“You could look at it forever, couldn’t you?”
It was my first visit to the Hilbert Gallery. I’m not sure why I was there. Maybe it was raining outside. Maybe there a meeting I needed to miss.
Looking at the screen, I thought the words were part of the exhibition.
I stood there staring at images that seemed to change every ten seconds or so, wondering how much of my life would be too much to spend with a piece of art.
It was minutes before I noticed the girl standing next to me. She had a Mary Quant bob and she was wearing a long woollen coat although it was summer. I wondered how long she’d been there.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a kiss.” She didn’t look at me. It was like a cord ran between her eye and the screen.
“I can’t see any lips.” Between the clothes and the stillness, she had this kind of Beatnik authority about her, and I felt like a klutz as soon as I said it.
“Yeah, weird, isn’t it?” she said.
We stood in silence after that. I kept watching the screen, trying to figure whether the film was on a loop, whether anyone was going to kiss at any point. I’d forgotten whatever it was I’d come in to avoid doing.
I wondered if there was some kind of etiquette for who leaves first in situations like this.
“Come back tomorrow,” she said, like she was reading my thoughts off an autocue on the screen.
“I don’t know what I’m doing tomorrow.”
“You’re coming here.”
It was like that for months. I have no recollection of the hours I wasn’t at the gallery. I’d turn up at the Hilbert. “You could look at it forever, couldn’t you?” she’d say, and we’d stand in front of the screen like we were playing a game of dare.
The day she stopped coming, I had this cramping, seasick feeling. I felt her absence next to me like it was thumping my kidneys.
For weeks I went back every day. I stared harder and harder at the screen, as though she might be in there. She never was.
One day I was standing in front of the screen and the emptiness next to me was missing. A woman stood next to me. She had a sharp suit and her blonde hair was tangled like she was on her way somewhere.
I said, “You could look at it forever, couldn’t you?”