“Do you think you could . . . you know, give me a hand?” Mom asks me. “Just ten minutes, please?”
I look over at the two boys, knowing it’s ten minutes I don’t really have but relenting anyway. I talk the boys through two more paintings, including the one they were apparently here to see, until the mom reluctantly says they have to go. As they leave, she silently mouths ‘thank you’ to me again, and I give her a nod and a shrug like it was nothing.
But it was more than nothing. It was my way in, my foot in the door, so to speak. An opportunity I couldn’t have planned any better. I feel a presence behind me, and I turn to see the woman from the corner giving me a smile. “Bravo. I love when someone can get the next generation excited about art history. Do you volunteer here? Or go to school nearby?”
There are a couple of ways I could play this. I could turn on the charm. If my goal were to have this woman’s ankles around my shoulders and her screaming my name tonight, that’d be the best play.
And while that admittedly sounds enticing, it’s not my goal. So I shrink down a little, wilting into my shoulders and walking the line of shy and confident. “No, just a fan of classical portraiture. Especially the English masters.”
“I’m sure you’ve heard about the new exhibit coming, then?” the woman asks, ready to nerd out a little with a fellow art geek.
“Yes, I can’t wait. I’m excited to see the Rossetti piece in person,” I reply a little shyly, like I’m nervous about talking about a famous picture of Venus in the nude. Truthfully, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Dante Gabriel Rossetti or his work, even if it is the most famous piece in the traveling exhibit.
What I care about is that it’s in the prep room with the piece I am interested in.
“I just hope I can get back when the crowds won’t be intrusive,” I comment, sighing. “You know how it is. Really studying a piece, appreciating all the small details, is hard with others around.”
The woman looks me up and down, assessing me. I play more into the role that I’m trying to portray, that of a legitimate art fan in a nondescript hoodie who couldn’t hurt a fly. To that point, I push my fake glasses up on my nose and flash an awkward smile as I slick my gelled hair over, though I know it hasn’t moved a centimeter since this morning.
The woman considers for a second, then gives me a little smile. “I do think your volunteer tour deserves a little reward. Come with me.”
Damn, this is working smoother than I thought! But the easiest way to get to an art nerd’s heart is by being a fellow art nerd. They’ll talk about brushstrokes for hours.
I get it, it’s like gearheads with their cars and compression ratios, or cooks with their spices. But I see the mechanics, the details, not the affection they so often glorify. I’m motivated by something a lot different from the passion that drives their interest.
I follow the woman into a back hallway, acting like I don’t know where we’re going already and haven’t mapped out where the closest exit points are. Truth is, I know the map of this building like a video game nerd knows a Halo level. We take a right turn and reach the prep room. When the door’s closed behind us and we’re alone, she whispers reverently, “Here it is.”
I cover my mouth with a hand, feigning a gasp. Venus, in all her nude glory . . . if somehow a Greek goddess were a pale-as-cream, auburn-haired Brit with semi-ecclesiastical overtones. But I still act like it’s the greatest thing since grilled cheese sandwiches. “It’s beautiful.”
“It is, isn’t it?” the woman asks, obviously agreeing wholeheartedly.
I look at the art as though it’s magical, and truth be told, it is one of the greats. Rossetti’s skill and accuracy in things like the texture of Venus’s hair is amazing, and I can see why people are drawn to it. I shift my feet, looking at it from different angles but actually stealing glances at the tables and walls around us.
There it is . . . my mission. It’s not even part of the upcoming exhibit but is back here waiting for cleaning and reframing. Which is perfect since that means people won’t ask questions at first, assuming some other department has it.
It’s small, no larger than a piece of notebook paper, but its value has nothing to do with its size. It’s desired, and that’s all that counts.
It’s time for phase two of my plan. Placing my hand over my chest, I tap a button on the Bluetooth headset taped to my chest, calling a preprogrammed number on the phone in my back pocket. Seconds later, the direct line to the prep room rings.
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