Glen Pourciau

I was having lunch with the manager of an art gallery I was thinking of switching to. I'd left the gallery I'd been working with for over ten years, and my departure had been painful. The owner wouldn't pay what he owed me. I'd been to see him a number of times about my money, thousands of dollars that I'd worked years for, and he kept promising to come up with it. During these conversations he sweated a lot while I worried about my desire to harm him. If he was broke, that meant that I and my wife and daughter were also broke. I asked him where he was going to get the money if he didn't have it now. He said he'd have it soon. I asked if he meant he'd use money from the sale of someone else's work to pay me, but he didn't want to answer that one. He stood behind his desk the last time we talked and I wondered if he had a panic button back there that he'd press if I got out of control. Whenever I left him I was trembling with anger, and it got worse every time.

The gallery manager and I were in a noisy restaurant that did a bustling bar business. She said she'd been following my work for years and she thought her space was perfect for me. The gallery represented several of my friends and she talked about how well the gallery had done for them. As she began sipping her third drink her face and manner began to change. I didn't see her as a hard drinker. She didn't lick her lips or run her tongue over her teeth to savor every bit of each swallow. She didn't smack as she drank and didn't have a worn, puffy look. Her eyes began to drift and I could see that something was on her mind. I didn't know her, had talked with her only once before, so I had no idea what was up.

"I ran into my ex-husband yesterday," she said and paused before continuing. "We'd been married five years, no trouble, getting along, but then one day he sat me down and said he'd looked in his heart and decided to become a priest. I repeated the word, and it seemed to echo inside my head. I couldn't believe he'd said it. He'd gone to church when he was young, but hadn't gone regularly for many years. He said that for some time he'd felt a void at the center of his life, going back before we were married. So we went through a process and had our marriage annulled, and he went on with his new life. Yesterday, I was at the library and I saw him walk out of the stacks carrying a couple of books. He was in his collar and his hair had gone completely white. I couldn't help but stare at him, and he saw me staring and stopped and smiled. Then he came toward me. I had no idea what I'd say to him, and I was relieved to see that he was going to speak first. 'I have the feeling we've met,' he said, leaning toward me with his smile, 'but I can't remember where.' I had to decide whether to tell him who I was, but the thought of it humiliated me. He looked into my eyes, waiting for me to answer, and still he didn't recognize me. 'Perhaps not,' he finally said. 'I apologize for the intrusion.' And he walked away, toward the checkout desk. I took a seat at one of the reading tables and tried to get my breath. I wanted to be out of there, but I didn't want to go past him, didn't want him to look at me or to cross his field of vision. After a few minutes I looked up and saw that he'd gone, but since then I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. We used to have a canary that we kept in a cage near the kitchen. He never fed it, never looked at it, never cleaned its cage, and never called it by name. I have a friend who loves birds and I decided I'd give it to her. One day my friend came over and carried it away in its cage. Two weeks after the bird left I asked him if he'd noticed anything different around the house. He looked around at the walls, even up at the ceiling. 'No,' he said. 'Did you buy something?' He never had any awareness that it was gone, or if he did he never said so. I'm not sure how much the bird has to do with this. I mean, it's difficult for me to think clearly about him. How can a man like that be a priest? How can he ever reach others? Is the void in his life him?"

She took a swallow of her drink, and then another. Her eyes had hardly left mine as she spoke. I took her hand, and I sensed something yielding inside her as she gripped my fingers. My hand was damp and sweat dripped down my back. Did she want me to hold her?

"Do you think he's remembered me by now? If he had, wouldn't he have called me?"

Her hands pulled me slightly toward her. Her eyes searched my face for answers.

Glen Pourciau's debut collection of stories, Invite, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award.

Read another story of his in the archive.

Detail of art on main page courtesy of Craig A. Rodway.

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