Blotting Out Stars

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Blotting Out Stars

“Walk and talk.” Marilyn shoved a battered brochure in his face before he could get a word out. It had been a three-coffee day at the office and Noaks was looking forward to a quiet dinner and some page or channel flipping. But there was Marilyn, frumpy as ever, waiting for him outside the Tribune’s revolving doors.
“I’ve got an engagement tonight, Marilyn,” he protested.
“You have a date?”
“Yeah. I’ve got a date.”
She scrutinized him from under her stocking cap. “You’re a lousy liar. You haven’t got anything.”
He sighed and took the brochure. He wasn’t sure if he was keen on this lady’s bluntness. Or her intrusiveness for that matter.
“Oh, you love this.” She said, answering his thoughts. And she was right. “Read the literature and keep up.”
She walked like Yoda would walk if Yoda could power-walk. Noaks tried to scan the brochure for something enlightening.
“Who’s Marcus Bartok?” He asked.
“Russian modern artist. Famous for his surrealist sculptures. He’s got a new installation that just opened up a block from here.”
“You like surrealist art?”
“I like art.”
“This I know,” he said. “How come you want to go see this thing?”
“Ask ‘why,’ Noaks. Not ‘how.’ ‘How’ asks for function. ‘Why’ asks for purpose.”
“Fine. Why do you want to go see this thing?” He slapped the paper with the back of his hand to accentuate the correctness of his question.
“Because,” she started, as if she was responding to a toddler, “I like to see artists try and fail to replicate the art we live in. I like to see them try and fail to tell the story of the natural world better than the natural world tells us itself.”
“Are you a religious person, Marilyn?”
“Oh, God no. Religion’s stuffy. I am Jewish by birth though, you know.”
“No. I didn’t know,” he said with more than a pinch of sarcasm. “You realize that’s literally the only personal detail I know about you.”
“Another evening, Noaks. Another evening. And we’re here. The thing’s on the ninth floor.”
The building had a distinctly modern, if not post-modern interior design and ethos. An excruciating sixty seconds of ambient electronica accompanied them on the elevator ride to the ninth floor. The doors opened on a whitewashed room, empty of both furnishings and human beings save the artwork itself and a Japanese tourist armed with a camera phone. The windows went from ceiling to floor and wrapped around almost the whole floor, bathing the hulking black installation at the center with a warm, blue light.
Noaks sniffed. “The thing looks like a CGI modeler messed up trying to build a low-poly porcupine covered in tar.”
“I can’t disagree.” She said.
Per a set of directions printed in a wispy, all-caps font on a free-standing sign, they wound their way inside the construct until they reached the center, a smaller room paneled with the same randomly-generated triangular plates as the exterior. Some of these panels were mirrors, and others were punched with pinholes that let small points of light into the otherwise pitch black space.
“Rather ghostly, this.” Noaks mused.
“Cosmic, no? It’s eerily galactic.” Marilyn gaped, walking in small circles to simulate stellar parallaxes of epic scale. “What do you think Mr. Bartok is trying to tell us?”
“Should I point out you asked ‘what’ not ‘why?'” He countered.
Her giggle was raspy.
He paused before continuing. “I’m not one to judge this kind of thing, or the genius or lack thereof behind it, but I’ve made it my business to find stories, and Mr. Bartok seems to be telling a human one.” He walked up to his star-lit reflection in one of the mirrored panels. “I think he wants us to ‘see ourselves in the universe.’ Pretty cliché, though, if you ask me.”
The universe or his universe”? She brooded.
“Like I said, I’m not exactly an expert on this sort of thing.” He replied.
“Fine then,” she said, tripping over him in the process. “Where do you see yourself in the grand scheme of things—the real universe. Big Bang. Planets. Asteroids. Spacetime. Such truck. Where do you see yourself reflected on the narrative arc of cosmic history?”
“I never said the universe was telling a story.” He replied.
“You said his universe was telling a story.” She said, motioning expansively with her arms at the starscape around them and whacking him in the face.
“It’s different,” he said, rubbing his nose. “Mr. Bartok is obviously trying to evoke something in his viewers with this piece of avant-garde artitechture. I can’t say the same for the cosmos.”
“Why not?” She tugged off her stocking cap and kneaded it between her wrinkled fingers.
“You really think the planets and asteroids are crafting some grand narrative that we’re all participating in against our will?”
“Don’t be stupid, Noaks. ‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.’ That’s Shakespeare.”
“I know.”
“But you don’t seem to know that all stages need to be built, and all plays need to be written, and all the players need direction.”
“We’re all ad-libbing, Marilyn.”
“Even ad-lib has rules, Noaks.”
“Cut the metaphor. What are you driving at?”
Marilyn reached up to blot out the light of a single star with her forefinger. “Where there are rules, Noaks, there is purpose. Where there is purpose, there is a story. Where there’s a story, there’s a storyteller.”
“I thought you said you weren’t religious.”
“I’m not. But I can’t say I like my own conclusions.”