I really don’t know anything about the people I talk to every single day. But I know James is nice because he looks nice in his profile picture and one day he sent me a little GIF of a cartoon dinosaur that I thought was very cute. Often I pretend to talk to him. We complain about people at work and I think I love James.
Sometimes I wonder if my neighbors hear me talking to myself through the walls. I don’t really care if they do. I have never met any of them. I only hear their footsteps and the piano which plays every evening. I don’t know which of my neighbors plays the piano. But whoever it is plays very beautifully and I want to meet them one day.
There is one window in my apartment. The window looks out onto a vacant lot with three dumpsters that are always full of scrap metal. My desk is set up so that I can look out the window. I sit at my desk all day and I have never seen anyone enter the lot or use the dumpsters.
My manager is named Trish. I do not know what Trish looks like but her voice suggests that she is a bulldog of a woman with big broad shoulders and a flat angry looking nose. “I’m sorry Maeve,” she says. “But I’m going to have to decline this. It’s too much time off. And just bad timing.”
I am quiet. I wonder if Trish can sense my unhappiness. I wonder if my unhappiness makes her happy. I bet it does.
“I have to go,” she says. “Let me know if there’s some other dates you’d like to take off and we can see if we can make them work.”
She hangs up before I can say anything.
James says that at least Trish gave me enough warning and that I can probably get refunded for the plane tickets and hotel. I tell him that I am going for a walk. He tells me he loves me.
The heat of the city is oppressive. The heavy air smells of rotting garbage and shit. The ground is covered by feces and trash. Probably why the heavy air smells of rotting garbage and shit. Buildings across the river wink at me through smog frosted sunset. And always when I walk to the river I consider quitting my job. I think about moving somewhere else. But where? And what would I do? Just the mere existence of these questions is enough to exhaust me and prevent me from ever doing anything about my situation. I walk aimlessly up the river for a very long time.
In Times Square I walk through the flashing neon of eternal advertisements. I pass a bunch of fat men dressed up as Marvel superheroes who smell like beer and their costumes are stained and they are shouting at tourists in Spanish. Kylie Jenner is blown up really big for everyone to see and her big lips fill this massive pixelated screen and there is a homeless man who is looking up at the screen and he is tugging on his dick and then when the picture goes away and a new advertisement appears in its place he stops and then when Kylie comes back he starts back up again. I wonder how long he’s been doing that and if he ever blows his load or if he’s just been standing there edging himself for weeks or months or years. I wonder if maybe he’ll die jacking off. The French call orgasms the little death. I am sad that my trip to France has been ruined by the bulldog Trish.
In the Financial District I pass a sushi restaurant where I went on a date with this guy who worked in finance and talked about Brazilian jiu-jitsu the whole time. He asked me where I live and I told him the Financial District and he called me a bougie bitch and then he said he was just kidding but it didn’t sound like he was and then he kept talking about Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When I got home that night I looked up videos of Brazilian jiu-jitsu on YouTube and it was very repulsive to watch.
A bunch of posters hang from a scaffolding wall. There are posters for Meg Thee Stallion’s Fashion Nova line and her ass looks massive and I wonder if it’s real. There are posters for The Kooples featuring a black and white photo of two androgynous looking people with their mouths slightly open and they look like they’re on drugs and I wonder if they’re real. There are posters for something called The Louvre: An Immersive Experience.
I scan the QR code and it takes me to a landing page filled with slick images of different paintings currently held in The Louvre. From the Mona Lisa to the Seated Scribe, experience one of the most impressive art collections in history like never before through this one-of-a-kind exhibit.
I buy a ticket for $85. And it makes me feel a little better but only a little.
When I get home James tells me that I look awful. I look in the mirror and it is true. My hair is frizzy and my face is beet red and I have sweat stains under my arms and boobs. He offers to rub my shoulders and I let him.
I tell him about buying tickets to The Louvre: An Immersive Experience. He tells me that sounds interesting. He is proud of me for taking proactive steps to stem the tide of depression that will inevitably hit me when it fully sinks in that I am no longer going to France.
I hear the piano. The player always starts with scales and then moves into playing a full piece. I never know what piece it is because I don’t know anything about classical music. I wish I did. I took AP art history in high school and minored in art history in college. Sometimes I wish I had also taken classes about classical music because I think that would’ve made me a more well-rounded person. But I never really talk to anyone about any of that stuff anyway so I guess it’s not that big of a deal that I didn’t take the classes. But if I end up talking to piano guy then maybe classical music will come up in conversation and I won’t be able to talk to him about it and maybe he’ll think we don’t have anything in common. But maybe if I had taken the classes and was able to speak fluently about classical music he would be intimidated by a woman who can speak fluently about both fine art and classical music and he will mistake this intimidation as him feeling icky towards me.
I would ask James what he thinks. But then I would have to tell him about piano guy and I don’t want James to get jealous or else I’ll never hear the end of it.
I see one of my neighbors for the first time. He is a man around my age wearing a short sleeve button down shirt with yellow stripes. I consider asking him whether or not he is the one who plays the piano every night. But as we pass each other I become very nervous.
I close the door behind me and James says that I look like I’ve seen a ghost. I realize that oftentimes James comments on how bad I look. James started off as sort of an inside joke that I had with myself. But he has become more and more real. I don’t really know what him being real means and I’m afraid to think about it too much.
A sharp chirp comes from my computer. My stomach drops. It is a message from someone on my team. I go to answer it and find that my hands are shaking and all the colors and lights in my apartment have become dull.
The sky and water are nickel gray. Misty rain mixes with fog. Boats bob up and down on gentle waves that lap up onto a shore of moss covered rocks. The scene is one I could imagine seeing if I lived in a little town in Maine or something. The city is funny sometimes because within it there are all these teasing little glimmers and glimpses of other worlds you could be in. I remember I am in New York City when a man on a Citi bike flicks his cigarette at me and calls me a cunt.
The Louvre: An Immersive Experience is in a warehouse that sits right on the shore of the Hudson River. There is a line outside of the warehouse. Two young men in wine colored shirts stand at the door and check people’s tickets. One of them smiles at me and scans my phone. “Enjoy the show,” he says and hands me an informational trifold.
“Enjoy the show” is a strange thing to say because it’s not really a show. In fact, it’s not a show at all. I wonder if he knows where he’s working. He has to. Right? Maybe he’s tricked himself into thinking that he’s working at the circus or something the same way I had briefly tricked myself into thinking that I was in Maine. How many people are always somewhere they don’t want to be?
“Thanks,” I say.
The warehouse is clean and carpeted. At one point it was probably filled with fumes and smoke and the screams of child laborers whose hands were being crushed in giant machines. But now it smells like the inside of a Duane Reade and they’re selling tote bags with different paintings printed on them.
These large rectangular posters dangle from the ceiling. Each of the posters has a little blurb about The Louvre.
Everyone is moving very slowly from poster to poster and taking their time reading the blurbs. The facts are basic and surface level, riddled with typos and grammatical errors and after three posters the facts begin to repeat, though they are delivered in different ways to try and trick us into thinking that we are reading a new batch of facts. I wonder if whoever wrote the copy for these posters was given a quota they had to meet and that’s why they had to repeat the facts. I wonder if anyone else has noticed the facts are repeating. But it seems that no one has because everyone is being very serious, nodding and whispering to one another, behaving how I would imagine people would behave at the actual museum.
Soft piano music is playing. Everything feels very stilted and strange and ugly and it’s making me scared. I notice that I am the only one here alone. So now not only am I scared but I am also self-conscious. I think about bringing James into the situation. But then an image flashes through my mind of the guy who is tricking himself into thinking that he is working at the circus physically removing me for acting schizophrenic in The Louvre: An Immersive Experience.
Plus if he sees the inside of the warehouse he will know that he’s not working at the circus and I don’t want to shatter his illusion so I keep mine away.
Computer monitors hang from flimsy looking walls. When I first moved to New York City I lived with two roommates in a two bedroom apartment that the landlord converted into a three bedroom apartment by putting up a temporary wall. One night the wall gave way and showered debris all over my roommate. Her name was Maddie and she spent the next six months going to doctors appointments because she thought the wall dust would cause her to develop mesothelioma. The walls the computer monitors hang from look similar to the one that collapsed on Maddie.
According to the informational trifold I received from the guy pretending he works at the circus each monitor is the exact size and framed in the same style as the original painting it is displaying. I pass Liberty Leading the People, The Wrath of Medusa and The Coronation of Napoleon. I try to connect dates, artists and subjects of the paintings to see if the warehouse has been set up in any sort of cohesive way. That doesn’t seem to be the case.
An old couple stands in front of The Lacemaker. The old people both wear Teva sandals and the sight of their bare feet is making me feel physically ill. The man wears a Panama Jack safari hat. I overhear the woman say, “They all look so real.”
After the sandaled old couple walks off I look very closely at the monitor displaying The Lacemaker. I squint and try to see the painting as the old woman had. One cannot tell, reads the trifold, whether or not they are looking at the real work or a digital copy. But I feel like I can tell. The real paintings probably don’t radiate a faint blue light. But then again I have never been to Paris. Thus I have never been to the Louvre. So I can’t really be sure. I would bet my life that the old woman has been to Paris and seen the real version. Why else would she remark on how real all the computer monitors look? And so maybe this is as good as seeing the real versions of the paintings. Maybe it isn’t. I can’t really say. I feel like I am walking through water and peering at life through seaglass.
A mob has formed around the monitor displaying the Mona Lisa. People jostle for picture taking position as though an announcement has been made that whoever doesn’t take a good picture in the next sixty seconds will be executed.
Why would anyone fight with another person to take a picture of a computer monitor? Maybe they’ve tricked themselves into thinking that the painting is real? If they have, they are stupid. I walk past the mob and wonder if maybe the people in the mob aren’t real. I have seen images and read articles about the infamous line to see the Mona Lisa. Maybe this is an attempt to recreate that line and is part of the exhibition.
I scan the informational trifold to see if there’s any mention of replica tourists. There is none.
Maybe I am the one who is stupid? I can’t be sure whether I am or not and maybe I never will be. This makes me feel like bugs are crawling on my skin.
Two little boys sprint past me followed by a short squat little girl. The children laugh and squeal. Their mother runs after them pushing a stroller. The children turn and try to run past her. She shoots her hand out and grabs the first one by the wrist. The others stop. She gives all three a stern talking to in French. The little girl cries. The two little boys run over to a very European looking man in denim capri pants who stands with his hands on his hips looking at Triumph of the Virtues. The family convenes around the monitor and then continues on, disappearing into the warehouse. I don’t see them ever again.
I walk down a corridor and as I do it grows narrower and narrower. I reach a door and open the door and step through the door into a room where one singular computer monitor hangs from the wall.
Maybe it is the air conditioning or pipes but there is this low humming that makes me feel like The Louvre: An Immersive Experience is about to collapse and I am going to die beneath the rubble. And after that, who knows what will happen?
On the monitor is the simulacra of a painting that at first I do not recognize: A man stands on a large cracked rock, in front of him is a lake of fire and on the opposite shore, a city of white marble. Beyond the city is a dark strange infinity. Unlike the other paintings, there is no title, the artist is not listed, and there is no poorly written blurb.
I stare at the painting for what feels like a very long time. Then I hear a voice say, “Excuse me.” It’s the guy who’s pretending he’s working at the circus. “You’re not allowed back here. It says it on the door. It says employees only on the door.”
I follow him out of the room. When I look back, the monitor is gone. In its place is a vending machine. And when the circus boy closes the door I see that he’s right and that I’m not allowed back there. It does say it on the door. It says employees only on the door.
He leads me back out to the warehouse and gives me a curt smile. “Sorry,” he says. Then he turns on his heels and leaves.
I decide that I too need to leave. So I make my way through the rest of the exhibit and exit through the gift shop.
I feel like I’m operating in the third person. Like I’m high or drunk. I must be something. I don’t know.
I reach a corner and go to cross and a taxi driver slams on his horn and shakes me out of my strange state. I’m on 6th avenue and all of the cars are flying up and down like big chrome bugs.
Arriving home I go to my computer and I sit on it for a while and I stare at the blank screen. I think about maybe talking to James but the thought of it repulses me and makes me dizzy and very sad.
I scour the internet in a somewhat frenzied state trying to find the painting I saw. Trying desperately to know that what I saw was real and true.
Pandemonium by John Milton. But finding it does not satisfy me. Because I don’t know if I really saw it there hanging on the wall and even if I did see it there it wasn’t the real thing anyway.
I hear the sound of the piano. And James tries to stop me but I tell him to fuck off.
The door of the apartment is ajar and the piano seeps through. I push on the door and it opens but the playing does not stop. The apartment is the same coffin studio as mine. But this one is devoid of any life.
Except there is a chair. And on the chair sits a laptop. And on the laptop is a video of a woman playing the piano. And from the computer comes the false sound that I could have sworn was real. And I still endlessly hope that anything is.
— Simon is a writer from New Jersey. He works for money as a copywriter and writes fiction and other stuff when he’s not doing that.