The Artist (Flash Fiction)

So yeah, I’m working this fundraiser tonight at the museum. It’s in this room with ancient stone carvings from Egypt.  A bunch of rich people and artists from all over rubbing elbows. Used to come in here with my boys from time to time, that’s how I knew about it and now I work here, busing on nights like this, cleaning up during the day.

It’s hard to get away from things, you know, like in Egypt, back when, where these old carvings were made: you were born to it, died in it. Pretty much like here, really. It’s all a bunch of shit. ‘Bootstraps’? Please. But I do some art, some things, you know. I get things out of the trash and try to make them into other things. There’s not a lot of room for anything at our place, so it’s all real real small. I look up at this stone wall, the hieroglyphics, I read they’re called, and the guys with the skirts and long hair. No faces though. That’s weird. Spooky. They say people that didn’t like this tribe back then hacked the faces off with something, ancient hammers I guess. Anyway, one of my pieces is small enough to fit inside one of those little carved spaces with the hieroglyphics. I’d like to try something big though, just don’t have any room for it. And anyways, who’s got time for all that, you know?

I see the ice is about out, so I excuse myself to get behind the bar to refill the tub. I take away the bucket of empty bottles and ask do they need anything restocked. I’m thirsty myself, and that liquor looks good, but I try not to drink anymore. It just takes too much time away from other things. The real thing is though, the real reason is, I try not to because I have a problem with it. I like it too much and I’m trying really hard to stay clean. It’s hard though. Everyone I know pretty much has something they doing to take the edge off. Or make money. Or both. And it’s weird that I don’t, you know? When the story for most is that their brother on crack and/or dealing. They don’t trust me. They don’t want to act like that but I can see they don’t. So, I don’t fit in. It’s hard, like I said. I don’t really have any friends, and my family is pretty fucked up, whatever. So, when I’m not working I spend a lot of time walking, finding things to make art with. I keep out of the way of almost everyone. And pretty soon, you’re invisible, no face, like those boys up on the wall here.

I bring the ice back and fill the tub. As I go, I pull one of my little art pieces out of my pocket and set it up on the bar, quick so no one will notice. I’m supposed to stay out of sight as much as possible. But I do that. I set my things up in little spots around the museum. I could get in big trouble for it, but I do it anyway. I see that one of the guests at the bar is looking at it, and my heart speeds up. I wonder if he saw me put it there and I’m going to get in trouble. Part of me doesn’t care, but the other side needs the money. And I like working here. I like being with the art. The guy is talking to the bartender and the bartender’s looking around to see who might have put it there, shrugging his shoulders. I look up at the wall, the stone carvings old as hell, and I think about the all the times I wanted to touch them, but I never did because the guards and people get upset when you do that. I close my eyes and feel my heart in my chest and my palms sweaty on the plastic edge of the bus tub. I open my eyes. The guy is still there holding my piece, smiling. I set down the tub. And I walk up and put out my hand.

Later, I walk home, down the streets, the stores all shut, metal doors over the windows. People on the corners, waiting for something. I see one of my friends from when we were kids, but I don’t make eye contact, and he wouldn’t talk to me now anyway. I slip into our place, three stories up from the street. The TV is on, my mom asleep on the couch, no one else is here. I go into my room and sit on my bed, set my share of the tips on the window sill. The money won’t stay folded. It was a good night. I pull out the business card from my other pocket and turn it over and over in my hands, trace the raised phone number with my finger. I close my eyes. I think about taking that money, going back down stairs, hooking up with my old friends. I open my eyes and see the shelves I made, my art on it. I think about those boys with the hammers, right before they smashed those faces. How the grip felt in their hands before they raised them up, what they were thinking. I lay the card on top of the money, lie back and look at the ceiling. It takes a long time to fall asleep.


Mom, writer, girl.


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