/ Original Fiction

In Situ

“Fucking—Fucking shit—”

Michon lunged as much as he was able in order to reach his cellphone on his nightstand. Well, it wasn’t his nightstand—

It was hers.

But she was gone.

Michon didn’t have a nightstand. Or an end table. Or really much of anything but a bed. Before she started staying with him pretty regularly it was just the one, big industrial window (no curtains), and his so-white-they-were-hard-to-look-at sheets (no blankets) on his full-size mattress which, despite his sensibilities, did have a bed frame. Back when this brand of tired, bacheloresque minimalism was the norm for Michon, the only other object you might find in the room (other than himself) was his cellphone, which, despite the ample room in the bed, would sit on the floor in the corner adjacent to where he slept.

After a couple of years of seeing Iris, they were together on a walk through the neighborhood one morning when they came across what would become Iris’s nightstand. Iris had not one but two degrees in math and was at the time apprenticing with an architecture firm in Midtown. Although her number one hobby remained somewhat in the vein of both her career and her generation—she ran a successful architecture-focused Tumblr—her next-dearest hobby was an amalgam of found art, reclaimed wood this-and-that, and restoring furniture (or as Michon always so kindly thought of it, "garbage").

As his fingers glanced off his phone and sent it slightly further away, rocking awkwardly on the curve of his obnoxiously blue, probably-not-very-effective phone case, Michon’s hand slid back across the rough finish that Iris and he had applied to the table on a tarp they found hanging out of a dumpster nearby that they set up in the living room.

It was funny to Michon, even now, despite how much he missed her, that he almost never thought about the night they finished the table. He of course remembered how beautiful she looked—how beautiful she always looked—with her hair pulled up tight in a high ponytail just because she needed to get shit done. He remembered the awful smell of whatever it was she said they had to put onto the wood after they sanded it down. He remembered what a mess the tarp was; how they somehow managed to make a mess of something that they found in a dumpster at the same time that they were restoring another literal piece of garbage.

But what stayed with him—even with the gorgeous work they did on it and the fact that he saw it every day; even with the great wine they went and bought to celebrate that night; even with the way they didn’t do anything else that night but sit and talk around the newborn nightstand as if it were a campfire and they had nowhere else to be for the rest of their lives—

What stayed with him was what happened when they found it. He thought about it every day. And not just at any moment, but in those critical gaps: those moments where a person is most likely to fall into themselves, past all the white noise of their everyday life, towards a center they are too busy to remember they have.

In those moments, all Michon can think about is how when they passed it on the street, she just stopped walking. She just stopped and stared. He had gone three or four full strides before he even realized she wasn’t with him anymore.

And all he can think about now is when he turned, the look on her face. Like she had found something more than a table. He knew, he was sure in that moment that he would never see whatever it was that she saw. That it wasn’t in the table or behind the table or anything: it was just…

*buzz buzz buzz*

“Oh for fuck’s sake why not just call me??”

Michon was lunging for his phone that morning because just as he woke up, he started to receive a bunch of text messages in a row. And nothing in the world annoyed Michon more than someone sending a bunch of small texts in quick succession. “Just send one big text, or just fucking call me” is what Michon would repeat to nobody in particular whenever he received more than two one-line text messages in a ten-to-fifteen second window.

Normally, for this very reason, and for general peace of mind, once the phone was in the bedroom, Michon would silence it. But he had been holding out hope for months now that maybe that next bzzz would be Iris. Since they broke up, she had not said a word to him. No replies to his texts, voicemails, e-mails, snail-mails, long-shot desparate whispers in the night—nothing. Now, he knew this couldn’t possibly be her, but he wanted to give a piece of his mind to whoever the fuck had the nerve to blow up his phone this much on the one Thursday he’s had off in over a year.

Finally, he got a grip on the phone and unlocked it. The texts came from two people, one of them had only sent two, the other—

“Sixteen? Six-fucking-teen Carol?”

Carol was Michon’s agent. When Michon was not working a, frankly, shit-piss-ass horrible schedule as a bartender who does everything at this restaurant except tend bar, he was getting a decent role here and there as an actor. A few years ago, before he met Iris, he was doing what felt like a handful of coke every day and taking his first acting classes on the lower-west side. The classes and the coke aren’t necessarily related but, well, that’s what was happening.

Carol was the kind of agent that only "aspiring" actors and not "real" actors get because Carol was an "aspiring" agent. Ever the DIY-er and unusual embracer of the gig economy, to this very morning Michon (and everybody else in the city) had no idea how Carol managed to make ends meet; but, she always looked put together (she was around Michon's age, which he thought was unusual for the stereotypical "bargain" agent), always worked hard at whatever it was you managed to witness her doing, and was goddamn persistent.

Six-fucking-teen texts persistent.

Michon opened the messages.

MICHON are you up??
Big meeeeeech grab your phone you anti-social fuck

And a charmer, surely.

I have something for you
I have something for you I have something for you
duuuuude fuuuuuck call me right now!!
call me
call me
call me
call me
call me
call me
call me
call me
call me
CALL
you have liek five minutes

Michon scrambled to call Carol.

“Why not just call me?! Why call you? How the—”

He had barely pressed the call button and Carol already picked up on the other line.

“What the hell—”
[…]
“Hold on, hold on, I’m sorry, but that was a lot of text messages, I thought someone was texting me their last wishes or some shit. Why didn’t you just call me?”
[…]
“Having your phone ring in a meeting is professional to you?”
[…]
“No I— what did it look like when you were sitting there frantically typing out texts?!”
[…]
“Ok, ok, ok”
[…!]
“OK! What’s the gig?”
[…]
……
“You’re not serious.”

Michon put his head in his other hand. Some things just felt kind of degrading, even though he knew he had to take some undesirable jobs within reason. This, though…

[…]
“I thought we were past this kind of thing. Can’t you put someone else on it?”
[…]
“Wait you WANT me to take it? Should I do goddamn kids birthday parties too? Carol this is—”
[…]
“Oh you have a ‘good feeling’ about it?”
[…]
“Ha, you know…”

Michon stood up and leaned on the nightstand, as if it wasn’t low enough that he was bending over awkwardly.

“If anybody else said they had a good feeling about something, I’d ignore them. But your good feelings have gotten me this far.”
[…]
“Yeah…”
[…]
“Sure, yes, I’ll do it.”
[…]
“I can’t believe I’m doing this. I haven’t been to a museum since I was a kid.”

A lie. Iris took him to the Met at least once a month and positively went in on at least one special exhibit every time. He always learned more from her in hushed tones off in the corner of any given gallery than he did from any placard.

[…]
“Yeah I can be there in a half hour. And Carol?”
[…]
“Is this the red one or the… the purple one?”
[…]
“... Damnit, I hate orange.”


IMG_20180125_122922

“Oh wow, Shredder is going to be so jealous!”

It was the fifth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference that the photographer, Jerome, had made since Michon had met him.

Three of them were before he even had his shell on.

This is absurd, right? Michon thought to himself, I’m not even humiliated anymore, this is like something Kafka would have a night terror about.

As they walked through the exhibit, the curator was the only saving grace. Obviously this was… very different than any time Iris had taken him to the museum, but having someone who knew what they were talking about (arguably more than anybody else in the world) added much needed equanimity to an increasingly uncomfortable situation.

“Was there anything in particular you wanted to see today?” asked the curator, happy to accommodate, and equally happy to follow close and make sure that Michon's shell and his clumsy forearms did not destroy anything precious.

They slowly walked in between a few busts of what Michon could only assume were "old Greek or Roman or Italian guys."

“To be honest,” the air from Michon's voice made the entire inside of his outfit feel about thirty degrees hotter in an instant, “I don’t know much about—”

“Oh! This is a great shot!” Jerome cut in.

Is this guy serious?

The curator took a few quick, graceful strides ahead to be out of the shot as Michon slightly deflated before composing himself and turning towards the camera. He was positioned right between a couple of the mysterious white Mediterranean heads.

“Now say,” Jerome giggled to himself (did he just fucking giggle to himself?), “say, ‘PIZZA!’”

Michon held up both his hands slightly and, under the big clumsy fingers of the costume, gave Jerome the two most rigid middle fingers he could muster. He grimaced behind the bandana’d turtle’s cheery facade.

"Shut the FUCK up, Jerome," whispered Michon through gritted teeth.

IMG_20180125_122927

Michon realized he needed to relax. Yes, he was in this ridiculous costume, but it’s not often that you get one-on-one (plus fucking Jerome) access to the curator of an internationally-renowned exhibition.

Michon carefully but swiftly made (what he thought was) a ninja-esque motion and pivoted towards the curator, as he asked,

“Where to?”

She looked at him for a moment, as if she could see more than the faded, frankly crusty green fabric and gaudy, poor-excuse-for-bad-insulation padding that was smothering Michon. She looked at him as though she was figuring something out through his clownish exterior that he had been trying, but unable, to figure out his whole goddamn life.

“You know, I’ve got a good feeling that you’ll really like what's around the corner. This way.”

With all these women and their ‘good feelings’, Michon thought, I should probably just let them start a committee and run my life for me.

In the next room, small frames lined the walls. Michon had never seen anything like it. He had been to the Uffizi once on a school trip to Italy, and he remembered how underwhelmed he was by the sheer overwhelming amount of once-in-a-lifetime artistic experiences he was surrounded with. He remembered wondering at the time how it was possible for anybody to get a manageable and meaningful experience out of a museum that large. At best, you’d have to find one painting, either because you were studying it for school or… well, he couldn’t think of another good reason— But you’d have to find just one painting and glue yourself to it and absorb it and get lucky enough to find some old hunchbacked curator emeritus to tell you about the genesis of the painting and every one of its owners and its ideal lighting conditions, all in excruciating detail.

Of course, he would never do such a thing: he didn’t “get art.” But, well, for everyone else who “got” it, his strategy had to be better than just rushing by seven-hundred year-old statues to go buy a bottle of water.

This room, though... this room felt different.

“What are all of these? They’re so small.”

Something had changed in Michon’s voice, although he didn’t realize it. The closest he came to realizing that things were changing was that he did not mind the heat of his suit as he talked to the curator.

“They’re his drawings.” A simple answer, but she had learned how to talk to people who were afraid of just enjoying art a long time before Michon had even thought to be a dick about it.

As they walked up to the first of the small drawings hanging in neat frames like they were in someone’s house, he was mostly just grateful for Jerome’s silence. The room seemed to be lost on Jerome, or perhaps he had been there before, as he fiddled with his camera through the curator’s lovely explanations of what it took to get all of the drawings under one roof, what Michelangelo’s drawing habits were like, and how she recently was responsible for reattributing the piece they were currently looking at to Michelangelo himself.

Michon listened to all of it, but despite grasping everything the curator said, he couldn’t have recounted the words to someone else if they asked. It was like he was just absorbing everything that was going on because any one thing was too much for him to focus on. It was as if he wasn’t even in the turtle suit anymore. He was so overwhelmed so quickly by each drawing and all of them together that he hadn’t even had a chance to realize he was becoming overwhelmed in the first place.

Finally, the curator’s words cut through.

“There is one other thing I’d like you to see before they make me kick you out. This way.”

Michon felt glued to the small drawing of what looked like some kind of cherub that he was looking at, but at this point he fully trusted the curator’s judgment and, as brisk as he could manage, began to follow. Somehow matching her stride for stride, they crossed in front of the by-far largest drawing in the room. It must have been eight feet high, and already three feet off the ground for its display. As they were passing, Michon craned his neck as best he could because of his compromised peripheral vision to see the image. As his eyes focused in on it through the mesh of his dollar-store-quality mask, he froze where he stood. As if it was a reflex, he gently took his head off (as much as he wanted to violently rip it off and throw it in the Hudson with Jerome), tucked it under his arm, and stood, staring at the huge drawing.

The curator (and fucking Jerome) were at least three or four strides towards the room’s exit before they realized that nobody’s favorite Ninja Turtle was no longer with them. They both turned to find him gazing up in wonder at Michelangelo’s massive charcoal cartoon.

“Aw, yeah, yeah that’s a great shot! Hey put your head back on let me get one of you with that big one, that’s great! Say ‘COWABUNGA!’”

Slowly, Michon put Michelangelo’s head back on—orange bandana and all—and put his hands to his sides to try and fudge some kind of pose to appease Jerome. In that moment, he had no anger towards the guy, even though Jerome was earning every bit of it.

In that moment, things made sense to Michon that had no business making sense to Michon.

IMG_20180125_122228

He felt a great relief, as if he had been carrying something for a long time and had forgotten to put it down. Whatever it was, Michelangelo had finally taken it from him.

His only burden became the great swell of emotion that took him over, not in waves, but in a single sustained rush that felt like it would never stop. He could not look away. He could only barely make out the curator telling him in what seemed like the distance that this was actually only the life-sized corner of a much bigger painting at the Vatican. He thought he could even hear Jerome suggesting that they had to go get some more shots, that Michon could take the head off for a bit, and then some other quip about “pizza” again or some shit.

He couldn’t take the helmet off, though. Because tears were streaming down his face. No sobs, no sadness, and no regret: just pure release.

After a minute, the curator walked over and gently placed her hand on his shoulder.

“It’s time to go.”

Michon turned his head, and so Michalenagelo did also, slowly, towards the curator. Knowingly, she gave a grin, and took a healthy glance of the image for herself.

Taking one last look, Michelangelo and Michon left Michelangelo’s drawings and headed home for what was left of his Thursday.


You know, I owe you one for doing that

Carol texted him like clockwork when he entered his front door, as he started tearing off his sweat-damped clothes on the way to the shower.

I thought you had a good feeling?

... Three other people turned me down.

Michon stared at it for a few seconds in disbelief. Then, he bust out laughing.

He began to type,

Don’t even worry about it, we’re ev

As Carol texted,

Let me make it up to you

Michon paused, as Carol sent another text,

You’re in that house too much. Have dinner with me.

He acted as if he didn’t know why, but his eyes shot through the doorway to the nightstand in his bedroom. Instead of the usual nostalgic apprehension that it gave him, something had changed. He responded:

Is this one of those ‘professional’ things? Like sending sixteen texts in a meeting?

haha fuck you omg, no, it’s… UNprofessional? Haha.

Before he could think of something else witty to say, she texted again,

Seriously, my treat, what do you feel like?

Michon walked into the bedroom to set his phone down on the nightstand like he always did before he showered. It was like a good luck ritual, hoping that Iris would call.

I’ll set it here, one last time, while I think about this in the shower. Then that’s it.

He stood, phone in hand, ready to make Carol wait for an answer.

Instead, he began to type.

Anything is good

Quickly though, he began to erase the letters one by one.

Anything is goo

Anything is go

Anything is g

Anything is

Anything is

Anything i

Anything

...

Anything b

Anything bu

Anything but

Anything but

Anything but pi

Anything but piz

Anything but pizz

Anything but pizza