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Laugh or cry? Those are the choices. The intensity of the moment demands a response. You don’t just get to sit there and think nothing; that would look stupid, incomprehensive, like you don’t understand the importance, the value of this moment.

Should you cry? Does crying make you look weak? Like you can’t handle yourself? Like you’ve been letting life get to you too much, letting people wear you down, letting them devalue your currency of self? Crying seems risky.

So should you laugh? Do you want to make it seem like you don’t understand the seriousness of human sorrow? Are you a heartless fiend? Are you such a cynic that you find this funny? Are you so beyond caring about people that you find this… amusing? How dare you laugh!

You walk along the gallery floor, trying to look introspective, trying to decide how to react to the painting in front of you without being called a bastard or a hysteric. You try looking thoughtful, and yet concerned. A man walks by you, whistling as he goes; you find it odd that he whistles, odd that you cannot get away with laughing yet he’s WHISTLING as he goes by. And then you realize he’s whistling the suicide theme from Tristan and Isolde. You then wonder, what kind of man whistles operatic funeral music? He wears an incredibly ugly cardigan, but he’s still very good-looking. He’s really too young to be wearing a cardigan like that. Perhaps he’s Mr. Rogers’ grandson. You almost start humming “It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, but catch yourself in time to realize how offensive that is. You decide to leave the painting, leave its ironic horror for others to look at. Walking out of the gallery, you are surprised when you reach the outside and the sun is brighter than it is on the sea. You have a pair of sunglasses, but at the moment, you want to absorb the brightness, let it linger on your face, soak up the sun as Icarus did. You spin around with your bag in your hand, arms flying out, smiling, and then laughing… and you hear a whistle, not of the star-crossed lovers, but something happy and cheerful- you can’t quite place it. You look up, and there is the man in the awful sweatervest, whistling, looking at you with inviting eyes. You ask him what he’s whistling. He raises one eyebrow, turns and starts walking. His head looks back over his shoulder after a second, and it tips to show you that he wants you to follow. You pause for a minute, and then do so. He leads you around many twists and turns; although you’ve lived in the city for years, you are in unfamiliar territory-not completely lost, but not sure where you are. Finally, he goes down a flight of stairs, into the basement of an old brick building, a cafe. You even follow him here, dubious though you are by this time. At this point, he walks up to the counter, and his song ends. He says something in a low bass voice, too softly for you to hear exactly what, but loudly enough for you to know that his voice is like a deep pool of melted rum chocolate. He pulls out a chair for you to sit at the table, and then sits across from you. You ask again what he was whistling. He smiles a little and says you’ll have to wait until after you’ve eaten. And after you’ve told him your name. You promptly enlighten him. He tells you his as well. You ask whether he likes abstract expressionism and he tells you that he prefers the European works to the American. You are sorely tempted to ask him about his sweatervest, but before you do so, a beautiful chocolate dessert arrives before you, topped with gelato. You are too busy enjoying it to ask tactless questions, and he goes on talking about the beauty of dada and its nonsensical approach to the world, the artist’s response to the organizational militarism of the war. He asks whether you like graphic novels; you say you like the good ones. You finish your dessert, and you ask whether you will see him again. He says yes; you ask him what the song was. And he tells you it’s the song he made about your smile in the sun. And with that, you depart.

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One Comment

  1. My goodness woman you have a way with words… you take my breath away.

    brenda


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