“Our Perspective,” a short story written by 15-year-old Joy Bergman of Florida, was a finalist in our recently concluded 42nd Short Fiction Contest. It is published with the permission of the author.
painting by Alina Madan
by Joy Bergman
“I don’t know…I still don’t see it.” I grumble to myself, sloping my head down in a perfectly coordinated position with the rest of my body. Slope. Coordinated. It all just makes me think of math. Math. “That’s it,” I tell myself silently, still looking around the empty halls, though no one is there. I sigh. I suppose it may not really be a fact, but everyone knows that statistically minded people, like me, see numbers. But people like her – well, I guess they see what I’m looking at. “No,” I run a hand through my gelled hair. She would see it all differently. What did she say again? I check my phone and then casually hold up what she said it would look like to the picture. “A black parked car with white windows near the dock in a blazing sunlight overlooking the ocean.” I focus on the painting or portrait, or whatever it’s called again.
“Nope. Uh-uh.” It looks like some kind of keyboard being thrown into the ocean – almost repeatedly. But of course, she’d laugh, because it’s obviously not that. After all, she is artistic, and, well me, I don’t really think so at all. I slowly scan the art gallery halls again, as if I’m an undercover spy trying not to look conspicuous. And then, my eye catches the big clock conveniently spaced in the middle of the room. Everything is easy to see in this part of the gallery because it’s all clean, clear, and relaxing. From the evenly spaced windows on opposite walls facing each other that show off the San Francisco Bay, to the overall welcoming marble tile, this room seems like the perfect office space. Which makes me think of work, which makes me think of my meeting tonight, which makes me realize I have to leave. I wish I had more time, since she wanted me to come here and see the picture; however, I just knew from the moment I booked the trip that I wouldn’t have time to come back later. Besides, I think this art gallery closes within the hour anyway. Deciding to take one more look at the painting, I realize…It still looks the same; which means I can’t respond to her text for a while because I still don’t see what she sees, and I want to…I think. Squinting at the creator, I notice the artwork is by a Nasonne Gortanay, and it’s called You. What? No, forget it. No more art. It’s not for me. Suddenly, another text from her comes in. “Do you see it?” My worst fear. “Oh, God, please help me to see this.”
Should I even reply? I lean in a bit closer to the painting and then, with nothing but my breath touching it, something falls down to the ground from the painting. Oh no. What did I do? Footsteps. I turn around again, seeing that it is now six o’ five. “Sir? We’re closing up right now, just to let you know,” a man with a mop says. “Uh, thank you. I’ll just be on my way then.” I’m stressed and exhausted, which simply means that I can’t handle this situation. So I try to walk by him as fast as I can, mainly for speed so he doesn’t think I ruined anything, but also for some kind of unidentified embarrassment I have for being in a place where I feel I don’t belong. “Hey, what is that,” the janitor questions. I turn back, remembering I never even saw what fell to the ground. “It’s-it’s,” he stammers. “Some kind of a journal, I think. It yours?” I walk back over to where I was just standing and notice there’s a small, oddly shaped brown and black journal laying there.
“No, sir, it’s not mine. I think it fell from behind the painting when I was looking at it.” I bend down to his level on the ground, confused. “Sure it did, buddy,” the middle-aged janitor scoffs. And then he practically glares. “You know how tight this crevice is behind that painting?” He gestures to it from up above. “No way could anybody have stashed something there. You must be tellin’ lies. It’s okay. I wouldn’t want anyone to know either if I kept a journal like that with me all the day long,” he laughs on his way out of the room. I just utterly stand there, frozen. The tired-looking janitor turns the lights out and questions. “Sir? Are you coming?” I gulp and nod.
The floor beneath the room I was in was much bigger and had halls going into opposite directions, with art scattered all along the white walls. When we reach the first floor, I gaze at all of the San Francisco themed art and perspective sculptures with visible expression of the beach that I didn’t notice before when I walked in. At least I can understand what those artistic creations are supposed to be, I think to myself. On my way out, a huge vase captivates my stare. That’s quite interesting, I think. “I’ll just let you out here,” the janitor says, rambling through keys while walking to a door that leads out into the streets. “Good thing you didn’t leave much work for me to do tonight,” he jokes. I don’t really know what to say. I look down at the little journal in my hands and suddenly flip through it, wondering why this idea didn’t cross my mind in the first place. “See? This isn’t mine. I don’t write like this. Please, just let me leave this here and the rightful owner might come back for it.”
I had to say it. I don’t take things that don’t belong to me. The janitor takes a step back and scans me. “Your pocket. You have one of those flyers that the visitors sign for our annual contest.” I pull the tiny flyer out and hold the journal up so he can compare my writing with the journal’s. “Hmmm. Exactly what I thought. They’re identical!” I then look at both of them and I don’t see what he means. “They’re similar, but they’re not”… Lifting my head up in hopes of proving my point, it’s obvious that the man didn’t care to talk to me anymore as he has disappeared somewhere. “Unbelievable,” I mutter. My phone rings and it’s my business partner, Mark. “Hey, Mark.” I walk out the door, wandering to find my rental car in the parking lot. “Crispin! Is your meeting soon? You’re going to that nice restaurant, right?” Mark asks. “Yeah. And then I have the convention the next two days. But I just don’t know what to expect with the guy I’m meeting tonight.” I get in my car and drive off towards my hotel. “No worries,” Mark says. “As long as you have that restaurant’s famous garlic rolls in front of you, I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Fine. If I only could be. By the time I hang up, I reach my hotel and check in while taking in all of the intriguing interior design. She sees all the artistry behind everything. Even in places where you can’t find anything creative. She’ll just assure you that it’s all there. Possibly hidden to most people, but it’s there. I never responded. What will she think?
My room had that “comfortable” look, and even though it didn’t exactly have what others would say was a great view, everything in the room was assured in perfect color. Nothing too outlandish, but nothing too impossibly simple. In essence, I’d say it was just perfect. 8 p.m. I adjust my suit coat a bit, which really looks more like I’m flapping it, and then with a deep breath, I walk into the high class restaurant, confident that my hair is still gelled professionally and my cologne isn’t too strong. After assuring my reservation, I scan the restaurant for the guy I am supposed to see. “Mr. Zeal, you’re table is this way,” the hostess smiles. And sure enough, the almost-elderly looking businessman I’m here to meet is seated at a large table situated with an incredible view of the bridge and all the dusk surrounding the night air. I pleasantly shake his hand. “Mr. Haidar Hinns, sir?” He nods. “Ah, Mr. Zeal. Please. Be seated,” he gestures across from him. It’s quite tempting to laugh as I notice all the appetizers, which mainly consists of garlic rolls spread along the table. Mr. Hinns smiles and dips his roll into some fancy sauce. “Let’s not waste time, shall we?” “No, sir,” I agree. “Mr. Zeal, I’m not necessarily here for the convention or for your company. But really, if I’m frank, I’m here for you.”
“Go on,” I say. “Well,” he continues. “I was considering your business approach, and while I was looking at your work, I was, well, disappointed, per se.” Disappointed? My confused expression says it all. “Oh, no. Not at your work, it’s great, but I just think you follow the guidelines for everything too seriously…Am I wrong?” “Well, sir, with all due respect, rules are rules, and I always believe in following them,” I persist. “Yes, yes, but you just don’t show that creativity,” Hinns goes on. “You seem like a person who might know something about experimenting and trying new things, so when I saw how you didn’t, it was just all too bland.” No. This is not what I need right now. “Whenever I have tried to step outside of the box, sir, it just never went well. I don’t see it. I go overboard, apparently, and it’s not the way it should be.” I can’t even believe what I said when I said it. Mr. Hinns laughs loudly. “No one knows what anything should be until it happens. Don’t play other people’s games. So what? You don’t see what other people want you to see. But at the end of the day, if there’s nothing wrong with what you do see, then why not see it? Perspective, my boy. It’s what can separate you from the rest.” He leans in close. “And I think you have that gift.”
The rest of the night I made sure we talked only of business, and nothing else. What he said earlier though, was something no one had ever said to me before. I’m not sure what I should do. When I reach my hotel room at the end of the night, I lie on my bed feeling as if I had an art lecture of some kind. Sitting up, I see the journal still lying innocently near a fluffy pillow. I had forgotten to leave it at the desk at the gallery. However, I figure if I could find some identification as to whose it is, it would help me. There are initials that say N.G. on them and I don’t understand. And then something in black letters beneath it says “Read.” Not sure if it’s a mistake or not, I look at the first battered page that show’s a more dated look inside then it first did on the outside.
Dated: May 21st, 1954.
Bart told me to paint the jazz band playing, so I did. He said it was good, but he made it clear that I had a talent to paint other things, and told me I should. I warned him it was a mistake though, considering I never tend to paint things that are not jazz related. So I told him that I didn’t care what other people thought of my jazz paintings. But my other ones, I thought – were different. Too different to actually do. He didn’t care. All he did was ask me why I cared about what people would think of the other ones but not what people think of my jazz ones? That was his question. But what should be my answer?
1954? Whose is this? And how come I feel as if they just described my life in theirs? Jazz paintings… what kind of jazz paintings? I continue my search in the journal, page after page hoping to see some kind of trace as to who this person is, or was. I don’t see any sketches or any kind of mark as to a jazz painting. But I do find something that I guess describes it.
Dated: June 10th, 1955
I grew up with my father playing sax and occasionally trumpet. One day while I happened to be jumping around outside when I was ten, my father told me to get his new camera and take a picture of him playing. Truth be told, my brother and I broke his camera when we were messing with it not too long before, and my father told me to do something, “at least draw or paint” him. I decided to ask my mother if we had any paints since I thought with a drawing the colors wouldn’t be as vibrant, and he was already losing patience. To my surprise, I found some paints from a science fair the year before in a closet in the back of the house and I painted him instead, which, to he and my mother’s delight, was great. As time went by, I attempted to invent my own colors by splattering different ones together whenever my father rehearsed. He said if I couldn’t be a musician like him, then art was good too. Which is what I’ve done, and have been doing.
I know that I have had enough, so I close the journal. With a deep sigh and reluctant step, I walk over and stretch my arms out against the doorway leading out to my hotel room porch. It’s finally pitch black outside, but the beautiful pool below still lights up in a translucent blue. N.G. N.G. N.G. Who is that? I told myself I wouldn’t look at it again, but I just have to know, – unfortunately. My interest is sparked now. What did this person paint other than jazz? I didn’t even know what was happening until I was sitting back in a peaceful green armchair that I was already flipping through it again.
Dated: Thanksgiving, 1955
Tami tells me I should be thankful for everything. But my painting tells me otherwise. I sold my first one to Mediss, the collector, for a good price, I must say. I stopped into the Gallery where it was hung last Thursday after Mediss sold it to the Gallery; it was quite bothering. An art critic and an art teacher were all gathered around my painting with a bunch of commoners, saying that it looked like a black Chevy parked on the beach, and all the media thought the same. I left disturbed and violated because it wasn’t that at all. This was why I should not have listened to Bart. After all, he’s the one who told me to paint things other than jazz, which I did. Okay, well maybe it wasn’t completely un-jazz related. The image I was trying to get across was my cousin’s black key board being plunged into the ocean. I was tired of music and all the nonsense of the people who ran those industries. So, I took my stress out on what I do best, which is art. And this was exactly what I was afraid of: people misunderstanding my other paintings and what they are supposed to be. I called that painting “You.” Possibly someday, some smart soul will understand what it is and that the title is used for it to get attention about my perspective, and that would be fantastic. My final painting with a cross between art and jazz is almost finished. It’s going to be called “No more Metonymy.” Once it’s done, I want the world to see it.
I was right! It was a keyboard! The professionals were…wrong. That painting earlier – was by a Nasonne Gortanay. This must be his private journal! Suddenly all of my questions loom their way into panic. How could this have been stashed behind the painting? Forget the first hour of the convention tomorrow…It’s not mandatory I go that early anyway. I should just make a stop elsewhere before. Maybe, perhaps, the art gallery?
8:07 am. The sky still has a sense of dawn among the quilted clouds that portray the fog of the early morning hours. After taking that in, I walk into the bathroom and religiously tie my tie tight around my neck, so it won’t come undone during the convention. But as I’m doing it, I feel almost as if it’s for another reason. Like it is all of the building tension choking me. Why am I so nervous? I’m just going to ask some questions at the gallery, that’s all. Then again, I don’t think many people find a legendary artist’s personal journal in their lifetime, which is probably why I’m so restless.
Dated: May 22, 1956
It’s impossible. But Bart was right. I do believe I have a talent. It was two years ago yesterday that he first told me that. I know the art critics didn’t understand my new artwork, which was what I had feared all along, but I now know this is the only way I would ever want it. I’m not one for probability, but God knows that there’s a fewer number who actually are different. And when they’re the ones who fix the world, you’ll know. The stars will align differently in the heavens, I’m sure. Because different doesn’t mean you look at everyone else as being right and you being wrong or fallible, but rather being different means you see the world in a way other’s can’t. Now I call that a gift! And the Good Book is true! “A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” So maybe I won’t always come across the way others want me to, but at least I’m using my gift, even if it took me two years to realize it.
That rounds up to be the fifth time I’ve read that paragraph since last night. Maybe I can paint, maybe I am artistic. Maybe Janice will still love me even if I don’t see her perspective on art. All this time I thought I had it wrong, but really, I had it all right. Nasonne Gortanay went through what I am going through, and it all worked out for him, after his epiphany of a moment. However, despite all of the greatness he had spoken of, something still doesn’t add up, and it’s not just my business analytics papers. I searched the internet late last night looking for his No more Metonymy painting, of which various reporters said he destroyed years back. Some people believe that, and others don’t. But here’s the thing: those people don’t have his journal, and I do. Nasonne only spoke good about that painting from what I saw, and I searched all over that journal. Why would he destroy it? One thing’s for certain, I need to get to the art gallery as fast as I can.
After parking my olive green rental and stashing convention papers in a convenient pile in my briefcase, I start inside the gallery. The door was open, even though it’s a bit early. All is silent when I enter, so I decide to keep that same tempo. But then, as I near the stairs to go and see the painting on the fifth floor, voices come out from inside an office. I don’t recognize anything until I near the room and peer inside. “You still don’t know where the painting is? The last place it was seen was here, Howie! And you, being able to pry through it all – still haven’t found it! It doesn’t make sense if he simply ‘destroyed’ it!” “I’m sorry, Bill.” It’s the janitor speaking now. “I promise I’m getting closer! I was only hired a week ago, you know. Besides, that Gortanay guy was smart… I don’t know where he could have hidden it. And I didn’t know until late last night researching that he had a journal! I let some stupid guy take it!” I couldn’t see the Bill man, but I knew his eyes must be on fire with rage. “I don’t care!” he shouts. “Just find it! I’ll be back tomorrow morning! The Pretto’s gang wants it by tomorrow night! And I want my/-our money!”
I run back around the corner to the registration desk and duck beneath it, hoping I won’t be seen when the two men come out. And I wasn’t. Making a dash for the exit as soon as the woman who works at the front desk comes in, I scramble to my car and leave for the convention. Back at my hotel hours later, I realize just how bored I was at the convention compared to the excitement this morning. I am now positive that Howie, the janitor, is illegally selling famous paintings along with some sort of gang, and his buddy, Bill. That just disgusts me. Nasonne was such a man of honor and just to think of how disappointed he’d be to see this…that’s it. I’m going back. Tonight. And I’ll look for the No More Metonymy painting, because that has to be the right one! 6:42 p.m. Near closing time. I told Janice to call the front desk over and over, in an effort to annoy the janitor when everyone else has left. I check my watch right as she starts calling. Perfect. I hope this weird plan of mine actually works. Taking one more look at the artist’s wording, it adds up. He said he wants “the world to see” it. Of which he says again, elsewhere.
Dated: April 10th, 1963
It’s back in that San Fran gallery still and I think it will always be. Rumors are when I’m not painting, I’m writing in my journal, which is why no one must ever know where I keep this. The painting I have hid is fragile, elegant, and for the world to see. Although I believe this is the greatest challenge of perspective yet – if someone could only realize that.
I can hear Howie getting upset and hanging up, but Janice keeps calling. I won’t have much time before he calls the cops. Luckily, Howie had some sticky notes with numbers – prices of paintings he’s selling illegally, I’m sure, which I noticed this morning on his desk. Smiling to myself, I wonder how he will ever be able to explain those. On my search, I pass painting after painting, portrait after portrait, wall after wall. Because of my speed, I nearly trip over some glass support structure. “That was close,” I say. “Why does everything have to be so fragile?” Fragile. It occurs to me. Something fragile, like Nasonne said… I search everything that looks like it could easily break, and nothing turns up. Disappointed, I walk down to the first floor, and plop myself angrily into a chair.
Nonchalantly looking around, there is that vase I noticed yesterday. “1962 World’s Fair, Seattle,” the painted words on the structure reads. It couldn’t be it. Nasonne wanted the world to see his work, not the…World’s Fair. Is that what he meant? It’s Louis Armstrong, the famous jazz musician, painted on the elegant sculpture! In the background, it shows what looks to be a map of the entire world in honor of the fair. So, it’s not completely jazz, but not completely distant from that, either. This must be it! I use all my force to carefully lift up the vase and see all around it. The bottom of it says “China Fragile.” Nothing looks like it could point to him being the artist behind this. I look ever so closely, and the “n” in China and the “g” in fragile appear to be scratched underneath, like a permanent underline. Wait. Why would anyone do that? It couldn’t be…N.G? I have found the lost painting… I leave and head back to my hotel, victorious. When I get out of my car, I stare at the stars in delight and I see he was right again. They do align differently now.
Crispin Zeal’s journal; First entry:
The drive back to the hotel was redeeming that night, but nothing was better when I reached police headquarters the next morning. For some tired looking cops surrounded by donuts, I think my story really woke them up more than their coffee ever could. The police were able to easily gather information from Howie, arrest him, Bill, and that gang they were working with, all while continuing to vigorously thank me. Nothing was better when I saw Janice after I returned home from the trip last year. “I always knew that painting would change your life,” she always says. “Well, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have seen it, would I?” I tell her now. I take frequent trips with her back to San Francisco and study art. It’s wonderful. Also, the media just recently published the whole story, and the gallery is giving the No More Metonymy vase painting its own display.
Throughout the years, the art gallery has said they just kept the vase around, never thinking it was really that special, let alone painted by a world famous artist! They thank me all the time, still unable to believe any of it. Nasonne’s daughter Melanie, the only living member left in his family, insisted I keep his journal, claiming that I’m the one who was meant to find it anyway. Never said I believed in “Meant to be’s” but I do, which I guess is why and how I found the journal. And, just about an hour ago, I made a decision to only work part time in hopes of being able to study art more. To top it off, I finished my first real painting, which consists of me staring at Nasonne’s painting on the fifth floor that day when it all began. Instead of “You” though, I call it “Us.” Because it stands for all of us, all the people who are different, and not afraid to be either.
About Joy Bergman
Since the age of five, Joy Bergman has been crafting unique stories for different audiences in her home state of Florida. When she was eight-years-old, she was one of three winners in a local magazine for a Mother’s Day story writing contest. At the age of 12, Joy won a writing contest about her sixth-grade teacher, in another area publication. Earlier this year, Joy was a featured writer with her short story “When you take a Drive” by the online website Teen Ink. More recently, at the age of 15, Joy is happy to have been chosen as a finalist in the 42nd Jerry Jazz Musician Short Fiction Contest with her short story “Our Perspective.” Presently, she is starting a high school newspaper where she will be editor-in-chief.