The ‘M’ Word
by Alejandra Almada
As the sun struggled to remain above the water outside the windows of the gallery, Dorian prepared for what would arguably be the most important day of his life. At least his agent, Veronica, kept telling him so. As she spoke, Dorian ignored her, much too concerned with the position of the cloth he was attempting to place over his statue in order to conceal it from the public until its great reveal.
“The sculpture is the most important part of the collection.
I won’t take it out,” he said, and cleared his throat. As if struck by a sudden cold breeze, he crossed his arms tightly in front of his chest.
“Dorian, please, reconsider. The piece is radically different to what your public is used to. You have a market to appeal to-”
“I know that, Veronica, but the collection would not be what I want it to be without it. I simply won’t capitulate on this one,” Dorian said, turning to face her with that blinding quality to his gaze. There was a certainty that bordered on arrogance when one took into account the time the man actually spent as a high-profile artist. “I’m sure the auction will be a success and you’re just worrying about sensibilities that are not there,” Dorian continued.
“If that is your final position, then I believe I must offer my resignation.”
Now that took Dorian by surprise. Her eyes betrayed not an ounce of doubt. The clipboard that spent so long being a part of her role was now pressed to his chest.
“Very well,” he said, and trailed by the persistent sound of heels clicking on wood, she was gone.
What followed was simultaneously a blur and the most vivid half-hour Dorian could have ever imagined. He alone had to hand out flyers and welcome all the guests of the evening. Once everyone took a seat and a glass of chardonnay, he summoned their attention to the front stage. His speech, per Veronica’s instructions, consisted of a quick welcome, an acknowledgement, and an introduction to his collection. He was glad for her guidance although he’d never admit it. In that moment, nervousness crept up his spine.
“With no further ado,” he stated with a flourish and charismatic smile, “allow me to introduce you to ‘Mirage’!”
As he re-moved the cloth revealing his master-piece to the group, he was met with a deep and ambivalent silence.
“‘Mirage?’” a man in the front row said, in a rather confused tone of voice.
“‘Monster’ makes more sense. Don’t you think?”
Dorian closed his eyes briefly, as if struck, much in the way a computer reverts to the blue screen when it fails to process something for its user. Opening his eyes a second later, he gazed straight at the man who’d boldly spoken, looking nothing but calm through tremendous effort. “Please, sir, refrain from using the ‘m’ word, if you can. I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
“Oh, like ‘mediocre,’ right?” Another voice added, helpfully.
“‘Miserable!’’’ A further voice concurred.
“Get out!” Dorian yelled, overcome for a minute by the light of the camera flashes and the judgement in the faces be-fore him.
For a simple instant, he felt incomparable grief- for his fame, his art, even for Veronica to a certain extent. As people exited the gallery, he remained gazing up at his statue with his back to the one or two remaining journalists, deaf to their pleas for an incendiary comment or a candid picture. He told them to leave with what presence of mind he had left.
In the quiet that remained, Dorian moved his sculpture about in the last dancing lights of the sunset, attempting to make sense of his mistake. It must have been the lighting, he was convinced. The statue it-self was beautifully carved. Composed of the mixture of a man’s face, a siren’s torso, a woman’s arms, a vulture’s wings, and a horse’s legs. The sculpture was a feat of creativity, all chiselled by hand on the finest marble towering over six feet tall. There was no angle or lens through which the artwork wasn’t worthy of appreciation. It was a ‘masterpiece.’ What could have gone wrong?
“I see you were serious about making this collection more personal,”a new voice said, once deeply cherished and familiar, now a spurned surprise. It’s arrival came along with the smell of a strong cologne and memories of silk. The anniversary gift that warmed Dorian’s skin suddenly began to make him itch.
“What do you want, Victor?” Dorian asked, turning to see the man
walking into the gallery with a certain practiced nonchalance. He’d know that walking pace, that crisscross step around corners, and loose hip movements anywhere in the world. It was endearing once, the curl of Victor’s dark hair and the allure of his sunglasses in-doors. It took Dorian deliberate effort to recall their last argument as if the simple sight of Victor could erase all bitterness. Victor laughed with a quick snap.
“I just wanted to see your vision of me,” Victor said, “and look at it, what a marvel.”
Within the breath that followed, something that resembled pride
crept into Dorian’s chest. Not because Victor was right, but he appreciated the work. Victor always had.
“What could possibly make you think it’s you?” Dorian asked, as Victor reached his side, standing a little closer than a stranger might. From the shoulders to the vulture wings, Dorian could see what pieces of Victor wormed their way into the sculpture as unconscious, reverberating echoes of idiosyncrasies loved and left behind. Dorian did his best not to tremble as Victor’s hand reached for his back, certain it belonged there, and in a way, held him.
“Well, it is a man, mostly, right? Isn’t that what I am in the end?” Victor said. His eyes bore into Dorian’s as he spoke, attempting to change his mind. “This is simply you calling me out for leaving you when times got hard by portraying me as this horrid masterpiece, strong yet broken. You shouldn’t have, really.”
It was then that with both hands on Dorian’s shoulders, Victor pulled him in for a kiss. A longed-for dream and a dread-ed nightmare, the connection was electric and magnified by the events of the day. The early darkness of a coastal night bend-ed around the corners of Victor’s severe features, building up the cold that Dorian feared, blue as a scorching flame.
A second too late, Dorian broke away, breathless and deeply disappointed in his self-control.
“‘Masterpiece,’ you said?” Dorian asked, unwilling to look into the sunglasses resting on his nose.
“A bit marred, almost,” Victor nodded with his head, noncommittal.
“What is it with all the ‘m’ words?” Dorian’s voice was a whisper that quickly grew frustrated, taking a step out of Victor’s loose grip. “You couldn’t be more wrong.”
“Really? I’m wrong?” Surprised, Victor’s laugh thundered again for an instant. He continued as Dorian walked closer to his sculpture’s side. “The only person who’s ever understood your art is wrong, now? What does that say about it if I can’t interpret it?”
Through a full-body shake, Dorian responded, turn-ing to face Victor again.
“It has nothing to do with interpretation. You’re just not the ‘monster’ here. If anything, I am. You know what this piece is, truly? Well, it’s mine, it’s me!”
In that moment, Dorian climbed the steps to see his statue closer, caressing the marble and regaining his footing. All the feelings he repressed during the event returned to him.
“I can accept that now, you know, that this is who I am: my inspiration, my creativity, my talent, and my clarity. This is more myself than anything, and I hoped the world was ready for it.”
For once in many years, Victor was silent. It was a side of him that would have been welcomed in the summer when the argument took place or during the fall when the pain was excruciating, but by some trick of fate it appeared only now, in the winter, when it didn’t make any difference at
“You know what the problem is, Dorian,” his voice was wiser.
“Perhaps. Now get out, Victor.”
“You’ll call me, you’ll see.”
Alone once again, this time ensconced in the dark, Dorian caressed the sculpture a final time. Noticing the slightest piece of lint on the face, he made a point of taking his sleeve and wiping off the mouth. It was important to make sure no mark remained of this day, of its filth and its ‘m’ words.
With a firm kiss on the cheek, Dorian took his leave, stepping back and away for good.
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