Arjun is in line at the museum café when Stephanie fires him.
It’s just a text. ‘Sorrry we’re letting you go.’
He doesn’t know how she does it, misses the autocorrect. He doesn’t really think she’s sorrry.
Fucking Stephanie and her fucking design ideas that are always so fucking better than his.
He’s at the front of the line now and the woman behind the counter stabs him with a glance. He pockets his phone. His appetite’s fled.
Arjun can’t bring himself to ask for the Smoked Mackerel Pâté. Twelve dollars plus tax. He stares down at the crooked part in the woman’s hair, the black roots beneath the blonde. All he wants is a glass of water. But his tongue is stubborn. He’s kept the woman waiting and now can’t summon the social grace to ask for a free cup.
‘Sorry,’ Arjun says and ducks out of line.
Into the conceptual art exhibit. He’d come for inspiration, but now wants to go home. Wait till five, show the text to Mona.
‘No more Stephanie,’ he’ll tell her, the stupid, botched text bringing them together the way nothing else could. Not even the ring she used to want, before she found out he was fucking Stephanie.
It was just the two weeks. Arjun ended it, confessed everything to Mona, who laughed and then stopped laughing.
Seven months later, she still wasn’t laughing. She didn’t believe Stephanie had been the driving force.
‘Takes two,’ she said one night, not even looking up from her dissertation.
It wouldn’t work, the text. It would just show Mona they were already done.
Arjun heads deeper into the exhibit, stalling, buying a moment before deciding.
He’ll freelance. He’s been saying he wanted to freelance and now he’ll have to.
He walks through a pharmacy that looks just like a real one, down to the pill bottles. Arjun pictures a world where he’s done one small thing different and he’s not fired. Or he doesn’t confess to Mona. He just lies and Mona laughs at ‘sorrry’ and rubs his shoulders while he boots up the home computer.
Something small could change everything.
That’s when he sees it. Up high on the wall, on a tiny clear shelf, rests an ordinary glass of water. It’s partly full and there’s a long narrative beneath it, but Arjun doesn’t read it. It’s the kind of thing Stephanie would go on about, its brilliance making Arjun and his semi-realist drawings seem clumsy in comparison.
Part of the point of anti-art is to piss people off.
Arjun is pissed off. The pharmacy hasn’t cured him. You’re supposed to get something out of art. He should know. He’s an artist. He works for himself now.
Arjun’s mouth is dry. His phone buzzes. He’s tall enough to reach the glass. He rises on his toes and stretches up.
GENEVIEVE ABRAVANEL is Associate Professor of English at Franklin & Marshall College. Her scholarly writing has appeared in a number of journals. She’s held grants and fellowships from the NEH, the American Association for University Women, and the Penn Humanities Forum; in 2012, she published a book of academic nonfiction with Oxford University Press. She lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with her family.