A SHORT STORY THAT CANNOT END WELL

An elderly woman with abruptly cut grey hair, a vestigial of contemporary sensibility, prowls the gallery spreading a miasmatic dander that smells like self-righteous moth balls.

With the same respect the young women gives mouldy bread, she applies an appeasing smile and moves to the opposite end of the lolling crowd; feeling that irrational itch one gets when another has lice, she tries, and fails, to pay due diligence to the curator as they introduce the artist and the exhibition.

Coercive in her decrepitude the elderly women halts proceedings with a feeble wrist flapping. “Hi” she introduces herself “I’m Mrs Cullinan and I have been coming to this gallery for many years, it’s a national asset you know”.

As the elderly women pauses to swallow air, the curator show signs of having contracted the same irrational itch, but the elderly women continues unphased, holding the floor with an indignant pose.

“And I must say that I’m so distressed that you no longer post out invites to your events, if it was not for the fact that I was passing by, I would not have known that this was taking place.”

The young women fantasies about dropping a one rand coin from a 50 story building onto her elderly crown, and shifts her body weight onto the other foot.

Unabated the elderly women continues, with seeming disregard for how little time she has left on the planet, “In my day, art galleries hung art!”

The crowd is no longer lolling but impatiently trying to reclaim its calm, rolling eyes to fight the attrition of the elderly women’s mental nadir. There is a bulwark of knowledge separating the artist and the curator from the elderly women’s comatosed view on the arts, paralysed and unrecovered sometime in the 1980’s. They look at her, not unkindly but certainly with a substance that the elderly women would read as arrogance.

“I really don’t know why you can’t drop me a letter with all the important opening dates; I don’t have an email you know and I have survived perfectly well for 60 years without one”. The elderly women tries to come up for air, and her gnarled fingers, like cigarettes needing to be ashed, clutch at the collar of her blouse. “Its hot in here” she proclaims “and you don’t have benches!”

It’s at this point that a gallerina brings through a fold away chair and the curator uses the distraction to continue with the introduction, wisely ignoring the elderly women’s interjections, and the plummeting action that precedes her making contact with her commandeered throne.

The artist discusses the shows conceptual investigations with the crowd, who along with the young women spend much of the dialogue avoiding eye contact with the elderly women, in the hopes of discouraging her efforts to solicit allies to her cause.

When the elderly women took umbrage with a point made, which was often, she exhaled with a humph! sounding like air squelching through a holey tyre. She would time her humph! with a body swivel on her chair, dragging her decrepit limbs after her. Like a cat scratching at the glass of an open window, trying to gain access but not having the mental faculty to change direction, the elderly women was constipated in a cerebral inertia with no laxative in sight.

The young women was surprised when after 15 minutes she had not, in fact, hyper ventilated through her passive aggressive breathing techniques, and came to the conclusion five humph! s later, that she would prefer the company of a yeast infection to this self-absorbed, arrogant, stupid, wrinkled stick of flesh.

As the discussion drew to a close, the elderly women foisted her bouquet of withered fingers into the air, in a manner that suggested a salute, rather than a question. The curator’s eyes where cold, and it was diplomacy not warmth that was hitched to the smile that crossed the curators face.

“I really don’t understand” the elderly women barked “my granddaughter makes beautiful paintings, she got an A in matric for art, and really, it’s her paintings that should be hanging on the walls not, this “installation stuff” or whatever you call it!”

“Thank you, Mrs Cullinan” the curator responded like a sjambok “this however is question time, and not statement time, and at your age you really should know the difference”. The crowd, finding their empathy for the elderly women empty, snigger at her expense.

The young women finds voice coming through mouth “Mrs Cullinan, do you not think it’s arrogant to request the world to change in order to suit the limitations of your old age?”

If the elderly women had a response it was not heard  by anyone, and the crowd along with the young women, the artists, and the curator turned on their heels , moving through the gallery in the direction of the refreshments.

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