were, she felt, appropriate for a man surrounded by vivid art all day.
“Sweetness, you are never a trouble. I’m only grateful that it’s you in charge and not whoever created that disgusting blood and yogurt monstrosity I need to throw away.”
“It’s not real. She told me.”
“Someone should tell the ants,” He delicately plucked a cello-wrapped square from the trough and walked it out the back door, flinging it into the dumpster. Leslie followed. “Quincy, I need a place to stay, that’s not a motel.”
“My dear girl.” He briefly clasped her hand. “I didn’t touched it with this one. Are you staying with us for good? I can make room for you in our mid-summer show.”
“You can do that?”
“ You were smart enough to stay unrepresented?” Leslie nodded. “My gallery, my rules,” He began to tick off items. “Of course, a place to live. Then, a suitable outlet. Or if you prefer, a day job.” He went in search of hand sanitizer.
A day job. In the back of Leslie’s mind, she wondered how to access her other bank account, the one she stored the remaining money from the sale of the house and furniture. Dex had been the one who handled the money and bills, like her father before that. She hoped what she had would be enough to tide her over until she could make this art her day job.
She thought of her tools, too. Her wheel, her looms and sewing machine, they were in a storage unit back in Austin. She had several boxes of what someone once called her ‘product’, extras she kept with her that she could pull out if needed, and these two remaining galleries had a good supply already on hand ensuring that she could put off looking for a job for a few weeks.
“About a place to stay? How would I know where to look? I don’t have a lot of money.”
“Sweet child, we are going to have lunch. And talk about it then. Give me an hour,” His shoulders gave a shudder. “Ants.”
She could wait an hour. She had eaten only a couple of slices of the bacon. Her father’s call, taking a spill in a parking lot, the soft blue surrounding the brown-eyed man who spoke in yellow and green triangles all contributed to her halving and crumbling the slices rather than eating.
She immediately thought of calling Dex and telling him how she was going to look for a job, and then remembered that he was dead. Surprisingly, her eyes welled up, the first in a long time.
She looked up and blinked rapidly, hoping the motion would keep the tears from falling. Leslie knew that Nana would counsel her to smile, to keep the world from knowing that “she didn’t have enough cinnamon for her snickerdoodles”. And just thinking of laughing with Nana made the threat of falling tears worse.
Sometimes, she allowed herself to remember the Dex she first met, the one who she now imagined would have been encouraging. But the Dex of the end, neglectful and absent, the one who caused her to waver between rage and confusion, and to forget there were good times, the anger over him was what she felt most and it was what helped her put him behind her faster. With this anger, the tears dried.
She wandered to the back, where many of the extra pieces were stored, keeping an eye out for trails of ants. That woman with the shoulder-sweeping plastic beaded chains looped through the long holes in her earlobes, she swore to Leslie that it was really paint and gesso despite her written descriptions of using yogurt and pig’s blood, a statement against her orthodox upbringing. Leslie moved two of her own boxes to a wall by themselves under a poster listing the tour’s artists, ‘Leslie Moore’ midway down the list.
It made her beam with delight to see her name displayed. The others she assumed took their status on tour for granted. She had met a few of them. The strident blood and yogurt atheist with the lingering aroma of a stable. The ethereal one with the flecked pottery vases more than one owner called vomit bowls behind her back. She knew the one who inked the beautiful and realistic portraits of nude women was a recluse. He would email a response to any phone calls.
By this point she herself had sold more than half of the things she had made for the tour. Thinking that brought a wash of dread over her stomach. She wanted to have her wheel and loom. And soon. If she found a place to live, new colors would make themselves known. Hopefully bright ones. Curved pinks, sharp pinprick orange arrows, triangular greens and yellow splatters. No more of these swipes of blues and dark golds.
Quincy poked his head into the room. “Is it safe?”
“Did you really throw her stuff out the back door?”
“Let me ask you this, how much has she sold?”
“She was pretty popular in Manhattan. I think Asheville, too.”
“So, enough that we can call it shrinkage and comp her half if she misses it,” He pressed his fingers to his lips. “Do you mind if we skip lunch? There was also a roach.”
“I’m not hungry. But -”
“I know. A place to stay. Are you thinking a room? A house?”
“A room? I could live in one room.”
Quincy motioned her out into the gallery and handed her some latex gloves. “Do you mind?” He donned another pair and pointed at the trough. They carried it to the back door.
He continued. “I’m guessing there’s now a man involved. Or is it a woman? Either way, you don’t strike me as the impulsive type.”
“Impulsive? You mean me liking a woman would be impulsive?”
“Moving because you met someone would be impulsive. You liking a woman? That would make me question myself.”
They started wiping off the cello, and shaking out ants. “I don’t understand?”
“If I can’t tell you’re straight –”
“I did meet a man. But I also don’t have a home to go back to.”
Quincy gave her an oblique look. “It’s always the conventional looking ones who surprise you the most,” He held up a hand to ward off any more of her questions. “I have a house, with an upstairs studio that I am semi-using, and you could be a caretaker.”
“Caretaker? Of someone? I am not sure that -”
“No! No, no, no. Of plants. You don’t kill things, do you? Ants don’t count.” Leslie shook her head. “My partner, my husband, recently, he gave me an ultimatum. Something had to go. My clients, their shows or my plants. You can stay there, water the plants and pay us a nominal fee.”
“What’s nominal?” The door buzzer went off, high black dots on a field of white, indicating the gallery’s front door had opened.
They both leaned over to see the tall brown-eyed man standing just inside, looking up.
“It’s him? That’s him.” Leslie was startled.
“Hm, you have good taste. Nominal, that we can discuss. Why are you staring at him?”
“Why is he here?”
“Sweet child, he’s interested, and I doubt it’s in art. Shoo!” He gave her a light push.
Leslie slowly approached Sam. “Hi, again.”
He hadn’t expected to see her, just her work.
“I’m a little early on my way to a meeting over there,” He jerked his thumb behind him. “Thought I’d take a look.”
She stared him, the yellow and green triangles dancing over his shoulders.
Sam continued. “Since you’re here, I was wondering, can you take me to dinner tomorrow? For our date.”
She watched their sparkle. “I’d like that.”
“And which East Bay Inn are you at? There’s three.”
Leslie saw that Quincy was laying down a piece of paper on the counter. He wagged a finger at her and pointed to it.
“Excuse me.” She walked to see what he wanted, but Quincy had already left. On the paper, he had written ‘small percentage of sales’ and an address.
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