You’ve taken a wrong turn. All tools for preventing an outbreak of adventure have been rendered harmless: your cell phone battery is dead; the charger is at home; the glove compartment is not in possession of one of those old fashioned paper maps, not that it would help, since for the last fifteen minutes: not a single road sign, just sheep, in every color and texture, bouncing about as if they own the place. Good news: it isn’t winter; the sun is shining and the temperature is in the mid 70’s. You’re contemplating turning around, revisiting past mistakes, when literally out of nowhere, a wall of fog appears or could it be smoke, you wonder. Extreme fire conditions are in effect. Maybe there’s a fire, but it doesn’t look the least bit like smoke, doesn’t smell like smoke. As you close in on the anomaly, your foot is easing off the accelerator until about the time the nose of your car bumps into the cottony soft wall, you come to a standstill. You decide to investigate. As expected, the air is moist and cool inside, definitely fog, you conclude sagely, a fog so thick that your feet seem to have disappeared. You have entered a misty world of whiteness; it seems homogeneous, but as you stare, it begins to move, to hemorrhage textures. You glimpse a man. Indistinct at first, he materializes gradually, congealing out of the fog. His back is to you; his hands are in his pockets. It’s too early yet to see whether he’s smoking, but you can smell it, an exotic tobacco, it brings to mind the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. Only this morning you were reading an article about this bazaar with roots in the 15th century, a covered market of 61 streets and 3000 shops. In your imagination, it is a fractal world of streets within streets within streets, a place where you can lose yourself, a place where dreams come true, where wishes are granted.
Lighting is particular. You understand this because a woman is approaching. As she walks, her hair gleams like burnished copper and then goes quietly brown only to gleam again. There is a fragrance associated with her as well, very much like lavender, and suddenly you’re lying in a field of lavender. The fragrance fills you with such happiness.
Something in the woman’s manner, possibly the unwillingness of her steps, says she doesn’t want to talk to the man; it’s more in the way of a requirement. The closer she gets, the better you can see them, she in a dark grey pants suit, hair tight to her head; his hair is shaggy and black, not a sooty black but the kind of black that looks oily. He is generally unkempt, and you can see the cigarette carelessly dangling from his lip spooling a thread of smoke into an enclosed atmosphere. He turns from the object of contemplation. Now the two face one another. In the background colors swirl, how pleasant they are and mesmerizing . . .
The man is surprised when he sees the woman; maybe they know one another?
“I’m sorry, but you’re not allowed to smoke in here.” Her voice is as marvelous as her scent, kind but at the same time tinged with fear. Her eyes are greenish, turquoise might be a better description, and her skin is very pale and beautiful. His eyes are too dark to assign a color to, and his skin is largely obscured by an impertinent growth of beard.
“What are you going to do about it,” he asks, grinning rakishly. She is quiet, tendering no response except that for some reason she steps closer, and their scents intertwine like lovers. “Will you summon the gendarme and have me thrown out, blackguard that I obviously am?”
“No,” she shakes her head languidly, already she is more relaxed. “I was hoping you would be reasonable and put out the cigarette . . . or leave.”
He offers his hand: “I’m Ethan, and you?” His expression is intense, his eyes never straying from her face.
Her hand fits perfectly in his as if it were born there. “Maria,” she replies, almost a whisper. “You must be an artist.”
“How did you come to that conclusion?”
“Soft hands, and you think you can do anything you like.”
“Pretty good assessment. You work here?”
“I’m the owner.” For a second time, surprise pushes his dark, bushy eyebrows up.
“You’re very young, 22, 23 max?”
She expertly parries his attempt to mine her personal data: “Since you’re an artist yourself, would you care to give me an assessment of the painting you’ve obviously been studying?”
“An idiot for idiots,” he smirks.
“That’s what sells, unfortunately.”
“Sounds a lot like you don’t like being a gallery owner.”
“No, not really, it was kind of thrust upon me; it makes me feel empty, compromising at every turn in the road.”
“I never compromise.”
“Yes, I can tell,” she smiles. “Have you decided what you’re going to do with that cigarette?”
A strange desire to merge with them, to become lavender and smoke, draws you across an invisible threshold and into the gallery.