An Empty Gallery

I met an old man who could draw. He was tall and cadaverous, and he always wore the same shabby brown suit and hat. He looked as though he slept in the suit and it had worn to the contours of his frame to the point that it no longer wrinkled. His hand was long and frail and it would tend to shake until he made a fist to steady it, and his eyes were milky and dim. But he could still weave together a picture in minutes like he was conjuring the image out of the air. It was amazing to watch him work, and I got the idea for the two of us to open a shop together. We rented out a space for the store, and I displayed some of his work in the front window on a couple of small easels with spotlights shining down on them.

I tried to find some angle, some specific type of drawing or merchandise that would become our stock and trade. I wanted to have some part in this. If the old man’s gift was lightning in a bottle, I wanted to at least be the one that designed the bottle. I thought, for instance, of having the walls on either side of the store lined with racks of hand crafted greeting cards. I would concoct the sentiments and the old man would draw the illustrations, and we would be in the greeting card business. But it never worked out that way. We never settled on anything definite. I never knew what kind of store we had. The two of us would just stand there in the middle of the empty shop, the stone walls and the floor all completely bare, and we would wait for people to come in out of the rain.

And people would come. The pictures out front would catch their eye and they would wander in, looking all around. They all wanted something different. They put forward their requests uncertainly, not sure if such a thing could be done, or if it could be done right, or if it could be done by us. One woman wanted a simple family portrait of herself and her children, her hands resting on their shoulders. Another man wanted the face of his late wife drawn from memory. That is, he wanted his memory somehow conveyed to the old man’s hand. People wanted landscapes that they had seen in their mind, or moments they had long since lost. The old man’s supplies would materialize upon request, his pens and his pencils, and with broad curving strokes he would indelibly etch their vision onto the paper. I stood by with the customers and watched him work, and I never got tired of it. Afterwards, when the old man was packing his tools away in a small wooden case, the customers would always dab their eyes with a tissue and they would press the tissue into my hands as a token of gratitude and as payment for our services. I took the tissues and locked them away in the cash box in the back room of the shop, but I knew they weren’t for me or for anything I’d done.


5 thoughts on “An Empty Gallery

  1. Bryan this is so exquisite, I want to hang it in my own empty gallery, one that exists in imagination, and waits for those materials to arrive in response to those customers, to be paid for with their emotions of recognition.

    No, I want to be that old man, so then the gallery remains yours; and I shall dream while waiting for the customers, a patient empty dream, containing nothing but the next number of the next customer’s request, blank and expectant.

    And thus my reading of your dream as recounted here links to the one I just woke up from, a dream which I haven’t written down, but just came to the computer to enact as best I could in reality. I was looking for the next piece from my blog to add to an offline master copy for posterity; but couldn’t in the dream visualize the content of the real thing, so I gave each one its own sequence number. Which seems to be a good idea, for a reason I don’t yet know about, in this empty gallery of indefinite possibilities . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had some misgivings about the title, and I was playing around with it some, but your comment makes me feel a lot better about it. Now I kind of feel like it actually works. Thanks!

      I had an idea a few years back for how to possibly arrange these pieces into a book at some point. I would retain the form of a journal, but the journal would span the course of a single year. There would need to be 365 pieces, one for each day, and I would arrange them, not by the actual dates they were dreamt, but by where they felt like they belonged in the year, either by season or just a general sense. And I was already kind of planning out where different posts would fit. I don’t know if that would work or not. At any rate, I’m still a long way off from 365 posts, and I’d probably need at least 500 to work with, so that I could have something to pick from.


  2. I wish I could just pay people with used tissues.

    Okay, now that my jackassery is over with, I really enjoyed this. It was a piece of art in itself. And the old man, I like him. He creates real art that instills emotion, none of this ‘this is an invisible painting’ modern art crap.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is marvellous Bryan, whether it was an actual dream or a work of inspired fiction. It’s so cinematic, I wish it could be turned into a video, perhaps as an animation. In any case, it’s moving and vivid.

    Liked by 1 person

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