“Sure,” you say to Gregory, a little louder than you intend. The syllable bounces off the walls and disappears down the Baroque wing. He chuckles and closes Ferreting Quarterly.
You nod to the magazine. “What’s new in ferreting?”
He grins. “People are fighting to get ‘em legalized in New York City. I’ve considered moving to New York, but not unless I can take my babies with me.” He picks up his flashlight and you both begin walking.
“So what brings you down to the main floor, anyway?” he asks as you walk under the archway. “I thought restorers hated to be down here. Ben always said it reminded him of…”
You flinch. Gregory stops walking.
“Shit, I’m sorry. Shit, shit.”
You can already finish his sentence, without needing to hear the words. Ben always said that the main floor made him twitchy because he couldn’t see people observing art anymore, just air filled with dead skin cells and oils and children’s hands and breath and, once, an old woman squinting and getting so close to a Caravaggio that her nose bopped Bacchus square on the nipple. He preferred to think of art as a pure thing that he and other restorers brought into its Platonic self, where it could remain untouched and unobserved for all eternity.
You touch Gregory’s arm. “It’s all right,” you say. “I know what you mean. Yes, I have the same fear, but I can do it when the museum is closed. Then it’s kind of soothing. There’s a stillness.”
Gregory nods. You feel tingly pressure building up in your face. You don’t want to cry in front of him. “I just came downstairs because I thought I heard a sound,” you say. “Have you heard anything weird?”
He frowns a little and shakes his head. “Nothing but my pistachios.”
You look at the room before you. Monet’s chaotic brushstrokes have always made you feel a little ill.
“I’m going to get back to my work,” you say. Gregory nods.
“If you need anything, just come back on down,” he says.