Henri paced back and forth in the middle of the gallery, his hands behind his back. He stopped at the table every couple of minutes to down a gulp of wine. His assistant Claude kept watch out of one eye, shaking his head from time to time.
“I tell you Claude it’s driving me mad. I need to know what they really think of my work.”
“I would think the money that keeps rolling in would give you at least a clue.”
Henri threw his hands up. “Oh fuck that, investors don’t count. I mean the common man. Well, not the common ones, what the hell do they know about art? I mean the ones that come and consider buying a canvas because it moves them. You know, the ones who say they’re friends.”
Claude put his arm around Henri’s shoulder and guided him into a seat. “Henri, look. Enjoy your success. You want to know what they think? They think you’re a genius.”
“So they say, Claude. Anyway, is everything in place for the opening tonight?”
“Just a few more canvases to be hung. Don’t worry; it will all be ready in time. I have to run some errands; I’ll be back in time to great the first guest. I have that new boy putting up the last pieces and making sure everything is in order.”
Henri waved Claude away and poured himself more wine. He was too on edge over this new opening. He wanted everything to be perfect. He wanted to be adored. He wanted the world. He downed his wine and opened a new bottle. They had plenty for the opening.
Within the hour he had managed to finish it off. He got up and headed for the bathroom to relieve himself. He could hear the new kid working in the next room and called out to him to be sure he had every canvas hung. He heard a grunt in return.
As he headed for the toilet he felt his stomach rumble. Perhaps I’ve overdone it a bit was the last thought he had as the contents of his stomach rushed upwards. He ran, and as he did his foot caught on a blank canvas leaning against an easel and he went down face first and unloaded.
He pulled himself upright and examined the mess on his shirt and jacket. Disgusted, he headed for his studio to shower and change. He made it to his bed and sat down, then fell over sideways and into a deep sleep.
Claude returned to the gallery half an hour before the opening of the new exhibition. He found a note from the new kid saying he’d gotten all the canvases hung and everything was ready to go. He signed off saying how daring he thought the new canvas was.
Claude wanted to take a quick tour to make sure everything was too his liking but he figured he’d better check on Henri first. He went looking for him. Not finding him in the gallery he went to Henri’s private studio and found him emerging from the shower.
“Ready for the show? The guests should be arriving any time.”
Henri offered a sullen nod and started dressing.
“Are you all right Henri?”
“Oh, I suppose I drank a bit too much wine, but I had a nap and I’m feeling better. I tell you Claude; I need to know how people really feel about my work. Do some eavesdropping tonight, will you?
“All right, Henri, don’t worry. Now lets get out there. It’s time to mingle.”
Henri took up his place in the middle of the gallery and received the guests as they arrived. He smiled at the fawning comments and played the proper host. Half an hour into the opening with the place quite crowded with art lovers Claude approached looking pale.
“Henri, we have a situation.”
“What is it?”
“Well, a lot of the guests are impressed with a particular canvas at the back corner.”
“Good. Which one is it?”
“Well, you see, that’s the thing. It’s not something…” Claude trailed off, lost for words.
“Oh for heavens sake Claude, I’ll see for myself.”
Henri approached a group of people crowded around a canvas and as one noticed his approach they all turned to him and showered him with praise.
“Henri! Bravo, my good man. Such a daring and original move. Honestly, you’re a genius.”
The others nodded agreement and Henri’s eye wandered to the piece. There on the wall was the canvas he had fallen face down on as he vomited. With a supreme effort of will he smiled and turned back to his admirers.
“Oh, yes, that…well, you see…”
They were staring eagerly at him and he knew what he had to do.
“I wanted to make a statement about the inner chaos of the self. The undeniable longing of the soul for release from the bonds of strife that…”
He laid it on thick and the crowd around him grew.