Photo (c) Paige Stewart
The picture hung unadorned and frameless. Twigs and leaves in the focused foreground and then more strewn at the foot of the sloped, wood-slat bridge that carried the eye up and deeper into the blurred future. It intrigued Megan and at first she had no clue as to why. The concrete pillars caught her eye and she stopped and decided to have a better look. She did this with every piece at every gallery she ever visited. Megan felt that it was the least she could do to honour the time the artist had put into the work. Even one or two seconds for something that confused her was enough. This photo though had depth beyond its two dimensions. The focus and the blur and the blur and the focus. Its center just a millimeter off, but perfect for what she felt the picture represented.
“It’s life, isn’t it?”
At first she didn’t notice the voice belonged neither to her head nor her lips and she answered in the former. It is life, she thought. At first it is clear and focused and then you must take a single step up and place your hands on the pillars for support. Below your feet lie various forgotten memories, left where they naturally fell in the past. The future rises before you and you can see what’s there but it’s not as clear as the past and the present. Even the forgotten wonders of years before are more clear. The future is unfocused and while you can see aspects of what you need and want those aspects will only come into focus when you make the choice to take a step toward them. Then she felt the presence of the person who posed the question she had answered in silence and turned toward him with a start.
“Did you just ask me that question?”
He smiled. “The life question?”
“Yes. I think I’m going crazy,” she said.
“I think I did, unless we are both living inside our heads today,” he said with a smirk. He reached his hand out. “I’m Tom by the way.”
She felt her body relax and she reached her hand to his. “I’m Martha. And sorry about that, I guess I’m intrigued by this one.” They broke their greeting and Megan fell back into her head.
Martha? Who the fuck is Martha? What is wrong with you Megan?
“I’d say that’s fair. It has this depth to it. When I saw you standing here for as long as you were I had to come over and chat. It’s my favourite piece here,” he said.
Why the hell did I introduce myself as Tom? What is wrong with you Ben?
“It really is about life though. You got it right. The focus of the present will lead you somewhere but no matter what, even with only one path ahead, the future is still a bit blurry,” she said.
So this kinda cute nerdy guy comes up and talks to me in my favourite setting, in front of one of my new favourite photos and I make up a fake name? Awesome!
“Agreed. It really is great on many levels,” he said.
They both take a step back and admire the photo, the only truth they have shared in the very short tenure of their relationship.
“Can I be honest with you?” he said.
“Yes, please.” She hoped this would open the door for her to tell him that for reasons unknown she had made up a name and no, she couldn’t say that.
For the rest of the time I know this Tom guy I will have to be known as Martha. Great. And he likes art. Double great. GREAT!
“I’m not really an art guy. I came with a couple friends who love this stuff, but I’m completely lost beyond photos like this,” he said.
Why the fuck didn’t you just tell her your real name? When you eventually do she’ll think you’re a freak and then whatever great things you two would have shared will now go by the wayside because you decided to be Tom and not Ben. Fuck!
“That’s totally fair. I love all things like this but I’m actually on my way out now,” she said.
Where the hell are you going? Home? Out by yourself? Get it together Martha! Damnit! Get it together Megan!
“Ah, fair enough. Can I entice you to stay for just one more drink? My friends gave me extra tickets.” He pulled a couple of the complimentary drink tickets out of his pocket and raised an eyebrow as a smirk crossed his lips.
Did you just say ‘entice’? Entice? You sound like a kidnapper! Can I entice you with a chocolate bar and some skittles? Ben, you are an idiot! And possibly a kidnapper!
Megan looked down at the last sip in her champagne glass.
“That sounds perfect,” she said.
They walked in silence across the dimly lit center of the room to the bar. Ben ordered them two glasses of champagne and as he handed her the glass she knew that if the truth about her lie were to come out, he would be more receptive to it if he was a bit tipsy. They each took a sip and settled into a couch against the wall opposite the front doors.
“So what do you do when not following your friends to art shows?” she said.
“Mostly eat and sleep, but for rent I run a used book store that my grandfather started years ago.”
What the fuck Ben? You’ve read three books in your life!
“Oh that’s cool! I love books. Where abouts is it?”
“On Bloor in the Annex. It used to be called “Seekers” but I changed the name to Ben’s books after my grandfather.”
“I remember Seekers. I used to go in there all the time. Can’t say I’ve ever seen you there though.”
Well Megan, that’s because you’ve never been there.
“I just recently took it over so I’m there now pretty much every day,” he said and nodded his head far too many times as though this would will his lie into becoming truth. “What do you do?”
“I’m a vet at a clinic on Queen near Spadina. It was what I’ve wanted to do since I was young,” she said.
Wow Megan, was that in between playing Stock Ticker and Monopoly, and reading the Business section of the paper? What the hell is wrong with you?
“Oh cool. Ya, I love animals too. I’ve always wanted a dog but my apartment is too small for one,” he said and looked down at his champagne willing it into his system.
“But you could bring it to the store and you could have one of those places that has a cute dog in it. And I know a great vet,” she said, knocking his elbow with hers.
Um, Megan, no you don’t. You don’t even know how to spell or even pronounce the whole word, that’s why you keep saying the short form, vet. Get out of this you crazy person!
“So, I do have to go unfortunately, but it was nice to meet you Tom,” she said before she stood up.
He stood just after and reached his hand out for another shake. “Martha, I do hope we will meet again.”
They shook hands and both took note of the other’s clammy nature. Ben raised his half full glass of champagne and Megan did the same with hers, two-thirds full. With one motion they both downed their drinks and Megan handed hers to him after a quick swallow.
“Thanks again Tom, see you around!” Before she had finished the words she had turned quickly and almost two-stepped through the doors and into the night. She wanted to turn and see if he was watching her but she held back and turned toward home.
Her walk was filled with thoughts. What if he goes to the clinic to look for you? Should you just make a deal with them and pay them to lie for you? Maybe give them your card and say if a cute, nerdy guy comes in asking for Martha to give him this number? What kind of a person lies about who they are and then makes up a completely bullshit persona? You met at an art gallery, not on death row for hell’s sake! Okay, worse comes worse, he goes there and he finds out that Martha was a liar. Which means that you just have to live the rest of your life in the hope you don’t see him ever again and if you do, you will feign not knowing who he is and move on. Or you could just go to the bookstore and explain yourself. Fuck.
“No one named Tom works here,” said the scruffy man behind the book laden desk. Megan was pretty sure this guy had never had a stressful day in his life, or at least he wasn’t aware of the stress if it was there.
“He said the name is changing to ‘Ben’s Books’ and that his grandfather used to own it. Are you sure?” She looked in at the store as if Tom was going to pop out behind a bookshelf.
“As sure as I’ve never known a Tom in my life and my granddaughter hates books. If I left her the store she would sell it, contents and all.”
“Okay, well, thank you then,” she said.
Outside, she sat on the bench facing the store and wondered what to do next.
“I’m Martha,” the woman said, but this was not the Martha Ben had met at the gallery two nights previous.
“Ah, hi Martha, I’m Ben. Is there perhaps another Martha that works here?” How was he to go about describing her? She’s got your name but she has longer darker hair and greener eyes and she’s taller with fewer years on her frame. No. Just, no.
“Nope, I’m the one and only,” she said and let out a quick burst of laughter.
“I guess I must have been mistaken.”
Later at a café, after spending a half an hour staring at a cup of coffee missing the one sip he almost enjoyed earlier, Ben had a thought.
…life is supposed to be clear now and blurred in the future, Megan thought. In the two hours she had spent on the bench, this had been the one thought to which she would return, typically followed by Damnit Tom! Damnit Martha! Damnit Megan! Damnit books! Damnit photos! Damnit the future! Damnit the past! Damn Damning it!
He wasn’t lovesick, nor lovelorn, nor hopeless, but he did have a vision of the future and though blurry, it was of Martha standing at the top of that bridge waiting for him to take the step towards her. She liked that photo. She had to return to it at some point. If there was going to be a place to see her again it’s at that photo, he thought, and I will wait at the photo until she returns and if she doesn’t return then the future I saw with her will remain unfinished. And that would sucks a lot of balls. He envisioned her face when he broke the news of his inexplicable deceit and if that was the deal breaker – being a bit of a weirdo – at least he got the chance to tell the truth. It was better than never seeing her again.
Ben entered the gallery with blinders on. Nothing would break his focus. He would wait by the photo and if he got tired he would sit on the couch and wait some more. When he stopped and saw the empty wall where the picture had hung, he froze. He had never considered it could be gone. The picture was for him and Martha. What in the sweet fuck is this bullshit? he thought and turned toward the sound of rustling paper.
Behind the sales counter that had housed the bar the night of the opening, an attendant was wrapping up what looked like a piece the size of their photo. Half the counter was obscured so he couldn’t tell if this was for an absent or present guest. His vision blurred a tad and he began to rush the counter but stopped just short when he saw that familiar shade of hair. His eyes cleared as his body filled with nervous glee. He squeezed his hands into fists, a tactic he used to calm himself, and walked the remaining steps as casual as possible. Ben caught the attendant’s eye before Martha turned to face him and his heart sank as what he thought was dread crossed her face.
Do I tell her the truth? What if I don’t? What if I do? What the fuck is she going to say? What the fuck am I going to say? Who am I anymore? Did she buy the photo? Was it because of meeting me or just because she liked it?
“Hi,” he said. He stood stone still next to her now.
“Um, hi,” she said. A smile finally crossing her face.
Holy shit he’s here! What does this mean? I bought the picture first you can’t have it! Why is he standing like a statue? What a weirdo. Wait, Megan, you’re the weirdo you weirdo!
“I, ah, so I’m Ben,” he said reaching his hand out in hopes she would shake it like she had twice before, however, he was anticipating being hit with force in any of his most vulnerable places.
Okay sweet awesome amazing girl, please don’t aim for the junk. Just not the junk.
“Ben, eh?” she said and she took his hand. “I’m Megan, it’s nice to meet you.”
Dear Ben, Thank you for being as equally weird as me, at least for a little while! Love, Megan!
“Megan. Yes, it is nice to meet you,” he said with a smile.
“Just let me finish up here and then I would say we have a lot to talk about,” she said.
“I would say that’s true,” he said.