Gilded Possibility

Seated art dealer, Greenwich Village. 1948 by John Steinhardt

He sold paintings on Herald Street but I’d never stopped to look.

But then I did.

His cheap, faux-gilded frames held hills rolled on forever and a storm tangoed across the green grass, slipping between trees as if they were partners in a court dance with a thousand rules of etiquette. A couple stood against pale window light, staring out onto a sallow day. They swayed as they held each other. In the forground a man slept forever in the last suit he’d ever own, his coffin embracing him with absent, lavender-upholstered arms. Flight over boiling oceans, marching soldiers over gray fields, a boy staring straight ahead with grief hint tears. A party with bottled lights and running booze. A bridge that led to nothing. A hare running in a panicked loop around and under briar and over thorn.

“What are these? LED screens?” I asked him.

He tipped his hat-brim back. “Sure.”

I nodded. “They’re beautiful.”

“Thank you.”

“What do they represent?”

He cleared his throat. “Ah, guess you could say they’re each a possibility.”

“So it’s a metaphor. Cool. I don’t see any price tags.”

“Which one do you want?”

I pointed to the hare running forever. “That one.”

“I’ll trade you.”

“For what? I don’t have anything. Just let me give you some cash.”

“How about you give me a possibility?”

“A possibility?”

“Sure. Let me have one of you possibilities. I’ll immortalize it forever.”

I laughed. “Sure. Fine. Go for it.”

“Deal.” He picked up the moving painting with the hare and handed it to me. “That’ll be forty bucks.”

“Thought it cost a possiblity?”

“Not for the paintings, you know. Frame’s kinda expensive. Battery, wiring, gold paint. Craftsmanship costs.” He showed me how the plug and power source worked, proudly unspooling the cord.

“I’ll give you thirty.”

The man shrugged. “Fine.”

I handed over the cash and took the painting home. I ran an extension cord from it to the far outlet behind my couch and it’s been on the wall every since, that hare running and running and running. Sometimes when I can’t sleep and stare at it. What does it feel like to run forever? I tell people that it’s a reminder to keep hustling, to keep moving forward like a shark or some other useless comparison that we humans love. Helluva battery in it. The power went out one day because of a snow storm and the hare kept right on running.

A year later I was walking down Herald Street again and there was the painting man with new frames and new… What had he called them? Possibilies. A chariot race straight out of Ben Hur, dark ocean depths and water moved by some vast shadowshape ever outside the frame, a cage, a meadow, a mountain goat, a sunrise over a broken city.

And me, dancing with a man I’d never seen before in a half-empty bar.

“Hey! That’s me.” I said.

“Possibly.” He shrugged.

I kept walking. I bought too many groceries, like I was trying to buy an anchor instead of food. When I got home I went to the running hare and unplugged it from the outlet. I took up the back with a screwdriver, peeled away the cheap paper and pried off the gilded frame. Nothing. The other end of the power cord was frayed and stapled to the wood. No power source, no battery. The screen was just a piece of glass.

I flipped over the painting itself.

The hare was still running. The hare would run forever.