Cliff

The coach blew his whistle and we were off. Sprinting has always been natural to me. Running is easier when you’re going to or away from something. I’m heaving and cutting through the light breeze when I catch him out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head slightly and we make eye contact. He’s sitting in the bleachers, taking pictures of the track team during practice. I’ve seen him before. He doesn’t say much. He runs the school newspaper so he has a broom closet turned office to himself where he eats his lunch. His glasses are round but not comical and he only wears black or grey marl. By the time I look forward, I’ve crossed the finish line and the rest of my team follows. I pull up my shirt and wipe my face as the coach tells me I if I lean when I turn, I can add a little more speed. I nod and he hands me a bottle of water.

In the locker room, I sidestepped gossiping teammates and gave an occasional grunt or laugh when they tried to include me in the conversation cause it was enough to make it seem like I was interested. Once I got dressed, I got my bag, left the school and caught a bus going to the local museum. There was a week long exhibition installation about Realism. I always found that artistic movement interesting because Realist rejected Romanticism, which had dominated literature and art since the late 18th century. I thought Realist were the ‘tell it like it is’ friends.

The museum was almost empty. I knew the curator because she was the substitute teacher art teacher last year. We talked about a lot of things and she gave me my first glass of wine. She had a French last name and always wore her hair in a messy bun. She kissed on the cheeks when she said hello and hugged a beat longer than most people. She was on the phone when I arrived but she insisted I go ahead.

I was looking at a picture of a Repin painting when I heard his voice.

“It’s his eyes.”

I turned around and looked at him. Up close, he had an earnest face, pleading eyes, and a sharp jaw. I managed a half smile and turned back to the picture.

“We can’t see his mouth but his eyes are fraught with terror. Look at his eyes then look at his son’s. I’d give almost everything to know what he was thinking in that moment.”

He stopped, took a breath and continued.

“I have a theory that the beginning of Florence and the machine’s ‘Queen of peace’ was inspired by this painting.”

“Cliff.” He added softly. I turned around and saw his right hand extended. I looked down at it then back at his face before I took his hand.

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