I work at the front desk in an art museum.
It's more exciting than you'd think.
The museum is called Pool Of Color. It's on Thirty-first Street. The building's old, made of brick and mortar. Most of the paint is chipping, and the stone is crumbling. When the museum closes, they probably won't need to demolish it. Somebody will sneeze and the place will come crashing down.
A customer once told me that I look like I should be at a podium, not a front desk. I guess it's true. I don't look like the artsy type, with my pointy face and white-blond hair. The only part of me that looks very creative are my earrings, little replicas of the Starry Night dangling from my ear lobes.
I place my chin in my hands and watch the clock. It's probably not very professional. I probably should be straightening papers that don't need straightening and making little check marks in an empty notebook.
The door swings open without a squeak. The only reason I know that it's open is the gust of cool air. The museum is stuffy, and I take a deep breath, trying to imprint the coldness in my lungs.
Then I stand up straight and smile. "Hello, welcome to the Pool of Color," I say. "Do you have a timed ticket?"
It's a man, a woman, and who I assume to be their kid. The woman and kid have the same pinched eyebrows that make them look like shrews.
"Yes, we do," says the man. He hands them over and I scan them.
"Okay, so the Layered exhibit is marked in yellow on the map," I say, tapping a stack of maps in front of me. "If you need anything else, I'm right here."
"Thank you," the woman says. She takes a map in thin fingers with bright orange nail polish. I recoil slightly. Nail polish just shouldn’t be available in some colors, like orange.
The family follows the map and sweeps past my favorite exhibit, right by the front desk. Or maybe it's just my favorite because I look at it every day.
I'm not sure what it's called. Every day, when I leave the museum at four o' clock, I try to remember to check what its name is, I never do.
But I still like it. It's purple, green, and blue in varying shades and different blocky shapes. Rectangles, squares, octagons, trapezoids.
I pull out the list of who came in today and mark off three squares, writing the family's information in the tiny boxes that follow.
The museum is normally boring at this hour. It's no surprise that nobody's coming in. It's lunch time, and nobody wants to come to the crappy burrito place next door.
(Except me. The crappy burritos are the only thing that can be eaten in the time span of my crappy lunch break.)
Which reminds me. I check my watch. Blue-green numbers blink back at me. 11:25. Five minutes.
I want to sigh loudly, but don’t. Sometimes the museum gets so quiet I just wonder what would happen if I screamed suddenly. Would the silence wrap around my words like a woolen blanket and swallow them whole? Or would the sharp contrast cause the whole world to shatter?
The family comes back into the room to look at another exhibit. The parents look excited in that fluttery way that tourists always have. They ignore the ‘no pictures’ sign and snap pictures of almost every painting. The constant clicks are annoying.
The kid looks like he'd rather be anywhere else while his parents look at art. I remember how that felt. When I was his age, I thought, 'what's so special about a bunch of scribbles? A toddler could do the same'. I didn't understand art then, and to be honest, I'm not sure I do now.
I tap my pen against the desk. It makes a quiet tapping sound. The parents don’t notice, but the kid does. He stills and listens.
The mother’s phone clicks as she takes another picture, and I can’t stand it. “Ma’am,” I say. “The sign says no pictures.”
Her smooth, ivory face turns a delicate shade of pale pink. “Sorry.”
I watch as they leave, then take my hair out of my ponytail. I shake it out, then gather it back up and tie it again.
I see the family back outside, talking. The boy motions to the Pool of Color again, and when the parents turn to look at me through the glass doors, I pretend to be writing in my notebook.
A few moments later, a gush of cool air surprises me. I glance up to see it’s the kid.
“Can I help you?” I ask.
“I have a question,” he says. His sneakers squeak on the floor. They’ll make marks. My boss will be livid, so I won't stop him.
“Ask away,” I say in a bored voice, as though I have something much better to be doing.
“How do people get their art to be displayed here?”
I put the cap on my pen. “Well, it’s either very good or very meaningful, or the person is very famous.”
The boy hesitates. His eyes dip to the ugly red, white, and black checkered floor. “I couldn’t have my art in here?”
I should laugh, but I don’t. If I was watching, maybe I would have, but he seems so sincere. “I doubt it,” I say, then try not to feel bad when he looks sad. “Is that all? I have things to do.” Like scribble in my notebook for three minutes until it’s time for my lunch.
“No,” the boy says. “You said the person has to be famous. How do people get famous?”
Well, he’s persistent. “Well, their art is good, and people notice it.”
“But how do people start to notice it if it doesn’t get somewhere like here?”
I side-eye him. I check my list. “Are you… Solomon Glasman?”
“And you’re very… set on getting your art into the world?”
Solomon nods again.
I take a deep breath and straighten my papers. “Are you coming back to this museum?”
“Soon, probably. If my parents want to.”
“Why don’t you come, and you can show me your art,” I say. I feel that this is the nicest way to turn him down.
He nods. “Okay.” He walks out the door, where his parents wait.
I watch them. I smile. I tuck my papers into my desk and go on my lunch break.
Two days later, at almost exactly 1:30, Solomon is back, and he has a portfolio.
I put on my glasses and pretend to be scribbling very furiously in my notebook when the door swings open.
“Excuse me?” Solomon says. For the first time, I note a slight Californian accent.
“Just one moment,” I say in my annoyed voice, trying to see if that would drive them away.
“Solomon, don’t bother the lady if she’s working,” the mother says.
YES, I think. Don’t bother me. I don’t want to have to see that poor boy’s work and then tell him no.
“But mom, she said that I could bring my art back,” Solomon says in a plaintive voice.
Finally I look up and squint through my glasses. “Yes?”
“We’re so sorry to bother you Mrs…” The woman scans my nametag. “Campyell.”
I want to tell her that my nametag is misspelled and that it’s ‘Campbell’, but I do rather feel like yelling right now, so it fits.
“...But my son wanted to show you his art, and since we just stopped for lunch next door, we thought, ‘why not’.”
“You see, I did say that,” I say, taking off my glasses. I put them in my case and snap it shut. “But I’m afraid I don’t have time right now.”
Annie Glasman (the woman. I snuck a look at my list when she was talking.) nods. “Sorry.”
“Just one look?” Solomon butts in. Annie gives him a stare.
I give an exaggerated sigh and purse my lips. I hold out my hand. “One look.”
Solomon happily hands me the plastic blue portfolio. I open it and take out a random drawing.
It’s not what I was expecting. I’d never seen a kid draw abstract art before. Even with babies, they were always trying to make something. This was a whorl of blue spirals and red streaks and green blocks.
I look it over, but I guess surprise shows in my eyes, because Solomon bites his lip in excitement.
“Do you like it?” he asks.
“It’s very interesting,” I say carefully. “But you’re far too young, and it’s not quite what we’re looking for. I’m sorry.”
Annie pats her son on the back as I hand him his folder. “It was good, though,” I manage to say.
“Thank you,” Solomon mumbles. As they turn to leave the museum, I bite my lip and call out.
“Come back in a few years,” I say.