Their eyes met over the foetus in a clear money box entitled ‘Potential’. Neither liked it. They frowned whilst reading the information about the exhibit. Both considered introducing themselves to the other, but decided against it.
They meandered through the rooms of the gallery, weaving around each other, occasionally meeting at an exhibit. Both studied the works thoroughly. He smiled at her at one point, thinking he had caught her eye, but she was looking behind him. Feeling a little self-conscious, he directed his attention at the artwork, a doll stuffed into a chicken carcass called ‘Ennui’. He touched his hand to his chin to emphasize his deep thought.
She cut short her study of The Language of Shadows to follow him into the next exhibit, but when she walked into the room, he was gone.
Eventually she found him in the queue at the restaurant, where he ordered a black coffee and a slice of carrot cake. She ordered the same; it seemed a good choice.
They sat at opposite ends of the room, he didn’t notice her but she carefully scrutinised him, nice shoes, well-fitted jeans, and plain T-shirt. He was lean and long and his legs didn’t fit under the table, so he stretched them out. He sipped his coffee and he ate his carrot cake slowly. Occasionally he checked his phone. He had a nice face; she thought it had character. His hair was long, dark and unkempt and he tucked it behind his ears.
He laughed at something on his phone, snorted, and looked around to see if he had disturbed anyone. She averted her gaze and nibbled at her cake. When she looked up again, he was standing, tucking his phone in his pocket.
She imagined them reading, snuggled on the sofa. Now and again they would glance lovingly at each other over their books, occasionally sharing passages and discussing them. They would take long walks together, with their huge dog, Sagan, who would make a terrible mess when they returned home and grappled him into the bath. They would laugh as he frantically tried to escape. Sagan would sleep at the bottom of their bed, in their minimalist house, in a respectable neighbourhood.
Instead of leaving his cup and plate on the table he returned it to the counter and had a chat with the lady behind the till. She smiled at him and watched him as he walked off. He was thoughtful and friendly. All her friends would love him. Her dad might be frosty with him at first but gradually he would thaw and they would become great friends; probably go golfing together. She pictured him helping her mum with the chores after they ate their family Sunday lunch together.
They would have two children, both boys. They would look like him, but have her temperament. He would be a hands-on dad, who would help run the local under-tens football club so he could spend more quality time with the boys.
She finished her coffee and cake, consulted her gallery map and headed off in the direction of the temporary exhibits.
She had been sat in front of The Tree for a few minutes before she noticed he was sat down beside her. His hand was inches from hers on the bench. The distance between them felt unbearable. She wanted her fingers to touch his. How would he react? Would his hand linger or would he flinch? Would he react casually, maybe smile and introduce himself, or would he make his excuses and leave? She decided not to move it, but felt overly aware of her decision and the space.
She focused on the picture. Rows of lavender led the eye to a single, huge tree. It was a simple picture, unpretentious. She found it calming.
‘I’m not sure what to think about this one,’ he said.
She smiled. ‘Just thinking is enough, surely?’
‘Tell me what you think about it.’
‘Well, it feels like a statement about loneliness.’
‘Loneliness. Hmmm, I’m not sure.’
They sat in silence for a while.
‘Maybe it’s about meaning.’ he offered.
‘In what way?’
‘Well, we all try to make sense of things.
‘And how we go about that depends on the person.’
‘Don’t we all try to make the mundane interesting? Isn’t that what life is all about? I mean…at the crux of it, we are all just eating and reproducing. Everything else is superfluous.’
‘That’s a little bleak.’ She frowned and re-evaluated her future. Her dad would never like him.
‘Why have music; why have art? What is the point of anything?
‘That is my point exactly. We recognise this gap and fill it with meaning. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s what we do.’
He’d help with chores, but only in the beginning. They’d probably never have kids. They’d argue about irrelevant things. His hair would fill the plughole, and he would be lazy. He’d refuse to walk Sagan.
‘But there are universal meanings.’ Did she sound indignant?
Well, what about love?’ She felt her cheeks flush.
‘Maybe, but it’s relative. How do we know if we all feel the same way when we are in love? Are we even seeing the same picture?’
She shuffled with annoyance on her seat.
‘That doesn’t make it irrelevant.’
‘It’s all just neurons and dopamine.’
‘It’s a nice distraction, I suppose.’ he smiled at her but she was looking at the picture.
‘Hmm.’ She deleted him from her possible future.
‘It’s all about perspective. A solitary tree represents loneliness for you. For me, well, I see connections.’ He moved his hand so his fingers gently touched hers. ‘The branches represent different paths in life, its twists and turns.’ Her face flushed and her lips tingled. They continued to study the picture. Neither of them moved, both afraid of the next moment.
People moved around them, observed, chattered, shared opinions, tilted heads, and added meaning to their observations.
‘I think I see a future, endless possibilities.’ She sounded uncertain.
‘Yes. You know, I’ve only just noticed, but if you look closely I think there may be two trees.’
She wasn’t so sure of this, but the lavender definitely looked more vibrant, and the clouds seemed to move across the canvas sky.
‘I love this picture.’ she said.
Photo by Steve Armitage.
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