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I didn’t breathe and didn’t swallow. I became still, slowing my heartbeat, moving inwards into my self, hiding from her touch like a scared turtle. I would not give her my attention, but instead I would shift it and find myself in the peculiarities of the painting, as deep and mysterious as they were. I had a workman’s resolve and she would not break my gaze.
“Do you hear me?” she said, burning a hole in the back of my head, still making small indents in my shoulder. Her voice this time was loud and insincere, as if she knew the internal trouble she was causing me, which only strengthened my resolve.
“Boy? Are you listening?” she said, louder now, her voice jarring, cracking at the walls. The painting in front of me shook.
“What is it?” a hoarse male voice, the sound of a smoker, said from out of view.
“This boy,” she said, still poking me. “He’s frozen stiff.”
“Isn’t that strange? What an odd installation.”
I was no installation for their amusement. I would not be reduced to the level of being an “installation.” I had no maker, no artist, except my parents and theirs before me.
“An installation?” the elder woman said, her voice wavering with doubt.
“Isn’t he?” he said.
“I don’t—” she said, pressing harder into the meat of my shoulder. “Well, I don’t know.”
I could hear the man scratching his chin, the soft rustle of hours-old beard. “Looks like an installation to me.”
“May be,” she said, turning her prodding into a pinch between her frail fingers.
“Hey, James!” the man said, turning his head. “Did we see this one earlier?”
Another man, this one with a squeaky voice, joined us. “I don’t remember, Tomás.” He was a big man, in my mind, this James — husky and red-faced.
“What’s the commotion?” a woman’s voice, much younger than the first, added.
“We’re wondering,” said Tomás, “is this a living person, frozen in spot, or an installation?”
At that moment, I could have broken them from their debate, but I couldn’t bear to turn and face their searching eyes, to move my lips in their presence. My only recourse, to save myself the embarrassment of being an oddity, a man incapable of speech, too nervous in public, anthrophobic, was stillness. I resolved to further freeze myself, to become a statue in their presence, to preserve my dignity. What would they have thought if I, a man-made sculpture back from the dead, were to turn around and say hello? They would not have allowed me to carry on as if I hadn’t lived my life as a statue. They would be forced to ask further, more prying questions. I would not allow this. I would see this role through to the end, as long as it took. Once the ‘moving’ people cleared out, I could make my way to the door.
“Does it matter which it is, an installation or the living?” the young woman said.
“Does it matter?” the elderly woman said, making various hems and haws.
“Artistically, you mean?” James said.
“Sure,” the young woman said.
“Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm,” they all said, taking a small step back in unison.
“You can’t be touching the art,” a new man’s voice intervened, referring to the elderly woman who was still palpating my increasingly sore shoulder.
“Oh, dear. I’m sorry,” she said, continuing to jab. “I guess I, uh, got lost in the expression of it all. It’s a really moving piece, you know.”
“So it is an installation!” said Tomás.
“Of course it is,” said the new man. He stepped behind me and pulled the woman’s hand from my shoulder. He was a large man, taking over the full size of the reflection in the glass of the painting. He wore a white button-up shirt with YTIЯUƆƎƧ written on the right breast pocket.
“That settles it,” the old woman said.
“A beautiful work,” Tomás said.
“I love it,” the younger woman said.
“I’ll get a rope,” the security guard said. He turned and left.