Alice leaned over his small Ikea table, a curtain of blonde hair hiding her expression. He stood at a respectful distance, unsure if she was interested in him or just his art. Her black cashmere sleeve was pushed up to reveal a Cartier Tank and an intriguingly tan forearm. She lifted a print for closer scrutiny.
He had met Alice at his second exhibition — a showcase he deemed a modest success. Modest in that it was sparsely attended. A success in that he sold a few photographs; received a favorable review. Caught the attention of Alice.
Taking the photo in two hands, she turned it upside down. “It actually works both ways.”
He didn’t agree. The deep end needed to be on the right. A favorite image of an oval pool which, from a distance, looked more like a cleanly cracked egg. Tapered white walls, rolling inward. A subtle drop midway. And a puddle of yellowy brown covering the painted blue of the deep.
“It almost makes me want to take up skateboarding,” Alice said laughing and flipping through his pictures. “I think we can definitely do something with these.”
Jack fought the urge to scoop up the lot. To snap the portfolio shut. Instead, he retrieved the Brita from his studio’s galley kitchen. “Can I get you anything?”
“I’m fine,” she replied distractedly as she scrutinized another photograph. This one a series of circles and squares. Less grubby but more vacant. A line of grime marking a recent drain. A scattering of oak and poplar leaves decaying on the shiny floor.
“What are you thinking when you take all of these?” Her voice was a sultry husk, unexpected for such a flawless creature. A former smoker perhaps or too many late nights shouting over loud music. What could he possibly offer her?
“These are perfect for another exhibition,” she said smiling and placing a few in a grid. She played with their arrangement. Changing their order on the table’s surface like a sliding tile puzzle. “But a different kind of presentation. One that will capture the right buyers.” Who were the right buyers? Jack pondered. “And in a space that matches their vibe. With the right approach, you might even be able to sell them as a collection.”
Jack couldn’t imagine anyone having an interest in purchasing twenty pictures at once. He had only ever sold five prints before, and just one to a stranger. The idea of one of his photographs being absorbed daily by unknown eyes was still unsettling and exhilarating. His work inspiring daily provocation. But Alice would target the corporate curators. She had explained they were the best buyers. And who was he to turn down the notion of making a living? Who was he to disdain a corporate law firm that wanted to hang his dirty pools in their pristine boardrooms?
“We need a good angle though. Were you ever a pool cleaner in the summers?”
“Did your family have a pool?
“No. We went to the town pool.”
“But these are all private pools. Maybe that’s it. A fascination with the luxury you could never afford.”
Jack thought of Tommy Jenkins’ pool. The excitement of having a friend with his own pool. A pool which he would only visit once thanks to Henry Lurbin. The three of them like archeologists in the late fall. Climbing down into the open guts. The mole that crawled from underneath some stirred-up muck. All three boys startled, then intrigued by the tiny grey fuzz, the pink pointy nose. The little claws scurrying and scratching to find new cover before Henry stomped the poor creature with his white Reebok high tops. A gory splatter against the off-white concrete.
Henry had laughed. Tommy had called it ‘gross’ but only Jack despaired.
Jack remembered grabbing Henry. The overwhelming urge he had felt to throw Henry to the ground. To stomp on him. The stab of pain that arrived, as if his own innards were leaking out like those of the mole. “Why would you kill it?” he asked, unable to comprehend how a person could murder joy for fun.
“It’s a mole, Jack.” Henry’s sneer forever seared in Jack’s memory. The sight of him walking up the pool stairs, leaving faint tracks of red. Jack recalled Tommy putting his hand on his shoulder before departing. “He was just trying to be funny, Jack.”
Jack had lingered, alone in the pool. One of only three days in his life he could remember crying. But how could he ever explain something so small.
“What are you thinking about?” Alice leaned back, arms crossed, against the wall. How did she see him? Merely a commercial prospect? Or was there a hint of romantic curiosity?
He wanted to tell her the photographs were an homage to his first brush with cruelty but he doubted she’d understand. He wasn’t certain if she’d even care, so he spit out, “Emptiness.”
He watched her creaseless forehead crinkle before she smiled and said, “That’s perfect. That could be the name of your show.”
Coleman Bigelow’s flash and short stories have appeared recently in The Under Review, Ink and Sword and The Dead Mule School. He studied creative writing as an undergraduate at The University of Virginia and went on to study playwriting and screenwriting at The Actor’s Theatre of Louisville and the New School. He is currently at work on his first novel.