by Joseph Devon
The realtor clutched her portfolio against her chest as she watched Mr. and Mrs. Gendarme examine the living room.
Mr. Gendarme was an older man, his body short and squat. His face seemed constantly angered as his bushy eyebrows followed his gaze all around the room. His dark suit was too tight on him and his mouth was constantly open and breathing as if his clothes were attempting to squeeze the air out of his body.
His wife was the opposite of him in every way, except for the squat nature of her body. Her flowing clothes screamed with colors and her makeup attempted to plaster happiness all over her face. She followed after Mr. Gendarme like an overdressed clown attempting to paint away the stream of grumpiness he left behind.
Mr. Gendarme stepped over to the windows of the living room. His wife followed. He glared outside, then glared at the glass, his mouth breathing audibly in the quiet room.
Mr. Gendarme grunted.
“Look at the view!” Mrs. Gendarme exclaimed.
“Those are birch trees,” the realtor said. “They provide excellent shade in the summer. That can lower your air conditioning bill significantly.”
“Did you hear that?” Mrs. Gendarme cheered.
Mr. Gendarme responded by grunting at the window again, as if air conditioning was the very thing that was to blame for whatever it was he was grunting at.
The duo moved away from the windows.
The realtor smiled brightly as she watched them walk towards the white sheet draped over the object in the center of the room. The rest of the house was as clean and bright as the realtor could manage with the owner still residing there, but the object under the sheet looked oddly out of place in the center of the living room.
Mr. Gendarme pointed at the sheet. “What is that?” he yelled. His eyebrows veered to stare at the realtor. “What is that?” he repeated, louder but with no change in inflection, his finger still hanging in the air, pointing accusingly at whatever was under the sheet.
The realtor smiled brightly. “Well that’s a…it’s an installation.”
Mr. Gendarme returned his forested eyes to the sheet. “It’s a toilet?” he yelled.
“Oh,” Mrs. Gendarme said. “I don’t think I like that very much.”
“No no no,” the realtor said. “It’s not a toilet. It’s just…it’s like a conversation piece.” She smiled, trying to sell this concept. “The owner is one of those artist types, and you know how they are.” She looked over at Mrs. Gendarme favorably, trying to forge a common ground with the other woman.
Mrs. Gendarme’s face did not suggest that she, in fact, had any idea what an “artist type” was like. Indeed, the very notion that she might know what an artist was appeared to be some sort of accusation against her character, and she to withdrew closer to Mr. Gendarme.
“It’s a sheet,” Mr. Gendarme yelled, as he stared at the thing in the center of the room. “It’s in the way.”
“Well,” the realtor said, craning her neck forward delicately and clutching her portfolio tighter against her chest, “The thing is…it kind of has to stay there.”
Mr. Gendarme’s glare was so consuming as he stared at the sheet in front of him, that for the first time in the realtor’s memory he closed his mouth. “What?” he finally blurted out.
The realtor decided to change tactics. She walked over and slid the sheet off of the object as crisply as she could. As the sheet fell away it revealed a large marble pedestal.
“It’s a pedestal,” Mr. Gendarme said. His face looked at the pedestal, then at the realtor, then at the pedestal.
Mrs. Gendarme brought her hand up to her chest and let it rest there politely as she stood perfectly still, struck dumb, except for her eyelids which blinked over and over again.
“We can’t move it?” Mr. Gendarme asked.
“No, that’s one of the conditions of the rental,” the realtor answered.
“But there’s nothing on it,” Mr. Gendarme said loudly, his hand gesturing towards the empty, flat marble surface in front of him.
The realtor smiled and nodded and felt herself at a loss for words.
Mr. Gendarme swatted the air near the pedestal in disgust, as if to banish the idea of the entire thing into nothingness.
The realtor was staring out the window at the birch trees when she heard Christopher come through the door. She started, unaware that she had drifted off into thought and that so much time had passed.
“Mr. Banes,” she called out. “I’m sorry I thought I would be out of your way by now. I was…” she paused trying to come up with something smart sounding that she might have been doing other than staring out a window. “I was wondering if maybe this room would look larger with the couch over against that wall?”
Christopher walked into the living room slowly. He had a stack of mail in his hands and he was glancing over each envelope in turn. He made it through the entire stack and reached the first envelop again and only then did he lift his face. He looked at the realtor as if he was just now realizing that someone else was in his home with him. He smiled at her. “How did it go today?” he asked.
The realtor dropped all pretenses of moving the couches around as Christopher’s calm attitude allowed her to relax.
“It went quite well, actually. The location makes this an easy listing.”
Christopher nodded. Then he paused and looked at the pedestal in the middle of the room. His face went from calm to serene as he glanced over it. He took note of the sheet folded beside it on the floor.
He turned and walked over to the windows next to the realtor, then turned and leaned back against them and looked back at the pedestal.
The realtor felt like this was a good opportunity to speak up. “Though I do have to say,” she began, “it is a little strange having that thing standing there in the middle of this nice open living room. I think some of the potential renters have been quite put off by it.”
Christopher’s eyebrows raised. “Put off by it?” He stepped off from the windows and took a slow lap around the pedestal. “I don’t see how they could be put off by it.”
“Well it’s just that there’s nothing on it,” the realtor said, her voice almost begging.
“There isn’t?” Christopher answered, innocently.
“I just think that if you were to allow me, or the renters, to move it then it wouldn’t–”
“No,” Christopher said, his voice and face showing emotion for the first time since he had come through the door. “It needs to stay here. While I’m traveling, I need to know that this pedestal is here.”
The realtor didn’t argue, Christopher’s voice had made it clear that arguing would accomplish nothing. Instead she waited for a few seconds as the energy left the room before gathering her portfolio together. “Okay,” she said finally, “I have another couple coming in tomorrow.”
“I’m sure you’ll do just fine with them,” Christopher said. Then he went back to looking down at his mail and walked slowly towards the kitchen.
The Jorgensens were both tall and unmistakably Nordic, with straw colored blond hair and fair skin. Mrs. Jorgensen was pregnant and Mr. Jorgenson fussed over her constantly as they moved from room to room. His hovering was suggestive of a nature documentary where a nesting female is constantly brought colored bits of string and other useless displays of affection by a male bird. Mrs. Jorgenson, in turn, bore her baby like an additional purse, her willowy posture hardly affected by the extra life she was carrying around.
“Those are birches,” the realtor found herself saying, yet again. “Their shade will do wonders in the coming summer months to keep this room cool and lower your air conditioning costs.”
“But you do have air conditioning?” Mr. Jorgenson asked, suddenly eying his wife as if a lack of air conditioning might cause her to suddenly explode into flames.
“Yes it’s…” the realtor said awkwardly, not wanting to be insulting by pointing directly at the window air conditioning unit that Mr. Jorgenson was standing in front of.
Mr. Jorgenson turned to see the unit and gave it a cursory examination, establishing that it was, in fact, an air conditioner. “They have window units,” he said, turning to his wife and offering her this fact like a colored stone.
Mrs. Jorgenson nodded, her face politely smiling at her husband, but the realtor was certain that she had spotted and taken note of the air conditioner as soon as they had walked into the living room. Mrs. Jorgenson began to walk away from the window and the realtor clutched her portfolio closer to her chest as Mrs. Jorgenson spotted, then began to warily circle, the pedestal; the realtor had given up covering over it with a sheet.
“Someone forgot to put this away?” Mrs. Jorgenson said, half-asking, half-ordering a fleet of unseen movers to remove it to a closet somewhere.
“Actually,” the realtor said, “it can’t be moved. It’s one of the stipulations of the rental agreement.”
“It can’t be moved?” Mrs. Jorgenson asked.
Mr. Jorgenson inserted himself into the scene. “You shouldn’t be moving anything that heavy,” he said, taking charge of his wife’s safety.
“No, it must remain exactly where it is,” the realtor said, her confidence fading.
“But it isn’t even…” Mrs. Jorgenson started, looking around the room. “It’s situated horribly. It’s in the way and I can’t even imagine the vase of flowers that could make this ugly thing practical.”
The realtor froze, smile on her face and portfolio clutched to her chest, and wished they were still discussing the birch trees.
Christopher came through the door and walked into the living room. The realtor, at this point aware that Christopher did not mind her staying after a showing to fill him in on how it went, barely reacted as she stared out the living room window.
“How did it go today?” Christopher asked, walking through the living room and giving the pedestal standing there an affectionate pat.
The realtor turned away from the window and thought over her response. She watched Christopher sort through his mail. “Well, again, the massive pedestal that currently dominates your living room may have been a deterrent to the couple I showed the house to today.”
Christopher separated out a catalogue from some bills and nodded, still looking down.
“I have to ask again,” the realtor said, “is it possible that we could maybe move the pedestal?”
Christopher looked at the realtor. It was startling how serious his face became whenever talk of moving the pedestal came up. “I get the feeling you think that I want this thing here on a whim?” he said.
“It’s just…” the realtor struggled, her assertions from just moments before unstrung by Christopher’s face. “Well there’s nothing on it!” she finally exclaimed.
Christopher smiled, a soft little smile of relent, and he gestured with a catalogue for the realtor to follow him.
“Do you understand exactly what it is a pedestal does?” he said over his shoulder as he walked through the kitchen and into the garage, which had been converted into Christopher’s studio. Inside there were no cars, instead a large tarp covered the ground. At one end a canvas of a half-finished work sat on an easel. Smears and flecks of paint were all over the tarp, but the stand of paint cans and brushes next to the canvas was surprisingly tidy.
And, along one side of the room, was a row of pedestals. None of them were as large as the thing that blocked Christopher’s living room, but some of the larger ones were decently sized.
“A pedestal,” Christopher said, pulling one of the medium sized pedestals into the center of the garage, “elevates the subject which is placed upon it. It provides a surface for that subject to stand on where it can be viewed from all sides, and it allows all of it to be exposed to light.”
“Okay,” the realtor said. She was unsure about where this was going, but curiosity was more than holding her attention and Christopher had the easy nature of a natural teacher.
“So,” Christopher said, “it allows objects placed upon it to be transformed. Art is placed on top of pedestals because it allows for better viewing, but since it allows for such a perfect viewing platform, anything placed on top of a pedestal…” Christopher glanced around and then plucked an empty wine bottle from a table in the corner of his studio. He placed the wine bottle on the pedestal, then walked over to the large garage door and with a long rattle threw it open.
The low summer light filled the room and he walked back over to the wine bottle now sitting on the pedestal. “Look at it,” he said, softly.
The realtor held her portfolio to her chest in an easy embrace and walked slowly around the wine bottle.
“Have you ever looked at a wine bottle this way? Have you ever thought about how such an object is made? Look at the green color and how it catches the light. Look at the perfectly formed neck and how the body curves and narrows at that same point in a perfect circle all around the bottle. Look at how the little dried bit of wine at the bottom infuses the entire object with a red hue lower down.”
The realtor finished circling the wine bottle. Although she was still confused, she did have to admit that the wine bottle looked rather nice.
“Let’s try this,” Christopher said. He removed the wine bottle from the pedestal and took his cheap wrist watch off and placed it on the pedestal. “See?” he said.
The realtor began to circle the wrist watch, she leaned in and examined it from various angles.
“The band,” Christopher said, “is worn and frayed. Part of the leather is cracked around the time piece. And see where it’s been shaped over time to mirror the clasp’s grip?”
The realtor smiled. “The watch face is scratched,” she said. “The light moves across it differently in different places.”
Christopher’s face lit up. “Yes!” he shouted. “Exactly.”
The realtor paused as she finished looking at the watch. She ran through the previous few minutes in her head as Christopher put his watch back on.
“But,” she insisted, repeating her thought from earlier, “the pedestal in your living room has nothing on it.”
“You know there’s nothing to building a pedestal really,” Christopher said, seemingly out of nowhere. “The basic ones are just a flat viewing surface, a column, and then a flat base for stability.”
The realtor shook her head, perplexed. “So?”
“It’s not that the pedestal in my living room has nothing on it. It’s that the pedestal is turned upside down.”
The realtor frowned, still confused.
Christopher smiled. “It’s not that nothing is on the pedestal. It’s that the top of the pedestal is the part touching the floor. The entire world is on that pedestal. Everything in existence rests on its surface. That pedestal in my living room allows for the entirety of the universe to be viewable as art.” Christopher took the pedestal from the center of his studio and brought it back over to the wall.
“Whenever I get jet lagged while traveling,” he went on, “or if an art dealer tries to cheat me, or if thoughts of my ex-wife creep in, or if I lose my wallet or if…well whenever life happens to me…I find that if I can get myself to remember that pedestal sitting in my living room, if I can remind myself that all of existence is seated on its viewing platform for my perusal, if I can remember that the very edge of the universe has a picture frame, I can almost always end my day with my sprits intact.”
He walked back over to the center of the room. “So if I have to take in a little less rent, I’m okay with that. It’s very important to me that that pedestal stays where it is. That pedestal holds up the whole world and gives me permission to view everything that exists as beautiful.”
The Bevingtons stared at the pedestal in the middle of the living room. They had been all over the house, twice now actually as this was their second viewing. Mr. Bevington reached out and brushed his fingers over the top of the pedestal.
The realtor held her portfolio loosely in one hand and continued to smile at them.
Mr. Bevington looked around the room, then slowly he and Mrs. Bevington walked over to the window.
The realtor followed after them and the three stood in silence looking out at the view. The realtor felt the silence looming and tried to think of something to say to keep the chatter going. She had already been over the finances and the local shops in town. She had discussed the details of the lease and the move-in dates. She had assured them that the garage would be converted back into a space for car storage when Christopher left for the summer. She had allowed them to linger behind her at a few points so they could discuss their thoughts privately. And, of course, she had explained that the pedestal was not allowed to be moved.
She looked out the window at the birch trees. “I love this view,” she suddenly found herself saying. “Even with the summer heat starting to creep through the leaves…I don’t know, it’s like I can look at the white birch bark and suddenly there’s a layer of snow wrapping the house in a nice cool blanket.”
The Bevingtons didn’t reply at first. Mrs. Bevington wrapped her hand around her husband’s waist and moved in closer to him as all three of them stared out of the window. Mr. Bevington wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulder and glanced down at her.
She raised her eyebrows.
He gave the slightest of nods.
They turned back to the window.
“We’ll take it,” Mrs. Bevington said.
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