The room pivoted. The many abstract paintings on the wall blurred as they rotate along with the floor under him. As his peripheral view stretched backwards, his surroundings left the room entirely, and the painting before him compressed itself against his nose. Even in this state of drunk and immersive contemplation, as he desperately sought within himself for some lost trace of emotion, Simon couldn’t but feel unsolicited by the artwork.
Lost in contemplation, I see, the artist uttered, as though to herself. This pathetic beggarly bait to flattery narrowly missed Simon’s ear. So self-assured were the words about finding their mark, so practised were they in the art, that upon finding themselves shunned and thrown off-course, they panicked and promptly sought refuge inside the next of Simon’s orifice they found: his mouth. Simon swivelled on his feet, toppling the already unstable environment into motion again. His stomach wildly leapt from under his lungs, shortening his oesophagus into a warm lump at the back of his mouth. Breathing deeply he heroically managed to hold in the litres of free house-wine that now sought escape through the jumble of his throat. All was not won, however, as the little insect hooves of the artist’s lost words began scratching at his uvula, threatening to unleash the vile chowder from inside his stomach onto his surrounding. He thought of the army of free canapés that he had gobbled mindlessly to counteract the fast acting poison of the wine, and the entire gallery was suddenly a sea-bound vessel, listing and rocked by gargantuan swells, and he, a nauseous sailor trying desperately to steady his gaze against the shifting horizon. He somehow managed to anchor his eyes on the painting before him. In that moment, Simon knew that the battle was lost.
Hurriedly, he stumbled towards a dark corner where to rid himself of his erupting burden. He was tremendously relieved to find this part the gallery vacant. Once the dirty deed had been carried out, he felt utterly drained. With his hands, he tried to lessen the acreage of his spill, concentrating the bulk of the matter into a small rectangle in the corner of the gallery. Present were both meal and beverage. Which left only to question the attendance of some five tiny crawling words that squiggled and fled in every direction. Ashamed, he tried to capture, or at least, to squash the life out of them with his thumbs. Dexterity failed him, however, and he hadn’t caught as single one, when the lights turned off around him. Simon picked himself up, concealing his soiled hands inside his pockets, and, to the best of his impaired faculties mimicked composure all the way to the exit. The woman at the door was surprised to see him.
I thought that everyone had left, she said apologetically. Simon doesn’t answer. Well... good night then? She opened the door wide for him, as though afraid that he would miss the opening.
Night, Simon managed, looking away to shield her from his acid breath. He succeeded in holding it together for the following three steps down onto the street where, pretending confidence, he turned left into an alley and walked off into the night. That ought to do it, he thought in his confused state, she’ll never suspect that a true gentleman such as I would be capable of the vile desecration such as she would find in the dark corner of the gallery.
On the bedside table, a phone was vibrating. Dawn was just breaking outside. A set of black painted finger nails reached for the phone. We, of course, recognize the nails as belonging to the hand of the woman we saw opening the door wider than necessary the previous night. The woman, despite her morning grogginess, laughed out loud. She immediately copied the received message to the art gallery’s various social media accounts, adding a caption of her own. It read:
My janitor this morning: “Is this art or just regular puke?”
She then uploaded the image of the rectangular discharge neatly contained in the corner of her gallery, posted it, returned to her messages, answered: It’s puke; and thereafter fell back into shallow slumber.
I guess it had always been forecast that the infinitely small would eventually lead to extermination of our great and cancerous species. So ripe was the world for an epidemic that none recognized the danger before it was too late.
Later that morning, Simon awoke. His head hung low from its hinges as he made his way to the kitchen. A quick scan of his empty cupboards and fridge confirmed that which he had hoped to find. He would eat out for breakfast.
On his way to a nearby diner, he paused a second in front of the art gallery, making a mental note of the opening hours, and vowed that his future, post-hangover self, would return to apologize and make things right. Over breakfast, unbeknownst to his bacon and eggs, his previous night’s drunken blunder had acquired a life of its own. In the hours following its discovery, the image had gone viral. Brewing slowly, festering quietly like an unattended wound. Mockery being as infectious as it is, so the contagion spread across the web. At first, as you can imagine, it became the centrepiece of every art column, forum and blog. Many debated its significance as a valid assessment and critic of the art exhibited in that same gallery. Then of abstract painting as a whole. And ultimately, of art in general.
In his pocket, as he carefully sponged the liquid egg-yolk on his plate with a piece of toast, his phone came alive. Simon reached for it with sticky fingers and examined a message posted on his wall by a friend.
Who else knows about this?, he gasps panicstricken. The caption read:
Can you see the face of our Saviour Jesus Christ? Can you solve this mathematical enigma?
To which Simon replied:
Funny. What in god name is this?
He chose to play dumb, for obviously he had recognized at once the chunks of canapés floating in a pool of scarlet wine. His future self might have a harder time dealing with this than he had thought.
Did you just wake up or what?! #pukeorart
Hesitating a second in fear of the slander he thought was awaiting him, Simon sighed. Then, at last, he clicked. What followed was a half-hour of uninterrupted scroll down, which only came to an end because his thumb was about to explode from tendonitis. During his breakfast alone, the, by now, worldwide trend, had morphed into a web wide game of interpretations. For, although seemingly meaningless at first glance, the lines that Simon had drawn with his fingers through the neat rectangle of vomit, as he had endeavoured to catch the fleeing insect-words, had been digested by the internet and were now being interpreted by an alarmingly increasing field of educated people.
This is insane, thought Simon. As far he could tell, the thing had yet to be traced back to him. Although, there was the woman at the art gallery. She was the most probable source of the outbreak, the one who had leaked the image. As he searched backwards through the phenomenon, he found that very few degrees of separation lay between her original post and even the most distant of shares. It could all so easily be sourced back to her. Too easily. And then…
As soon as she would hear word of this, she would check the gallery’s security camera for footage of the incident and probably leak it as well. Then, any teenager with a mouse could source it back to him in minutes! He felt extremely vulnerable and exposed. A rough estimate of his breakfast bill later, his foot was out the door, the quarters still spinning on the table.
Simon reached the gallery too late. The doors had opened half an hour before. A swarm of reporters and fanatics had already come and gone. Some of the windows had been shattered and the door hung ajar from its hinges. Simon walked in. Most of the paintings had been torn off the walls and there were boot marks all across the floor. He found the owner of the gallery sitting amid the wreckage.
What happened? playing dumb as always. The woman shrugged her shoulders, not looking up. Her gaze travelled the raided gallery as though trying to remember. In doing so, her eyes eventually crossed path with him.
Yooou.., she whispered contemptuously.
Me? he asked, trembling. His eyes wandered to the dark back-room of the gallery. Oh... yeah… me.
But, I created the most significant piece of art of the century, he exclaimed meakly in his defence.
Oh, sit down. Simon obeyed, sliding down the wall to the floor at her side. The most significant piece of art in the century, she scoffed. And I asked my janitor to mop it off the floor.
For an instant both sat unknowingly sharing empathy for the other. Empathy, and a forgiveness that they did not even accord themselves. Not a word was spoken of this.
And the footage?, Simon asked innocently, a faint glimmer of hope reignited in his voice. The woman, merely laughed. He stretched his leg out awkwardly and he pulled his phone out of his jeans pocket. On YouTube, the footage had already reached over a million and a half hits. Simon laughed with despair.
Most baffling of all were the comments from scholars and experts in various serious fields of study such as complex algebra, bioengineering and nuclear physics. The subject had long outgrown the #pukeorart debacle. These more learned and serious inquiry in the nature of his vomitus, were now group under the equally ludicrous tag #retchasketch. Many claimed now that the symbols Simon—whom the internet referred to as “A genius”, “A man seemingly possessed” or simply “The prophet”—had sketched, held a deep complex truth, the deciphering of which was still under way.
As happened all too often, in our great interconnectedness, a monster was born from the sheer force of our collective attention and the pairing of our incessant curiosity with our will to be perpetually entertained.
I regret ever puking it. Simon whispered to himself. And how much he would be made to regret it, he could never have fathomed, for until now nothing but harmless debate and scientific inquiry had spewed from his regurgitation.
The world had yet to learn the real consequences of #retchasketch.