PARTY ABLE MODEL
This story was written for THE2NDHAND's "Mixtape" reading July in Chicago, based on Joan of Arc's "A Party Able Model Of." Carroll lives in Brooklyn; he writes about music, and authored THE2NDHAND's 23rd issue.
"I always cared for you," he told her, one of his hands shaking. Around them: the gallery crowd, festive and clustered; more than half still wanting to speak with her. Her work on the walls: collages, materials jutting into a third dimension; figures entering at canted angles into the spaces she'd made. Even now, as he spoke, some part of her couldn't focus on him, was drawn to the work, to details that rose out and seemed incorrect. Work that felt unready for this space, this occasion. "I don't know if you ever knew," he said. And then, more uncertain, asked to no one: "Did you ever know?"
She thought first about taking his hand. Wasn't sure of the impression that would give. The first time they'd been in the same room in years, and him, waiting, choking on his ghosts. She hesitated; she thought that words might not fit, that a sort of tone, a keening, might be better suited as her response. She watched him. Finally, she choked out an "Are," and halted. His face lost an inch of tension. "You OK?"
"That night," he said. "Ten years ago. You remember? We were going south on 18." She nodded. "You in the passenger seat, me driving; Kevin and Mulhill in the back. They'd passed out five minutes after the show. Eight twenty, light still in the sky. Southbound. I kept watch out of the corner of my eye for heat lightning."
There was a drink in his other hand, she saw. The hazards of the opening: close quarters and insidious inebriation. It had taken him almost an hour to get close enough to talk to her. And over the drink, she saw a color in one of her works that seemed garish and tried not to cringe. "I'd just gotten this record -- a quiet one -- and I had it on. Speakers shifted to the front of the car so we didn't wake the guys in the back. I had it on low, and we talked. You remember?" She nodded again. He let out some more air, and she wondered if the lines on his forehead would fade as the conversation went on. "I liked the way it made me talk. Brought my voice down to something soft, hushed. I liked the way I talked when I talked like that."
She almost said yes, remembering the conversation, the car and the highway.
"I don't know," he said. His words started to bunch. "Somewhere in there I noticed you'd dozed off. I wish I could remember when -- I wish I had noticed when that happened. When it moved from us talking to me talking." He stopped. She thought again, was there something she should say? Give her a canvas of a certain size, the proper paints, oils, a handful of tactile materials, a week away from anyone, and she might be able to formulate an answer. And then she thought, not oils. Watercolors. And then, not watercolors. Pencils and a winding sheet of paper. A tapestry in flux, she thought.
He said, "I think maybe I fell in love with you there and realized that it was a lost cause all at the same time." Still, his hand was shaking. The beer moved to his lips; he took a long drink. New lines in his forehead were born.
Anything she said right now, she knew, would feel false, both to herself and to him. But there was no way to convey this except with words.
He said, "It's good to see you. I'm glad you're back east."
"It's good to see you too," she said. Not quite a smile, but almost. "It's been too long." Not unfriendly.
He said, "I should go. You've got" -- he swallowed -- "people. Masses of people. It's your night." Another swallow. "Sorry to..." He took a step back and let the natural progression of congratulations resume. He took a few more steps and rejoined the larger crowd; the lines between them and the objects on the walls grew thin. Her eyes could only follow him so far.
The image came to her a week later, and she worked long days until she saw it finished; the final work mirroring that paradigm she had first envisioned, and closer to it than anything before. A lone three-dimensional figure, a man in a southbound car; plywood silhouettes in the remaining seats, a quiet song for hushed voices, playing without end.