I had reached a point in my fame at which party attendance was no longer mandatory to sustain my mystique. It was a strange position. After years of cocktails and small, empty talk with would-be artists about the maddening circular logic of the world, all that was left for me was to sit in the dusty corners of my studio, dreaming of projects that would never be.
Once, I picked up a newspaper, and I read that there would be a party at the Statue of Liberty. Intrigued, I began to dress, but midway through my preparations, I received word from the gossip sites that I was already there. My presence already confirmed, there was nothing to do but get back to work, and so my evening jacket slid from my shoulders and before it hit the ground I was sitting in front of a canvas that would remain blank for the rest of my days.
Sometime later, I was alerted to an exhibition of my work at one of the small, hip galleries that had begun to dot the downtown landscape: sad, white spaces filled with cardboard boxes painted lavender and repurposed sewer grates and rain gutters sprayed chrome silver that glinted in harsh fluorescent light. It seemed odd that my simple paintings would be of interest to the half-mad proprietors of these over-hyped storage spaces, but what was even more perplexing was that the work on display was advertised as brand new, when, in fact, every last bit of it had been completed and shown a decade before. As I stood before the open door and scratched my head at the “ooh”s and “aah”s of the growing crowd, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned and faced an art critic who’d interviewed me a number of times over the years.
“Isn’t it wonderful,” he asked, “that this work would debut here? That after all his success, he’s still willing to work with small galleries? The man is a treasure.”
I smiled and nodded, and as the critic pushed his way into the tiny space, I looked over my right shoulder at a sandwich board next to the door, which prominently featured my face.
I returned to my studio, to find a message left for me — a note thanking me for my contribution to a charity auction, and declaring that surely a new piece by someone of my stature would bring in a great deal of money for the foundation. Enclosed with the note was a photograph of the man who’d sent it, standing next to the first piece I’d ever sold, a piece that I’d long thought lost, hung as it had been on the walls of an old Tudor destroyed in a terrible storm. I called the number at the top of the letterhead, confused, and I asked to speak to the gentleman.
When I identified myself, I was told that it was quite impossible for me to be me, as I was already there, in the office, speaking to the man I wished to speak to. The voice at the other end of the line wished me a good day and hung up.
Quite impossible though it may have been, I made my way down to the foundation to confront myself. The foundation in my sights, I squared my shoulders and marched to the door. As I entered, I glanced, casually, at one of the television screens in the lobby, which was turned to a cable news station. Breaking News was announced in large, red letters. It seems I had died, the victim of a sudden cardiac event. I felt sweat along my brow; I couldn’t remember the last time I’d experienced that sensation, and my knees felt weak, and suddenly the light through the glass panes that lined the office was very bright. I sat in one of the lobby chairs, sank into the cushion, and wiped my brow.
A man in shirtsleeves and a red vest noticed me from his position behind the information desk, and came to check on me.
“Are you all right, sir?”
I looked at the television screen, and then I looked at him and said, “To tell you the truth, I’m not certain.”
He looked at the television screen, too, and then returned his attention to me. “Yes, it’s a shame when a man like that dies. It’s difficult to process that even someone so influential is ultimately just a person.”
A recently photo of me flashed across the screen. The man in the vest asked, “Did you know him? Or were you a fan?”
“A little of both,” I said.
I undid the top button of my shirt. “I’m feeling a bit peckish. Can you bring me a glass of water?”
“I already have, sir,” he replied. “It’s on the table next to you.”
I looked at the table. The glass was there, but it was nearly empty. I lifted my fingers to my lips. They were moist, though I didn’t recall licking them. The news announced a memorial service in my honor.