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Volume 13, Issue 3: Pictura

Ten People Who Love You

Joshua Gibbs

Oh, the chest swelled up. The breathing quickened. Involuntary explosions of red popped around in the eyes. And then the grin, as though they were putting on the blindfold. Lighting the cigarette. Fire.

Martin raised his hand and looked forward. There was the temptation to look back, like peeking when someone says, "Close your eyes, I have something to
give you."
"Thirty- two five from the gentlemen in front. Do I hear `thirty five thousand'?"
Martin studied the eyes of the auctioneer, who was now scanning the back of the crowd for some type of sign. Martin stared as though the observation of his face alone offered everlasting life and a new car. A drop of sweat splashed on the lense of Martin's glasses, and he said to himself he would not wipe it off until something was decided on this matter.
"Going once."
Martin grabbed the bottom of his seat, the same way most people do shortly before oxygen masks fall from the compartment above your head.
"This really is a lovely specimen of the Romantic Period, ladies and gentlemen."
Martin's eyes grew so large he could just make out the bottom of his eyebrows which were drenched.
"Going twice."
There was the feeling of his dress shirt sticking to his chest, on account of his heart beating so hard.
"Thirty-five thousand from the back."
Martin vomited out, "Oh thank you, Jesus. Thank you, so much," and sat upright. His fingers loosened from around his seat, and his whole body felt slightly limp.
"Do I hear `Thirty-seven five'?"
Martin quickly raised his hand, and resumed a slumped-over position.
"Thirty seven five from the man in the front. Do I hear forty from the back?"
Martin smiled.
"Forty thousand dollars is bid. Do I hear `forty-two five'?"
He quickened his breathing and shook his head, then laughed a little more.
"Going once."
Martin took a deep breath
"Going twice."
He raised his hand.
"Forty-two five from the man in front. Does the back care to respond?"
"Of course they do," said Martin under his breath.
"No, the back does not want to respond," said the auctioneer.
"What?" said Martin looking up.
"Going once. Going twice. Sold for Forty-two thousand five hundred dollars to the gentleman in the front row."
Martin got up from his seat and began heading for the back of the room. He pushed open both of the doors at the posterior of the room and stood outside in a small lobby like area. He bent over, grabbing his knees, and breathing heavily.
"Are you okay? You looked very terrified in there."
"Yes, I was. I don't have forty-two thousand dollars," said Martin, as though he was watching his lunch get eaten, "At least not to spend on that
retarded painting."
The woman nodded, and played with her hair.
"Why don't you walk over to the little café across the street with me. I'll buy you whatever you want to eat, if you'll talk to me for a few minutes."
"They do know where I live. I am going to have to think through a little escape and good excuse. This has never happened before."
"What if I told you I could take care of the whole thing."
"What's your Christian name?"
"Sylvia."
"I think I could believe someone named Sylvia could solve a situation like this. The café?"
Martin stared at the auction house across the street after he ordered his coffee. Sylvia—hard liquor.
"You ordered coffee. I said I would pay for whatever you want. Do you not believe me?"
"No, I just really, really like coffee."
"I see."
"Yes," said Martin, glaring, giving her a look as though he were the royal food taster. "What do you want to talk about?"
"You don't have forty thousand dollars. Correct?"
"Correct."
"Then what were you bidding on that painting for?"
"I do this all over the place, all the time. I always bid on things I can't afford. Gives me quite a rush."
"Why?"
"Because if you can't pay for it, then they beat you up."
Sylvia laughed and slapped the table. Water spilled out of the glasses that had been preset and soaked into the napkins. Then she slapped the table again.
"What?" asked Martin "What's so funny?"
"They don't beat you up," she said, gasping.
"Yes they do."
"Whatever gave you that idea?"
Martin's mouth dropped open slightly and folded his hands. He glanced around.
"I don't know."
Sylvia laughed, and Martin sipped the coffee that had just been brought to the table.
"Stop laughing."
"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard."
"All right. Cut it out, chief. What do they do to you?"
"Nothing. They just ask you to not come back."
"Is that all!" said Martin, coiling up like a snake.
"That's all."
"How much money do you have anyway?"
"Zero."
"Do you do this often?"
"Well I used to. I guess the thrill is gone. Look, who are you anyway?"
"Sylvia," said Sylvia, with a tone like a confused slap.
"What do you do, Sylvia?"
"I buy and sell."
Martin nodded his head.
"Very nice. That's sounds like a very cool thing to do. I bet you enjoy telling people that."
"I do, actually," she said.
"But what do you do? We all have jobs," asked Martin.
Sylvia reached into her purse and pulled out a small cigarette case. She opened it up, and inside was some tissue paper. She unfolded some of the tissue paper and slid the box across the small table, and Martin looked inside. He pulled out the contents. A cigarette butt.
"What is this?" he asked smiling.
"That," and then the pause, "is a cigarette butt. The cigarette that used to be attached to it was consumed by Pablo Picasso."
"Where did you get it?"
"An auction in Madrid twelve years ago. I outbid someone for it. It cost me twelve thousand dollars."
Martin set it back in the box and slid it back across the table.
"For crying out loud. I had this much respect for you," and he held up an inch distance between his index finger and his thumb, "sixty seconds ago. But it's about like this now," and he brought his thumb and index finger together and squeezed tightly.
"To me, twelve thousand is the proverbial drop in the proverbial bucket. There is more where that came from. But I bought it as a sort of talisman for what I wanted to do with my life."
"Which is?"
"Let me explain first. I outbid someone for this cigarette butt. The other guy was willing to put eleven thousand five hundred dollars for it. I talked to him about it later. He loved Picasso. Worshiped the man. It was honestly worth that much to him. Not as a collectors item or to complete some set. He
worshipped the painter that much."
"I don't get it."
"Have you ever seen a Picasso?"
"Sure."
"Most of them are lousy. And the ones that are good are only a little good. They aren't great. But some people believe in him. It doesn't matter that it's lousy. You go to the national gallery of art—there are sheets of paper with crosses glued on them that someone splattered paint over, and people gawk at it all day. Like it was really good. So I developed this theory around it."
"People are stupid?"
"It's more like `people are strange.' I would bet my life that no matter what you do—sing a song, think something up about people, paint a picture, write a story, make a movie, whatever—there will be at least ten people in the world that will think it is brilliant. No matter what it is. I mean like, pack up all your stuff and sell it so they can follow you brilliant."
Martin finished his coffee, and reached over and took a sip of Sylvia's gin.
"That's quite the theory you've got there."
Sylvia pushed herself back in her chair. She crossed her arms and muttered something.
"What?" asked Martin.
"Nothing."
"So what is it that you do?"
"Well, that's the theory. I go around the world and tell people about it."
"And?" asked Martin, smiling.
"See if I can find my ten fans."
Martin looked up at the ceiling, and spread his arms out. He returned to Sylvia's gaze smiling wide.
"That's what this was?" he asked "You wanted to see if I was one of your fans?"
"I was almost positive you were. I had this odd feeling you were. Are you sure you don't think I'm brilliant?"
"Pretty sure," said Martin.
Sylvia shook her head, and mumbled to herself as though she were trying to figure out some complex math problem.
"I think you just made my day," said Martin.
"I think you just ruined mine," said Sylvia.
"Sorry. You know it's not bad, but it fails to inspire as much awe as you're looking for."
She tapped her finger on the cigarette case.
"What was your name?"
"Martin."
"I think I could despise someone named Martin," said Sylvia, looking at the floor.
"Thanks for the coffee," said Martin as he got up from the table, debt free.
As Martin was walking out the door of the café Sylvia called to him from the table, "You know I'm not going to take care of that painting for you." To which Martin stopped, laughed and resumed walking.

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