Visiting Hours by Mariana Sabino
The room was filled with the stench of poses. Curry and smoke outlined them in my studio apartment. Sitting on a sofa, looking out the window, was I. Through the closed window a thunderstruck Prague street vented its fury. Inside the studio, the lights blinked, igniting the gazes of those within.
In the middle of the room, corner left, hung what was supposedly an intriguing portrait. In it, sat a female figure, with her back towards me, gazing at her feet or at something in the grass - it was hard to say given the angle of my view. It seemed like she could’ve turned around if she wanted to. Hovering over it was my now regular visitor, Mr. Dean, who had just put it up without so much as a nod in my direction.
I could only assume he didn’t think it was necessary, given who he was. Was he expecting me to say “this is a fine piece of work - more people should see it, aside from your friends?” Not that we could be called friends. Honestly, as I considered saying this I caught my tone, which certainly wouldn’t be lost on him. Before I even asked it though, he said “I won’t be exhibiting it anywhere else.” “Why is that?”, I prodded hesitantly.
Eager to be rid of him and his friends, illustrious though they may be, here on his invitation, not mine, I added “this little soiree is hardly enough to pay it proper tribute.” He had recently taught me the word “soiree” – I only hoped I was pronouncing it with the right inflection. If I wasn’t, he would be sure to make me know it. To my embarrassment, he ignored me, confirming my earlier assessment that this was a difficult, derisive little man. And little he was, as even I, who have been referred to as a tall midget on occasion, towered over him.
He then veered his attention back to his friends, and I got up to tend to the curried soup swiftly evaporating on the stove top. It didn’t look good. As I attempted to salvage it, he sighed, managing to get my attention. Infuriating, how tuned in I was to his every tick – and I’ve come to regard his sighing as a form of tick. He finally said, “It seems the world does not share our enthusiasm. Believe me, I’ve tried” he trailed off, dejection steeped in his tone.
I ventured, “well, can she turn around, or say something?” And without waiting for his reply I added, “I think it’s fairly safe to say that doing either would considerably increase its market value.” He winced at the word “market” but I could have been mistaken. “She’s stubborn. The most she’ll do is flick a bug off her hair or wiggle it off her feet. And that is only on account of her discomfort,” he replied.
And turned it back to me, “From where you are you can hardly see it - why don’t you come closer?” “Humm…that’s okay, I see it fine as it is,” I squirmed as I braided my way through the seams of the crowd in trying to avoid them. The silence that followed, which I took as a sign he was listening, encouraged me. A sign he might even realize I really wanted them out. I couldn’t think of one good reason why I should put up with hosting impromptu gatherings at my cramped-as-it-is studio apartment – for art or no art.
He had never brought anyone else along with him before though. Suddenly, what made him figure our previous agreement extended to anyone else? His right to come over had never been in question. It was just an understanding between us. He was after all, dead, but you couldn’t hold that against him. His existence was more present than ever, and as I’m not much of a materialist, who am I to raise an objection. But I did count on him observing visiting hours.