Picasso’s Gift

People take a lot of pictures. As if they can only enjoy a trip if their memories are rendered two-dimensional. Each picture shows them facing away from the very thing they were there to see, to visually represent that life is always happening right behind them. The pictures themselves become proprietary. It’s not good enough to get a copy from the person on vacation with you. Another picture of the same exact thing must be taken with your camera.

Cody watched an elderly man balance seven cameras as his brood swarmed around Pablo Picasso’s gift to Chicago. At least three generations of this old guy’s family were represented in front of what looked to Cody like a giant horse with one eyeball that contained two pupils. That this horse also had wings and exposed ribs just made it even more surreal. They lined up at its base, and then, like in some existential ballet, they all turned in unison to stare at the old man as he pointed the first camera. The Picasso looked like a monster sneaking up behind them. They couldn’t be happier.

Cody’s normal lunch bench, which sat in the shade of the federal building, was taken by an obese black woman in a leopard print dress. Her legs poured out of her dress like rich dark chocolate into green sequined high heels. Her stop sign colored lipstick was the exact same shade as her toenails. And somewhat irrationally, she appeared to be flipping through a high school yearbook. Was it her child’s? Or had she dug out her own to read what everyone had written on their last day of class?

Cody picked white bread from between his back teeth with his pinky nail as the old man switched to the next camera.
“We have to get one with you, Grandpa!” a woman exclaimed. Some of the floppy little kids had to be hers, but she didn’t have that birthing body that most women get as a gift for continuing the human race. She was thin on top with perky breasts in a low-cut turquoise blouse. Her blue jeans were wrapped tightly around her slender thighs.

Cody wrapped the rest of his sandwich in foil and jammed it into his brown bag. The new shirts that the union had given all of the valets scratched at his back again so he figured it was time to go. If he kept moving, he didn’t notice it as much.

“Excuse me,” the woman in the turquoise shirt said. “Would you mind taking our picture?” A couple of the kids rolled their eyes, clearly through with the charade.

“I don’t need to be in the picture,” the old man said. He looked directly at Cody and it was clear he didn’t trust him. Cameras were slung across his shoulders like rifles.

The woman looked at Cody so piercingly that he acquiesced without realizing it. He pulled off his True Blue Parking vest and stuffed it into his back pocket where it hung behind him like a tail. He turned his valet cap around so the brim was resting on his neck. It was a mix between a beret and a baseball cap, and it was ridiculous enough that Cody looked cool in it.

The old man didn’t want to relinquish any of the cameras. His milky white eyes bore into Cody’s as if they could obliterate him. “I don’t mind,” Cody said.

The woman in the turquoise shirt grabbed one of the kids by the arm and pulled him off the statue. “Hurry up, Dad. The kids are getting hungry.” And as if she knew what the old man was thinking, she followed it up with, “Just give him my camera.”

Without ever saying a word to Cody, the old man unslung an expensive digital camera from his shoulder. He handed it to Cody and waddled away to join his clan. The woman in the turquoise shirt cuddled up next to a man in a suit while a little girl pulled at his pant leg.

Cody looked through the camera just as the old man got into place. They all smiled at him as if they truly liked him. As if they were going to invite him out to dinner later. Or back to their hotel rooms.

“Can you see the statue behind us?” she called out to him and he saw the line of her teeth behind her lips. The soft pink of her tongue.

He tilted the camera up to reveal the entire statue behind them, the orange color muted by the overcast afternoon. The entire family was stacked in the bottom of the frame.

“Do you know how to use the camera?”

“No problem,” Cody said just as the woman in the leopard print dress entered the frame. She was tearing pages out of the high school yearbook and tossing them under the Picasso as if she was feeding it. Cody turned slightly and zoomed in on her face. He could stare at her for years and never know what she was thinking. Up close, he could see that her lipstick had been hastily applied, smudged along the edges of her lips. She closed her eyes each time she ripped out a page.

“Smile!” Cody yelled to the family as he waited for the woman in the leopard print dress to tear out another page. He could almost hear the family’s cheeks tightening, their teeth flashing.

The woman in the leopard print dress squeezed her eyes shut so hard that the bridge of her nose wrinkled. She tugged out another page; as if by removing it she was erasing a painful memory.

And then Cody snapped the picture.

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Josh Denslow lives in Dripping Springs, Texas with five dogs, three cats, two rabbits and a hot wife.  His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Clock, A cappella Zoo, Storyglossia, Upstreet and Twelve Stories, among others.