Mistaken Assumption

          Walter wanted to pick Jack up by the scruff of his neck and shake him hard. A deep
reservoir of anger had carried Walter out of Castobelli’s the night before. The show had
gone well—maybe. You never knew until you saw the results, but his client, Jack, riding
high on his moment in the spotlight, had no sense of proportion in regard to that. At last
his time had come, or so Jack imagined. Walter’s experience had taught him, however,
that this was only a start toward building a career, a long, torturous journey.
          Jack thought he had it made and was already talking to other artists’ reps. Walter
had been unnoticed right behind Jack when Jack agreed to have lunch with Maxine
Darylane. Walter had then left the room and had re-entered as if he had observed nothing
at all. Telling Jack he had to take Rabia home because she wasn’t feeling well, Walter
had left--something he would never have done if circumstances had been normal.
          At the end of this showing at Castobelli’s, a month from now, the three parties
would settle up, and Walter would tell Jack off as nicely as possible. Eventually, most
artists moved on, believing that some other rep would have a little more clout, a little
more bargaining savvy than their original representative; and sometimes they got better
service elsewhere, it was true. But to go whoring around before the reviews, if any even
appeared, was a bit too opportunistic. Walter was simply not going to work with Jack
again. He had trouble thinking of himself as giving the bride away to that bastard, either.
Of course he would calm down. Right now it didn’t seem as if he would, but he
          Rabia had been in a funk since last night, poor girl. She had been sick to her
stomach, and surely something else. Who knows what conversation Jack had been having
when she had walked into the room, unseen. She wasn’t saying much about the opening,
although she asked if it had been successful.
          “It was well attended,” Walter said. “But then it’s the only opening this week and
people like to get out of the house at this time of year. New Yorkers tend to get cabin
fever by mid-January.
          “Castobelli is a prime gallery,” he went on, “so there will most likely be reviews.
But who will review it and what they will say are anyone’s guess. That’s due to Jack’s
being an unknown entirely.
          “Critics review because something strikes them, because they haven’t seen
another show in the last couple of weeks, or even because they want to please someone
connected with the show. For instance, a reviewer might owe Castobelli a favor—or want
something from him. And then, of course, even if there are reviews and even if the word
is positive, the real question is whether the public will buy paintings. The only way any
of us makes any money is if the paintings sell, you see.”
          “But a good review will help.”
          “A good review won’t hurt, but a good review won’t sell a painting. What a good
review will do is lend the artist credibility, which means that he might get another show
later on, and another possibility of selling. He builds his name, his reputation. The key
word is `build.’ It doesn’t happen overnight.”
          Several times during this little lesson to his student, Walter had wanted to take a
turn into the concept of trust, and how the artist has to build that also, both with the
gallery that will, if he’s lucky, continue to show and sell his work in the future, and with
his representative. By employing a concerted effort of will, however, Walter refrained
from breaking into a tirade against her fiancee. Denunciations of a friend’s beloved
usually didn’t endear that friend to one. Walter didn’t care to sour his relationship with
          He went into his room, instead, and called Sue. He didn’t have to be polite about
Jack around her.
          Still, once they started discussing the evening before, he lost the energy to be
critical and ugly. What was to be gained? He’d deal with the situation and that would be
that. Sue was writing a review for the journal, and if he told her what he felt, the piece
might take a more ambivalent tone than she had intended. If, indeed, she meant to praise
Jack at all.
          Walter tried to maintain a professional demeanor, setting aside his secret annoyance.
          He had actually forgotten that Sue had gone off with that actor when he and Rabia
had left, but she brought it up.
          “You’re a class act, darling,” he told her sweetly. “You ought to have dozens of
players whisking you away to La Grenouille and such. Where did you go and what did
you have to eat?”
          She told him, but he had ceased to focus on the menu. He was preparing the
address he would deliver to Jack when he severed their arrangement two months hence.
          Walter buzzed Jack in to visit the ailing Rabia, who perked up at the sight of her fiancee.
Jack did have a nice solid air about him, Walter had to admit. He emanated sociability.
Walter watched him make a fuss over the girl. He had brought Rabia a single red rose.
          In a minute, Jack turned to Walter with some enthusiasm. “What did you think?”
          This was the moment Walter had been waiting for because he wasn’t at all certain
how he was going to react. “I think it went very well last night. You drew quite a crowd.”
          Ah, his reply had been genial. That was a relief.
          “I hope they liked the paintings though. I have a dozen ideas for new ones, too.
I’m going to make some notes and get started on one. My sense of things is to take a
whole new tack. Presuming I have a next show, I don’t want it to be a repeat of what I’ve
offered them here. What do you think of that in terms of marketing? Instead of finding a
niche and concentrating on it ad nauseum, I want to explore. Can I build a career
horizontally as well as vertically?”
          Why don’t you ask Maxine Darylane? Walter wanted to say, but he didn’t.
Instead, he thought seriously about the question and whether he should waste his analysis
on Jack. “It depends on the direction you’re planning to take,” he answered finally.
“I’ll have to experiment. I have a sense of where I’d like to go, but I actually
don’t know if my fingers will go there until I pick up my brushes and start working.
Sometimes you want to go one way and habit takes you back to where you’ve always
gone before.” Jack was looking to Walter for some confirmation or negation of this
concept. Nothing is so important to an artist as the serious discussion of
the act of creation itself.
          “At least you have the ideas,” responded Walter, honestly. “You might not
succeed on the first attempt, but without the pattern in your head, you wouldn’t have a
chance in hell.”
          There was something else he would have said had he felt secure with Jack as a
client. He would have told Jack that there was a letdown after the first show, and often a
reluctance to go forward for a while. That there were false starts and failures in the work
at this point, but that an artist such as Jack could and would work through those barriers.
Walter knew this; he had seen it with artists before and expected it. But he didn’t say a
word concerning the issue now.
          “It’s a tough business,” admitted Jack. “I didn’t know I’d react so viscerally to
other people looking at my work and then grilling me on it. I felt pretty exposed. Do you
think we sold anything last night though?”
          “There were a couple of queries,” Walter said. “This isn’t Paris in the 1850s. You
don’t sell everything at the opening of an exhibit. That’s not the type of client we’re
looking for, either, the individual enthusiast. We’re more like to have some later designer
          “I guess I have to keep going to the office,” mused Jack. He turned to Rabia, who
had crept up alongside him, and took her hands. “I’m getting married. I need an income.”
          Walter put his boots on and went into the cold and wind, giving the courting couple their
privacy. He wasn’t sure if the two were sleeping together. Essentially, it was none of his
business. Sex, for some reason, was presumed to be a bad thing for women, so his
parental side vaguely would prefer that they weren’t having any. On the other hand, he
suspected that this prohibition against intercourse for girls was rather archaic. He had
never thought there was anything wrong with sex, really, given American-produced latex
          Cooper Union wasn’t far and he stepped into the public gallery to inspect
whatever exhibit might be up. These were the prizewinning student works from this
year—a motley lot, over-the-top in concept, but underexecuted. Not that he didn’t like
them, personally; they just wouldn’t sell. Still, it was good to know that the market
wasn’t flooded with genius.
          Walter wondered how Yoshi was doing and whether he still took classes at NYU.
Somehow Walter had envisioned the two of them being together for the rest of their
lives--bickering and resentful of one another, but as close as peanut butter and jelly
clinging to a rye crisp raft. That was exactly the type of thing that Jack would love to
paint, come to think if it. He ought to mention the image—but he wouldn’t.
          Walter didn’t want to be mad at Jack, at Yoshi, or at anyone; he really didn’t.
That people merely behaved out of their own understanding of the world around them
was obvious--and if their behavior was different from what Walter’s would have been in
the same situation, so what?
          Considering that he had lost both Yoshi and someone who could eventually have
been a major client, there was nothing for Walter to do but try to surrender to the reality
of those disappointments. Circumstances such as these were why people like Sue put so
much into their spiritual life—to weather the storms and develop something lasting
inside. He, Walter, wasn’t so disciplined, but he would try to be a better, more forgiving
person, not so self-centered. If he could just do that.
          Walter wasn’t out here cruising, but he could hardly help but notice an attractive
boy viewing the artwork. Another 20-something, Walter supposed. He ought not to show
interest in anyone that young, not to mention the chance that the boy was straight.
          “These are wonderful, don’t you think,” the young man said to Walter, the only
other person nearby in the hall.
          “I wish I thought so,” Walter replied, “but I look at too much work to really be
impressed by rudimentary craftsmanship.”
          Rather than being put off, the boy was intrigued by Walter’s expertise. “I’m an
engineering student. I’m easily awestruck by the creative side.”
          Walter wasn’t, but he was bowled over by the young man’s smile. He took out his
business card with the post office box and telephone numbers and gave it to the boy. “I’m
a lot older than you, so I’m jaded,” he commented. There was no use in trying to pretend
to be younger than he was. His age announced itself on his face without contradiction. “If
you want to get together sometime…” Walter added. Standing so close, he was fairly sure
that the young man was gay.
          “I’m Josh,” answered the boy. “I go to NYU, actually. I live in NYU housing on
Third Avenue. Maybe we can have dinner one night.”
          “Dinner is a good start,” Walter agreed. That was a nicely subtle way to indicate
he might be interested in something more. (Or maybe his gentility was simply old-
          On his way home, Walter stopped at Puerto Rico, the shop across from his
apartment, for coffee beans. He was feeling a rush from connecting with a potential
romantic interest.
          Coming into the apartment, Walter sensed that there had been no hanky panky in
his absence. The two lovebirds sat at the round wooden dining table, drawing with
Walter’s Flair pens. Rabia showed Jack Arabic lettering and Jack took the designs and
stepped them up, adding something indefinable. Walter watched Jack’s deft strokes for a
couple of minutes. Jack actually did have some talent. He certainly had more ability than
the Cooper Union artisans.
          “Do you want me to make you a coffee?” Rabia asked Walter.
          “No. None for me, thank you, but you two go ahead.”
          Jack turned. “I forgot to tell you the funniest thing.”
          “This woman gave me her card and asked me if I wanted to have lunch with her. I
thought she was a reviewer from the Village Voice, so I said yes. After she left, I looked
at the name. It was Maxine Darylane. I was like, `oh my God.’ A couple of years ago, I
sent her slides and got a form rejection back. So now that all the heavy lifting is done, she
expresses an interest.” Jack’s tone held more than a hint of bitterness. “I hope they all
drool when they see my show. This show and the next one. I hope she wet her panties last
          Walter’s spirits lifted immeasurably. He had blamed Jack on the basis of what he
had seen, which was a mere misunderstanding. “Maxine has her good points,” Walter
commented judiciously. “But foresight isn’t one of them. Anyway, she doesn’t have good
connections overseas. We’re going to fix you up for a German showing soon, you know.”
          Warm gushy feelings sprang into Walter’s heart and he wanted to make his
suspicion up to Jack in a big way. How badly had he displayed his annoyance? He went
over his earlier behavior moment by moment. Maybe Jack hadn’t noticed anything—or
maybe he had. “You know, Jack, I’m really sorry I left early last night, but I was
concerned about Rabia. Don’t worry, however. I’m going to drop by Castobelli’s later to
talk to him and go over the guestbook. He and I will discuss how things are shaking out.”
          “Great,” answered Jack. “I’m glad you took care of Rabia though. I would have
taken her home myself if you hadn’t.”
          “It was so stupid of me to get sick,” the girl interjected. “It must have been the
excitement. Sue would have taken me home.”
          “Sue went off to dinner with her new boyfriend,” Walter replied absentmindedly.
If he had ever wished he might take a sentence back, that time was now. For a minute he
had actually forgotten Sue’s one-time relationship with Jack. Jack would think Walter
was taking a dig at him.
          “She has a new boyfriend!” Jack exclaimed in surprise.
          “Oh, I don’t know.” Walter now tried to play it down. “”Not a boyfriend, I
wouldn’t say. A dinner date, I meant.”
          “Anyone I know?” asked Jack, still astonished.
          “Jeff something or other—a fairly well-known actor. I don’t remember his name
but I recognized him.”
          “She’s not the easiest person in the world to live with,” mumbled Jack. “Of course
I admire her.”
          “Sue is a wonderful person,” Rabia declared.
          “She’s a diva, a goddess, a defender of the dharma,” Walter added. “And let’s
remember one thing. The man is always wrong. Mark my words, Rabia, when in doubt,
never criticize yourself. Always put the blame on Jack.” He smiled brightly, believing he
hadn’t tainted his relationship with his client. “I’m teaching Rabia to be more Western,
Jack. We don’t want your wife to be a doormat. Besides that, the man always is in the
          Rabia giggled.
          “I know that,” agreed Jack valiantly. “I have a little speech someone gave me to
memorize that will make our marriage heaven itself.”
          “And that is?” asked Walter.
          “Yes, dear. Yes, dear.”
          “Ah, then I will allow you to marry my daughter,” Walter said benevolently.

G. Miki Hayden's more recent achievements include the 2004 publication of New Pacific
(Silver Lake Publishing), and the issuing of the second edition of her book, Writing the
as well as the winning of the 2004 Edgar for the best short crime story-"The
set in Haiti in the 1700s. She also teaches at Writer's Digest Online Workshops
and has frequent pieces in the magazine.

© 2005 Underground Voices