The Exhibition

Bailey Sullivan

They eat olives as they study a portion of my clavicle. A woman licks around the fruit, sucking on the brine. A man tongues a toothpick between his cheek and molars for later use, and as he notes the “implication of the cold, jagged angles” of my body, I picture him choking on it and coughing up bloody splinters into his ugly paisley pocket square. 

I hadn’t been invited. I don’t care. I’ve been here for hours prior to my arrival anyway, in thirty-four separate frames. Some are just body parts, which are mostly named after themselves, except the painting of my chest, my heart, titled Wasteland. Over half of the remaining pieces are nudes—I counted twenty-seven nipples. There’s even one painting, apparently created during an abstract period, in which I’m depicted as a crumpled ball of tinfoil, discarded from a partially-eaten hamburger.

“I don’t need your permission. It’s all legal.” He had a stare like the broken edge of a bottle, which he held even as his threats softened to words like “love” and “immortality.” I didn’t listen, just thought of dried-up moths, shriveled on boards they’re pinned to, and the light between my legs at the gynecologist, the light used during autopsies to pick apart corpses before they’re doused in formaldehyde. 

I have half a mind to burn the building down, but art critics are leeches to scandal. I won’t give him a charred, melted painting, nor one splattered with pig’s blood, nor one mangled with a meat cleaver to sell for double. It wouldn’t help, anyway. It wouldn’t make me feel better. It wouldn’t make him feel. 

I don’t know why I’m here. I thought maybe if I let them see me—let them pinch my flesh, look under my eyelids, inspect my nail beds—then they’d understand how he’d gotten it all wrong. Instead, they don’t care. They won’t even look in my direction. They’d rather stare at the walls. 

I reach into my pocket for my coat check ticket, but something keeps me from leaving. I can’t go, not yet. So I wait, still enough that the warmth leaves my body and my fingertips turn white. Still enough that people glance twice in my direction, watching for the rise and fall of my chest, wondering if, perhaps, I am one of his works myself. 

I recoil from the thought, but when I find that my knees are locked, that the chill has stiffened my lungs, I consider the possibility. They’d love me, then, wouldn’t they? I could learn to live here, still and silent in this gallery. Unthinking, unfeeling. His masterpiece. 

A tray offers anchovies, and I put one in my mouth. My teeth sink through the meat and hit bone, cracking the sliver of spine I didn’t know was there. At least, I think, forcing myself to swallow, there’s free food.

Bailey Sullivan is a St. Louis-born writer living in Chicago, where she resides with her husband, cat, and small collection of dying houseplants. She holds a BA in Screenwriting from DePaul University.