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The marble steps felt steep, even in the bright sun. These might have been the only marble steps of any breadth left in her town; even the courthouse had relinquished to standard cement, perhaps installed by the local Italian concrete operation. She sighed. This whole facade, with its equally marble, ribbed Ionic pillars, its Pantheon peak, perhaps a last architectural vestige of the city known to her childhood.
Approaching two tall glass paneled doors at the top of the steps, she noted a paper sign attached with a single piece of tape: “Use 5th Street Entrance.”
No matter; there’d been meter time left in her spot. She descended the steps. Driving around the block to the main entrance, her mind began to revolve.
The meter at this spot had no extra time left. Setting aside the quarter labeled “New Mexico”, she removed the last, plain Eagleback out of the seat compartment and entered 30 minutes. Just enough to pay her respects, she decided.
Stepping across the foyer into the main lobby, she looked around. There wasn’t a living thing in the room.
Then, the top of a work study head looked up from its Kindle behind the counter. The sign said fifth street; where to go next?
The work study head reoriented in space and time long enough to answer, then returned to its Kindle. She proceeded down the corridors and around all the corners according to directions, noting the silent images on the walls looking beyond her as she walked, listening for distant voices and hearing her revolving mind. She recalled John Hughson’s class in college, standing in wonder as students loftily explained their unidentifiable renderings while hers watched with recognizable eyes. A stairwell suggested; she accepted.
Reaching its landing, she stepped forward. Just to her left were the two glass paneled doors leading to the exterior marble steps. And another, empty counter. She turned right, entering one of several very large rooms.
Standing before her was a mute Asian boy. Near him, a blonde of Germanic descent, hunching his shoulders at the sight of her and averting his eyes. Just beyond them were two long haired, slender girls, big eyes, unblinking. Nobody said a word. The room was somber, the air still. But, where was the body?
By the wall, eighteen framed pieces of finished art lay propped against each other, separated by randomly sized sheets of corrugated cardboard. A yellow legal pad paper was taped on the door frame beside them, with names listed in capital letters. Hers was the eighth name on the first list.
The Asian boy made a halting attempt to direct her toward the list on the wall. She looked back at him. Was she to search through all of these to locate those of her own?
Noting a (2) beside her name, she mentioned that there should be a third. He directed her toward several other stacked piles set up all around the room, several dozen in each, maybe a hundred in all. In the fifth stack, she found her third piece.
She also noted the name of a well known local artist on that list. Her thymus released a small amount of trapped energy. As she gathered this third piece, the Asian boy made another halting gesture, as if to help her with carrying, like people do after one already has things well in hand. She explained that her car was parked around the block, that she wasn’t interested in carrying each one down the marble steps one at a time to her car parked around the block. The Asian boy stared. A man entered easily through the now accessible glass paneled doorway, smiling with amusement.
Retracing her steps through the maze of rooms and hallways, she retrieved her car and parked it, flashers on, in front of the marble steps. Re-entering the building, she peeled open one of the three Hefty garbage bags she’d brought and began to wrap the framed female nude in four positions, entitled “Turning”.
That model. Not the usual girl, this one had worn a tank top to pose. She had always felt rather triumphant that her final rendering had made no reference to that tank top. This was a strong drawing, instructor David Small had said. Cleveland must have agreed; they’d accepted it, and all the others in her application portfolio. Too bad about the empty financial aid coffers. Cleveland would have been a dangerous place for a virgin back then anyway.
Her mind revolved to full frontal position and locked. She opened her mouth. How symbolic: a Hefty trash bag wraps a work of art, a drawing. None of the latest techniques, materials, computer generated imagery. Just a drawing.
One of the slender girls turned, and walked away.
She noted that the wood was scratched, the paper backing crumbling with age. Maybe reframe these? she thought, taking care not to expose the newsprint to the air, however, lest it disintegrate, cremating the tank top wearing nude into the ether for all eternity.
Outside in the sunlight, she stepped off the cement curb and placed the female nude in four positions into the trunk of her car. Turning to ascend the marble steps for the second load, she met a slight, grey haired man in John Lennon shades, an old leather jacket and fluffy scarf, carrying a woven wall hanging in a plastic bag. She spoke. Didn’t this feel so weird? Didn’t she win an art scholarship back in the day, and ?
He told her about the history of the show, the judging, the entries, this judge’s interest in found artists, and his own experience. She watched him talk, feeling his easy, self-accepting manner behind sun-weathered skin. She listened when he said never to take these things personally, that there were always enough good pieces to fill three shows, and not to be bitter. He told her about the guy who’d been rejected three times one year who took best of show the very next. She told him there was an essay already writing itself, and laughed. One of his pieces was accepted. He was happy.
Driving home, she felt the cumulative weight of decades, watching and listening to the two halves of her consciousness duke it out. There was no solace for rejection. There was no comfort in grief. There was no substitute for burial. Time to bring home the nude, and the India ink rendering of Mum’s sewing room, and the conte and colored pencil portrait of Mammy sitting in the yard, and pay them her own, private respects.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
3/28/15 all rights, to the written and rendered material, reserved. Insert Media. Oh, wait. Thanks.