I have always walked left out of my apartment. The grocery store is left. The subway is left. The center is left. If I had a girlfriend I’m sure I’d have to go left to find her.
Today I went right. Down along the canal, I smoked cigarettes and listened to the greatest hits of Roy Orbison.
The sun is out for the third time this week. Unprecedented. I promised myself last week that I’d go for a walk the next time the sun came out.
A pair of police officers walk towards me. I wipe the Roy Orbison induced smile from my face. It’s difficult, they frown at the result: joyful-constipation. They stop a bit ahead.
Nervous, I duck into an alley. This alley leads to a small courtyard littered with the dried up organs of dead buildings.
There is a door to what looks like an indie art museum. I slip inside. I’d rather fumble my way through an apology than have to bribe my way through an encounter with the police.
There is a long white hallway that ends in a face. The face says something in Russian. I ask it if it speaks English. It smiles. It is a pretty face.
She stands up.
“Welcome to The Lost Art Museum.”
My hands are cold and I’ve never figured out how to say ‘I don’t know shit about art’ in any language.
“Cool,” I say instead.
“Would you like to come in?”
“Cool,” I say, “I mean, yeah, how much?” I ask, holding out a handful of money in the same manner I might feed a deer. She nips a few bills off the top.
“Here,” she says. She hands me a slim metallic bracelet.
I frown at it.
“So you don’t die,” she says.
“Oh,” I say, putting it on.
She leads me down another hallway. At the mouth of it I stop, stunned. The ceiling of the room we enter is so high, and the décor so extravagant, it feels like standing in the world’s most expensive yawn.
I try to squint and catch where it ends, but I might as well have been looking for infinity through a kaleidoscope. The Woman smiles at my awe-struck face.
“Welcome to The Lost Art Museum,” she says in a voice that would sound smug if not for the acoustics of the room turning it into something resembling the voice of God.
I shut my mouth and walk over to the first painting. I stare at it. It looks like a pudgy hipster draped in the hide of a dead owl. The placard is in Russian. I stare at the painting and try to think of something to make my face resemble thoughtfulness.
“That is Portrait of a Young Man,” The Woman says from beside me.
“Oh, hmm,” I say.
“By Raphael,” she says.
“We went back and took it from the Nazi’s before it was lost.”
“Right.” I say. “Wait, went back?”
She smiles, “of course, all of these paintings are lost to the world, so we went back to get them.”
“How?” I ask, looking back at the painting of the pudgy hipster.
“With a time machine, of course. The greatest security measure in the world.”
I turn back to her with an eyebrow raised. “Security measure?”
She nods. “Nothing can be removed from here, it would simply revert to whatever state it is currently in, wherever it currently is. You certainly don’t want to be holding on to something as it tries to get back under a pile of ash, would you?”
I scratch just under the metal band around my wrist. “I suppose not,” I agree, weakly.
“I wouldn’t touch that.”
I jerk my hand away from the metal bracelet.
“What? What would happen?”
She shrugs. “Nothing good. It makes sure you stay… present.”
I look down at the thing. It feels so flimsy. I look around at the art.
“Can I find all these online?” I ask.
The silence that follows the question is ineffable. She stares at me. Her mouth opens slightly in horror. I watch as it hardens into the blackest of looks.
“Can I step out for a cigarette?” I say, fear building.
“This is all the lost art the world has ever produced,” she growls.
“Yeah,” I look around, “all art is lost on me.”
I start to laugh. Her glare shoves it back down my throat. I choke a little.
“You will not be permitted to return.”
“Oh,” I look around the gold and jewel encrusted yawn and pretend to think.
“I just really need a cigarette.” I say, adding a pleading lilt in hopes of sounding more sincere.
Without a word, she turns.
I follow after her down the sleek white hallway towards the reception desk, keeping my hand very, very still.