Authors: Sadie Rabbit
“Here’s one more idea,” Charlotte said. “What if you tell Thomas that he’s right, that you are doing a show at the Cannery, and ask him
not to come? Be nice about it, and he should understand. That was, after all, part of your agreement — no personally identifiable information about either of you.”
“He might agree to that,” Olivia said.
“He damn well better agree to that, or he’s going to feel the wrath of Charlotte.”
“That still doesn’t solve the problem of him knowing who I am,” Olivia said. “I have no idea who he really is. What if he tries to blackmail me or kidnap me?”
“You’re starting to sound like my paranoid grandmother,” Charlotte said. “He’s doing all this for money, right? You’re still paying him for the sex whispers, aren’t you? It’s just a simple business transaction.”
Olivia paused on the line.
“He’s not even asking you to pay him, is he?” Charlotte asked. “Shit, Livy. You haven’t met him, and this guy’s falling for you. You just love complicating things, don’t you?”
I suppose I do,
I suppose I do.
“I’ll tell him not to come,” Olivia said. “He’ll honor that.”
Mike came home before Olivia had a chance to reply to Thomas. He looked fresher than he should have after 12 hours at the office. When he got close, he reeked of shampoo and booze.
“Where have you been?” she asked. “You smell like you got drunk at a salon.”
“I meant to text you” Mike said. “Nothing big. I went out for drinks with my coworkers.”
Olivia bit her lip and turned away from him.
When was the last time he went out for drinks with his co-workers?
Mike grabbed her waist and spun her toward him.
“Want to go into the bathroom and fuck again?” he asked.
“God, no,” Olivia said, “pushing him away. You’re drunk at midnight on a work night, and you didn’t even call. And why do you smell like you took a shower? I’m not buying the drinks-with-coworkers bit.
Who were you with?”
A look of anger flashed across Mike’s face.
“I was out with my coworkers,” Mike said. “I think I’ve earned the right to do that every now and then. I’m the one paying for all of this, after all.”
He waved his arms around.
That’s what it always comes back to
“You don’t work,” Mike said. “I think it’s hard for you to relate to putting in 10 hours at the office then coming home and acting all chipper and happy like we’re living in a goddamn musical or something.”
Olivia resisted the urge to laugh. Her life certainly wasn’t a musical. If it was, she’d trust her husband — even if he came home smelling freshly showered. At the very least, she’d know where he was most nights. She stood up. “I’m going to edit my photos,” she said.
“That’s real work,” Mike said, almost inaudibly.
Olivia kept walking, acting like she didn’t hear. When she got to her office, she shut the door, leaned her back against it and slid to the floor. Sitting there alone in the dark, she cried.
The cat, it seems, has gotten out of the bag. My show is indeed at the Cannery in two weeks, and now you know who I am. I’m begging you not to attend the opening. It would, at this point, complicate my life too much. Feel free to check out the show any time after the opening, though. I think there a few pieces you might like :) Now, perhaps comes the time in our email relationship when you tell me who you are? I feel rather naked having revealed myself without you doing the same.
carried a thin gray portfolio when she met with Klaus. Inside were 40 new images from her sessions at Wright State.
“I’d like first to look through all of them without feedback,” Klaus said. “I’d like to drink them in, so to speak. Can you agree to that, young lady? Let me look on them with no feedback or explanation.”
Olivia nodded her assent and sat in agony as the old man flipped slowly through the images. She was nervous, her palms moist and her mouth dry. She felt like it’d be impolite to stare at Klaus’s face to gauge his reactions, so she fixated on his hands. They were twisted with age. The nails on his fingers and thumbs looked thicker than they should have been. Occasionally, he rapped on the tabletop with a gnarled knuckle like he was knocking on a door that wasn’t there.
Klaus shut the book
when he was finished and laid his elbows on the table. He looked directly at her. “These are magnificent,” he said. “We’re going to have a hard time narrowing down to 15 selections, that’s what I think to myself.”
He motioned for Olivia to pull her chair around so they could go through the photos one by one, sticking a
Post-It on the images she should print for the opening.
Klaus tapped her on the forehead with his thumb when they finished. “There’s very much going on in there,” Klaus said. “These are very good, very powerful. Deeper this time. You reached toward the truth and made Klaus very happy.”
With that, the old man scuttled into a storage room and came back with a battered leather bag. It was the sort of bag a country doctor would have carried on house calls a century ago.
“Now, I have a surprise for you,” Klaus said. He pulled a small gift-wrapped box from the bag and handed it to her.
unwrapped a simple Mardi Gras mask. There wasn’t the slightest hint of decoration on it; just a white mask with eye holes and a bridge for your nose.
“Put it on, young lady,” Klaus said.
The mask covered Olivia’s face from her eyebrows to the bottom of her nose.
“I ordered 1,500 more just like it,” Klaus said, smiling broadly. “I think this show is about deception, so we’ll make the audience a part of it, huh? Let’s reel them in, body, mind and soul. We’ll greet them at the door and ask everyone to wear the masks while they’re inside. What do you think, young lady?”
“I think we’ll be the talk of the town,” Olivia said.
“Precisely,” Klaus said, nodding. “That’s exactly what we want.”
Thank you for trusting me with the truth. I was plagued with curiosity over your identity. When you told me about your gallery show, I couldn’t resist trying to guess which one it was. I have to confess, too, that I stumbled across a newspa
per photograph of you while reading about your show. You’re even more beautiful than I imagined! The photos on your website are fascinating, too. I can’t wait to see what you’ve been shooting lately. How could anyone
be intrigued by a show called “Deception?!”
Fear not, though, I won’t attend the opening if that’s your request.
I also won’t let you stand by “naked.” My full name is Thomas Blackmore, and I’ve attached a photograph of myself. I live in a modest apartment in Oakwood, and I’m an avid hiker and biker. There. We’re naked together (and my member is standing at full salute between my legs!). Kidding.
Best of luck on your show, beautiful. I suspect it’ll be a dashing success!
Your faithful servant,
Olivia fished the photograph out of h
er purse and handed it to Charlotte in the passenger seat.
“Wow,” Charlotte said. “He looks even better than I thought he would. Five stars. He’s definitely rideable.”
Olivia hit Charlotte in the arm. “Don’t talk like that,” she said, though she couldn’t deny Thomas was sexy. What really freaked her out was the fact that he
look like the “dream man” she’d described in the sex whisperer questionnaire a month ago (even without the Captain America costume). He had the slate gray eyes, thin build, dark, mussed-up hair and dimpled smile.
“My best friend’s about to have an affair with an apartment-dwelling perv,” Charlotte said.
Charlotte laughed. “The truth hurts.”
Olivia shook her head and concentrated on driving. They were headed to the outlet mall in Monroe where they planned to buy clothes — loads of clothes — for Hawaii and Olivia’s gallery opening.
“This is like one of those soap operas my mom used to watch,” Charlotte said. “The only thing that’s missing is a psychic … or a spy or a killer or something. Or maybe someone needs to die and come back from the dead.
You know what would be really crazy? What if Thomas followed us to Hawaii, and the two of you sailed off on a yacht. You could make slippery love on the open seas.”
“You’re an ass,” Olivia said.
“You’ve got to admit it sounds romantic,” Charlotte said.
Olivia didn’t dare admit it
. She just concentrated on parking the car. They’d made it safely to the mall. “I’ve never had to pair something with a white Mardi Gras mask,” she said.
“You know where we should go?” Charlotte asked.
“White House Black Market?”
“Exactly what I was thinking,”
Charlotte said. She linked her arm with Olivia’s as they walked into the mall. “You need to look like a knockout at your opening. I want every man there to want you.”
“I want to look like an artist,” Olivia said. “Not a male escort.”
“A male escort’s
better,” Charlotte said. “You’ll get good reviews. Reporters love a tight dress.”
Olivia groaned and let her friend pull her
in the store.
re terrible,” she said.
“I’m brilliant,” Charlotte said. “One day, you’ll appreciate that.”
The night of the opening was clear and breezy.
Olivia had managed to talk Mike out of calling a driver. The last thing she wanted to do was show up in a limo like a pampered New Yorker. That sort of thing wasn’t common in Dayton, despite what Mike thought.
Kenneth drove them in his SUV instead. Mike sat in the passenger seat, Olivia and Charlotte in the back.
“Nervous?” Charlotte asked.
“I just can’t believe it’s here,” Olivia said. She didn’t want to admit how nervous she was. She tugged at her dress which was
riding up her thighs. “You know it’s been more than two years since my last show? I forgot what it’s like. The Dayton Daily’s going to be there, probably a reporter from the City Paper, too. I hate not knowing what they’re going to write.”
“I think you’re going to
blow their socks off — literally,” Kenneth called back from the driver’s seat. “Everyone’s going to be walking around barefoot because their shoes and socks just exploded. The only bad part’s going to be the smell of burnt toenails in the gallery.”
“Thanks,” Olivia said from the backseat. “That’s a beautiful thought, Kenneth. Really poetic.”
“I do my best,” he said.
Olivia could see him smiling in the rearview mirror. He grabbed a cigar from the console, passed one to Mike, and opened the
moonroof. After they lit their cigars, Olivia passed out everyone’s masks. “We’re showing up a little late, so I want to walk in wearing them in case there’s anyone outside. We should be anonymous.”
“Let’s put them on now,” Kenneth said,
snapping his in place.
Olivia and Charlotte did, too. Mike didn’t bother. He sat up front brooding with his cigar.
Charlotte pointed at Mike’s back and mouthed to Olivia: “What’s his deal?” Olivia shrugged, determined not to let Mike ruin her night.
When they pulled up, everyone in the car fell silent. There was already a line outside of the gallery, and everyone in it was wearing a mask. They looked eerie in the faltering light, like ghosts lining up before the witching hour.
“This is so exciting,” Charlotte squealed, grabbing Olivia’s arm.
“It’s unbelievable,” Olivia said. “I don’t think there are this many people
in Dayton who even know I’m a photographer.”
“It must be the masks,” Charlotte said. “What a way to make a gallery opening into an event.”
Olivia nodded. “That must be it. Klaus is a genius.”
“He might be a marketing genius, but you’re the artist,” Charlotte said.
Kenneth parked near the Second Street Market and the four of them walked side-by-side on the broad sidewalks. Olivia tried to control her breathing. Closer to the studio, she could see Klaus had blacked out the windows. It was impossible to see the artwork inside.
What do other tricks do you have up your sleeve, Klaus?
thin, tattooed girl with a pierced septum sat on a stool at the head of the line, clipboard resting on her lap.
“Hi,” Olivia said. “I’m Olivia Hampton.”
the girl said. “Late to your own party. You’ve got Klaus all worked up. Get your ass in there.”
Olivia motioned for her friends to follow.
Inside, the sound and light from the street died off. It would have been completely dark if it weren’t for the black lights. Klaus had hung them vertically so they dangled above their heads like purple light sabers. Turning to her friends, Olivia could see that they were mostly invisible in the darkness — except for the brilliant white glow of their masks.
Klaus plodded over, his cane tapping loudly on the wooden floor.
“You’re going need these,” he said. He handed each of them a small, LED flashlight. “These flashlights are the only way people will be able to see your photos. We’re going to give one to everyone who comes, and they’ll illuminate the works themselves.”
“Wow,” Olivia said, sweeping the beam of her light across the walls. “
You’re a genius.”
“I don’t know about that,” he
said, “but I do know your show’s going to be well-received.”
“I think it’d be popular even if people didn’t look at a
single photograph,” Olivia said.
Klaus laughed a deep booming laugh that filled the gallery.
“Right you are. But that’s the true essence of art, isn’t it? Ninety percent story and ten percent talent. I’m not even sure if it’s that much anymore. But I do very much believe in your work, Olivia.”
Klaus reached into his jacket pocket and extracted a single white rose. Its petals shimmered brilliantly under the black light. Olivia took it, stepped forward and gave Klaus a kiss on the cheek.
“Oh yes,” he said, “I almost forgot.”
From another pocket, the old man produced another mask. This one was yellow.
“The artist must wear this mask,” he said.
“I’d rather just blend in,” Olivia said.
“Of course you would,” Klaus said. “You wouldn’t be an artist if you said anything else, now would you? Just please wear it, so old Klaus isn’t forced to castrate you.”
Olivia smiled and put on the mask. Then, she turned to where her friends had been but realized they’d drifted off to look at her work. They were gathered, perhaps predictably, around the new pieces Klaus had urged her to do.
Olivia approached them nervously.
Part of her knew they’d say they liked the photos even if they hated them.
That’s one of the worst parts of being an artist,
Everyone tells you precisely what they think you want to hear. They save their real opinions for the moment you walk away.
“What do you think?” Olivia asked, interlock
ing her arm with Mike’s.
“I’m not sure these qualify as photos people want to hang on their walls,” Mike said.
“That’s probably a good thing,” Olivia said, “since those aren’t the sort of photographs I was trying to take.”
“What are they then?” Mike asked. He pointed at the piece Klaus said was his favorite: the restaurant sex scene. “What’s that trying to say?
“It’s commentary,” Olivia said. “It’s some woman acting out her fantasies in her mind while she’s out to dinner with her husband.”
“Is it you?” Mike asked.
“No, it’s not me,” Olivia said. “It’s that couple that’s sitting a few tables away from you at some overpriced restaurant, and they look bored out of their minds, like they’re just dying for some excitement. They’re totally silent. They might as well be eating alone. They’re deceiving themselves. They’re deceiving each other.”
Charlotte came over squealing, interruptin
g Olivia’s discussion with Mike. “You’ve really stepped your game up,” she said. “These are incredible, Ollie! I could see them hanging in the Met or the Whitney.”