Sunday, 12 August 2012


The plastic bag popped as he picked it up, showering him in lukewarm water.  His eyes closed reflexively and he gasped as though he'd been dropped into water from a height, and he took two steps back.  Two steps which moved him away from the soft-grey plastic bags but moved him dangerously close to the precariously balanced china plates.  For a moment the entire audience for the exhibition held their breaths, waiting to see if he was about to destroy the most interesting exhibit in the entire Freda Street art-festival.  He stopped.  A foot lifted off the ground, and almost, almost moved backwards.  Then his toes touched the floor again and his foot slid forward and rested down.
The sigh as the audience exhaled at once was like a warm, cabbage-smelling wind that rocked the plates on their tiny, thin stick-like stands.  Madame Delphine, the curator, hurried forwards and took hold of his hand and led him forwards, away from the exhibit.
"What was that?" he said, his hands rubbing his eyes.  His face seemed oddly sticky.
"A raincloud," said Madame Delphine, producing a thin white hand-towel seemingly from nowhere.  She handed it to him, and he noticed that it was hot, as though it had been freshly microwaved.  "You were asked when you came in, not to touch any of the exhibits."
He looked at her: she was short, petite, dark-haired.  She looked like she might be Vietnamese or Laotian, and her eyes were a deep azure.  There were wrinkles around them that suggested age, but the skin of her face was as smooth and perfect as a photoshop.  She was wearing a dress done in black-and-white panels that made him think of a piano keyboard.
"The exhibit specifically says its interactive," he said, rubbing the towel over his face.  "It invites you to pick the bags up."
"The clouds," said Madame Delphine holding out a hand.  He checked it quickly, it looked as smooth and soft as her face.  "They're rainclouds, and yes, they do invite you to touch them.  Then they release their rain on to you, as that one just did.  Think of them as a little trap."
He put the used towel in her hand, and then started, seeing the red smears all over the towel.  His hands went back up to his face.
"What was in those bags?" he said.  His face felt normal and wasn't sticky now.
"I think," said Madame Delphine, her voice as delicate as the fall of a petal, but with emphasis on the word think, "that Geraldinium mixed urine and menstrual blood together for the 'rainwater'."  She waited patiently while he tried not to throw up, and when he was standing mostly upright again she handed him another hot towel.  He scrubbed at his face more vigorously this time, ignoring that it hurt.
"Geraldine?" he said, his voice made indistinct by the towel frantically rubbing over his face.  It kept catching on his day-old stubble and little strands of white cotton drifted free and fell to the floor.
"Geraldinium Holmes."  Madame Delphine sounded genuinely surprised.  "Are you really at this exhibit without knowing who the artist is?"
"Well, that's normal isn't it?" he said.  He checked the towel carefully now he'd finished rubbing his face, scrutinising it for any sign of red.  There were none, but he couldn't stop himself from rubbing all over his face again, just one more time.  "Surely there are only a few art critics and journalists here who actually know the artist before they come in?"
"Not when it's a Geraldinium Holmes exhibit," said Madame Delphine.  Her voice might be as soft as the wind, but when she spoke he was forcibly reminded that the wind could, under the right circumstances, rip up farmhouses and carry them out of Kansas and drop them on wicked witches.  "You are probably the only person in here who has no idea what he's actually looking at.  Or, probably, how much danger he's in."
He stared at her now, the towel falling from his fingers and his eyes so wide he could feel his eyeballs drying out.  "Danger?"
"Mr Whoever-you-are," said Madame Delphine, "if you had taken three steps back instead of two when the raincloud burst on you, you would have knocked the china plates behind you off their precarious little stands.  Not only would that have ruined the Morning Wind exhibit and cost you quite a lot of money, but Geraldinium has perfected the china grenade.  I completely expect those plates to explode and blast the place with china shrapnel.  It's why the screens around the exhibit, though not advertised as such, are blast screens.  You might have been better off not surviving given the value of the exhibition, and the fact that Geraldinium is reported to be selling it to a North African nation."
"I... I had no idea..," he said.  "And my name's Entsted."
"Well Entsted, perhaps I should show you round the rest of the exhibition personally.  I am Madame Delphine.  Would you care for an appetiser?  Cabbage and pork pot-stickers, as requested by Geraldinium personally."
"Thank-you, that sounds nice," he said.  He paused.  "Is there a reason she asked for them?" he said carefully.
"Not that I'm aware of," said Madame Delphine, "and everyone here seems to be enjoying them.  Personally I think she's gone rather heavy on the cabbage, but that may be a matter of personal taste."
"Is she here?"
"Why no," said Madame Delphine looking even more surprised.  "She's at the police station answering questions about animal cruelty.  Something to do with a kitten-press I've been told."

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