Modern Art

a short story, just for fun

I should have been happy. Check that, I should have been elated. I was finally going on a date with Jessica. Jessica. The girl with the shiny brown hair I spent most of my sophomore year following across campus in hopes that she’d drop her left glove so I would have a reason to talk to her. Jessica. The girl who sat two rows down in my biology seminar and laughed at all of Dr. Hammersteins stupid cell division jokes. It had finally happened; she had leapt from the pedestal of my desire and into my life. We had become something of friends, or at least acquaintances, and finally I had mustered the courage to ask her on a date.

That is, if you consider her assignment to take notes at the Art Institute a date. That’s where we were going. I meant to ask her to lunch but before I could get the words out of my mouth she was on about her Art History class and how she could use some company — and besides I had taken the class last semester so I could “help her out.” Her words, not mine.

“Sure,” I said. Hardly before my brain had registered what my plan for a semi-romantic lunch date, and then who-knows, had turned into. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to spend time with her, but, Art History, the Art Institute, those were two things I preferred not to revist. How can anyone find anything romantic about 20th century german expressionism?

“Great Jeremy, I’ll see you there.” And with a smile and a graceful whirl of that long, brown hair she turned and stepped out into the quad, and was lost in a crowd of 20-somethings sporting fall jackets, shuffling through the soggy, fallen leaves.

On saturday we took my car out of the parking ramp and set off for the Art Institute. She in her purple striped scarf she had knit herself tucked into her denim jacket; I in my Game of Thrones hoodie and cleanest pair of jeans I could find in my hamper. The ride was quiet. We made some small-talk but it mostly all led us back to her assignment and what parts and exhibits we were supposed to see. I liked Jessica, a lot. I could hardly keep the car in our lane for watching her nurse her coffee snuggled into my passenger seat, but I couldn’t hardly imagine going to a more boring place for what I was still stubbornly considering our first date.

At the Art Institute I tried to pay for her ticket, but, wound up getting cut off by an elderly couple who managed to take up the entire entryway with their wheelchair and walker. By the time I had caught back up with Jessica she had her billfold out and was handing over a credit card. ‘Alright, stay cool,’ I managed to coach myself. ‘It’s still a date. This is modern times when women are strong, independent and pay for their own food and entertainment.’

We proceeded through the exhibits: postmodernism, cubism, impressionism. She asked questions of me and I dragged up as much of my previous semesters art knowledge I could muster.

Her question sheets and notes were just about completely full when we entered the German Expressionism exhibit. My head was starting to ache from lack of hydration and my feet were killing me over the last two and a half hours of talking about art I didn’t care for and trying to remember stuff that I had tried as hard as I could to forget. She sat down on a bench in the middle of the space and I took the seat beside her. We looked at the central painting for a few minutes which oddly reflected my feeling about this art exhibit fiasco quite well. Edvard Munch’s The Scream.

“Hey, Jeremy?” She asked in her note taking tone. I made a sound to let her know I was listening halfway between a grunt and a sigh. “I wanted to thank you for doing all this with me. You’re a really good guy to spend your afternoon helping me.” My head spun up into a whir. Were we having a talk? About me? About her? Certainly not a talk about us, or was it?

“Yeah, uh, I mean, I don’t mind helping,” I paused for a moment to gather my suddenly pitching and rolling insides. “It’s no big deal,” I finally sputtered out.

“It is a big deal!” And as she said that she turned her head from the painting and looked me right in the eyes. Brown, brown, brown. Deep wells of beautiful brown eyes. My stupor, hunger, love, lust, thirst, attraction, headache and everything blended together on puree—all in an instant and my stomach turned. This girl that I had been dreaming about for over a year, who just used and abused me to finish her homework in the world’s most boring dungeon of creativity, who had the most beautiful brown eyes I had ever seen was looking straight at me and telling me what I did mattered to her—that I mattered to her. Her gaze cut right through me and made everything swim together.

“Jeremy, I like you.” She said brazenly, eyes locked impossibly on mine.

Yes! Yes, yes yes! I thought. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. She wasn’t using me for homework; this WAS a date. This was a moment when it happened — when everything started. I saw it all at once like a movie had started in my head. I saw our first kiss, our first dinner together, candlelight flickering on white linen. I saw us furnishing our first apartment with the furniture from my parents basement, our wedding, our kids, growing old together every clichéd moment down a path that was starting right now, in this very moment.

My head pounded and my stomach gave another sickening lurch. As quickly as my joy lit through me in an emotional tour of the rest of my life, it was gone. Oh no! Oh, no, no, no! I felt a tempest welling inside of me, an unavoidable monster of anxiety, relief, shock, emotion and sick. Sick, sick sick. I was going to be sick. The white walls, the bright lights, my pitching stomach, my pounding head, the screaming man, our future, my past, beautiful brown hair and eyes to match, cell division, everything together all in this moment where I had to say something back to her. Here it was, here I was, the rest of my life hinged on this moment.

“Well?” She asked. Her face played into a smile that said she knew about my crush, that she knew me right down to my soul but it all blended into the churn of my feelings, my memories, my imagination, my stomach.

All I could say was, “I’m going to be sick.”

As I said it, I stood. As I stood, I saw the look on her face change. As I saw the look on her face change, I saw the flashes of the rest of our life dissolve into one last sickening lurch of my stomach. I’d like to say I found a way to do anything gracefully at this point. I’d like to tell you she wasn’t horrified; I’d like to say I pulled myself together and made something good from something bad.

All I can say is that I ruined some old ladies shoes, there was an awkward and silent ride home, and that was all.