The Leftovers 

By Amanda Gardfors Granberg

 

Stine had never noticed the gallery before, even though it was just a few blocks away from her old school. It was on a particularly short street, easily missed since it had no proper lighting. If she squinted, it looked more like a black hole than anything made for walking. She drew her raincoat closer around her and moved into the darkness. 

A smell of mold hung heavy in the air and muddy water clung to her Gore-Tex boots. Her feet stayed dry though, and with a sudden intensity she found herself wishing that the mud would leak in, that her feet would turn wet and cold.

They didn’t. They never did.

As she passed the puddle, a door emerged from the darkness a bit further in. Even from a distance she could see that it was an artsy door, made of metal and filled with colorful posters. As she got closer, a cawing broke the alley’s silence and two crows jumped out from the shadows right in front of her. Their beaks were long and glistened like knives, their eyes were fixed on her. They didn't move, even as she walked closer, as if they wanted to keep her away. She almost spoke to them then. She almost told them that she had to pass. That she should be allowed to visit this place just like anyone else, no matter what she had done. But she bit her tongue and walked on in silence. The crows waited until their beaks nearly brushed her ankles before they jumped to the side and let her approach the door.

A tiny blue poster announced the current exhibition: FOREVER FLIGHT. The white letters looked out of place. They seemed almost happy. She opened the door and left the crows behind.       

The art immediately surrounded her. It came from all directions at once. The small room was filled with cotton. A white mass that rose and fell in mountains and valleys. A number of pink and blue spotlights highlighted the erratic surface and made the room shimmer in otherworldly colors. The door slammed shut and she felt a part of herself vaporize. The blue spotlights played over her face and made colorful dots appear, even when she blinked.  

At the far end of the room she spotted a small sign, and even though she couldn’t make out the words she recognized Marina’s handwriting. It hadn’t changed.       

Stine left the security of the door. She walked carefully, even though she felt the floor’s hard surface, as if the cotton could disperse at any moment and send her falling to whatever lay beyond. Only after a few steps did she look back and see the trail of dirt she’d left behind.        

The cotton was flattened and brown where she had stepped. Dark mud had seeped into it and forever changed it. With a squeak she jumped back, but it was too late. The dirt would not go away. She had destroyed Marina’s work.       

The price of admission is sixty crowns,” a female voice announced.       

A woman in her late twenties appeared behind the counter. She wore an orange dress with a pattern of triangles, sharp lines that clashed with the room’s fluffiness and made her seem a bit unnatural. Like a detail in ink in a watercolor painting.       

Of course,” Stine answered, but wasn’t able to move. A sea of perfectly white cotton lay between her and the counter.        

Just . . . wait a sec,” she said as she bent down and began the slow process of unlacing her boots.       

That’s not necessary,” the gallery attendant remarked. “You can just pay. It’s okay.”     

It’s no problem,” Stine mumbled. “I don’t want to destroy the art.”           

We’re packing it all up tomorrow anyway, so it’s not like anyone would notice.”      

The words floated over the room and seemed to seep into the cotton like murky rainwater.       

You’re wrong,” Stine whispered. “Of course it matters.”       

Stine pulled off her shoes and reentered the art, without the protection of Gore-Tex. The cotton rose around her, swirling around her knees, around her waist, almost as if it were alive.       

Do you feel alright?” the attendant asked as Stine reached the counter and leaned heavily on its plastic surface. “Do you want water, or . . . what’s up?”       

I’m okay.” Stine handed over the sixty crowns. “This is just not what I expected. Everything seems so alive in here, somehow.”       

Yeah, I guess.”       

So, what are you doing with the money, anyway?”       

The attendant wrinkled her sharply marked eyebrows. “Well, we need it to survive as a gallery. Doesn’t that go without saying?”      

But what about the artist’s share?”        

What about it?”       

Stine let her gaze drop and looked at Marina’s cotton swallowing her feet. Frozen in motion. “I mean, since she’s dead, and all.”                  

Oh.” The attendant fell silent.        

Stine wondered if Marina would have wanted visitors to lay down and let the cotton cover them completely. Let the world disappear. It seemed like the kind of thing she would want. For people just to lie there and never ever leave her. Maybe Stine could do that. Stay and keep Marina company.       

No one ever tells me anything,” the attendant said, her face a bit red, matching the orange dress quite nicely. “Was it recent or something? Today?”       

Yesterday,” Stine said. “She took her life. No one’s really surprised, as I understand it.”       

The attendant’s hands flew to her temples where they fluttered like hummingbirds. “And this was her final art piece?” she asked. “It’s like she planned it all, and I’ve . . . all this time I’ve been a part of her death. I even told you it was okay to destroy it with your dirty shoes! I thought it was just cotton!”

Did you meet her?” Stine asked. Her voice was surprisingly calm next to the attendant’s shrill tone. “I guess she was here and arranged stuff?”        

I did meet her,” the attendant squeaked. “I did. She didn't look like an artist at all, you know. She had, like, sweatpants and an oversized hoodie with some hockey logo or something. I thought she was an assistant. She just walked around and threw cotton around her. It didn't even seem like she cared how it landed or anything. She just threw it. But she seemed perfectly fine. I think she even smiled!”       

She cared,” Stine mumbled. “She always cared. About everything. She used to get mad at me all the time for ruining things she cared about.”       

So, you knew her?”       

Yeah,” Stine answered with downcast eyes. The silence grew as the attendant continued to stare at her. Marina had hated silence. Don't let the world turn meaningless, she would say. Tell me a story, quick! 

Stine broke the silence.       

We were kind of best friends during our freshman year. We both wanted to be artists back then, actually. We would spend our evenings painting or doing photo shoots. She loved to be at my house since I had my own room and all kinds of art stuff. She would stay till late at night without my parents knowing. I usually wanted to sleep quite early, but she would just stay there, sitting on the rug and sharing the candy she always carried with her, until we were both so tired that all we could do was giggle. Everyone expected her to kill herself even then, you know.”       

Stine took a few steps out in the clouds. If she focused on the details of each rise and fall, it became evident that they were all different. She could have studied the many small changes forever without ever seeing them all. She let her legs bend to get a closer look. The cotton was soft under her knees.        

This is just so sad,” the attendant said. “There haven’t been that many visitors, and tomorrow I have to take it all away.”       

You’re really going to take it away?” Stine asked. “I mean, maybe she’s still here, in some way? You know, in the art?”       

Are you sure you’re alright?” the attendant asked. “You look pale.”       

Stine grabbed the cotton, but it was too fluffy, and it just felt like she was clenching empty fists.       

I used to imagine how I would react to her death, you know,” she mumbled to the cotton, “how sad I would be. How I would maybe break down and cry at school, and how teachers would ask me how I felt. I imagined I would start to wear all black and paint only pictures about death. But then I left her instead. I cut my ties and left her. Even though she used to say that the only time she was happy was when we were together. She used to get really mad at me sometimes, you know. Just for the smallest of things, like if I didn’t answer her calls in time. Then she would cry and scream that we weren’t friends anymore. And the next time we saw each other it would be as if it had never happened and we would just laugh again. But then, after a while, it was kind of all too much. Do you know the feeling? When you just feel kind of strained all the time? So after one of the times when she said we weren’t friends anymore, I just avoided her. For good.”       

Stine grabbed some more cotton and closed her eyes, but all she could hear was the sound of her own shallow breaths. Marina’s ragged sobbing was nowhere to be heard.       

Some people are hard to be close to,” the attendant said. “Maybe you were better off, in the end?”       

My parents said she dragged me down,” Stine said.

At the same time, someone pushed the door to the gallery halfway open.       

Come here, Eskil!” a woman yelled. “I don’t want you near that rat.”       

Soon a little boy scurried in, followed closely by the woman, a disgusted grimace fixed on her face.        

There’s a dead rat right outside,” she announced as soon as she saw the attendant. “And some crows feeding on it. You might want to see to it. It's quite, hrm, gory.”       

They pulled out loooong slimy things from its body,” the boy explained.        

This is just great,” the attendant said. “This is too much death, and I hate rats.”       

It’s right outside the door,” the woman insisted. “It’s scaring off your visitors.”       

The boy was running around in the small room, pushing up so much of the cotton that the floor beneath became visible. Stine stared at the bare cement floor.        

It was just a floor. No great abyss below. The cotton in her hands was just cotton.       

I’ll do it,” she said, and the other women both looked at her in surprise. “I guess I was going to leave anyway.”       

She rose, and her stomach was heavier than before. Filled with stones that she had not managed to throw away. She looked at the sign on the other side of the room. Two lines of Marina’s writing. If she squinted, they seemed to multiply.       

Thank you,” the woman whispered, and the lines became just two again. “I didn't want Eskil to see the body again. Kids shouldn’t be exposed to death like that.”       

Stine walked towards the door, found her shoes and focused on tying her shoelaces as the mother paid the entry fee. The boy was throwing cotton in the air as if he were in a playground.       

Such a nice exhibition,” the mother said to the attendant. “We need this kind of belief in the future these days.”       

Stine opened the door and left. The crows had moved closer. Their excited caws filled the alley. She watched as they drew the intestines from the rat’s open belly. There was surprisingly little blood. No mess. No stains on the walls. No sign that the rat had tried to escape. Just some skin and two happy birds.