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Holiday

Rose knew it made no sense whatsoever for her to be at a New Year’s Eve party that was being held in a nondescript manufacturing-building-turned-art-gallery in the heart of Brooklyn; And yet, here she was.


Although the party was held in a gallery, everyone seemed to be completely oblivious to the art that lined the walls. Having not stepped foot inside an art gallery or museum of any kind since failing out of her Art 101 class in college, she found this fact surprising. Making her way around the room, she began assessing the other partygoers, stopping every few steps to write down unique outfit choices, odd mannerisms, and anything else of interest that would make for a good story character.


But her desire to observe rather than participate faltered when she noticed a dark-haired man standing by himself along the gallery’s east-facing wall. He was staring at a single painting with such intensity that she wasn’t sure he entirely knew or understood that there was a party going on around him.


Without even a split-second’s consideration, and with no idea what she would do when she reached him, she began weaving her way through the maze of bodies, drink offers, and disappointed expectations.


Although she would have much rather studied the soft lines around his eyes than the random strokes and splatters that covered the canvas in front of them, she kept her eyes on the painting.


She was debating whether to introduce herself first or ask him about the painting when his voice interrupted her thoughts.


“What do you think about it?”


It was the same question she had been considering asking him just a moment before. She hated that he had beat her to it, because she honestly had no thoughts about the painting whatsoever apart from, “I can’t believe this is considered art.”


Since he seemed to like the painting, and she didn’t want to risk offending him, she simply said, “I don’t really know much about art.”


At this, his soft but serious face broke out into a laugh. “What’s there to know? Art is art. There’s no knowing, only perceiving.”


“I think my Art 101 professor back in college would disagree.” She responded happy to have made him laugh.



His entire body turned to face her and he looked into her eyes with the same intensity with which he had been staring at the painting. “Forget whatever some crotchety old professor told you about art. Art is nothing more and nothing less than the entire world. For perception is reality, and art is merely the physical depiction of perception.”


The eloquence with which he spoke won her over more than a cavalcade of the greatest works of art on the planet ever could. She turned back to the painting, determined to give him a proper answer.


At first, she still only saw haphazard brush strokes and childish paint splatters in a dizzying array of discordant hues and tones. But she closed her eyes and considered what he’d said: art is perception. When she opened her eyes, she stopped looking at the canvas for pictures and symbols, and searched instead for emotion and thoughts.


Colors that might otherwise have been reminiscent of cloudless summer days and the sweetness of overripe strawberries crushed against a smiling cheek, when mixed with so much black and splayed across the canvas in such violent erratic outbursts, hinted at a much darker turn of mind.


He patiently waited while she considered the painting in this new light. Feelings swirled around inside her until finally her mind settled on exactly what the painting looked like to her. Still staring at the painting, she said “Life is nothing more than’ a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.”


If she had been looking at him, she would have been confused by the look of bitter resolve that flashed in his eyes the moment the words escaped her.


When she did turn back to look at him, his face was a blank canvas. She waited in vain for him to respond, and as she waited her eyes studied him with far more interest than they’d give the painting only moments before. She was struck by how handsome he was up close. His dark Eastern eyes were the same deep shade of brown as her skin and his straight black hair was in stark contrast to her own kinky ringlets.


Her attraction to him only made him that much interesting to her.


She wanted nothing more than to be able to read his mind like that of a character in a novel. Rather than wait for him to respond to her comment on the painting, she attempted to steer the conversation to him, expecting him – like everyone else – to jump at the chance to talk about himself. And yet, almost an hour later, though she’d told him everything from where she’d grown up and her first pet’s name to the fact that she’d recently ended things with a man who refused to be called her boyfriend after 7 months of dating and had only come to this specific New Year’s Eve party because it was exactly the kind of thing he had said she’d never do, she’d learned almost nothing about him.


Sooner than either of them expected, the white noise of the surrounding party abruptly came to a halt and every person in the room began to shout out in unison:


10…


9…


8…


Their minds had finally caught up to the significance of the shouting. Rose jumped up from the couch they had been sitting on and raised her almost-empty glass of champagne high in the air.


7….


6…


She grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet next to her, smiling and continuing to shout the countdown that heralded a brand-new year, full of all the hope and promise that each new year seemed to hold.


5…


4…


3…


He joined in for the final count, although less volubly than those around him.


2…


1…


Happy New Year!

She drank the last of her now bubble-less courage and brazenly leaned in to kiss him. At first his body felt hesitant and unwilling beneath her embrace and she started to pull away, chastened by his clear lack of consent. But to her surprise, his arms pulled her back. His kiss spoke volumes, and she learned more about him in those few seconds than she had in hours of conversation: this was a man conflicted. His frustration, disappointment, and resignation were clear, although their source was not.


When he finally pulled away, leaving her breathless and confused, the first words out of his mouth were that he had a flight to catch and had to leave.


“Now?”


“Yes, it leaves at 3:15. I hadn’t even planned on staying until the countdown, but I completely lost track of time after meeting you.”

She didn’t know whether to feel flattered or guilty. Instead, she just felt sort of deflated, and it showed.


“I’m sorry. I wish I could stay. I’d much rather spend the rest of the evening here with you than get on that plane.”


“So, don’t.” She was too brash for her own good and she knew the second the words came out of her mouth that they weren’t only ridiculous, but extremely childish.


“I have to. I don’t have a choice.” His words threw her. She was expecting him to respond with incredulity and judgement, or at the very least sarcasm. But he was sincere, and the pain that he had clearly tried so hard to disguise sent her back into a tailspin of curiosity.


“No one ever has to do anything. There’s always a choice.” She meant the words to be comforting and to help him deal with whatever he was struggling with. But she also selfishly wanted him to stay so that she could learn more about this mysterious man who came to an art gallery’s New Year’s Eve party alone without even planning to stay until the countdown.


But at this, his demeanor changed entirely. He became stony and cold; rude “You Westerners don’t know anything. You know nothing of duty or honor, of sacrifice.”


“Excuse me!?” It was as if she’d been slapped across the face. “Who the hell are you to tell me I don’t know anything. You barely even know me!” It wasn’t entirely true, as she’d pretty much told him her entire life story in the last few hours, but that didn’t matter. He had no right to judge her and lump her in with “Westerners” in this way.


“You know what, have a nice flight.” She set her champagne flute down and turned to leave.

His tone was immediately conciliatory. “Wait, don’t go. I’m sorry. That was extremely rude of me. I don’t know what came over me. I’m just, I’m just really dreading getting on this flight.”


“So? That’s no excuse for speaking to me like that.”


“You’re right, it’s not. I’m sorry. Please stay…. I don’t want to leave things like this.”


She was still upset, but less so, and she didn’t want it to end this way either. She’d enjoyed their time together and even though – or maybe, because – she’d learned almost nothing about him, she did very much want to see him again.


“Alright… how do you want to leave things?” she asked suggestively.


He kissed her lightly on the lips and smiled, his dark features gleaming brilliantly in the light from the fireworks streaming through the windows.

A minute later, his Uber arrived heralding the end of an unexpectedly wonderful evening for both of them.


He asked Rose for one last kiss and she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him in until she could taste the champagne on his tongue again.


“Call me when you get back.”


“I will.”






The next morning, Rose woke to the news that British Airways flight 6146 to London had been hijacked by terrorists and crashed into one of the city’s most famous national landmarks, the Elizabeth Tower.


A wave of nausea hit her as she watched Big Ben go up in flames. First responders were already on the scene trying to contain the fire to the tower in an effort to save the Parliament building. Parliament hadn’t been in session when the tower was hit, but it was full of workers and tour groups and the street below was littered with the remnants of passersby. She had been only a child when the Twin Towers were hit, but the same mixture of hopelessness and anger washed over her as she stared transfixed at the television screen.


The footage returned to the newscaster in the studio.


“According to the plane’s manifest, it had departed from JFK airport at 3:15 am on January 1st. Three Saudi men” – and a photo popped up on the screen – “who, as we’ve been told by gate agents, were suspiciously last to board the aircraft, are the suspected hijackers.”


The woman went on to explain how the men had strong ties to several extremist religious groups and that the British government’s interference – in the form of financial assistance to rebel groups – in the civil war currently being waged in the region had likely been the inciting reason for these attacks.


But Rose heard nothing after the first line. Her body crumpled to the floor as her mind collapsed in on itself.


Hundreds of innocent lives were lost, but every tear that escaped her eyes as she sat pathetically on the floor of her kitchen still half-drunk from the previous night fell only for one: Haruki.






Two weeks later, Rose found herself once again at Kanzei art gallery. Only this time, not a single person in the room was paying attention to anything other than the art that lined the gallery’s walls. There gallery was full of people who had come to purchase, admire, and gossip about the art that had previously been so inconsequential.


She likely wouldn’t ever have come back if a reporter hadn’t taken it upon herself to share the stories of each and every single American who died in the January 1st attack. Likely because of his background, Haruki’s story was one of the first to air.


Rose had listened in a stupor as the news anchor told her everything she hadn’t yet learned about the man she’d kissed on New Year’s Eve.


“The only child of a wealthy Japanese business mogul, Haruki Ito had been poised to inherit a small fortune. At 18, however, he turned his back on his family and moved to New York to start his career as a painter. At the age of 25, he gained US citizenship and made his permanent residence in Brooklyn, NY.


At the beginning of last year, his father was diagnosed with cancer, and he left the US for the first time since arriving at 18. He flew to England where his parents had moved so that his father could receive treatment at the London Cancer Centre. The visit, however, did not go well and he changed his return ticket to the very next day. His parents didn’t know it then, but this would be the last time they ever saw their son alive.


According to sources, on the morning of January 1st, he was flying back to London to fulfill his father’s last living request and take over the family business.”


The reporter had gone on let audiences know that much of the art he had created in the last year as he grappled with the decision to give up his love of painting for duty to his family was for sale in the Kanzei art gallery in Brooklyn, New York.


When she heard this, Rose immediately washed her face, grabbed her keys, and drove to the gallery. She needed to see it for herself and was worried that it might already be gone.


Although the gallery was crowded, she found the painting within a few minutes and was relieved to see it hadn’t yet been purchased. She stood for a moment in the space he had once occupied as a tear escaped her eye. She moved closer, searching for the small placard directly beneath the painting, desperate to know:


Sacrifice

Paint on canvas by Haruki Ito




January 04, 2020 04:57

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4 comments

16:20 Jan 06, 2020

Beautifully written. I loved every bit of it, really

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Kate E
14:09 Jan 12, 2020

Thank you so much! :) Your comment made my day!

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Jamie Shaw
03:48 Jan 09, 2020

I wish this was a novel. Great story!

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Kate E
14:09 Jan 12, 2020

Thanks!

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