Columns, nice clear delineations, logic and bedrock and truth, oh my! There was nothing so satisfying, so secure, and relaxation-inducing as a perfectly balanced ledger sheet. Flights of pretty swirls of this and that fell twitching next to the solid, unshakeable pillars of numbers that added up to a vast plateau of stability.
Art was all very good in its place and, Derek supposed, important in some airy fairy let’s invent something ever so much more fun kind of way that too many emotionally immature types seemed to need. Lenny, for instance. And that was just too bad because Lenny was such a peach otherwise.
Derek liked L.A. and dove right in to the deep end of every lush turquoise pool of opportunity presented to him. Privately, in the sanctity of his own company car, he admitted that he loathed the subway. Sitting in traffic with an audiobook and some numbers to reconcile was never a hardship. He practically purred every time he kicked the engine over and pulled out of the parking garage.
The excitement of starting over, setting up a new apartment with new lovely furniture, getting sorted out in a demanding job had all kept Derek nicely distracted and he was able to hold to the promise he’d made to himself: let Lenny come to him. The kid would see the light, Derek was sure of it. He couldn’t make a go of it as a glorified errand boy for a bunch of whack job art types. But Lenny didn’t call or email. When Derek did break down after a month and called, he got Lenny’s voice mail. This started the current round of phone tag that was trying Derek’s already diminished store of patience.
He pulled off the exit ramp, adjusted his sun visor and checked his phone again. Oh Mother Mary in a bikini, this was one truly harrowing hangover; with parts of last night gone Derek couldn’t be sure what it was he’d ingested to result in this brutal pounding. Nothing from Lenny. Again he decided to just move on. There were so many interesting men here; why should he waste even a minute on Lenny? Clearly Lenny wasn’t wasting any juice on him. What was this other guy’s name again? Chase, yes, of course. Chase was oh so available tonight or any night. Tonight it would be then and Lenny was welcome to his silly artistic dreams.
Lenny went on about his business and pondered his response to those loopy emails. Bickford was out of detox and needing a little company. What was so damned intoxicating about that Derek anyway? Did that glorified bean counter really think Lenny was just going to up and leave his life for some housefrau existence out in that endless summer nightmare? Did they really know so little about each other after nearly five years?
All very depressing.
Lenny’s swoosh of color and light were all very nice but Bickford had built an intimidating edifice of welded steel, iron and copper that didn’t need any embellishment, thank you very much. Oh Christ, it was going to be bitch of a long day and forget about tonight. One day at a time, indeed. He picked through the mail, paced a bit, decided to throw it all to the gods and get a bottle, then decided to wait a bit. Lenny would be here soon; if nothing else he would be a distraction allowing Bick to ignore his brain for a bit.
What could the mightiest steel do against the flood? Sit there, that’s what. Wait it out. No flood lasts. Steel lasts forever. Even floods of lush, sweeping color can only mark the steel and Bick stood steady through every storm. Or he had until recently and it was with unsteady feet that he was trying to find his way back to bedrock. An email caught his eye, pulling him out of the spiral of self and giving him something to feel ever so superior to; ah, where was that Lenny anyway? Bick had always suspected there was a sly agenda sliding around in the background with innocent, helpful Lenny and here was evidence. Castor, no less! He had a bit of time and reached for his phone.
Fifteen minutes later, Bickford gave up. He was the last one to know, as usual. Nice to have picked up a few details though, he thought as he chewed his thumbnail. Where the fuck was the fairy, anyway? He’d about made up his mind about that bottle when the buzzer buzzed. Fabulous. He shuffled over to let Lenny in, cranky and put upon and glad for someone to inflict his unpleasantness upon.
“Hey, Bick, I brought some raw honey and bread.” Lenny had gotten used to the new climate quickly and knew, in a general way, what was coming.
“How’s it feel to be sucking the devil’s cock, kid?” Bickford prided himself on not having even a passing relationship with tack or subtlety. As soon as he’d chased Lenny out he was going for that bottle.
“Tough day, eh?” Lenny went on about his business.
“Not as tough as yours are gonna be, smart boy.”
Lenny pulled out plates and smeared honey onto slabs of brown bread and chose carefully among his options. Henry Bickford had never been a font of human kindness but now Lenny reminded himself that old Bick was a wounded beast and went back to letting the shit fall to the floor unnoticed. He was not unaware of how infuriating this would be to Bickford and decided he could enjoy that aspect, too.
“Poor little Lenny, you got no idea how deep into the sewage you are now.”
“Here, Bick.” Lenny brought a plate of bread and honey in and set it on the makeshift coffee table. He’d put the kettle on and went back in to get the tea, tossing a pack of smokes down by the plate for Bick. “You get any leads on a place for the new piece?” All Lenny needed now was a suit of lights and a red cape. Not feeling very charitable these days he could enjoy a round in the arena with this bullheaded idiot.
The room got very still.
Bickford did not reach for the tea or the cigarettes. His new piece had as much blood as welded stainless steel in it and was squatting down in his studio, unwanted and irrelevant. Whispers of rank Serra worship had been growing louder for years after a rockets red glare start for the young, cocky Bickford two decades ago. Hell had entire caverns for twenty five year old has beens of every stripe; Bick just refused to settle into his and had been grimly fighting to be a contending voice again for three brutal decades. It was time for that bottle.
“Thanks for the stuff, Len. I gotta go out.” He reached out an unsteady hand. “I’ll have my keys back, too.”
Lenny wasn’t one to cave easily but hitting the bitter wind outside combined with the rising tide of recrimination and suspicion was having its way with his usually level head. A garbage truck rumbled by and the city suddenly felt filthy and limited. Some schmootz got into his eye and he was blinking furiously, thinking furiously and would have missed the red painted footprints in front of him if they hadn’t also been depressed into the concrete. As it was, he stumbled and would have likely fallen except for a helpful hand on his elbow, a remarkably strong hand that spread warm reassurance up through his arm and into his belly.
He turned to thank his Samaritan and was alone. The traffic crowded his sound space creating more confusion. A tear streamed out of the afflicted eye and he held it shut to allow the bit of dirt to be flooded out. So what was the deal with these footsteps, anyway? He leaned down in closer to see that there was a key sent into the heel of each footstep. Quick, he glanced around to gauge the reactions of his fellow pedestrians. A slender thing in ridiculous heels floated right over the sunken footsteps.
It wasn’t that Lenny hadn’t appreciated Derek’s relationship with logic and certainty, but logic will only get you so far in this world and certainty ended where this trail of footsteps began. Blinking through a gauzy veil of tears Lenny didn’t even try to figure out where the footsteps were going. A couple of curious dachshunds held their human hostage while they sniffed and investigated the red footprints; the human oblivious and lost in his little hand held screen.
Tilting his head, dachshund-like, Lenny wasn’t surprised to find that his foot fit perfectly into the print in front of him. It also seemed to make sense that there was a point of heat in the heel where each key was set. And sound. There was a faint, but very pleasing bell tone with each step. And this was how Lenny walked from here to there, curious but not worried even as his feet sank more deeply into the sidewalk.
Grant surveyed the new bags of glass.
Crunched, separated, broken and piled up in mismatched heaps of doubt and insomnia, the space between half finished slag of hope and fizzed out, jittery mess of potential was noisy with the chatter of all the 4am sessions of despair. Grant sank down, cowed. What had he been thinking? Bigger is not necessarily better. Is there anything more pathetic than the half finished rearing up against the gods by an old man as he’s carried out in a box? The kettle screamed and Grant rose to obey. Tea would help ease the noise. He’d thought the new tiles would give him that boot he always needed and always got about three quarters of the way through a project when the dark forest was closing in and the breadcrumbs were all eaten.
Tea steaming nearby, Grant began facing down the bits of chaos. He’d been doing this long enough, the opening, the spreading, the sorting, the sliding and scooping and even the sounds were a form of prayer. It would be all right. Right? Something caught his eye and he turned to the mosaic.
“Grant, can you hear me?” Lenny’s voice slid past Grant’s ears and appeared in smooth washes of lavender and soot in his head.
“Len….ny?” He looked back and forth between the mosaic and the piles of tiles. The voice seemed to emanate from both.
“Maddie Jo is coming over. You have to tell her no, you won’t do it.”
“Do what? Lenny, where…….what….are you all right?”
“I guess so, but I don’t know. No, maybe I’m not. Watch out for Bick, too, by the way, he’s drinking again.”
By now Grant could see flutters and shades of something moving at the periphery of the mosaic. It wasn’t Lenny’s face exactly, or any face exactly, but there was a sense of entity pushing against the limits of glass. Grant was moved by a great wave of compassion, weary worry and tiny spikes of shame for his doubts about Lenny’s intentions and leaned in towards the mosaic with an outstretched hand. As his hand hovered closer and closer to the bumped surface a repelling heat scolded him and the doorbell rang.
Full, rising, fear-driven and furious.
The sparks of the welder’s torch spit, bite, arc and burn out. Nothing lasts. No truth distilled through the sieve of any artist’s experience can be heard by every listening ear and really most ears aren’t listening. All who create scream at the gates of indifference but some carry more than raised voices and Maddie Jo was bringing her own specially designed battering ram to the war. Since she no longer gave a good God damn who got rammed Grant was quick to get out of the way as he let her in.
“You’re with me or you’re going down, too.” Maddie Jo had never wasted time with the niceties.
“Tea?” Hard to remember when Grant lusted for this mad woman.
“What? NO!” Maddie swept in, tossed aside her coat and took in the studio’s meager spillage of Grant’s aching need to make something magnificent. “This is what you’re doing these days, eh?”
“It’s a different world, Mad.” Grant shrugged and pulled the curtain to let his visitor know he wasn’t interested in her opinions.
“Not if we don’t want it to be it isn’t.” She flopped down on the worn settee. “How long are you all going to be cowed by that trumped up prick, Castor, anyway?”
From the edges of the curtain, Grant saw a brief sparkle of light and figured that Lenny was listening. Why did Grant have to be the one to face down this bullshit? He had no quarrel with Alexander Castor, he barely knew the man, but he’d always been straight up in their dealings. Castor had been frank about the limits of what he could do for Grant and Grant had worked within those limits with a fair amount of success. He’d picked up three good commissions through Castor and wasn’t too put off when this or that piece was returned home an unwanted stepchild of the Art World.
“Woman, you take the weather personally; why the hell are you so determined to blame Castor for your failure?” Both Grant and Maddie Jo stared in amazement at the voice booming out from behind the curtain. Maddie was on her feet first, ripping the curtain back and standing, slack-jawed at the sight of a smoothly massive mouth working through the bits of glass. “Sit down and listen.”
The emails sat, simmering and unresponded-to, shifting from upper case to lower case in a frantic bid for attention. By now Lenny’s legs, thighs and coccyx were gone, securely shut away in immovable and stubborn acrylic opaque rock solid green black swirls of frozen expectations. He knew those emails were pulsing away somewhere just out of his reach but in front of him were two wounded faces that wavered sliding in and out of focus. Something was at stake. What. What? An urgency sifted up through small hairline cracks in Lenny’s peripheral vision.
“Forget Castor.” Lenny rather liked how his voice sounded, filtered through cracked layers of time, distance, and glass. It carried a new authority that was taking the formerly formidable Maddie Jo by surprise. Grant, on the other hand, had never seemed so completely at ease.
“You’re the one, Mad, you’re the one fucking up.”
Something was rising and turning. Lenny’s initial impulse was to quell it, suppress it, shove it down and away. His sense of omnipotence was slipping and he wanted it back but this tide wasn’t going to go back out and even the loose piles of glass were feeling it. A jittery romp was about to take over and Lenny allowed himself a teetering moment of delight in the alarm blasting poor old Maddie Jo’s eyeballs.
Then it all exploded.
Hungover again, Derek, stumbled against the door frame. That had been a very bad idea, note to self: avoid porn stars. Chase had arrived with a bottle of Cristal and loads of attitude but no condoms. The ensuing dance had been intoxicating and nauseating in equal measure. Poppers, more booze, something white and powdery, more poppers and then, insanely enough, peppermint flavored vodka. Twining up and down, over and under, that sliding snapper of a man gobbled up any shreds of common sense that might have tried to pull Derek back to himself.
There’d been a moment, though, a long teetering moment when Derek thought he would pull free and be all right. He knew who he was here and this was not him; he didn’t bareback, he didn’t snort anything, he was a sensible man. At some point, though, he caught sight of his phone and it lit up and there were those emails, lined up and ignored. That growling, it was him. His cock reared, rose and all hope was lost.
Then it all exploded.
Alexander Castor poured another mineral water and considered the situation. He’d been running this show for a long time; long enough that what he really wanted was to be surprised. Maddie Jo’s threadbare threats were old hat. There was a cauldron nearby and she would be easily tipped into it; he was in no hurry. Too bad Christine was gone; she’d be ideal for any nasty little sideshow that could draw this out a bit.
Ah, but now Grant had gotten pulled in and that was unfortunate.
Alexander and Grant had history. There were so many storylines crossing here but Grant’s nubbly bit of aquamarine had resurfaced, studded with decades of mistakes and genuine talent. There was that altarpiece that still pulsed with a generation of hope and for that Grant would always be spared the wrath of Alexander Castor. Castor had little use for human kindness; anything human was inherently flawed and thus to be dismissed. Art, however, real heart deep throat closing head spinning word killing thought imploding creations by flawed humans would always come first in Alexander Castor’s cosmos.
Lenny, now this was a nice twist that Castor could appreciate. But where had that slippery bit of work gotten to? There were places here that only Castor could access…or at least he’d thought he was the only one. Embedded in one long unused narrative vault were lines of footsteps that could correspond to creative arcs and somehow that foolish faggot was fiddling about in a very unstable area.
Something was vibrating and Castor sighed. Well, he’d never ascribed to that doggerel about being careful what one wished for and now here was his surprise. It was good that he’d sent Hilda home. He went into the library and closed the door, going over to run his hands over the spines of some very special books. Tilting his head slightly to catch the signal, he selected one and then put it back. Not here. Odd. He swung around to survey the room.
Really? He backtracked to a dusty corner; nothing of interest had issued forth from these old paperbacks in over a decade. He hovered a steady hand above the line of shabby books and listened. Sex. Of course. That scent was unmistakable and brought up some amusing twists of nostalgia but nothing really stirring. Here. He pulled out the book and flipped it open to where the sent emails were now practically hysterical, flashing neon html fireworks. Scowling, Castor was ready to toss the book into the fireplace; who needed yet another soap opera?
And then…it all exploded.
Every day, every hour whole universes are disintegrating into whispers of ashes; what can another two or three (more or less) matter? Shattered and spun and wrung, three connected strands of consensus reality break down with collateral damage up and down the spectrum. What happens when glass super heats and is shot into vast washes of undammed color that then tear down all the supporting pillars of mathematical logic? Who survives? Who maintains any structural integrity? Consciousness and eyeballs and the soles of feet fly in every direction; who remains who and who melds into what?
Self interest breaks down and slithers into tiny, sparkling shards that mingle with self doubt. The certain becomes wet and unsustainable. Long suppressed desires whip onto the backs of unbroken horses and tear apart every semblance of order. Caution is the first casualty, ruined and useless. Compassion withers. The solid temples that once parenthesized common sense and sensible action cave in and what was formerly the good head on a set of shoulders goes distorted and degraded.
It’s a good day to disappear and in three tiny pops Lenny, Derek, and Alexander Castor disappear. Heavy drapes of confusion are slow to lift and, as they do, Maddie Jo, Grant, Bickford, two confused Jack Russells and a hustler who calls himself Chase wonder where they are and why they’re covered with shimmery sharp dust.
Grant rises and adjusts his glasses, going over to the window to see an unchanged street. He helps Maddie Jo to her feet. Neither speaks. They share a sharp, unexpressed urgency to get back to their studios. Fundamental structures have been altered, but now is not to the time to kick the tires. The phone rings and rings. They get their coats and walk out. It’s begun to snow tiny razors of weightless glass and Grant flinches from each snowflake. He looks over at Maddie Jo whose face and hands are pinkening. He wipes his own face and gazes at the soft smear of blood.
Time to get back to work.