Dustin looked out the window watching the scenery pass. He could see smoke and fires burning off in the distance. A helicopter swept low over the bay headed in the direction of the city. James and Steve chatted about the business that they ran together. James wanted to know if it was depressing working in a funeral home and cemetery.
“Not really.” Steve said matter of a factly. “I mean, shoot man! When I was younger all I wanted to do was surf, play football and smoke dope so sure it was depressing back then but now? Heck, now I sort of like it.”
Alexis sat smiling down at her fish. “I bet it’s quiet.” She said barely above a whisper.
Steve glanced over at her and then back to James. “What do you do?” He asked.
James cleared his throat. “Well, Alexis was a secretary at this really great advertising firm before she had to go on maternity leave. They had these fantastic company picnics every summer.”
“And you?” Steve prodded.
“Oh I’m an artist.” James replied sounding somewhat embarrassed. “I weld and sculpt mostly but sometimes I paint.”
Steve’s eyebrows raised. “Really?” He said sounding more impressed than Dustin would have thought him to be about such an occupation. “You can make a living doing that?”
“Oh sure.” James responded. “There’s always someone who needs something made for them.”
Alexis looked lazily over towards Steve. “He did the Bay Bank’s sculpture.”
Dustin sat up straight. “You did that?” He asked James. He was awestruck by the revelation.
James looked down at his hands. “Well, I had this wonderful team of people who helped me construct it.” He answered modestly. “They did most of the work.”
Alexis shook her head. “Don’t sell yourself short honey.” She called back to her husband. “Remember what Dr. Westenberg said about your self confidence. You should be proud of everything that you do and always take credit for it.”
“That’s true.” James agreed. “There were a lot of different plans out there by a lot of different artist and I just happened to be the one lucky enough to be chosen.”
The sculpture in front of the Bay Bank downtown was widely known throughout the city. It was a hugely intricate contraption that some people violently hated and some people passionately loved. There was no in between opinions about it. Dustin himself felt a strong affinity for it.
Steve shook his head. “No offense man.” He said looking back at James in the rearview mirror. “That sculpture kind of freaks me out every time I have to drive past it.”
James shrugged his shoulders. “Lots of people say that.” He answered somewhat apologetically. “I didn’t mean to make it so scary.”
“Damn thing gave me nightmares.” Steve continued.
“No it’s true!” Steve said sounding both embarrassed and defensive. “When I first saw it on the news after they unveiled it, I swear to God I woke up screaming that night. I kept seeing my dad leering out at me in them TV’s you put all over it.”
“That’s funny.” James chuckled. “All they ever play is peaceful pictures of nature.”
Steve shook his head. “You’ve got a tornado on one of them and a huge fire on another. That’s not peaceful.”
“But four of them do nothing but play scenes of the beach and grassy meadows.” James argued.
Alexis chimed in. “My favorite is the butterfly one.”
Steve held up his hand. “No offense man but it’s they way they all swing out at you. It’s creepy and too in your face.”
“None taken.” James smiled. “Actually, I like it when people talk about it like this. It’s interesting to see how other folks perceive the piece.”
The Bay Bank sculpture was more of a giant moving mobile with televisions attached to it than an actual stationary piece of artwork. It sat at least two stories high on red painted metal tilted lazily on it’s side like a crooked windmill. Each branch carried on it one or more large monitors encased in some kind of plastic which swung wildly down over the heads of the people walking by. Some showed disasters, some showed tranquil landscapes, and some just showed human body parts all moving in dreamlike slow motion.
Steve looked back at Dustin. “Don’t you think that the way that huge thing moves is creepy?” He asked.
Dustin shook his head. “How many TV’s are on it?” He asked James. “I can’t remember.”
“There are forty-five I think.” He answered visibly seeming to count them in his head. “I know that there are a dozen 60 inch plasma monitors on each one of the wings and some of them have smaller screens beside and around them. I wasn’t trying to make a point with the numbers or anything. I was just going for an asthetic.”
Steve piped up. “Hey.” He shouted into the back seat. “If you don’t mind me asking, how much did you get paid for that demonic thing?”
“I don’t know.” James said. “Maybe a couple of million.”
Steve’s eyes went comically wide. “Well damn!” He blurted incredulously. “I know for a fact what Dustin makes and it ain’t anywhere near that! Why are you slumming it in his neighborhood if you’ve got a couple of million sitting in your bank account?”
Alexis sighed. “We don’t need it.” she said whistfully.
James laughed nervously. “Well we do but we don’t.”
Alexis shook her head. “No, we don’t.”
James turned to Dustin and smiled. “We’re saving up.” He said guiltily.
Steve snorted. “If I had a couple of million you can bet I wouldn’t be burying people for a living.” He said ruefully. “I’d be sitting on a beach somewhere drinking a big old margarita and looking at the pretty native girls.”
Ignoring his partner Dustin regarded his neighbor “What are you saving up for?” He asked.
It was Alexis who answered. She held up the fishbowl. “Fish!” she said.
James shrugged his shoulders. “Yep, fish.” He answered. “We’re going to open up the biggest aquarium in the state one day.”
Alexis beamed. “We’ll make it free so that anyone can see them!” She said
“That’s why we need to get all the money up front.” James continued. “We’re going to pay for the aquarium in cash and then run the operations on donations.”
“We’ve already bought the land.” Alexis said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property on the coast just south of the city off Highway 1.”
“That actually took up most of what I made on the Bay Bank sculpture.” James offered. “It’s not cheap to get land out that way.”
Steve shook his head again. “It’s not cheap to buy land anywhere in the state.” He quipped. Then, half turning to face James his brows knitted. “Let me get this straight, you aren’t going to charge people to go in there?”
James sort of gave a carefree gesture. “The Bay Bank doesn’t charge people to look at the sculpture that I made for them.”
“That’s just weird.” Steve shot back.
Dustin smiled. “Where at on Highway 1?” He asked. He liked the idea of a huge aquarium that was free and open to the public.
James seemed to search his head for a way to describe it. “You know that exit past the gas station where they sell the big stuffed bears?” He asked.
Steve shook his head. “I don’t go out there much.” He muttered.
Dustin nodded. He’d driven his convertible down the scenic highway many times since he’d bought it and he had stopped at that gas station. It was a place that sold candy-bars, drinks, and every kind of stuffed bear you could ever imagine. An old lady ran it, seeming to always be doting on one of the bears whenever he stopped in.
James glanced at Steve and then back at Dustin. “Well, since you know then I guess that maybe you’ve seen that gravel road that runs up behind it.”
“Yes.” Dustin answered. “That’s really a pretty part of the highway.”
“Yeah.” James said smiling proudly to himself. “Its a little ways up that gravel road overlooking the ocean. We got really lucky.”
Alexis turned looking back at them both. “Tell him about the sculpture garden honey.” She said excitedly.
James’s smile turned self conscious. “Oh I don’t know.” He answered looking back down at his hands. “That’s really just something I was trying out.”
Alexis looked over to Dustin. “We’ve been borrowing our friends truck and driving out there almost every weekend so that James can work on a sculpture garden for my aquarium!” She said proudly. “It’s amazing.”
Clasping and unclasping his hand James shook his head. “It’s just an idea that I had really. It’s not quite working like I thought that it would.”
Alexis ignored his comment. “He’s put almost fifty metal fish of different types on post out there and when you look out over the Pacific you can’t tell if they’re jumping out of the water or swimming underneath it.”
Her husband shook his head. “You have to be at the right angle for each of them, which wasn’t what I planned. I mean, you can look at them all and sort of get that effect but if you know how it’s done then you can see the illusion. It’s all just mirrors really. Dozens of mirrors mounted on bearings around each of them. They’re supposed to swivel in the wind and throw off a reflection of the sculpture and the water to make it look like they’re a part of the sea.”
“Well I can’t tell.” Alexis argued. “It’s magical.”
Dustin nodded. He himself had often thought that the Bay Banks sculpture had magical properties to it. Seeing it was like looking at the face of God. It was a perfectly timed dance the way that the scenes of human eyes, ears, and hands mingled with natural disasters and natural beauty just above the peoples heads. Watching it pivot on its axis and bring each great TV covered arm down to mere feet from the crowd seemed like you were viewing the creator at work. In an instant Dustin’s opinion of his neighbor had grown to a silent idol-worship.
“It’s not magic.” James said sadly. “Not yet.”