Best Served Cold
by Antoinette McCormick
A blustery wind rattled the lobby doors, keys rattling in the locks, and threw volleys of sleet against their long, glass panes. As a handful of students hurried inside the glass-fronted, enclosed colonnade that served as both lobby and main gallery for Bluecastle College’s Fine Arts Complex, it tore at their hair and moaned in their scurrying wake. It was only three o’clock, but outside, land and sky had already fused into an unbroken block of bleary gray. Inside, long shadows and the ghostly reflections of marble columns stretched across the polished floor, and the dim gold cast by the gallery’s suspended frosted globes did little to relieve either gloom or chill.
Shivering, I looked up from where I was helping mask light cables, just as Rod squeezed through one of the carved oak doors he’d shimmed ajar at the theater entrance. Kneeling, he deposited his bundle of colored gels with a clatter that rang through the nearly deserted gallery. Then, pausing for a moment, he fingered the violet curtain that shrouded the tiered, circular plinth. The drape rigged to drop at the tug of a cord. “I can’t believe we’re doing this, Piper,” he whispered.
“It’s what she wanted.” I reached for a gel frame.
“Mark’s gonna flip when he finds out.” Rod worried one of the glass beads on his hemp choker. “We could both be expelled.”
Dr. Mark Dente was the Academic Dean and the reason why Petra Fazzolli wasn’t allowed to supervise the installation of her sculpture or attend its unveiling. I shrugged. “We’re just following her last email’s instructions.”
“Yeah,” he snorted, “they’ll believe that. You’re her assistant, and I’m the student Technical Supervisor, as well as… you know…” Trailing off, he crawled behind the plinth and began fitting a green gel into one of the display lights.
“Sounds like you’re having second thoughts,” I said.
“I’m not!” He slammed the metal frame so hard into its holder it made me jump. A group of girls carrying yoga bags eyed us nervously as they passed. Sidelong, Rod watched until they’d disappeared around the corner at the lobby’s far end. Then, leaning in, he said softly, “You’re not the only one who thinks she got a raw deal. She – we – were just doing what half the other professors here – Mark included – have been – Jeez!” He threw up his hands in exasperation.
“Tenured professors. So, have you seen her?”
“No.” Rising, he wiped his hands on his faded Carhartt’s. “I’m going to focus these. You might want to stand over there.” He indicated the podium, engraved with a leaping stag, the school’s crest, on the plinth’s right. “They heat up really fast.”
“No problem.” I started toward the faculty offices. “I need to get the announcements, anyway.”
After depositing my black watch cap and fleece vest in Petra's office, I returned to the gallery. Rod had finished focusing, and now, small clusters of students and faculty were arriving.
After placing handfuls of the glossy black cards with ‘Possession’ scrawled on their faces in silver around the gallery, I rejoined Rod by the podium. “All set.” I glanced at the clock above the Box Office.
The lobby doors banged as Dean Dente entered with his retinue.
“Showtime,” Rod muttered through gritted teeth.
Seeing Rod, the Dean started for just a moment, but then, affecting a thin smile, he strode stiffly to the podium.
I stepped forward. “Good afternoon, Dean Dente.”
“Ah, Piper,” he said, shaking my hand a bit too vigorously. “Nice to see you!” Dropping my hand, eyeing the drape, he said, “So, what can you tell me about this?”
I handed him an announcement. “Petra said everything you need to know is right here.”
“Did she?” Scowling, he scanned the card, front and back.
After a terse conversation with Rod, and a squealing microphone check, the Dean adjusted his spectacles and cleared his throat. The attendees, barely numbering twenty, crowded in a semi-circle around him.
“First of all, I’d like to thank all of you for braving the elements in order to join us this afternoon,” he said. “As many of you know, Petra Fazzolli is renowned for her sculptures, her monuments, and her unconventional,” he paused before continuing, “choices.”
The crowd twittered. Glowering, Rod slipped into the theater.
“I regret to inform you that, for personal reasons, Petra could not attend the unveiling of her work today. Unfortunately, those same reasons have now forced her to relinquish her assistant professorship.”
Murmurs rippled through the crowd. A frisson of confusion and conjecture the Dean silenced with a raised hand. “Although Petra’s sudden departure creates a tremendous void – one which will not easily be filled – she has graciously donated a token of remembrance.” He motioned to the curtain. “A welcome addition to the college’s permanent collection…” Pausing, he flipped the card over and scanned the few words written on its back. “Forgive me,” he said. “Usually the artist does this part.”
The crowd chuckled nervously.
“Ever enigmatic, Petra offers us only this.” Waving the card, he intoned, “Possession: a treasured object… Possession: a state of ownership… Possession: an act of implied dominance… Esteemed colleagues and students, it is my honor to present…” He tugged the cord. “‘Possession!’”
Lights hummed as the curtain fell, revealing a translucent stag rearing proudly from a frosted base. Backlit by the undulating polar aurora, infused with pale fire, its glassy surface glistened.
“Simply stunning!” The Dean crowed. The crowd cooed and applauded appreciatively.
Part of the curtain caught on the tip of the stag’s antlers. “Whoops! Let’s just remove this for a better look.” Dean Dente reached for the fold. Behind him, Rod spied from the theater’s shadows.
The cloth pulled away with a dull snap. The antler fell to the floor, where it shattered. The crowd collectively moaned. Ashen-faced, the Dean reached for the largest piece, but upon touching it, quickly recoiled. Horrified, he stared at his glistening hand. “Why, it’s… ice,” he gasped. “It’s nothing but ice!”
A fan of Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and all things that go ‘bump’ in the night (unless they’re in the woodshed overturning her garbage can), aspiring writer Antoinette McCormick makes her living as a health care professional. She lives in Vermont.
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