Art in Public Places

Raul swung one leg, then the other over the roof’s ledge and began to rappel down slowly. His partner Pepe stayed on the roof, smoking and watching the ropes to be sure nothing happened. Sometimes he wondered why he was a window washer, even if he was working on these big apartment buildings instead of little restaurants or shops. Probably because he wasn’t afraid of heights. He hated this building in particular because of the big statue thing on the side.

It was a four-story-tall fiberglass woman, legs spread as if in mid-leap, toes delicately pointed, orange and yellow tentacle-like hair blowing in an eternal wind. Her clothes were a patchwork of reds and pinks and oranges mixed in patterns of stripes and spots that no sane fashion designer would replicate. It was a pain to clean and he had to be extra careful not to damage it. Hmmph. Artists.

He stuck his sponge in his bucket and spread soapy water on the girl’s hair. It was nothing like washing his daughter’s hair, which was thick and curly and tangled easily, but either way it was delicate work. He slid his squeegee along the surface and carefully flicked the excess water off, falling into a pattern and letting his thoughts wander.

* * * * *

Becky hated the sculpture attached to the side of her apartment building.  She assumed some marketing genius had thought it would be a great adornment for the property, bringing in score after score of rabid art fans to sign leases for any amount, but actually the rent was pretty cheap. That was the only reason she stayed, really.

But not anymore. Today she was going to ask if she could move in with her boyfriend, Manny. He had a great place on Brickell near the shops and the grocery store and the Metrorail, and if they split the rent, it would be a sweet deal. They might even upgrade to a bigger unit and still come out ahead of what they were each paying separately. Then she’d never have to look at that Technicolor abomination again.

She finished getting dressed and made sure her makeup was perfect, her skirt a little too short and her top a little too low. She knew how guys could get about commitment, and she didn’t want Manny to turn her down. It wasn’t like they were getting married or anything; it was just sharing an apartment. And if she asked him in public over lunch, he wouldn’t make a scene.

* * * * *

Raul heard a muffled shout, then a scuffling sound on the roof. “Pepe, what’s going on?” he asked.

A face peered over the edge, but it wasn’t Pepe; it was some young guy with a scraggly beard and a manic grin. “Aw, no,” the man groaned. “If I do this now, you’ll just clean it off!”

“Do what?” Raul asked.

“Whatever, I’m not going to waste this.”

“Waste what? Are you crazy?”

The man grinned and Raul was pretty sure he knew the answer already. “Naw, man,” was the reply. “But I freaking hate this artwork.”

Without another word, the man leaned over, opened his mouth, and vomited all over the enormous woman’s face.

* * * * *

Becky exited the building and began to walk around to the side, toward the nearest Metrorail station a few blocks away. Her cell phone rang.

* * * * *

The puke arced toward Raul and he yelped and tried to dodge. He lost his grip on his ropes and the contents of his bucket sloshed and spilled. To steady himself, he grabbed at one of the sculpture’s ridiculously bulbous fingers.

With squeals and groans, whatever was holding the giant woman to the wall bent and broke. Raul pushed himself away and watched in horror as the figure which had seemed to be flying now fell instead. It was at least a ten-story drop, he knew.

“What do you mean?” Becky spat into her phone. “You can’t cancel on me now! Do you have any idea–”

And then she was crushed by several hundred pounds of metal and fiberglass. And a few pints of vomit.

Veronica was taking a picture of a house she was appraising when she heard an incredible crash behind her. She turned around and saw the mangled mess of red and orange and pink, the twisted metal, the spray of blood and flesh mixing with the shards of crystal that caught the noon sun and scattered its light in a thousand directions, and she did the only thing she could.

She took a picture.

18 Responses to “Art in Public Places”

  1. John Wiswell says:

    Is that photo real, then? You nailed the description, even if I like the thing where your Becky hates it. Poor thing comes to quite an end.

  2. judy b. says:

    An interesting take on criss-crossing lives. And death. Makes me think about how I am connected to people who share my dislikes.

  3. cellatsea says:

    Hehehe. I know this sculpture. That’s the thing about art, I guess. Some folk hate it while others think she’s striding across the buildings in a perpetual search for something.

    ….although it’s Britto so I don’t like to give him the benefit of the “art > money” doubt. 🙂

  4. Quite a gruesome end! Interesting how everything meshed together throughout the story. Well told!

  5. Steve Green says:

    A nicely woven blend of circumstance and coincidence, and Veronica reacted exactly as any serious photographer would have done. 🙂

  6. Ganymeder says:

    Is it weird that I was more grossed out by the vomit than the gore? Anyway, well crafted story. Death by Art!

  7. Icy Sedgwick says:

    Urgh I can’t stand the vast majority of ‘public art’ so it’s nice to see some of it destroyed…although it’s a bit unfortunate for poor Becky! Still, I love Veronica’s reaction.

  8. Aidan Fritz says:

    I liked the way you drew out the characters in this piece. Raul and Becky both stood out wonderfully for me.

  9. Pamila Payne says:

    Art kills. This story proves it. I think this piece qualifies as horror slapstick. And that’s a good thing.

  10. @techtigger says:

    hahahahah… i shouldn’t laugh, but you know everyone takes pictures instead of helping these days. Funny, in a sad but true way 🙂 A great bit of storytelling, well done!

  11. Sam Adamson says:

    I bet, to Veronica, there’s something quite magical about the sunlight glinting through the spray. Well written with some great characters. I also like what it says about public art; there is at least one art installation near me that should never, ever have got off the artist’s page.

  12. Kari Fay says:

    I was more grossed out by the vomit than the gore, too. Having looked it up, I think it’s quite a cheery thing, really- I wouldn’t mind it at all.

    Back to the story though- well written, and the last bit especially pretty true to life.

  13. Gracie says:

    This is a great story. You intersected these characters’ lives so seamlessly, and the photographer at the end was true and just right.

    Well done!

  14. Well, you’ve destroyed any desire for me to be an art critic. 😉 Was there a picture of the sculpture with the story? I thought this was a great slice of life!


  15. “pints of vomit” -wow, that person was super sick of that sculpture. This was fun, and the ending a nice take on life. The multiple viewpoints works great.

  16. Valerie says:

    Thanks so much for reading, everyone. The photo is not real, but the sculpture is. I’m not a fan of the fellow’s art but he’s an incredibly nice guy who does a lot of charity work. And of course, plenty of people DO like his art, it’s just not my cup of tea. 😉

    And of course, that’s the thing about public art… how many members of the public actually enjoy seeing it? Art can be such a personal taste issue.

    I had originally included a picture but was advised that it was too much to have both the lengthy description and the photo. Hope that didn’t put anyone off.

    Horror slapstick, eh? I think I had called this “slice of life” but that sounds better to me.

    Oh, and there actually are people dedicated to vomiting on this artist’s work. I think they’re a bit loony but to each his own. Vomiting on a sculpture is its own form of art, I suppose.

  17. Alison Wells says:

    Your descriptions were fabulous and I loved how you brought all the new characters in, I was totally caught up in the story from the beginning. I would have preferred if the window cleaner died not the woman, but i loved the vomiting and the description of the multicoloured destruction. Great writing style!

  18. Steve Isaak says:

    I’ve read a few of your fiction posts. If you’re looking for a different publishing venue – sadly, I can’t pay, but I can promote the heck out of a story – check out:

    Your work would be a perfect fit, provide some counterbalance to some of the other genre-straddling works there.

    Either way, I love your work. Excellent.

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