The art gallery buzzed like a nest of agitated hornets. Harmon, dressed in his finest dirty T and sun-eaten jeans and moving from the entrance to stand before the gala proper, found the chatter irksome and the low, odd-filtered light disorienting. He liked the dark and quiet.
Despite his proclivities he had agreed to attend Bluebird’s gala opening. Her first. She moved up beside him, breathless and beautiful, supple curves ill-contained by a tight, black sweater and revealing leggings over which she wore a similarly tight, black mini-shirt neath which shined newly polished leather boots with small, silver buckles. Harmon found the whole get-up to be a bit too form-fitting but he said nothing and mock-saluted as she approached.
“Thanks for coming, Harmon.”
“I’m surprised you thought to invite me.”
An expression of irritation palled her well-plied face.
“Been almost a month since we last met. Been last four weeks since we last talked.”
“That’s not true. I called you last week.”
He paused and furrowed his brows before responding, “You didn’t.”
“I swear I did. I’ve been so busy…”
“S’all right. I’m not complaining. Say. Which one is yours?” Harmon inquired placidly as he cast his sharp, green eyes out over the art school’s gleaming marble floor; so clean and shimmering he could make out the stark reflections of all who there stood upon it. Bluebird pointed to a series of paintings upon a silvery panel installation in the very center of the wide, rectangular onyx-colored hall.
As he followed her gesturing hand he caught the reflection of a curious figure from out the corner of his eye, to the immediate left. Thin and trim and garbed in a albescent coat, tipped at the collar with similarly milky fur. When he followed the reflection to its source he noticed that the ivory man was watching him. The man raised a glass of red wine, smirking slight. Harmon hollowly reciprocated the gesture. He felt suddenly strange. As if a liquid had settled within the core of his being.
Bluebird sighed melodramatically and folded her arms.
“You aren’t even paying attention.”
“Sorry. Got distracted. Who is that?”
“Oh my god. He’s looking at us! He’s coming over. He’s coming over.”
“Friend of yours?”
“That’s Lynder Partridge.”
“Never heard of him.”
“He flew in from the city just to attend this gala. He’s scouting for permanent additions to his museum. You’ve really never heard of him?”
Lynder Partridge strode up to the odd couple, his sharp, bloodless face opaque, luminous oceanic eyes masque’d by circular green-tinted sunglasses that made the iris appear as gold, his pose cordial and restrained.
“Salutations. I’m Lynder Partridge.”
Bluebird was so star-struck that it took her two seconds entire before she responded, and then, only shakily.
“L-lyla Couldry. I’m… I’m such a big fan, Mr. Partridge. What you’ve done with those library renovations in the city and her, in our little town, its just wonderful.”
“Why thank you, Lyla. And your friend?”
Harmon step forward, extending his rough and calloused hand. He didn’t expect Lynder to take it, yet shortly, the elegant ivory man did, extending one of his leather-gloved hands and grasping Harmon’s own, firmly and without hesitation.
“So pleased to meet you, Mr. Kessel. I’m pleased to see a roofer involved in the arts – architects have a long-standing history of interdisciplinary interest, as their own trade demands it, yet the actual builders who bring their creations into being and those who maintain them, are considerably less intrigued by graphic demonstrations such as those which garner the walls of this venerable establishment.”
“Why do you think I’m a roofer?”
“Skin is tan. Burnt about the neck. Your jeans are roughly worn at the knees, shirt, faded about the shoulders and back. Means you spend a lot of time in the sun, shorn of shade and a lot of time on your hands and knees. The only trade wherein that would occur in this town is roofing.”
Lynder remained wholly impassive save for the slightest trace of a smirk which vanished as quickly as it appeared. Momentarily, Serena walked up to the trio and greeted Lyla and then looked to Lynder and Harmon.
“Who are your friends, Ly?”
“This is Harmon Kessel and this is Mr. Lynder Partridge.”
“THE Lynder Partridge?”
“Indeed.” He responded flatly before turning and half-bowing to the woman whose eyes went momentarily wide with surprise. Lynder then cast his gaze out to the installation directly beside Lyla’s, “Is that your work?”
“Y-yes. I’m so nervous. Its my first gallery showing.”
“I shall have to take a closer look.”
Shortly, Serena and Lyla moved off a pace. It appeared to Harmon as if Serena had some important information to convey. He was mildly irritated that Serena hadn’t even so much as said, “Hi.”
“Looks as if the ladies are conferring. Shall we peruse the works together?”
The duo moved to stand before the center panel installation which harbored Lyla’s works. Paintings. Her centerpiece was a massive colorful oil painting of a large swan in mid-flight, gliding over the top of a pristine, azure pond, surrounded by reeds and cherry blossoms; petals dancing in the wind.
Lynder studied the piece a moment and shook his head before finishing off his wine and handing it to one of the school volunteers who took the crystal goblet with a smile and moved on to the next group.
“What do you think?”
Harmon studied the picture, “I think its pretty.”
“Indeed it is. That’s the problem. Its pretty and only pretty. Nothing but pretty.”
“I don’t think its that bad. Besides, art is subjective.”
Lynder spoke without turning, eyes to the swan, hands clasped gingerly behind his back.
“Subjectivity is objective. If it seems otherwise it is only due a lack of apprehension.”
“Not sure I follow.”
“I mean that those conditions which undergird subjectivity are themselves objective, even if one does not know what those are. To say otherwise is to say that the foundations of subjectivity are themselves subjectively determined. Now that is hardly plausible is it?”
“Well, put like that, I guess not. But why don’t you like the painting?”
“To answer I would pose a question in return.”
“Of what use is the art which does not seek to force life to imitate it?”
“Well, she’s not trying to force life to imitate anything. She’s trying to imitate life.”
“Precisely. She imitates life and in so doing, presents to the audience – us – an idyll of splendor with which we can do… what precisely with?”
“To appreciate escapism is degrade life itself. It is the act of a coward.”
Harmon wanted to respond. To defend Bluebird’s work, but words failed him. He had never met anyone who was so filled with such quiet passion and lacking the same, knew not how to meet it.
“You think that I’m being too harsh, don’t you?”
“Given your relationship to the author, that is understandable. Understandable but mistaken.”
“Seems kinda snobbish to me.”
“There is a marked distinction between snobbery and elitism.”
“You saying you’re an elite?”
“I said there is a distinction between snobbery and elitism. I did not say I was a member of an elite; that is another important distinction.”
“Lyla likes to say, ‘Art isn’t about being good.'”
“That would explain why her’s is so bad. Think of the trouble that ethos would cause if it were applied to other professions.”
“Whole lot, I imagine.”
“When one is in need of an electrician, what kind does one seek out?”
“The best. What does that have to do with painting?”
“When one selects a friend does one undiscriminatingly accept all, or does one critically discern the trustworthy?”
“Exactly. So if one holds such standards for electricians and friends, why not for art?”
“Good question. Don’t think many round here would be keen to answer it.”
Lynder briefly looked over his shoulder at the bright-eyed and youthful denizens of the school, mingling with their teachers and journalists and a couple of well-known local artists.
“Gird yourself. The vultures have arrived,” Lynder half-whispered to Harmon with amusement.
“You mean the journalists. I take it you don’t like um?”
“They have no appreciation for art. Their kind doesn’t belong here.”
“You’re awfully opinionated on art. You do any yourself?”
“I do. What about you, Mr. Kessel?”
“Well, sorta. I like to write. Fancy I’m decent enough. Never gotten anything properly published though.”
Lynder removed a small business card from his pocket and handed it to Harmon.
“If you ever wish to send my publishing house one of your manuscripts, give me a call and I’ll personally white-list it.”
“Thanks. Very kind of you. But uh, you haven’t read anything I’ve done.”
“It is refreshing to converse with one who is so unceasingly forthright.”
“Well, I appreciate that. I figure there’s enough lying and obscuring to go around. No need to add to it.”
Lynder turned and moved to Serena’s installation.
“Your friend’s girlfriend’s work is much more interesting.”
“She’s not Lyla’s girlfriend.”
“Oh? Could have fooled me. Once they walked off they moved together rather, how shall I put it… intimately.”
Harmon felt a sudden unease overtake him and shortly thereafter, anger. It was not incited by Lynder’s words, but by a consideration of the prospect that his word’s might be correct. He slowly turned and scanned the crowd. He couldn’t see Lyla or Serena. He ground his teeth and fractionally shook his head. No. It was ridiculous. Unthinkable. She’d never betray me. Certainly not in so deviant a fashion. She loves me, he thought determinedly. Breaking from his reverie, he refocused his attention on the spot where Lynder had stood.
He was gone.