The room pivots. The many abstract paintings on the wall blur as they rotate along with the floor under him. As the side view stretches back on his eyes, his surroundings leave the room, and the painting before him compresses itself against his nose. Even in this state, drunk and immersed in contemplation, desperately seeking for something, Thomas can’t but feel unsolicited by the artwork.
“Lost in contemplation, I see ”. The artist utters these words as though to himself. This paltry preamble to flattery narrowly misses Tom’s ear, and like so many insects off course in unsounded territory, the words seek refuge inside his mouth. Thomas swivels on his feet, toppling the already unstable environment into motion again. His stomach wildly leaps from under his lungs, shortening his esophagus into a warm lump at the back of his mouth. Breathing deeply he heroically manages to hold in the liters of free housewine that now sought escape through the jumble of his throat. Time is against him. He could feel the little insect hooves of the lost words scratching at his uvula, threatening to unleash the vile chowder from inside his stomach onto his surrounding. He thought of the tiny canapés that he had gobbled in their hundreds, and the entire gallery was suddenly a seabound vessel, assailed, shaken and rocked by gargantuan waves, and he, a nauseous sailor trying desperately to steady his gaze. He anchored his eyes on the painting before him. Thomas knew then that the battle was lost. Hurriedly stumbling towards a dark corner where to rid himself of his erupting burden, he is relieved to find the gallery mostly empty.
Once the dirty deed has been carried out, he feels drained. With his hands, he tries to lessen the acreage of his spill, concentrating the bulk of the matter in a small rectangle against the walls in the corner. Present were both meal and beverage. Which left only to question the attendance of five tiny crawling beings that squiggled and fled in every direction. Ashamed, he tries to capture, or at least, to squash the life out of them with his fingers. Dexterity fails him, however. He has not caught any one of them when the lights surprisingly turn off. Thomas picks himself up, concealing his soiled hands in his pockets, and, to the best of his impaired faculties mimics composure all the way to the exit.
The woman at the door is surprised to see him. “I thought that everyone had left” she says apologetically. Thomas doesn’t answer. “Well.. Good night then”. She opens the door wide for him, as though afraid that he would miss the opening. “Night”. Thomas succeeds in holding it together for the following three steps down onto the street where, pretending confidence, he turns left and walks on into the night.
On the bedside table, a phone is vibrating. Dawn is just breaking outside. A set of black painted finger nails reach 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, laughs loudly. She immediately copies the received text message to the art gallery’s varied social media presence, adding a caption of her own. It reads:
My janitor this morning: “Is this art or just regular puke?”
She then uploads the image of the rectangular discharge neatly contained in the corner of her gallery, posts it, returns to her text messages, answers: “It’s puke”; and thereafter falls back to sleep.
I guess it has always been forecasted 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, Thomas wakes up, his head hanging low from his shoulders as he makes his way to the kitchen. A quick scan of his empty cupboards and fridge confirms what he had hoped to find. He would eat out for breakfast.
On his way to the diner, he pauses a second in front of the art gallery, making a mental note of the opening hour, and vowing that his future, more courageous self, would return, 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. As laughter is infectious, so the contagion spread across the web. At first, as you can imagine, it became the centerpiece of every art column, forum and blog. Many debated its significance as a valid assessment and critic of the artist who’s art was exhibited in that same gallery, of abstract painting, and ultimately, of art in general.
In his pocket, as he carefully sponges the liquid egg-yolk on his plate with a piece of toast, his phone comes to life. Thomas reaches for it with sticky fingers and examines a message posted on his wall by a friend. “Who else knows about this?”, he gasps panicstricken. The caption reads:
Can you see the face of our Savior Jesus Christ? Just kidding, it’s a mathematical enigma. Can you solve it?
To which Tom replies:
Funny. What in god name is this?
Thomas chose to play dumb, for he had recognized at once the chunks of canapés floating in a pool of scarlet wine.
Did you just wake up or what?! #pukeorart
Hesitating a second in fear of the slander he thinks is awaiting him, Thomas sighs. Then, he clicks. What followed is 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 game of interpretations. For, although seemingly meaningless at first glance, the lines that Thomas had drawn with his fingers through the neat rectangle of vomit, as he had endeavored to catch the fleeing insectwords, were now being interpreted by an increasingly educated field of people.
As far as Thomas could tell, nothing had been traced back to him yet. Although, there was the woman at the art gallery. She knew. She was the source, the one who had leaked the image, and it could all so easily be sourced back to her. And then, to him. 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 quick calculation of his bill and his foot is out the door, the quarters still spinning on the table.
Thomas reaches the gallery too late. The doors had opened half an hour before. A party of reporters and fanatics had already come and gone. Some of the windows had been shattered and the door stood open, hanging loosely to the side. Thomas walks 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 shrugs her shoulders, not looking up. She looks around as though trying to remember. In doing so, her eyes eventually cross his.
“Yooou…” says she in a low voice, contemptuously.
“Me?” he asks, surprised, genuinely thinking that he stood accused of the ransack. His eyes wander to the dark corner in the room.
“Oh.. yeah.. me.”
“But, I created the most significant piece of art of the century.” he exclaims halfheartedly, as a defense.
“And what of me…? I asked my janitor to mop it off the floor.” she says with great disappointment and a touch of mockery.
Thomas sat on the floor beside her. For an instant both unknowingly shared thoughts of mothering love for each other. Both, in their guilt, were projecting onto the other the forgiveness they did not accord themselves. No words were spoken of this.
“And the footage?” Thomas asks with a faint glimmer of hope renewed in his voice. When he doesn’t receive an answer, instinctively, he pulls out his phone. On YouTube, the footage had already achieved over a million and a half hits. Thomas laughs with anxiety.
Most intriguing of all were the comments from scholars and experts in various fields of study including algebra, engineering and nuclear physics. The subject had long outgrown the #pukeorart debate. These more learned and serious comments were now being posted under #retchasketch, since many of them claimed that the symbols Thomas, known only, for now, as “a man seemingly possessed”, had sketched out, held a deep complex truth, the deciphering of which was still pending.
As happens all too often, in our great interconnectedness, a monster was born from the sheer force of our collective attention and, some would say, from the pairing of our incessant curiosity with our will to be perpetually entertained.
“I regret ever puking it.” Thomas whispers 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.
To be continued…