Jack works at a museum, but he has his own opinions about art. [written over the summer of 2009 for a creative writing class]
A tall young man extended his hand. "Excuse me... Mr. Williams?"
The gallery manager whirled around, an expression of irritation on his sweaty, bread-dough face. He peered at the boy through deep-set brown eyes. "Jack Hawkins? You talked to the assistant manager about the open night guard position?"
The young man nodded.
"Fine, fine. Follow me." The gallery manager gestured him forward and started walking in quick strides down the marbled hall. Paintings were hung in gaudy gold frames, small globes of dim light shining on each one. It was an ostentatious, external wealth - as though the trappings and trimmings were worth more than the art. "Through here," the small, rotund man grumbled as he swung open a heavy, half-hidden door, leading his charge down a dirty back hallway and through another door marked ‘Security.' He coughed and wiped at his face as the young man entered and shut the door. "Owens!" he snapped, glancing down at the gold watch on his fat, hairy wrist. "Out here now."
There was a shuffling noise from the other room and a moment or so later a wizened man with two tall tufts of iron gray hair came ambling in. His long, gangly legs dragged slowly forward, barely leaving the ground. "Yes sir?" he croaked, his voice hoarse and bleary with fatigue.
"This is our new night guard. Jack Hawkins."
"Ahh." The old guard turned towards the young man and surveyed him quizzically, his half-lidded eyes running up and down the young man with obvious uncertainty. "We need a new one?"
"Yes, Owens, we do. The only reason you're still here is because I feel sorry for you. Now I'm leaving Hawkins with you - train him and get him a set of keys." He coughed again and they all stood there for a moment, none of them speaking.
"That all then, sir?" the old security guard questioned.
"Yes - yes, that's all." He cleared his throat and, with one last measured glare towards them, walked briskly out the door.
Owens walked up to his new assistant and gave him a severe once-over. "So you're new."
Jack nodded. "Yes, sir. That's what I've heard."
The snide tone didn't seem to faze him. The old man frowned and gestured towards Jack's brow. "What's that on your face?"
Jack touched the small steel ball at his eyebrow absently. "It's a piercing, sir." He'd had it since he was seventeen.
Owens squinted and glared. "You need more holes in your head, boy?" He huffed. "Trying to make a statement, are you? Look tough? Look cool?"
He blinked, unsurprised. Most people assumed it was an act of rebellion. "I just like it, sir." It probably did make him look "tough" as Owens had suggested, but that wasn't intentional. He was a little intimidating already to some at six foot three, with broad shoulders and strong arms.
"Well you look like a punk." Owens stared a moment longer. "Mr. Williams really hired you with that thing on your face?"
Jack sighed. "He didn't seem to have a problem with it."
"Well you're only a night guard. Won't see any of the patrons more likely than not." He shook his head and shuffled over to the desk in the corner of the room. He opened a drawer and took out a flashlight. "This is yours," he said, handing it to Jack. "Don't lose it. I'll get you keys soon. Right now you'll just be with me; I'll show you the ropes first. Most important thing to remember? Don't touch the paintings. Most of them are copies, not worth much, but they've got alarms, anyway." He nodded and beckoned Jack over. "Here. You're getting a tour."
"Excuse me. We're closing soon and I'm afraid you're going to need to leave."
"Oh." The woman looked up, a little startled to hear a voice when she'd thought herself alone. "O-oh yes, I'm sorry." She stood up and smiled, brushing her soft blonde hair behind her ear. "I got caught up, I'm afraid. I love being here, being around all this art." She took in a deep breath, clutching the strap of her purse with both hands.
Jack nodded; he would never say so, but he agreed completely. Though about ninety percent of the paintings there were just copies, he still got that thrill just by being around the famous works he'd been reading about since he was a child. "Of course, miss."
She smiled at him brightly and said, "I'm very lucky, really. I'm the local featured artist now. Maybe you've seen my work?"
He had, of course; he'd helped hang the exhibit. He hadn't been impressed, but it was still a pleasant surprise to meet the woman behind the work. "I have. I helped hang the paintings."
Her smile broadened. "How lovely!" The woman laughed a little and smoothed out a wrinkle in her blue cotton blouse. "You know, I teach an art history class for night school at the local high school. You'd be more than welcome there, you know. Wouldn't it be nice to know a little more about the art you're around every day?"
Jack frowned, his mouth turned down and pinched in tight. "Oh. Of course. Thank you for the invitation."
Happily, she smiled again and wished him a pleasant evening. He watched her go, standing as broad and tall as a brick wall, his eyes narrowed and his face impassive, arms crossed over his chest.
"Jack! Jack, what is this garbage?" His mother snatched the paper from the table and looked it over incredulously.
"It's just a drawing," he said defensively.
"A drawing? A drawing. You're not even twenty-five and you're already deciding to throw away your life?"
"I'm not..." He paused, his hand clenched around his mug of coffee. "I'm not throwing my life away. I'm working."
His mother snorted. "As a security guard. You think that's going to be enough to support us?"
"Do you want me to find another job, then?" he asked quietly. "I can work two if I need to."
"I don't care what you do, Jack. It's your life, isn't it?" She poured herself a glass of water. "Waste it whatever way you want."
Mr. Williams set down his pen. "You're kidding, right?"
Jack fidgeted in his chair. He tapped the toe of one boot on the carpeted floor. "No, sir. I'm serious."
The gallery manager stared a moment before barking out a hard laugh. "No, Hawkins. No. You think I'm just going to let anyone hang work here?"
"Since it's the custom to feature a local artist here, I - "
"That's right," the manager interrupted sharply. "An artist, Hawkins, not just any monkey smart enough to pick up a paintbrush." He smoothed down his patch of greasy hair and turned back to his paperwork. "It doesn't hurt to make a small donation to the gallery, either."
Jack sat there a moment longer, staring at the big desk in dismay. "So there's no way that - "
Mr. Williams set down his pen with more force and looked up in irritation. "That's right, Hawkins. There's no way. Now get back to work while you still have a job."
"Hey, that's pretty good."
Jack looked up quickly from his doodling. "Owens. I didn't know you were here."
The old man pulled his chair up to the other desk and peered over at Jack's work. "You've got talent, boy. You like to draw?"
Owens coughed. "Uh-huh. I asked you a question, Jack. You're good. You're really good. You've been drawing long?"
"It's just a hobby, Owens," he said, his voice strained. "That's all."
"I don't believe you."
Jack scowled a little, crumpling the paper and tossing it over into the garbage can.
"Why aren't you in school? They give degrees for drawing and painting and all that."
"I've never really liked school. And I can't afford it anyway."
There was a long, tense moment of silence, and then he said, "We have a local artist exhibit here, you know. People looking at your work. You could get - "
"I asked. Mr. Williams said no."
"Ahh." Owens nodded, then stood up with a rattling breath. "I was like you when I was younger, you know," he said. "Tough. Didn't care about anything."
Jack sat there silently, listening though not agreeing. People might have seen him that way, but he wasn't tough and he cared about plenty.
"We're both devious individuals," Owens said proudly. "People just don't understand."
The old guard walked slowly out and Jack chuckled to himself. He absently sighed and stood up. He went over to the garbage and pulled out the page he'd been drawing on. It wasn't completely ruined, though, and carefully he straightened it out on his desk. There was a black permanent marker lying beside it and he took it and rolled it across the sheet, smoothing out the last of the wrinkles. He plopped back down idly into the chair, staring sightlessly at the sheet of paper in front of him. He uncapped and recapped the pen, sighing quietly.
"Jack! Looks like there's a mess or something out on one of the floors. Need you to go check it out."
"All right, Owens," he called back, sticking the marker into his pocket. "I'll... I'll go and clean it up."
"What is this?" Mr. Williams shouted explosively, wiping his sweaty brow with an old handkerchief. He stood in the middle of the main hall, staring at painting after painting, all covered in thick, scrawling lines of black Sharpie. "This... They're all ruined! Ruined!"
"I'm sorry, sir," Owens said, shrugging slowly and looking perplexed. "Hawkins fell asleep and... and I guess he missed the break-in. We both did."
"He's fired - don't even let him back in the building."
"I'm sure he understands, Mr. Williams. I think he's got other plans anyway."