By the third song Alice was fed up. By the eighth, irritated, and the tenth, done. The last chord, along with her voice, creaked out and then trailed away in a garbled whimper. She swallowed some water like clockwork, then made the standard nods and half-mumbled thanks of a street busker. No self-aware person let their ego rise in such conditions, a tattered leather jacket, worn purse and vintage band shirt kept her vanity in check. The jeans and sneakers were nice though.
She brushed the blonde hair out of her face, bleached of course, preferred over her natural colour. In her mind Alice didn’t have to search far to hear the voice of her mother, tutting away while doing the dishes.
“Out of sight out of mind Allie, out of sight out of mind…just get it done and you’ll thank yourself, and me of course.”
The phrase cartwheeled a few more times in her memories, shuffling away with the last snaps of the brass locks on her guitar case. At the same time, the middling crowd she had eased out into the town square scattered like ants. With a slight smirk, Alice Bergan looked to where their attention had been stolen, as she had suspected during her set.
The Forever art exhibition was like an infection, at first it had consisted of less than a dozen white tents, dotted with oh so clever polka dots of garish colours. Then at the end of the first week of the promised four, it was announced the thing would stay in town, two doddering white haired grumps in ill-fitting suits proclaimed that the tents weren’t all, there was to be more!
Some shaky hand signals and a smattering of radio chatter later, a barely noticed curtain had dropped, revealing the flashy (tacky) addition to the grand Brakesworth library. The exhibition had been covertly expanded into the building.
After the fleeting buzz of seeing the fancy sign, Alice had turned back to winding the masking tape around the nut of her battered Martin acoustic, just below the headstock. It had been a rough performance that day, her mood especially dry, and patience thin.
All that had been three weeks ago. Now they were in the final stretch of the event, and Alice was confident that once the smug rich took their ugly paintings out of the state, it would be back to smooth sailing for the most part. She counted the pennies and occasional notes in her hat, guesstimating the rough end amount as she avoided the condescending stares. Sure she looked shabby, but that was by design, someone who leaned into the rough, desperate look was guaranteed more sympathy cash than some doe-eyed soul who busked with nothing but their alleged genius, and yet to be acknowledged “talent”.
Cynical? Yes. Very disingenuous when factoring in the facts she had an apartment and piles of dog food? Yes. Before Alice had started the day’s tunes, the sedentary part of her wanted nothing but to lay on the carpeted floor, pat Blaine on his cropped ears, and chill with the lovable Great Dane.
The potential for some extra money had won out in the end. A sin of greed? she wondered, more likely just stubborn determination to get somewhere before she turned thirty. Alice reasoned it was a little of both. She also reasoned that soon the stares would stop.
It was when Alice had heaved the instrument into the back of her van, that the itch of curiosity overtook her, was she so weak that she had to know what the fuss was about? It was a rhetorical question.
Now she was overthinking, silently berating herself, even as Alice's legs guided her past the parked cars and right up to glass automatic doors. They opened. A cool artificial breeze passed over Alice, reminding her of those sci-fi movies where the airlock on a spaceship would open.
A lot of people milled back and forth in front of her. But the messy line moved at a quick enough pace, and soon she was free to wander around. Nothing was noteworthy to gawk over, and just in the corner of her hazel eyes Alice could spy a big musty lecture hall, with a dry power-point presentation that had all the makings of a snooze fest.
The more abstract work did not draw her interest, rather certain paintings did, when she moved towards them they devolved into a mess of long dried brushstrokes, when she moved back they reverted to detailed images. All of them followed this pattern but were different enough to stay interesting.
Alice only became interested in one piece of abstract art when she nearly tripped over it. The brown rucksack had the right kind of look to fit in with her current clothing, and since no one had taken notice, she very well had the opportunity to saunter off with it, plonk it in the back of her van, and immediately customise it when she walked through her front door.
One problem though.
It was ticking.