A Lovetts Gallery Halloween Special Presentation
Jack had left early. He’d said something about banks, taxes
and traffic, grumbled, then stepped out the back door into the windy October
evening. It was about half an hour until closing time, and I told him to watch
out for the crazy drivers.
It’d been a slow day, so I’d spent most of it behind the
keyboard catching up on inventory and getting photos of the new artwork up on
our website. You’d think there’d be an easier way to do such things, but so
far, the technology gods hadn’t provided it. So I kept clicking and kept
watching the clock. At five of six, I got up and started closing the gallery
I had all the computers off and was locking the front door
when my phone rang. I dug it out of my pocket, looked at the screen. Jack.
I answered, “Hey, what’s up?”
“I just remembered something. Someone might be coming by
right after six to see the … after hours collection.”
He paused, letting what he said sink in. I inhaled, nodded
to myself. It had to happen sooner or later, I supposed.
“Okay. I got it.”
“You haven’t been here that long, so if you want me to come
back and deal with it I can.”
“No, it’s fine. Who is it?”
“Don’t remember his name, but he mentioned wanting to see
I winced. “Really? Did you try to talk him out of it?”
I nodded again to myself. “All right. I’ll take care of it.”
“All right, dude. If you have any trouble, call me.
Otherwise, I’ll see you in the morning.”
It’s not that I hadn’t shown the after hours collection,
mind you. It’s that I hadn’t done it by myself. No job is perfect, I suppose. I
walked back and unlocked the front door, then headed to the fridge in back and
got a beer. I popped the cap, then went
and camped out on the wooden ramp leading from the upper gallery room to the
gallery floor. I leaned back and watched out the window.
About then, the lightshow started. We have a program that
controls our lighting, and at six every evening, it sets the lights dancing
throughout the gallery, alternately illuminating different walls and works of
art, drawing the attention of passersby. We know it works because we have to
have the windows cleaned twice a month to get rid of the hand, forehead and
Outside, leaves tumbled across the parking lot and the trees
swayed, casting dancing shadows on the ground. I imagined I could smell burning
pinion wood. The sky was cloudy, and the clouds had that ambient glow from the
city lights. I couldn’t remember if it was supposed to storm.
I’d almost finished the beer when the doorbell rang and he
stepped into the gallery. The man wasn’t very tall, and had unkempt dark hair
atop his head. He had black pea coat buttoned tight, dark pants and black
leather shoes in need of a good shine. He tweaked the end of his nose and
sniffed, then looked around the gallery, eyes following the lights. I wondered
if he could see them yet. Probably not. It was early still, or late, depending
on how you looked at it.
He seemed hesitant to step further into the gallery. I
wondered how long he’d sat in his car getting up the nerve to come in.
“Good evening,” I said.
He startled, then looked around trying to find the voice. I
walked down the wood ramp toward him, moving slowly and trying to look
unthreatening. Don’t want to startle the deer, do we? I stopped a body length
away from him and introduced myself.
“What’re you here to see, specifically?”
He looked at me and said, “the trompe l’oeils, obviously.” I
didn’t like his tone.
“If you don’t mind my asking, where did you hear about us?”
“Our TOR site?”
“I read that, yes. But I’d heard of this place before. So
it’s all … true?”
He looked around the gallery and started, his body jerking
like he’d had a spasm. I guessed he’d seen one of them, probably in the back.
“Is there anyone else here? I was told this would be a
“It’s just you, me and the art.” I waited a minute for him
to calm down, then continued. “You’re comfortable with our terms and the fee?”
“Yes,” he said, again with that tone.
I nodded at him. “Follow me. We’ll take care of the
paperwork, and then you can get on with your … viewing.” I turned and walked
away from him, back up the wooden ramp, and around behind the
eyes, and his, followed me as I unlocked the black wooden box that held the documents.
I found what I needed, closed it, and presented it to him across the counter.
It was about five overly large sheets of parchment with scrawling text covering
each except for a blank space at the bottom for the applicant’s signature.
“If you’ll just read through those for me,” I said, trying
to sound as neutral as possible.
“Is all this really necessary?”
He sighed, but began reading. It takes longer than you’d
think to read through five pages of overly foreboding calligraphic text, but I
waited. I wasn’t in a hurry to get on with the next portion of the evening. He
finished, then looked up at me and stuck out his hand.
I handed him the black dip pen from the box. Its wooden barrel was wound with tarnished steel thorns. He
examined it for a moment, looked at me. “Where’s the ink?”
“If you agree to the terms, just sign.”
He put the pen to parchment, then hissed as the thorns pricked into his fingers, digging just below the skin. He grimaced then signed his name. A
few drops of blood dripped off the nib as he finished. He handed the pen back
to me. I scooped up the parchment and deposited it back into the black box,
taking my time and trying not to think about what was next.
“Do you have the cashier’s check?”
He unbuttoned the pea coat and dug an envelope out of the
inside pocket. He slid it across the counter, and I noticed his bloody fingerprints. I left the envelope.
“What would you like to see first?”
“All of it. I’m paying you enough.”
That was true. I gestured to the paintings behind him.
“Shall we start up here?” I walked him over to the wall, stopping in from of K.
Henderson’s Licorice Allsorts. It
seemed an innocuous place to start. He looked at me.
“So I just reach in?”
I could tell he was unconvinced, and perhaps thinking he was
PT Barnum’s proverbial sucker, so I
reached into the painting, plucked out an
orange candy and popped it into my mouth. To the right of the candy jar
painting was Natalie Featherston's Girl with a Curtain, a
small oil painting of a nude woman drawn in pencil, framed by white diaphanous
curtains. The curtains moved gently in a breeze I could neither see nor hear.
He stepped up to that painting and reached slowly toward the
girl. She shied away from his fingertips. He pulled his hand back and glanced
wide-eyed around the gallery. I could
hear the city sounds – bustling traffic, the scuffs of footballs on the
sidewalks – emanating from Erica Norelius’ Walking
from Chinatown. The sensation made me giddy, like the first time I read a Harry Potter book.
He walked away toward the wooden ramp. As we passed Joseph
Crone’s While the Cold Night Waiting, the
woman met my eyes, then turned away. The man continued down the ramp and made
straight for Chad Awalt’s Aether.
Looked like he was going to deserve the angel, after all. He ran his fingers
down her side, planted his hand on her hip. Without looking at me, he said,
“She’s so soft and warm.” He lingered too long for my taste, moving his hand
slowly up and down the torso, before turning and searching the gallery again.
“Perhaps you’d like me to show you around?”
I walked him through the pools of rotating darkness around
the gallery’s outer wall. The lights fell off us as we passed Terry Isaac’s Wolf in Snow, and the wolf’s eyes
glinted in the dimness. We turned the corner and Jeff Ham’s Raven cawed at us and shook out its feathers,
the red and orange sky behind it drifted by like colored clouds.
I almost ran into him as he stopped in front of Scott
French’s The Voices of Silence. I’d
read Scott’s narrative on the piece dozens of times, but I was always struck by
the woman’s sadness, from her somber expression right down to her loose-laced
combat boots. She seemed vulnerable, and like it had the first time I’d helped
Jack after hours, it made me uncomfortable to see a man leer at her and her
strange rack of horns.
She looked up at us, out at us, past us, then back down and
away, shifting her legs to preserve what little modesty she had left.
“How much for this?”
I quoted him the price on the tag. “But she won’t be like
this in your home.”
“And why is that?”
“This reality is localized to the Gallery itself. I don’t
“Whatever. I want the painting. It’ll do for a start. What
“I’ll get it ready for you after we’ve concluded the
evening’s activities.” My voice sounded too formal to my ears, and I realized I
was a little angry. It was hard not to feel protective.
“Would you like to see the Angel then?”
The Gallery effect was different for each painting, but
nothing as dramatic as that of Juan Medina’s The Blind Angel . I walked him to the painting.
We stopped in front of it, and I heard his breath catch. He
made a production of examining the work.
“It’s quite a remarkable painting on its own,” he said, and
he started to step closer. As he moved, so did the blind angel. She stepped
down, first to the end of the frame, and then to the floor. Her alabaster skin
glinted in the moving light of the gallery, and I tried to look everywhere but
at her body. Her wings flexed with her breaths, black feathers shivering. The figures
created first by Botticelli, Bouguereau, Canova and Rembrandt and recreated by
Medina watched the angel as she moved.
She didn’t speak, but moved her head as though looking the
man over. I clasped my hands in front of me and studiously looked everywhere
but at him. Or her. Then she spoke:
“Would you see?” she asked, and her voice was again the most
beautiful sound I had ever heard.
“Yes,” he said, his voice low and quiet.
She turned to the poster she’d emerged from, and peeled it
back out of the painting, revealing a dark corridor, the light within
flickering as though from flame. Stairs descended into the blackness. She
turned back to the man and held out her hand. He took it, and she stepped back
onto the picture frame, and then through the doorway, pulling him behind her. I
watched as they moved down the stairs and out of sight.
I waited, counting in my head. Like the last time, I tried
to not imagine what was happening at the bottom of the staircase. I thought
about my wife and child. I thought about tomorrow. I thought about the
flickering light on the staircase.
Then the screaming
started, and it continued for some time. I wanted to go do anything else, but
Jack had told me to wait for the angel to return. And then she appeared from
the darkness, and I couldn’t help but think about how beautiful she was. I felt
her glance at me, despite the blindfold. I looked at the ground.
I heard her voice, and knew she would say just what she had
the last time. “Would you see?”
“I would not.”
She turned and closed the poster behind her, smoothing it
out into the painted surface, and then she turned, lifted her arms and again
became part of the painting. My ears popped as reality reasserted itself on the
gallery. The lights continued their dance.
I locked the front door, set the alarm and let myself out
the back. I took a deep breath of the autumn night air. I could smell burning pinion
wood from somewhere nearby. I needed another beer.