Hand wrote this while bored on a drive up to NY for the 4th. Prompt (“Rachel brings Sam to the National Art Gallery”) courtesy my traveling companion.
Normally Sam marvels at little aside from Marvel, but since he’s in D.C., not just reading it, he lets Rachel drag him between gluttonous pillars gorged on marble and into the National Gallery. She looks at home among grand things, a statue that’s stepped off its plinth, but beneath the high lobby dome (creased and rippling like stage curtains around its edges) he feels the weight of insignificance press into him like yards of down, disastrously comforting and guaranteed to knead the life from him a year at a time.
“Sam!” Rachel chides from beneath a doorway, a tremendous arch yawning at the nobodies mulling past. He follows her through a labyrinth of square rooms shouting centuries from every wall—dead scenes swallowed by the relentless appetite of history, melted down to viscous liquid and slathered over canvas by defiant mortals: This is what I think of time! they seem to say. In his pocket Sam feels a carefully folded sketch cringe and wrinkle at the touch of his sweaty hand. With the closing of his fist the paper collapses to a ball, its edges rough like cracks in hardened oil.
Around her neck Rachel wears a tangerine-colored digital camera, which she lifts to her eyes periodically. (A timid crack has slain the digital display.) The grind of the machinery as her finger touches the trigger reminds Sam of a distant, artificial thunder (no lightning—no flash). “You’ve been awfully quiet,” she observes.
“Why are you taking pictures of the pictures?”
She offers a Mona Lisa smile—the Louvre would be furious. “So that I can look at them later?” She grips the camera like a secret, and rubs her thumb over the cracked screen. “You never know what will inspire you as a performer. That’s why my professor says you should always surround yourself with high culture.”
Sam thinks of the shelf of comics and DVDs in his studio halfway across the country.
“Does it bother you?” she asks.
He doesn’t know how to communicate what he feels—that trapping the strokes and smudges of these works (these champions over fickle apathies, over the atrophy of memory) into tiny boxes, to be diluted in copies and tamed by glossy rectangles or the pixelated wash of a monitor, feels blasphemous—so he says, “No.”
In the East Gallery they walk between sculptures of anonymous hands immortalized as his will never be and find a room where tangles of shapes hang from the ceiling and God paints their shadows on the walls. “A face,” Rachel says with an amused smile—and she’s right; wire and sheets of metal, meaningless, cast a man’s features onto the wall behind.
Later Sam will stand in the Washington sun and will the light to make a masterpiece of him, to reveal the holes he feels in negative space on the mall lawn. Instead his shadow is full and black, half his size. He will sign his name: Sam Evans. A graphite sketch in God’s pocket, balled to a cloud of nothing.