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A simple painting-- actually a gorgeous painting-- has locked away my heart. I discovered this beloved painting in a book at the library; it was lying on the edge of one of the computer tables about to fall onto the floor before I caught it. The title was “The Beautiful Atrocity of Contemporary Art”, a rather eye-catcher. Yes, so I flipped through it until a picture in the very middle of the book made me stop and stare.
So I checked the book out.
I managed to locate the whereabouts of the lovely painting, the Museum of Visual Art. It also happens to be that the Museum is three blocks away from my apartment complex and after paying a visit I requested a job application and spent most of my week creating the perfect resume to get a job in the Contemporary Art section, disregarding all of my homework even meals.
Today, I took a walk to the Museum with resume and job application in hand. As I approached the doors a man wearing shiny black shoes and a blue suit with the Museum’s insignia emblazoned on it, opened them; I’ve never felt so welcome.
A gust of cold air slapped me in the face, causing the hairs on my arm and the back of my neck to stand on end. The inside of the Museum of Visual Art is nearly as enchanting as the painting I’ve come to be with. The floor is a dark wood-- the type you’d find in an old 17th century house or something of the kind, the furniture in the lobby is a light contrast to the floor, caramel leather. A large chandelier with at least fifty diamonds ranging from the size of a marble to a phone, reflected hundreds of rays of light onto the floor and the light blue walls of the lobby.
“Ahem, can I help you?” I looked over to my right and saw a man towering over the lobby desk. “You’ve been standing as still as a statue for the past couple of minutes.”
I shifted my gaze down to my plaid Converse, a bit embarrassed. “Um, yes, I would like to submit my resume and job application,” I said, shakily.
“Well, come on pass ‘em here.” I placed the slightly crumpled papers by the man’s keyboard, which were eagerly picked up and read.
“Okay, this looks good, Contemporary Art section, eh? Ooh, tour guide not many people like that job,” he scoffed. “They complain about how their poor little feet hurt, or how sore their throat is from talking.”
He tossed my papers back onto the desk and began to type furiously on his black keyboard, making faces and grumbling under his breath. “Okay, you’re hired!”
I felt my lips twitch up into a smile; I outstretched my hand for him to shake. “Well, thanks a lot when do I start,” I asked eagerly, practically jumping up in down in excitement.
He grabbed my hand and I felt his callused palm, the dried up paint that was practically inked onto his skin, and miniscule clumps of clay made his hand monstrous hands look as if they were mutated, deformed. “You may start now,” he said, “we happen to be down a tour guide today in the Contemporary Art Section. Let me just print you out a nametag and I’ll have you follow one of our guide’s today, so you can learn the ropes.”
I watched as he began to type speedily on his keyboard again, rapping his fingers on the table impatiently as the printer inked my name onto paper.
“Here’s your nametag,” he said, “I’m Mitchell Sinclair by the way, the assistant manager.” He handed me my name tag with my name printed in red ink. “If you have any questions about the job just ask me or your guide leader, Amy, she’ll be in the Contemporary Art section now and she’s probably giving a tour.”
“Okay, thank you very much for the job,” I said calmly, slightly bowing before practically sprinting to the Contemporary Art hall. As I ran, images of my lovely painting flashed through my mind. I had made copies of the alluring item from the book so I could tape them all over the white walls of my apartment and be around it 24/7. I can’t believe I’m going to get paid for being with my love every day, this is crazy.
I stopped dead in my tracks as the hallway opened up to the enormous entity called the Contemporary Art Hall. Every part of the walls that made up the section were covered in heart-wrenching paintings from World War II bombings, to simple elegant women wearing bright yellow dresses with a matching umbrellas. There were two tours going on at the same time, with at least 12 people in each group. The tourists were gathered around a single painting, their digital cameras in hand, ready to blind their family members with the flash. Women held their large purses in the crook of their arm. Men instead held their sons and daughters, shushing them when they started acting up.
“…And this is the great painting by A. Pardee, it is called Goodnight Lava and it’s one of rare paintings that no one really observes. It’s almost a haunting image, if you stare at it too long.” I nearly gave myself whiplash as I heard one of the tour guides tell the history of my love. “There have been many interpretations of the meaning of this painting. For example some think that it represents a tortured childhood or a strained relationship between a parent. Then there are some who say it’s just a man using his imagination. Does anyone care to give their interpretation?”
The tourists became silent, even the little children as they all took turns staring at the painting then one another.
“I have an interpretation,” I said, raising my hand shyly.
“Go ahead, miss,” the tourist replied, a look of relief spread across her face.
“I think the painting is just showing a sick child being held by an equally sick parent and being put to sleep, either to be killed and taken out of its misery or literally put to bed. A. Pardee represents the two characters with ugly creatures,” I said, staring into the heart of my beautiful painting.
“Wow, that’s an interesting interpretation, I don’t think I’ve heard that one before, well done,” the guide complimented. “What’s your name?”
“Emily Lewis, I just got a job here as a tour guide; I’m supposed to follow one of the other guides to ‘learn the ropes’,” I replied as I walked towards her and my painting.
“Oh, welcome to the job, I’m Amy, you seem like a very intelligent young lady, I have one more painting to show these visitors before the next group; then you can learn the ropes.” She turned and motioned for her group to follow her to some painting of World War II by the exit. The art was very dark—soldiers littered the blood soaked soil, men held their guns at their side, looking down at the men in front of them. The sky overhead was filled with smoke and the moon was hiding.
I absorbed my lovely painting in person, the different strokes of the paintbrush, the length of the strokes, the minute details you could only see if you were face to face with my magnificent object. I felt compelled to touch the creature being held in the other’s arms, I wanted to know why he had such an ugly expression; why was he there?
I reached out to touch my painting, my index finger just inches away from the blue monster’s face; I felt a knot to rise up in my chest, love and fear were all tangled up, threatening to—
“Hey!” I quickly drew my hand back and shoved it into my jacket pocket and turned towards the voice. “I’m on my new group is getting settled, want to come and talk now?”
“Oh, yes, right.” I shuffled towards Amy in a slight daze. I had almost touched my love… so why was I frightened and not excited. That would make more sense, wouldn’t it?
“So, you really like that painting, don’t you?” Amy asked as the tourists took out their cameras and made sure their children were calm.
“Yes, it’s the reason I came to work here,” I explained, “I mean, it’s such a magnificent painting, like the Mona Lisa or any of van Gogh’s work.”
I glanced over at her to really look at her for the first time. She wore the Museum uniform, black heels that made her only an inch or two taller, a blue skirt that reached just below her knees and a matching blue top with the Museum insignia emblazoned on it. She had black her pulled back in a high pony tail, although a few strands of hair managed to escape and were protruding from the aforementioned pony tail; her nose was rather small, not very pointed and her eyes were the color of caramel cubes.
“Well… that’s an interesting reason to work here,” she muttered, her eyebrows raised slightly. “I’m going to assume that’s why you were staring at it for so long and not exploring the rest of the Hall.”
I smiled. “Yes, I wanted to be in face to face with my…” I paused, trying to find the appropriate word to describe my love, “admiration for a little bit.”
“Huh, yeah, I think I would too if I were in front of van Gogh’s self-portrait or his sunflowers,” she agreed, then looked over at the group of tourists who seemed appeared to be ready to begin.
“Okay everyone!” Amy called out, gaining the attention of her followers. “I am Amy and this is Emily, we will be your tour guides for the lovely Contemporary Art Hall today!”
I grinned and waved at everyone, some returned the gesture while others scowled and tapped their toes impatiently.
“So, just follow me to this work of art over here.” Amy led the group and me over to a painting with nothing but huge globs of red and yellow paint splattered all over a blue sheet of paper. This painting, no, atrocity does not deserve to be in the same room as my beloved, I thought, grimacing.
I shifted my gaze over to my alluring painting once again and wish I could feel the strokes and tiny bumps left from the paint. The voice of Amy was drowned out by my own day dreams of the painting…
I was standing in front of my love and once again; my finger was a mere inch away from feeling the rough canvas and paint that dried long ago. The same knot began to rise up in my chest again; the feeling akin to fear and admiration—love. I leaned forward to close the gap between Goodnight Lava and I when—
“Emily! Emily!” I snapped out of my day dream smiled at Amy, who was calling me.
“Yes, Amy, do you need something?” I replied politely.
“Emily, I’ve been calling you for the past five minutes,” Amy said with a hint of annoyance in her voice. “You’ve been standing as still as a statue with your eyes glazed over looking at the painting, now come on! The tourists are taking pictures around the Hall before meeting back up at Goodnight Lava.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Did the tourists not question why their other guide was just standing there?”
“Pfft, I told them you had just taken medication for a cold that makes you lose focus and zone out easily, but if that happens again I may have to talk to my manager.” Amy stalked off to my beautiful painting and waited for her group of tourists to gather.
I watched as one by one the visitors returned to Amy, some eagerly waiting to hear the story behind Goodnight Lava while others scowled and had looks of disgust spread across their faces. I could have sworn I heard a child say, “Ew.” Anger rose up in my chest. How can these people not respect such a magnificent work of art, these low-life ignorant nobodies! I proclaimed in my thoughts.
“Is everyone here?”Amy glared at me, her look alone telling me that I should be by her side. I stomped over to her, giving a fake smile to the low-life tourists on the way. “Okie dokie,” Amy said, putting on her tour guide smile. “This painting is called Goodnight Lava by A. Pardee. The history behind Goodnight Lava is not really known, seeing as it is a rare painting in itself.
We have had many interpretations of this almost haunting image, one interesting one was said by our own tour guide here, Miss Emily Lewis.” Amy outstretched her hand in front of me, as if displaying me like one of the paintings on the wall.
“That’s not surprising…” an old man muttered under his breath.
Amy glanced over at me and gave me a little smile. “Does anyone want to give their own interpretation of this rare painting?” She looked through the crowd, seeing if anyone even had an inkling of a feeling for sharing their interpretation. “Anyone…?” she tried again, with still no response.
I kept my gaze fixated on the ground which slowly went out of focus, my plaid shoes became a mixture of green, brown and white; everything around me manifested into Goodnight Lava. The tile floors converted into the yellow monster, whose arms reached up and crept up my legs which began to mutate into the blue monster.
I was transforming into my beloved.
The knot rose in my chest again, choking me, I was gasping for air, but the knot barricaded my airway. I grabbed at the yellow monsters arms, trying to weaken its clutches, but its nails dug into my skin, sending shock-waves of pain throughout my body. The more I pushed and punched its hands and arms, the more my efforts became void. Cold sweat covered my back, my shirt was practically glued to me, my armpits were soaked; my hair plastered to my forehead—
“Let go of me!” Is this how the blue monster feels…? “Get off of me!” As if he’s being choked, cut open?
“Emily Lewis!” The ground and my shoes shifted back into focus, Amy was grasping at my shoulder. “I think you need to leave,” she said, her tone serious. “You’ve been scratching at your legs and muttering under your breath. I’m beginning to think you’re unfit for this job if this painting is such a distraction.”
I gasped for air, only hearing every other word she said as my thoughts ran wild. I have to get rid of my beloved; he’s getting in the way, making me look as if I’m some type of freak to all these people. I shoved past Amy and the other tourists, running to the exit, past Mitchell Sinclair at the lobby desk and the man who was stuck holding doors open for guests. I ran all the way to my apartment complex, grabbed my keys out of my pocket, shoved them into the keyhole and thrust the door open, revealing my purely white home.
“I have to get rid of my beloved, he’s torturing me…” I mumbled. I shuffled over to my computer desk, ripped a piece of paper from a notebook and lifted a pencil from its white holder. I vigorously wrote down various notes from my one day on the job at the Museum, I would have to find a hole in the security of the Contemporary Art Hall.
I drew from memory recall the white tiles, the thirteen light fixtures that hung from the ceiling, shedding light onto the paintings. I grabbed one of the copies of my beloved from the computer desk and taped the miniature version onto the appropriate wall in my drawing and then drew all the cameras that were angled towards it.
I traced a path that would enable me to turn the power off on the camera while being in the others blind spots. I then created a checklist of things I had to bring and needed for the disposal of my love.
1. Enter the Contemporary Art Hall, lock the door and barricade it.
2. Get into the blind spots of the cameras and shut them off.
3. Walk up to my love and pull out my lighter
4. Watch my beauty go up in flames.
I smiled, reviewing my list and drawing. All I need is a good long nap…
I dug through my pocket and pulled out a cigarette lighter. Finally, I’ll be relinquished of you, my love. I looked through my checklist, the wires of the cameras were cut, the door to the Hall was locked and barred, and all that was left on my list was the burning of my beloved. I clicked open the lighter, watching the little red flame flicker back and forth, dancing.
“Bye honey, it’s for the best,” I whispered, moving the lighter towards the edge of the painting. “I need some time alone.” The orange light flickered towards the painted paper and set it on fire. I took a step back, watching my beauty turn to ashes.
The fire travelled up the side of the painting, it was going too slow, taking too long. Come on, I thought, trying to egg-on the fire with my mind. If you take too long the alarms will go off before you’re gone! I opened up the lighter again and lit the other edge; the flames grew bigger, engulfing the yellow monster and his pet.
The knot grew back in my chest, it wasn’t going away, that’s the whole reason I’m doing this-- to get rid of this horrible feeling that’s choking me! The knot kept growing, choking me. Then it occurred to me, it couldn’t be my love that was killing me if I continued to choke while it died.
“No!” I grabbed at the painting; I had to save it. I placed my hands directly on the flames, trying to put them out, but I looked up to see the smoke rising towards one of the fire alarms in the ceiling. My vision was tunneling, I still couldn’t breathe and my hands were getting red welts on them from the fire.
I blacked out.
I woke up cuffed to a metal table, my hands wrapped in bandages blood stains already beginning to form underneath. I was sitting on a hard steel chair in an empty metallic room in front of a mirror.
“Hello?” I called out, my voice hoarse. “Is anyone there—“
The door to my left was thrown open revealing an Asian man wearing a suit with a police badge clipped to his pants.
“Nice to see you’re awake, I’m Officer Cho and I have a few questions to ask you.” The officer pulled out the chair across from me, the metal made a harsh screeching sound as he dragged it over and sat down. “Did you burn the painting, Goodnight Lava, by A. Pardee,” he demanded.
“Yes,” I confessed. “And I did it because he was hurting me, killing me.”
“Who was hurting you?” Cho asked, raising an eyebrow.
I looked down at my bandaged hands and remembered that I had tried to save it, because I realized he wasn’t the one hurting me. “The painting, but as I watched it burn I felt the pain rise in my chest again and I tried to save my love, Goodnight Lava,” I explained. “But I couldn’t breathe and I must have blacked out.”
Officer Cho wrote something down on a piece of paper and said, “Thank you.” He rose from his metal seat and left, leaving me alone in the metal box.
What felt like an hour later two men wearing white overalls entered the interrogation room again and removed my cuffs for a brief moment before putting them back on with my wrists behind my back. Each grabbed my elbows, leading me out of the room into a completely white hallway with numbered doors.
“Excuse me, where are you taking me,” I asked, puzzled as I looked at the bare white walls.
“To your new room,” the burly one to my left said. “You’ve been pronounced clinically insane and are going to be held at this asylum until you appear to be better.”
We stopped at a room numbered 21; the lanky man to my right shuffled through his pocket until he found his keys and unlocked the door, revealing a purely white room. White tile, a white bed surrounded by white walls.
The burly man unlocked the cuffs once again, shoved me into the room and, before closing the door said, “We will bring your clothes in a few minutes.”
“This is just like home…” I muttered under my breath. “Except it’s missing one thing…”
I pulled the picture of my beloved from “The Beautiful Atrocity of Contemporary Art” out of my back pocket and set it on my pillow.