The hours didn’t slip away so much as they shuffled by, fell over, cried that they’d fallen and can’t get back up, waited a moment, and then slowly got back to their feet before finally getting on with it. During this time, Harold decided his feet hurt and got a chair. And from atop an uneven, wholly uncomfortable chair that creaked and clattered every single time he shuffled his weight, Harold’s attention alternated between the clock on the wall and the scattered handful of disinterested locals and disinterested, broke tourists drifting in and out of the gallery. At one point, a pleasant man with thinning hair and a thick Romanian accent briefly considered purchasing that pair of seedy motel photos on either side of the clock. But as the pleasant man later told his equally pleasant, squattish wife, “I would love to buy it, but that angry little man looked like he needed it more.”
This continued for much of the afternoon until a wrinkly potato of a woman with a green visor and bad highlights in her hair asked Brennifer why the lady hadn’t put her phone away and asked the shaggy homeless man in the back to leave.
“You need to leave,” Brennifer said.
“What, leave?” Harold asked, looking up from his chair, accompanied by yet another slow, echoing creak that hung between them. “Why? This is my show.”
“You’re scaring everyone away.”
He cocked an eyebrow, scoffing, “‘Scaring everyone away?’ There’s nobody here, Brennifer!” He gestured to the still mostly empty gallery, locked eyes with a concerned couple in matching shirts, watched as they slipped out the door without any sudden movements, and then turned back to Brennifer. “Okay. Maybe you have a point.”
“Excuse me,” a voice tittered.
Harold and Brennifer turned ever so slightly to their right to find a petite woman smiling a confused smile. She was a cool forty poured into a silk sundress, dark curls kissing the bare, tanned skin of her shoulders. Only the faint hint of laugh lines appearing about a pair of bedroom eyes as a devilish smile–
“Can I help you, Ma’am?” Brennifer squawked.
Harold shooed Brennifer away with a wave of his hand, but without so much as a look her way. “Go vlog in the street, or something, will ya?”
Brennifer considered this, pretended to care, thought better of it, then floated away to do exactly as Harold suggested.
“Is she going to be okay?” the woman asked.
Harold shrugged, Who knows? “How can I help you, Ms…”
Harold’s voice trailed off, and his words hung there a moment before the woman realized the man in front of her wasn’t simply at a loss for words. “Sophia,” she said, extending her hand.
Harold smiled, and did just that. “How can I help you, Ms. Sophia?”
Sophia looked at her hand, back to Harold, then withdrew her hand without another word. “Aren’t you the janitor?”
“What? No.” Harold replied. “I’m the photographer.”
“Yeah,” he said, gesturing to the many photographs hanging on the wall, but specifically to the reasonably sized sign by the door with both Harold’s name and face printed on it. “These are all my–”
“I’m so sorry,” she apologized, sneaking another look at the sign by the door, “Harold.”
“Did you actually think I was the janitor?”
“I mean, you dress so…” she trailed off, gesturing at Harold.
Harold sighed and shook his head. “No, I totally get it.”
“Poor,” she clarified. “You dress like a poor–“
“Yeah. I got it.”
She looked at him. Did you, though?
A silence fell between them until Brennifer was nearly rundown in the street by a passing bike messenger while she complained about her crummy day at work to strangers on the internet. Her subsequent shouting and swearing, though frowned upon by everyone else around her, provided a conveniently timed distraction for both Harold and Sophia.
“So,” Harold started, turning to the not-screaming woman beside him. “Sophia. Did you see something you like?”
“Actually,” Sophia replied, still seized on the pink-haired woman still shouting at the long-gone cyclist. “I wanted to inquire about a possible private session.”
Sophia turned toward a photograph of a naked woman wistfully looking out across Santiago Canyon at sunset, and sighed.
“Okay,” Harold blinked.
As she shared some emotionally charged story about her fading beauty and the men who once painted images of her, Sophia drifted from one image to the next, pausing dramatically as necessary. Harold watched this from his creaky chair, but mostly tuned in and out until Sophia stopped long enough that he simply assumed she had finished.
“I would love to photograph you, Sophia,” he said, still creaking in that damned chair as he did so. “But, why me?”
She considered this for a moment. “Do you believe in fate, Harold?”
Harold didn’t consider this at all. “No, not really.”
And then for the sake of dramatic conflict, it was at this time that Sophia’s previously unmentioned husband appeared.