Short Story Of the Day – The Iceberg (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“The old endless chain of love, tolerance, indifference, aversion and disgust”
― Samuel Beckett

(click to enlarge) “The Icebergs” by Fredrick Church, Dallas Museum of Art

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#54) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


The Iceberg

MODERN AMERICAN ARTS DIGEST —– AUGUST 13, 1996
ELMORE SPENCER – AN ARTIST WATERS HIS ROOTS
———————————————————-

Elmore Spencer has climbed the mountain of the art world. From a child prodigy that startled adults with his sketching skills at the age of six to a celebrated student of the Paris art schools to a meteoric rise to the jet-setting toast of the New York Art Society, Spencer has had it all.

Instrumental in founding the “New Realism” school, he then rejected this return to “Painting that looks like something” and veered off into innovative artistic experiments that challenged the border between art and observer, maintaining his success and popularity through it all.

Now, he struggles with a return to his roots, to maintain the connection with his audience that has been robbed by his decades of success. The conflict of the avant-garde and the traditional, realistic and symbolic, is at the heart of what Spencer is up to.

“It’s been a long road, but I’ve been lucky,” Spencer said in a recent interview, “To others its looks like a climb, a rise, but it’s a spiral, the further I go, the more times I return to the same place.”

His newest work is a sculpture, a pair of lovers – hyper-realistic. They sit on a bench in the darkest corner of a room with a film playing against a screen, they are only visible during a portion of the film, illuminated by a flame on the screen. They are locked in a kiss, an embrace, his hand is slipped inside her shirt, hers rests on his thighs. Most visitors think the couple is real, the museum received dozens of complaints.

Another sculpture is a mechanical museum guard. He stands inside the room. On those days the film is turned off. Infrared proximity sensors pick up any patron that enters the room, the ersatz guard then plays a recording, “I don’t know, they’re supposed to turn this film on.”

Other sculptures are occasionally placed in the room – such as an ersatz murder victim with a knife protruding from his back. These are obviously intended to shock or annoy. On certain days the room is empty, leading to a scene where patrons in the know walk around examining each other, trying to determine what is real and what isn’t.

Spencer often spends the day in his own installation, sitting on a bench with his famous sketchpad, drawing the observers. This has been so successful, he has taken to walking around the museum sketching patrons looking at art.

“As artists we live for the people that look at our work, really. We rarely think about them, or study them, or try to incorporate their lives into the art itself. I want to change that…….”

———————————————————-

“Shelby, Shelby!”

She turned from the painting, a huge panel covering most of the wall, hand painted with extreme skill to look like a blow-up of an article from an art magazine, to see her husband standing there.

“What do you want?”

“It’s time to leave.”

“I’m not finished reading this.”

“What the hell?”

“It’s by Spencer, My Life, it’s called. I haven’t decided what it means yet.” Shelby felt anger welling up in her throat. She’s known Jim, her husband, since they were children and they had argued many times over the years, but nothing like lately. There was a fight coming on, mean and nasty, with no resolution. She could feel the heat rising, like a hot nut right under her sternum.

“Come on!” Jim said, placing his hand on her arm, “We have things to do.”

Shelby wanted to explode, but the Kooning museum was not the place to have a knock-down, drag-out, so she walked stiffly in silence, stewing. They passed toward the entrance until they reached an area dominated by a huge landscape painting; the most famous work in the museum. It was a scene of icebergs, a giant white slope, under a brown and purple sky. The ice in the foreground was littered with debris, a shattered mast, a glacier torn boulder. The ice rose in craggy veined cliffs pierced by a surprising emerald green frozen tunnel. The calm sea was disturbed only by circular waves radiating out from some unseen event.

She could not stand it any more, she was so furious. Shelby pulled away and sat quickly down on a circular bench in front of the painting. Jim sat down beside her, staring wide-eyed. Pulling in her anger, she started to speak.

“Jim I…”

“Excuse me, folks,” said a man they hadn’t noticed. He was gray-haired, wearing old jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. He was sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall, a large sketchpad resting on his knees. “Do you mind sitting there for a while, I’d like to draw the two of you. If you don’t mind.”

Jim stammered, “Well, we have…”

“Sure, go right ahead,” Shelby interrupted.

“Alright then, umm. turn toward each other a little, now look at me…. Fine, why don’t you hold her hand a little…. That’s right.”

He started drawing right away. Working with colored pencils and some charcoal and a bit of an eraser. Jim and Shelby felt nervous; the fight, their day quickly forgotten.

“Ummm… try to relax, why don’t you tell me a story. Tell me about when you first met.”

“Well,” Jim started. Shelby was surprised that he spoke up so soon. She was getting ready to talk, but he beat her to it.

“We met in junior high school, seventh grade, we were both thirteen. She sat if front of me in
English class. I remember, I loved her from the first moment I saw her. I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Our teacher was old, he would lean on a podium and lecture us all class long. The room was too small, our desks were crammed together, her seat backed right up against my desk. All I would do is sit there and stare at Shelby’s hair. Her blonde hair. Sometimes she’d wear it down and it would fall in cascades right in front of me. Sometimes she’d wear it up, like a golden seashell, a yellow spiral. Sometimes in one ponytail, sometimes two, it didn’t matter. That was my favorite hour of every day, to sit in that hot crowded room and look at Shelby’s hair. I felt like I could do this forever, for the rest of my life.”

Shelby and Jim sat there then and talked. They talked of old times, when they were young and when they started dating. They talked of old friends. They talked of their first apartment, of their first house, of the cars they had bought together, of the meals they had cooked, of the vacations they had taken. They talked until the artist finished. He put his pencils back into a little wooden case.

“Done.”

“Well, can we see it?” they asked together.

“See it? You can have it.”

“Really?”

“Really”

He handed them the paper and thanked them simply. The artist walked around the corner and was gone.

The drawing had the iceberg painting in the background. Carefully done in colored pencil it was amazingly detailed and accurate. He must have been working on it for hours. The painting, or, rather the drawing of the painting faded in an oval spot near the center. He drew only around the edges, leaving a blank spot, waiting as he drew for someone to come along and fill it.

Shelby and Jim filled the oval. She gasped as she saw it, it was a life-like drawing, done in pencil and charcoal, cross-hatch and shades of gray, only a hint of color added. Detailed. It was realistic except that they both were drawn naked.

The lower right corner had a quickly scribbled “ES.”

Over a dozen people surrounded them watching the famous artist work, but Jim and Shelby had not even noticed. Embarrassed by the gathering crowd pointing to details on the sketch, they rolled up the drawing, and headed out to their parked car. They held hands as they walked, Shelby leaned her head on Jim’s shoulder as he drove.

They spent a lot of money to have the print professionally framed and mounted. Never really comfortable with the nudity, they couldn’t hang it in their living room. The framer recognized the signature, told them it would bring a lot of money at a sale and recommended a gallery. Jim and Shelby couldn’t sell it, though, it meant too much to them. They did hang it, in their bedroom, next to the closet.

For many decades, it was the last thing they saw at night when they went to sleep, the first thing in the morning when they woke up.

Get the Most Not the Lesser

“So generation after generation of men in love with pain and passivity serve out their time in the Zone, silent, redolent of faded sperm, terrified of dying, desperately addicted to the comforts others sell them, however useless, ugly or shallow, willing to have life defined for them by men whose only talent is for death.”
Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Fabrication Yard, Dallas, Texas

A Flower That Was In Bud Only Yesterday

“It’s so curious: one can resist tears and ‘behave’ very well in the hardest hours of grief. But then someone makes you a friendly sign behind a window, or one notices that a flower that was in bud only yesterday has suddenly blossomed, or a letter slips from a drawer… and everything collapses. ”
Colette

Mural (detail), Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

A Very Human Way Of Making Life More Bearable

“If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

Two girls enjoying the art for sale at the “For the Love of Kettle” event.

 

Sometimes, there is something you know you need to do but you don’t really feel up to it and almost don’t go? When you finally gut it up and trudge out the door – you are really glad you did. That happens all the time, doesn’t it.

Every year there is this event at the Kettle Gallery in Deep Ellum – For the Love of Kettle.

From the Facebook Description:

“For the Love of Kettle” is one of the most highly anticipated events of our year. This One-Night-Only, annual fundraiser keeps Kettle Art Gallery operating in the black, allowing us 51 weeks a year of eclectic, North Texas based, cultural programming. Over one hundred and fifty, 9 x 12 works will be available for just $50.00 each, created by artists who exhibit & support this gallery. There are no previews or pre-sales available to anyone, so please get here early and grab a place in line, as the doors open at 7:00PM sharp.

I have gone to this event every year since 2014 – I’ve written about it a few times:

The Weird and Wicked World of the Singing Cowboy

Getting a Ross

A Competitive Shopping Event

2019 was a difficult year and I’m trying to spend as little money as possible to recover. Even fifty bucks for a painting was more than I wanted to spend – so I was thinking about not going (why go if I’m not going to buy anything?). But then I remembered that I have an envelope stashed away that I put extra cash in every now and then – saving to buy a fountain pen. I checked the envelope and I had the fifty bucks I needed already saved – so off I went.

In years past, I arrived at the event a little over an hour early and was usually the fifth or sixth person in line. The Transit Gods were good to me this year and the train deposited me in Deep Ellum a good two hours plus ahead of time. I was shocked to discover folks already in line. So I joined in. One of the things I like best about the “competitive shopping event” is talking to people in line – especially about strategy on getting the painting you want and looking through the windows at the art on display.

An hour before the doors open, the line on the sidewalk outside Kettle Art Gallery grows. It eventually reaches around the block.

I picked up a new technique this year. I had brought a mild telephoto lens and was able to take photos of the art on the wall – then blow the pictures up on the camera screen to read the numbers under the artworks. This is key so you can write down the numbers of the art you want – dash to the desk and order it before someone else does.

This is the actual shot through the Kettle Art Gallery window used to get the number of the artwork I wanted – 130. Actually I liked all three of these and wrote the numbers on a card.

So I wrote five numbers (130, 128, 129,133, 2, 156) down on a 3×5 card and decided to rush to the front desk as soon as the door opened. I know that limited my choices and there were so many good things there – but I could only buy one and I have this very bad habit of overthinking and getting too excited when those doors open. I need to make a choice and stick with it. With five numbers I was sure to get one of them – there were only six folks in front of me in line. A seven sharp the doors opened and I rushed right to the desk. The folks in front of me were buying multiple artworks, but the number highest on my list – 130 – was available, so I bought it.

Artwork on the wall at the “For the Love of Kettle” event at the Kettle Art Gallery.

Artwork on the wall at the “For the Love of Kettle” event at the Kettle Art Gallery.

The line to buy artwork immediately grows to fill the gallery.

As the art is purchased, the numbers are crossed off the board. You can see the one I bought, 130, is crossed off.

The work I purchased was hung near the main desk, I kept an eye on it until I could pick it up. I liked it even better when I saw it up close.

I love walking around, pushing through the crowd, looking at the art, talking to folks about what they bought and what they wanted and didn’t get.

Looking at the art at the “For the Love of Kettle” event.

One of the cool things is that a lot of the artists are there. I ran into David Pech, who painted the skull painting I bought last year.

David Pech, at Kettle Gallery.

Day of the Dead skull by David Pech.

The event doesn’t last too long, the art starts disappearing from the walls and moving out the door. I picked up my art and headed out – running into the artist on the sidewalk outside. I realized that I had met her before at a poetry reading for the White Rock Zine Machine at Deep Vellum Books.

I carefully lugged my assemblage  through the Saturday Night Deep Ellum crowd of drunken millennials and darting rental scooters to the train station. It’s always weird riding home late at night on the DART train with all the crackheads while cradling an artwork.

I love the piece I purchased. It’s an assemblage by Lisa Huffaker named “How We Measure Our Days.” It’s made from various pieces of mechanical and electrical equipment, lenses, and insects – decorated with gold paint. I tried taking a photo of it – but can’t really do it justice.

“How We Measure Our Days” by Lisa Huffaker

“How We Measure Our Days” by Lisa Huffaker, detail

“How We Measure Our Days” by Lisa Huffaker, detail

So I smiled as I rode the Saturday late-night train back to Richardson, sitting there in the miasma of crack and weed smoke floating off the denizens slumped over in their seats. I was worried that my collection of strange items looked vaguely bomb-like – but nobody seemed to give a damn – lost in their own private disasters. There was also a healthy gaggle of families returning home from a cheerleading competition in my rail car. The DART train late at night is a weird agglomeration of groups representing wildly divergent aspects of the evil city. The cheerleaders were especially sullen and teenagery-angsty – they must have lost their competition. I, however, wasn’t. I was just happy that I had found those two twenties and one ten in that forgotten envelope and gone downtown after all.

Your Opponent Is You

“I can entertain the proposition that life is a metaphor for boxing-for one of those bouts that go on and on, round following round, jabs, missed punches, clinches, nothing determined, again the bell and again and you and your opponent so evenly matched it’s impossible to see your opponent is you …”
Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas