Man in Leaf

The leaves are everything. Vines are only suggested, a line of shadow the span of a hair while leaves cover canvas from end to end in a tarp of greens and cold blacks. There is a tree, or there is the idea of a tree, a hinted depth underneath the skin of leaf facade. Layers real and imagined.

The man isn’t there and then he is. Nelson stares and he waits and out of the sharpening contours appear arms, torso, head. Semblance of a figure. As Nelson watches the painting the man reveals himself.

“It’s a metaphor, you know.”

Nelson takes a step away from the speaking stranger but he is reluctant to move further from the painting.

“Is it?”

Something to say, a toss of words. The stranger nods and points. He looks to make certain Nelson is seeing.

“The leaves are the world.”

Nelson mouths a noncommittal okay.

“The lines make the leaves.”

Parting words as he drifts along on the current of crowd, swept away. He grins like a monster in the dark and is gone.

A voice speaks up from nowhere, the voice of anyone.

“The artist is here.”

The wine is warm. Its label bears the name of a celebrity. Nelson carries a glass but doesn’t drink. A placard beneath a painting is carved with words. Man in Leaf. Nelson runs a finger along letters sanded and smooth. One spot missed and sharp, a splinter for someone somewhere, later, not now.

“You can’t buy it. It’s already sold.”

He slouches, canting to one side, his strings cut. The artist. The tart on his arm looks at

nothing. Her eyes flutter, open but only just. Narcotized or asleep.

“Where did you get the name?”

The artist runs his tongue across the rim of a glass flask. He drinks and he smacks his lips. Stink of caustic flood. Rubbing alcohol, gasoline.

“I think the name speaks for itself. It just came to me.”

One hand twirls air. Punctuation for a thought. He looses a garbled laugh, a thick, wet noise. The tart sways in time to a tune in her head.

A fan enters the artist’s orbit. He wants an autograph, he wants a photo. He talks of obscure works and they bond and they laugh. The artist performs. He takes a drink and creates this moment. A woman looks at the photo and she looks at the room. She speaks in a whisper.

“I don’t see the man in the painting.”

Someone laughs and then someone else. They share looks and nods and they drink and they hum with a collective energy. Mood moves electric though the gathered congregants. The place is alive with faces and hands, eyes of influential ghosts studying the curves of framed accidents, their fingers ignoring signs asking that the paintings not be photographed, that the sculptures not be felt up.

“Who are you?” asks the artist as he climbs deeper into a bottle. His tie is loose but not loosened, pulled with care to its calculated informality by a publicist not here. Nelson’s tie is green.

“I work here,” says Nelson, lying.

The artist scoffs, a kindergarten noise jumping out of his mouth. Spittle stays on his lips.

He doesn’t wipe it away.

A screech flattens the room’s humming talk. Fire alarm. The threat of sprinklers and ruin or fire and ruin, doom in every path. Hands carry flutes of spirits through each exit.

Sidewalk gathers the awkward chatter of exiles. Should we go? What about the afterparty? The street reeks of exhaust and perfume and a vague, uncertain horror. Nelson’s eyes slip slowly shut and the air begins to taste cleaner, more real. He breathes in until it hurts, until he might pass out. Someone laughs about a barren painting. Greens and blacks, a mess of vines and leaves. Simplistic, empty.

“It’s a metaphor,” says a man in the crowd.  

Copyright © 1999 – 2024 Juked