Ten Years Ago They Were All So Young
She first came on the scene at the Presentation -- five foot one,
angel-faced, with chocolates for everyone. Individually wrapped in
cellophane, the chocolates were like craggy planets or futuristic golf
balls. Some had them out of the packaging and into their mouths
before she opened hers; free food was a rarity. A few sunk a tooth in
to see if there was something (or nothing) inside. Others were more
circumspect, holding it up for a closer look -- was it chocolate or art?
"What you hold in your hand is a representation in chocolate of a
virus that threatens human lives. This virus is invisible to us, and
scary. And maybe it's scary partly because it's invisible." She went
on to tell them what the virus did, how many people had it now, and
how many people might have it in a difficult-to-imagine future.
People collected such projections: in 2015, one in 100 will be
homeless; in 2040 fresh water will be more precious than oil; in 2050
we will have to abandon our coastal dwellings.
She said she had grown to love the shape of it; she could see it behind her eyelids. She did not say she was sick. In fact, she looked radiant. Everyone thought about her face, which might bloat or pock or jaundice with the disease or its medicine.
The immediate eaters now looked a little chagrined by their gluttony.
Or was that queasiness at having unwittingly popped back a virus? A
few acquired the sullen look of one tricked.
She resurfaced a year later at the Museum's annual artists-under-thirty exhibit, and everyone was there to break their hearts on who was or was not on the walls or the floor or hanging from the ceiling. She was none of those things. They found her on the great lawn, which sloped steeply from the museum's back terrace. She had her viruses with her again, only this time she was standing next to them and they rose several feet above her. An aluminum structure was covered by an inflated outer layer, dimpled and ridged just like the virus. It was a giant, bumpy beach ball that you could climb inside. The free-swinging seat kept the passenger upright, even as the ball rolled down the hill.
The visual was lost on no one: shunting downhill, gathering speed, engulfed by the virus. Still, there was a line behind the beaming artist. She helped them inside the next virus and gave them a slight nudge. And for ten seconds, they had the time of their lives.
1996 © 2011