The Gallery

A short story by Fletcher Kovich

The Gallery

I was walking along the street on a sunny day with my heart lifted and step lightened and all my memories forgotten as I smiled for no reason and sang a melody that had not yet been invented and all around me I saw only saints. The air was warm with comfort as I passed that yellow and green poster announcing the delights of chocolate. I hummed the next verse, which had also not yet been invented—but I was trying. And the sound of traffic was invisible to my ears as my mind listened to the sea washing ashore a sandy beach. I thought I could feel my bare feet sinking in the soft sand and then I noticed the door. There were always doors. This one was standing in a shadow, not trying to conceal itself, not trying to pretend to be anything other than a door, a plain, black door. Only, in the sun, I almost missed it. For some reason, it stood out; it stood out to me. I stopped and tried its handle. Of course, it opened. I somehow knew I was supposed to enter, so why would it have not opened?—there was no part of me that expected to meet any resistance. I stepped inside, closed the door and found myself in an endless gallery of my own memories. Each wall contained a carefully laid out display with painstakingly typed descriptions attached to each memory.

Before long, I had lost my way. I stepped through room after room, turned corners that should have returned me to the outdoors but instead only transported me further backwards and then sideways and then forwards and then backwards again in time. I was lost.

I came to a halt in a room called ‘Melancholy’. I did not know how I got there and could see no way out. The light was low and my lungs seemed to have no interest in working. I could feel a distinct weight attached to my heart. Something, from some picture somewhere on those walls, seemed to be attempting to pull me down into some suffocating darkness where life itself seemed afraid to go. I wanted to leave. The show was not to my liking.

“Tell me how to get out of here,” I thought. “Someone show me the exit; I want to get out and feel the daylight again.”

I would have shouted it but I knew there was no point. No-one would have heard. There was just me in there alone, parading around amongst my own memories.

I took a seat and began studying a picture. I saw no-one, heard no-one, could see no place, nor purpose; all I was aware of was that weight attached to my heart; the more I looked, the more I felt it and the less I saw. And then I noticed myself falling onto a knife. My right hand held it deliberately, its handle pressed against the floor and its sharp point entering my body as the earth pulled me down onto it. Then I noticed myself jumping from a height. At last, I could see some purpose and that weight began to lessen. The pictures in the room brightened; they at last seemed to make sense and I could see them all clearly. But the room frightened me. I wanted to shout again, “Someone, show me how to get out of here.” But I knew no-one would hear.

Then I could hear footsteps in an adjoining room and I started following them or trying to. I was passing from room to room, from corridor to corridor and the steps always seemed to be receding from me, as if deliberately shunning me. I turned into a darkened room and it was full of the sound of those steps, echoing. The sound diminished and I noticed a single picture, from which the steps seemed to be emanating. My eyes followed the sound of those steps deep into the picture, which seemed to consist of nothing else other than the sound of those steps always walking away from me. My mind listened to the picture as my helpless eyes stood by. But then I turned to another wall and saw a silent picture. I saw Jonathan’s face looking at me. And there was nothing that either of us could say; all we could both do was stare, helplessly, as we both knew that we should be together but were now parted for life and in another picture, nearby, one which I recognised had been painted by myself over the years since our parting, I saw all my mistakes laid out, the wrong paths I took, and the so obvious things I should have said to avoid this, this silence, the enforced dumbness, and this, his staring face, his heart connecting with mine, from deep inside his body, that knowledge within both of us, that we should be together, if only I had done those obvious things, and not been driven by my own deformed impressions. I saw his face, looking back at me from within that picture and heard those footsteps receding from me.

I turned to another wall and saw a tunnel, its path disappearing into the distance, as though tunnelling deep into a dark hillside, though I knew that it was, in reality, tunnelling deep down into my own heart and I realized, with alarm, that the name of this room was ‘My True Loves’. It contained my most treasured, yet most feared pictures. These were the remnants of the men who had become lodged deep within my own heart. Next to the tunnel, I saw another face, the face of Lee. He was staring up at me as he hung over a cliff’s edge, his fingers desperately gripping the ledge. Our eyes, again, watched each other helplessly, and in my mind another gallery of mistakes played out its images, each of them a lifeline that Lee could have grasped, had I not mistaken it for a rejection and tidied it away into my grave where one day I would join it and lie there alone with those tattered, misunderstood ropes, my only company.

Then the air in there was suffocating; I could not breathe; I had to get out. I fell towards a wall, for I had lost my balance, and I was then in a new room. This one seemed to be outdoors, for I could feel grass beneath my feet and in place of walls, there was an orchard—its trees burdened with tempting fruit, which I dared not pick. I looked closely at the glossy surface of a ruddy apple and noticed the reflection of myself there. I was buying furniture to make a home but I could not decide between this fabric or that. Then an assistant walked passed behind be, angrily tearing to shreds my favourite clothes, saying, “If you can’t decide, you’ll have nothing.”

I wanted to scream or raise my arms to stop her but I was paralyzed. Then the woman had gone and all I could hear was the sound of fabric being torn, which grew louder and multiplied; the shreds of sound poured down on me like rain, filling my head as a migraine does. Then the storm passed and I was naked and cold. I moved to another tree, this one barren and leafless. I began studying its skeleton of branches and twigs and thought I could see them transforming into a picture, a three-dimensional line drawing whose shape, as it took form, began to create a feeling of nausea within me. I watched its form and thought I could recognise its message, but the nausea took over and I had to get out of there. I felt sure the picture was of myself holding a child amid a harmonious family and glowing with happiness, contentment and health, but I could not watch if for long enough to be sure; I cold not stand the discomfort of its formation. I felt my body was about to begin the convulsive actions of vomiting and I had to go. I turned and heard traffic noise, then the sound of seagulls circling overhead and swooping by. I followed them and was then back in childhood.

I was playing on a beach. There were two, indistinct figures sat nearby on deckchairs. Neither of them had voices, it seemed, for they were occasionally making mumbled noises like the barking of beached seals. Their faces, though, I could see clearly. My mother’s and father’s eyes looked out helplessly from the faces of these forms. Occasionally they glanced at us, and less frequently at one another, but mainly they seemed harassed by the fear of falling back down into the formless bodies that surrounded them, as though those very bodies were their graves. Sat around me were my siblings, though again they seemed not to posses a voice. I could stand the silence no longer and ran off to play alone. I felt the sand beneath my feet, first cold, then warm as I ran out into a more sunny area. I slowed to a stroll and felt liberated; I could see no more pictures and as I looked about me, I found I was outside again in the blinding sun. I glanced back at that yellow and green poster and resolved to never again eat chocolate.

As I walked along the street, there was a dim image at the back of my mind, a picture glimpsed from somewhere inside that gallery. It began quickly fading in the dazzling sun until I could no longer see myself misshapen by the burden of indulging in illicit pleasures. And then the image had gone and my mind was clear. I strode on, feeling the warmth of the sun on my face.

6 January 2009

16 Februrary 2011, edited (282 words added)

See also

Read my sketchbook entry on the writing of this story;

and on editing the story.

See readers' comments on this work here.