Flash Fiction

Andy’s Alley

He reads—“New… Naïve… Art”—and snorts. “The hell?”

Whenever my father inhabits his Andy Warhol mode, he detests the museum’s humble collections. There had been a Degas exhibit here last year and a Rembrandt one before that, but the local sculpture filling the spaces left by these normally un-gettable exhibits draws only sucks and blows.

“It means artists who work outside the lines,” I answer.

“Amateur hour with clay.” He strokes a phallic-looking vase. “Hope the divorcée who made this didn’t quit her day job.”

“What makes you think a woman sculpted it?”

He points to the placard below the clay stalk. “Says here first name’s Leslie.”

“Could just as easily be a man. Leslie Nielsen?”

“Doesn’t count.”

Andy is my father’s favorite dead artist to play. He sounds like a sewer-mouthed Socrates sizing up everything that ever frustrated him: bills, bosses, women, daughters who didn’t know what they were until they weren’t anymore.

“Can’t you just appreciate the time it took this person to create that?” I cannot bring my father to museums anymore without endangering local art.

“I’d have appreciated Degas.”

“He’s not here now.”

He’s near to knocking the vase off its pedestal. His middle finger looks itchy.

“He knew what to paint.” Dad twitches. “Whores. Skinny ones, fat ones. Whores at full gallop.”

“You mean horses.”

He lets the vase off with a warning and grins at me. “Those, too.”

My father loves Andy Warhol for the same reason I love my father: their mastery of the mundane. Andy painted squads of soup cans and musing Beatles. My father collected beer cans with misprints and scratched his undying love for my mother on the warped wood of our houseboat before it sank.

Andy had worn his hair spiky, tempered. Split. “Like you!” my father used to joke. “And we both love Marilyn Monroe, you know.”

I know. And it’s called dissociative disorder, Dad, not split. And I’m getting better.

On Andy/Dad’s orders, we march through a tribute to Pacific Islander culture.

“Christ, too many shoulder boys,” he scoffs.

Next is an exhibit from the early Greco-Roman period.

“Boobs were never that hard.”

Then a swath of French Impressionism.

“Pretentious shit.”

And swatches of American Impressionism.

“Ugh. Food-dyed fuck shit.”

He scowls at an abstract painting of a woman folding a napkin in her lap in broken strokes.

“You know the problem with this?”

I’m trying to capture an American impressionist’s sailing party in my sketchpad. “Hmm?”

“This.” He taps on the glass. “Her.”

“Stop. What’s the problem with her?”

He scans the configuration of swirls and lines, the two oval slices doubling as hands, clutching a scalene triangle of lacelike ivory circles.

“She’s not thinking.” He bends his head to hers. “It’s not that she is and I can’t hear her. She isn’t thinking. Anything.”

Everyone thinks, I tell him. Even if they’re just thinking about lunch or work or how much their head hurts.

“Nah.” He waves me off. “She’s a Blank.”

He runs three fingers along the egg-shell white wall beside the painting in line with a crooked painted hutch behind the woman. “I’ve known some. Blanks.”

I never have, but I mentally capitalize the term the way his tone suggests.

“They’re much worse off than us. We think too much, right? They don’t think—period.”

I suppose it does his mind good to have a we and a they, but I tell him I need the quiet to sketch. A blank mind would be a tremendous canvas to draw on.

“All your semantics.”

I can tell he’s starting to forget again why we’re here.

He turns back to her and presses his thumb against the wall beside the painting’s frame as though he were being fingerprinted. “The blank mind is a huge place. There’s all kinds of horror in open fields of white.”

Why would an open field hold horror?

“No place to hide or run. Some godawful thing in your mind comes after you, it finds you immediately.”

How about just not thinking bad thoughts?

“It’s never that easy.” He steps back from the painting and eyes me. “You argue too much.”

I know he doesn’t like coming here. He usually starts losing patience with me around this time every Saturday.

But I press on.

“Dad, I need to draw. It helps the grief.”

“You never say you love me anymore.”

“I do.” I close my pad and stare into the empty space. “You know I do.”

“You don’t like me, then.”

“I don’t like what I’ve become.”

“You blame me for that?”

I shake my head no. I mean it. I don’t blame him. For the boat fire. For her being on it. He had been a thousand miles away in Dodge Correctional when it happened.

But he’s walking away now, and I lose him in a crowd of milling patrons on their way to Andy’s Alley, where replicas of Warhol’s work are on display 365 days rain or shine.

I want to tell him it’s just so hard to tell things apart anymore. What’s a sketch and what’s finished—what’s there and isn’t. It won’t be long before I can’t tell myself anymore.

A half hour later, I’m sitting on a pink lounge sofa in Andy’s Alley. The largest piece in the room is a too-bright replica of his self-portrait, and when I rest here, in this spot, it all seems so self-assured—nine men’s faces forked by probing index fingers, thinking. Box after box of confident contemplation. To drag the sofa any closer would be obscene. It would mean seeing not faces but splatters of garish neon, looking lost and cold like an abandoned playdough food fight. I want to cry.
I can’t do that in the alley. I must stay here and wait until Dad returns. Then together we’ll find that spot where the paintings turn to color and stroke, where Gestalt breaks down the whole into the particulars, and all art becomes nonsense.

Brennan Thomas is a Professor of English at Saint Francis University. She has published short fiction and poetry in several online magazines, including Right Hand Pointing, Microfiction Monday Magazine, and Eunoia Review, as well as more than a dozen nonfiction articles on film and popular media studies.