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Rearranging Ways to Listen

Gordon B. White has lived in North Carolina, New York, and the Pacific Northwest. He is a 2017 graduate of the Clarion West Writing Workshop, and his fiction has appeared in venues such as A Breath from the Sky: Unusual Stories of Possession, Nightscript Vol. 2, and the Borderlands 6. Gordon is also an Assistant Editor with Kraken Press and contributes reviews and interviews to various outlets. You can find him online at gordonbwhite.com or on Twitter @GordonBWhite.
When the curators finally shepherd a gaggle of collectors and socialites towards Hermes, he notices they are all intact. They have never replaced limbs lost in factories or streets. Their children aren't born missing appendages. Art is merely one more luxury to them.
Hermes's mechanical hand is an old model. It jitters his wine glass and troubles the middling Chardonnay, but when the collectors see it, their relief is palpable. They know how to approach him now and, by extension, his art.
Hermes's painting, Rearranging Ways to Listen (mixed media), is not a pretty picture. Its only color is the smeared grey of concrete and smoke and water in a culvert. There's no discernible image, but thick paint rises up off the canvas. For those that get close, the brush's pull and palette knife's scrape create a tactile experience. In the right light it sparkles, too, winking with silver flecks.
Unlike tonight's other showcase displays, Hermes's painting is confrontationally oblique. Across the gallery a pale young man displays photographs of favelas. A painter presses her flesh palms together in front of her depiction of cybernetic arms cradling a soft, pink baby. Further back are safely ironic abstractions, including a tissue paper collage called Anarchy and an ancient telephone titled The Fascist Creep.
"Urban art is so," one of the collectors in front of Hermes's painting says, waving as if sketching, "vital?"
"The vigor in the strokes," another says, "makes up for the lack of precision."
"I like it, really. I just wouldn't know where to put it."
"Your back room, maybe," Hermes says. "For the cleaning woman if no one else."
A few laugh. They call him brave, as much for his presence as his painting, then the curators hustle them on.
Later, a caterer comes to take Hermes's empty glass. She stops. She stares at Rearranging Ways. The scars along the back of her neck and the wires bulging beneath the skin indicate an older implant, which means she can feel the texture of the magnetized particles in the pigment that Hermes spent so much time brushing into little peaks and troughs, massaging the polarity into invisible patterns that only those with outdated and unshielded tech can feel. Beneath the painting's grey waves, a hidden energy rises up and resists interpretation.
The woman looks at Hermes as if seeing him for the first time. He puts a metal finger to his lips.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, March 8th, 2018

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