Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Behind Glass - Flash Fiction

In the window the woman was sat on a chair, legs crossed one over the other at the ankle. It might have been elegant and dainty, were it not swept up in a beam of red light flooding her from a lamp in the floor. Her basqued torso was fixed in its beam, red enhancing red. However she had  managed to rake her body at such an angle that her face was bathed in shadow. She declined to move, unlike her neighbours swivelling on their chairs to open up their legs, or undulating to imaginary music only they could hear their side of the glass. The Physicist pushed his glasses back up his nose as he returned his gaze to her. He bobbed his head left and right, trying to animate her by parallax. But she remained frozen and determinedly immobile. He decided she approximated a shop mannequin. But unlike fashion dummies, you would not be able to determine the season of the year, since he presumed she was arrayed in a bodice all year round. He wondered if her pigmentation never changed during the course of a year, that like mannequins her skin too never saw sunlight. She still hadn’t shifted and in that he felt she was red shifting away from his grasp, even though he had a fistful of carmine hued banknotes in his pocket. The game “What’s The Time Mr Wolf” from his childhood came into his mind. Or was he confusing it with the game “Statues”? 

He dropped the cheque into the open end of the recessed counter and was careful to remove his fingers as the teller slid the metal lid to close off his half and gain herself access. She reached in to forage for the cheque and brought it up to read. He scrutinised her behind the glass. Only her face and upper body were visible sat on her high chair, desk ledge guillotining off the more compelling half from his vision. Her layered make up, her bank-issued uniform of indeterminate swatch shade of blue and amorphous twill, the rectangular bar bearing her overlong name osculating the corporate logo. She resembled nothing less than an automaton like you used to get on piers or in arcades. They were coin operated too. She stamped his cheque. 

Looking out from the window in his top floor apartment, he owned the vista of the whole city. No mortal could meet his eye level, for his erection crowned the cityscape. Only he possessed the untrammelled skyline, while the glass of his edifice reflected the city back to itself as mere surface. When he deigned to descend from the opaque glass of the skyscraper, it was only to transfer smoothly into a limousine with tinted glass of its own. Yet the breadth of his acquisitive eye was necessarily blinkered by dark glass. His invisible hand in the markets was perforce erased by the operation of the glass, his imprint effaced as he seamlessly brought companies crashing down or resurrected them puissant and thrusting. He shrouded his own eyes behind polaroid lenses, even though the interior of his car was already tenebrous. At ground level he inhabited a permanent world of shade. Up in the clouds, the gleam of the sun glinting off his glass panes blinded him.

The meat in the glass sandwich of microscope slide and lens, bubbled, writhed and pulsed. The bacteria were pullulating. Only the repulsive colour might tip to an untrained eye that these were not flabelliform flowers budding and blooming. But the microbiologist had a most trained eye. Mind you, only with the facilitation of lens-mediated magnification. Glass communion with glass. He pushed his glasses back up to sit on his balding pate as he refocused his squint into the vertically offered eyepiece. He admired the structure of the single cells concatenating into ever expanding chains. Extending their reach. Through history and time to preserve and persevere even until now. Fighting off the chemical warfare that the pharmacists dispensed against them. Coming back leaner and more robust, ready for further incursive action on living hosts. A resistance movement that could never be quelled. ‘Persevere’ includes the etymological root ‘severe’. For this was an army way more disciplined and resilient than the human forces arranged against it. Single-celled organisms defeating the mighty technological battery at mankind’s disposal, for all the complex, specialist braincells we are endowed with. It ought to be humbling. For the hell of it, he turned the ratchet of the microscope to lower the lens until it kissed the slide. He continued to apply pressure so the lens punched further down onto the slide, crushing the bacteria through sheer brute force. The microscope itself was now beyond use. A casualty of war. 

People couldn’t be trusted. An immersive art that is begging to be touched as well as viewed. Brush strokes, paint layered on deliberately, sculptures in carved stone or metal. So some like the Mona Lisa are placed behind glass, beyond caress or gouge. Controlled environments. Museum art that never ages. Pickled in aspic. Dinosaur DNA preserved in amber. But Marcel Duchamp outflanked them all with his The Bride Stripped Bare By her Bachelors, Even. Painted on glass itself. A vertical plane like the museum glass case itself. Spectators could walk and view behind the painting. The glass was not sealed (not even behind a second outer frame of glass), so that it could collect dust and mark the passage of time. Being placed in front of a gallery window means its own hyaline canvas can filter and channel the daylight funnelling across outside. The work was originally broken in half when the museum took delivery of it. Duchamp repaired it, but favoured the cracks being left in. 


The book from antiquity was kept under glass to preserve its delicate papers and inks. Only two pages a day were ever offered up to read to visitors. However the museum curator was conscientious in starting each new day by turning over to the next two leaves in the folio. He disapproved of the content, particularly the illustrations. It certainly wasn’t how he conducted his own marriage. Yet he felt a sense of cultural pride that such a precious volume had emerged from his ancestors and drew curious visitors from all over the globe to pay homage. I, being determined to read every single verse and aphorism had to return day after day after day to drink in my rationed two pages. I traversed the book over the course of a year. I went when I was ill, crawling on my hands and knees like a supplicant. From down below, I could see the pages reverse written in the glass and multiplied by several refractions at the odd angle I was at. The curator had to help me upright to be able to see into the  case. Some days I patiently awaited my turn, while tour parties made their guidebook-mediated pass at it. Other days I was asked to cede my station by those chafing behind me, as they gleaned I had spent an unhealthy amount of time poring over the glass case. They might have been right, sometimes my breath misted up the glass. Only the curator shared the daily vigil with me, since everyone else was transient. I knew he was scrutinising my behaviour, my reactions, observing me as if an annex to the tome, that I was an exhibit under glass also in his charge. For my part, I kept our verbal interactions to a minimum, but when we reached the second part, ninth chapter, I did scrutinise him in turn for any sign of recognition, but his expression never changed. 

Marcel Duchamp's "Bride Stripped Bare By Bachelors"

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