Arcane art was never really Olivia’s favorite style, it always made her think of the Oil Paint Wars, which in turn, made her sad. Her grandmother was still fighting, at least as far as she knew. But she had to admit, this exhibition was intriguing.
Doors, each one leading to a different room. Not especially magical, after all, that is what any ordinary door did. However, these doors opened into rooms that did not exist, according to the pamphlet handed to her at the entrance.
A heavy brass door with an elaborate bas-relief of an ancient feast opened into an overgrown garden at dusk. The wrought iron gate in that garden lead to an orange marble cathedral filled with faint atonal chanting. A wooden hatch at the base of the altar revealed what could only be described as a reverse aquarium, a glass chamber where those who walked through were viewed by a parade of aquatic life.
Olivia wandered for a while, she especially loved the night sky room, not because of the panoply of stars, but for the softness of the floor which made her feel as though her feet were being hugged. But eventually, she found her way to the reception hall.
There, artists, aficionado, critics and collectors all mingled and drank and of course, gossiped. Taking a glass of some sparkling drink from a tray that passed by on a tiny cloud, she moved around the room, dipping into conversations but never for too long.
While she was not dressed as flamboyantly as some of the other attendees (she owned no clothes comprised of scarabs that changed colors or woven smoke) but she wore a black dress, black stockings, heeled silver boots and a short red bellhop’s jacket. It made her look like a young artist.
“Impressive, is it not?”
Olivia turned to see a tall woman of indeterminate age dressed in a suit comprised entirely of tiny trees. She plucked a hors d’oeuvre from a passing tray and the sound of rustling leaves could be faintly heard.
“Very,” replied Olivia.
“Have we met? There’s something about you…” asked the foliage-clad woman.
“I have one of those faces.”
“That must be quite useful.”
“I’m Madame L’ Écorce, a pleasure,” she said holding out her hand.
“Olivia Chercheur, charmed.”
“Are you an artist as well? Or just a lover of art?”
“I am an artist, a struggling one right now.”
“Delightful! I think that many times that adversity produces the best work from an artist.”
“Is that from personal experience?” asked Olivia.
“Oh no! I lack the spark for making art, much to my regret. But I live to encourage artists. And I have a modest collection of rare pieces.”
“Just a few?”
Madame L’ Écorce laughed. Olivia and others in their orbit were quickly infected and joined in.
“Touché, I’m fortunate to have acquired a healthy assembly of art. I’m always on the lookout for more. What medium do you work in?”
Olivia was prepared for this.
“I work in discovery,” she said.
It was vague and just pretentious enough.
“I’ve never heard of that! Can you describe it?”
“I really can’t,” Olivia remarked.
“Intriguing. You must tell me when you have a showing.”
Madame L’ Écorce then introduced her to many people who might be very useful had she been an actual artist. She collected many cards from gallery owners, (one of whom had an exhibition inside his steel cigarette case) collectors and even from one actress who seemed very taken with her, despite or perhaps because she was polite but uninterested.
While everyone was extremely charming, their interest in her seemed ephemeral, ready to dissipate when something newer and more shiny appeared. For someone who was used to finding things, it felt rather sad. She excused herself and went to the lavatory.
It was set up to look decrepit, chipped paint, water stains, and mismatched tile-work, though, on a second look, Olivia decided that it was a just poorly maintained lavatory. Once she was done and was checking her hair in the cracked mirror above the sinks, the door opened and a young woman entered.
She was dressed in a loose-fitting dress of soft brown fabric, with flat shoes. The overall effect was that of coziness like she was going to host a casual dinner party for old friends. Olivia was about to leave but she saw the one piece of jewelry this woman wore. A long brass chain at the end of which hung a key. The key.
“I love your-“
“Please don’t say my art or I’ll scream,” snapped the young woman.
She smiled and said, “Thank you, I just wanted to be comfortable.”
“Success then. I’m Olivia.”
“Renée,” she said. “I’m sorry for before, it’s just-“
“No worries, I imagine being the center of all that attention must be exhausting.”
“It sounds ungrateful but it is.”
“Can’t you just slip out the back?’
“What time is it?”
Olivia looked at her chronoton, it was seven thirty-six.
“Not yet, it’s unfashionable to leave one’s showing this early.”
“Wouldn’t it just make you seem more mysterious?”
Renée considered this for a beat.
“No, I need to have a few more successful shows before I can be that whimsical.”
They both laughed.
“I don’t suppose I can hide here all night,” said Renée.
“Price of success?”
Renée ran her fingers through her hair and sighed.
“Back into the fray.”
“Where did you get that pendant?”
“This? It’s just something I picked up at a junk shop and put on a chain.”
“I’ve been looking for something just like it.”
“I know it sounds odd.”
“Is there anything I could offer you for it?”
“I only paid a few concepts for it.”
“What would you like?”
For the rest of the opening, she was by Renée’s side. The main part of her duties was defecting people the young artist wished to avoid. While that part was remarkably easy, all it involved as a whisper in her ear and an apology promising to talk to the person later, which of course, never happened. She also wished she’d worn flats, heeled boots looked stylish but were hell on her feet.
At precisely ten oh seven, Renée was allowed to make her escape. With Olivia at her side, she exited the gallery through a side door that had looked like a table leaning against the wall and on to the street. They hailed a Velo-ped and ended up in a bar that involved another ride, this time on the Metro and elaborate walk through the catacombs that ended at a bar called Les Requêtes.
It was a lively place with an eclectic clientele. The bartender, a handsome woman with colorless hair served them drinks. Luckily, they found a small table in the back.
“Well,” said Renée, “a deal is a deal.”
She took her chain and key and put it around Olivia’s neck. It felt intimate.
“It suits you,” said Renée.
Olivia blushed. Renée didn’t remark on it but smiled. They continued to drink and talk, growing ever closer until they closed the place. It was not the end.