“This is from a local artist, you say?” the man lifted thick, sausage-like fingers and adjusted the fragile wire rims perched on a nose that looked like it had been flattened in a boxing ring. A more unlikely looking gallery owner I’d never seen, but Saul Frederick was examining Tango’s drawing closely, looking back at the signature several times.
“Yes, local,” I confirmed.
“Well, I don’t know him,” Saul set the drawing back down on the glass case between us. “Very fine work. Reminiscent of Stephen Wiltshire in its detail. If the artist has a collection of this caliber, I’d like to see more.”
“So you do think it’s possible a gallery would have this artist’s work?”
Saul shrugged. “Like I say, he, or she, would need several pieces of at least this caliber. Quite engaging, this. It would appeal to many types of buyers. Very marketable.”
“Thanks. I’m certainly hoping to obtain more of the work myself.”
“And you have no other information on the artist? Not even a name?”
“As I said, it was given to me by a friend. No other information came with it.”
Which all was true, as far as it went. Sensitive to the fact that names in the trans community can be as fluid as gender, I hadn’t shared Tango’s with any of the gallery owners. The signature clearly began with a “T”. That would have to suffice as a clue.
“Well I wish you luck in your search. You may want to try Gallery Axis. I think it’s already on your list. Very tony, but it’s the gallery most likely the carry this genre of work and the owner prides herself on discovering new artists.”
I left Saul’s place, eyeing the the late day sun as it started its descent into the Pacific. Saul’s comments had been repeated several times by the gallery owners I’d visited that day.
“Unknown to me.”
“Bring him by when you find out who it is.”
I had been unsuccessful in my attempts to forget Tango or the night we spent together. Just a trick, just a one night stand, I’d to myself. But my mind hadn’t reacted to him like any other one night stand and frankly, neither had my body. All I had to show for the night were some bone melting memories and an exquisite drawing on 8x11 copy paper.
The first day I had left the drawing where I had found it on the counter, returning frequently to study it. Though not an art expert by any means, Tango’s talent was apparent in the sketch’s intricacy. The drawing showed two figures, me and Tango I imagined, seated at a small table at an outdoor café. They were simply sitting, espresso cups on the table, not touching, but clearly absorbed in each other. Activity swirled around them – wait staff, other diners, city buses, sidewalk vendors, passersby. The page was filled with movement and yet the eye was drawn back to the two lovers again and again. A whole story on one page and executed in what could have been only a few minutes. Not more than an hour.
This morning, I’d whimsically tacked the paper on my art wall, alongside the cathedrals and nudes. Throwing myself back on the couch, I grabbed the remote that operated the loft’s lights and stared at the wall. With rapid depressions of my thumb, I played with the lighting, bathing the whole wall in a spotlight, then dimming it and randomly spotlighting various works. Two of the Lynes and three of the Monets. One Monet circled by all the Lynes. Finally, I settled on only the cathedrals, considering them as I often did when working through a problem. I’d acquired them after returning from Europe.
Though leaving the States is not necessary when seeking surgery, I’d been ready for an escape altogether. Once the sale of my company hit the business news, the state of my finances became a matter of open discussion. Requests for dontations arrived from individuals and non-profit agencies alike. I was well aware that the consequences of gender non-conformity are perhaps felt most strongly when it comes to earning a living. I had wanted to help and had chosen to fund a non-profit that purported to focus on job training and employer outreach on behalf of transgender individuals. They had, as it turned out, simply been a shell organization opportunistically taking money from me and other donors. The fact that the operation had been run by other trans people had made the fleecing doubly painful.
Disheartened and feeling alienated from my community, I’d remained in Europe long past what was needed for recovery. Somewhere along the way, the cathedrals I toured served up inspiration and a dose of courage. It had taken generations of dedicated workers to construct the monuments and the construction had not always gone smoothly. Progress was not always linear. Integration of alternative genders within mainstream sensibilities was going to take the same sort of dedication, and sadly, more than one generation of work.
I knew, too, that despite one bad experience, my money could help ease the way for other trans people and help them find their way profitable careers. Meeting Ryan and Scott, at a club frequented by American ex-pats in Florence, had helped me start laying the foundation for my own, personal cathedral.
I stood and looked at Tango’s drawing yet again. E had signed it in one of those typical artist’s signatures, a large T with a short wavy line following. As a parting gift from a one night stand it was extraordinary but it lacked what I most wanted from em. Contact info. I tapped the drawing with a finger. “I’m going to find you, Blue Eyes.”
A call to my art consultant, the woman who had procured the Monet and Lynes’ pieces for me, elicited a list of the city’s private art galleries and the names of their owners. Tango had an agent; an art showing had been planned by a local gallery. Surely someone in the arts would know em. I’d spent the afternoon making the rounds of the art galleries. I figured I had time to visit at least one more today.
“I am Miss Tweed, owner of the gallery. My assistant tells me you are looking for some information.” A wisp of a woman glided forward, hand extended in greeting.
“Thank you for seeing me. I was given a small drawing that I am hoping to learn more about.”
“Let’s take a look back in my office.” Miss Tweed hooked her hand into the crook of my arm so that I could escort her across the showroom floor. She walked slowly, being a woman of a certain age, her frail looking legs navigating the floor on spiked heels. Along the way she kept up a running commentary on the framed pieces on display in her gallery, mentioning repeatedly what a coup it was for her to have acquired them. I assumed this was her sale pitch. Clearly I was meant to infer that it would be a coup for me to purchase and hang said work in my own home.
I sighed inwardly. Passing on the name of my art consultant had gotten me entré to ask my questions, but it also pegged me as somewhat more than a window shopper. She clearly knew I could pay the price tag on the art. Still, the assistant who had summoned her boss had offered the first hope I had encountered in this so far fruitless search.
“Oh, this looks familiar.” The girl had frowned, turning Tango’s sketch this way and that, squinting at the signature. “I am sure I’ve seen work from this person before. Madeleine Tweed, she’s the owner, Madeleine is very good at spotting the break-out artists. Indeed, she often is the one launching their career.”
She scrunched her brows in concentration.
“Yes, very familiar. Even the scene…” she trailed off as the phone rang. Quickly putting the incoming caller on hold, she turned back to me. “Madeleine is in her office at the back of the gallery. I could take the drawing back and show it to her if you like.”
“I’m reluctant to let go of it, even momentarily. Maybe Ms. Tweed could give me a few minutes of her time?” I drew out my business card. “Please let her know she was referred to me.” I passed on the name of my art consultant.
As I waited a fizz of excitement had my heart picking up pace. This must be the gallery where Tango’s show had been planned. It was the first place the sketch had garnered even a hint of recognition.
Thus it transpired that I was escorting Miss Tweed back to her office via a circuitous loop of the current work on display. Finally seated across the desk from her, I unsnapped the portfolio into which I had slipped Tango’s drawing and flipped the cover open. “Here is a piece from the artist I am trying to identify. Your assistant said the work looked somewhat familiar, but she couldn’t place it.”
I held my breath. Tweed glanced at the drawing, clearly prepared to dismiss it so that she could focus on selling me something off the walls of her gallery. Instead, she did a double take, grasping the edges of the portfolio. “You don’t know who did this, you say?”
“Haven’t a clue. I very much like the work, however.”
She looked a moment longer, then snapped the portfolio closed and handed it back to me. “A nobody.”
The anger that ripped through me at the pronouncement was swift and total. It took some work to conceal my reaction and much more to hold it at bay. The praise of the drawing up to this point had been unanimous. The more kudos it had received, the more I was led to wonder why Tango’s art show had been cancelled. The possibility that the show had been cancelled due to some artistic deficit had grown increasingly slim.
While I had hoped the cancellation was not due to eir gender presentation, it had been the first reason to come to mind when e spoke of it. Hearing Tango so cavalierly now, and suspecting the reason for the dismissal, twisted my gut. “I was so sure you’d have seen this artist’s work before, Miss Tweed.”
I pushed the sketch back in front of her. “Everyone I’ve talked to says you have an eye for the up and coming artists. The other gallery owners have been unanimous in their praise of the drawing.”
“Trust me, whoever drew that has no future whatsoever.” Tweed’s lips thinned, and she offered me her brittle proprietor’s smile. “Now, if it is ink drawings you are interested in collecting, I can show you an absolutely exquisite piece by my latest discovery.”
I sat for a moment, imaging myself standing and looming over the mendacious older woman, adopting an intimidating stance and scaring an admission out of her. Getting Tango’s contact information was beside the point. I wanted her to admit she knew em, knew the work was good and was only refusing to show it because she, personally, was uncomfortable with Tango’s neither here nor there gender. What’s more, she was now deliberately sabotaging eir reputation. As a recognized art expert, people would believe her if she declared an artist a nobody. Even the artist themself might believe her.
I rose to my feet, but of course made no attempt to intimidate the old lady. Indicating she should remain seated I again thanked her for her time. “I’ll continue my quest elsewhere.”
She, however, refused to let me make a clean getaway. “Trust me, your efforts are a waste of time. The person who drew that has no chance of a promising career ahead of her.”
“I disagree with you. Strongly disagree.” I eyed her consideringly. “Do you still have my business card, Miss Tweed?”
“I suggest you Google my name. Find out a little about me. Then, if you still think anything in your gallery would interest me, give me a call.”
Childish, but satisfying to have had the last word. The business news could be as gossipy as any entertainment column, and I’d been thoroughly covered when I sold my company to one of the pharmaceutical giants and ultimately cashed out. I knew she’d easily learn the basics about me – I was a transsexual, and I’d made a lot of money. Not that the loss of my potential business would put a dent in her bottom line. Who knows? Maybe the knowledge that a transsexual could be a customer would lead her to examine her prejudices.
Angered and unnerved by the exchange, I had gone nearly a block before realizing someone was chasing after me. “Sir, sir!”
Turning, I saw the assistant from Miss Tweed’s shop flagging me down. “Yes?”
“Was Madeleine able to help?”
“She did not have a name for me.” I took in the young woman’s bright-eyed eagerness. “Did you recall where you’d seen something like this before?”
“Not exactly, not the artist, but I recognize the café in the picture. It’s here in town, over near the old warehouse district.”
I smiled, relief and excitement tempering my earlier discomfort. Finally, a lead in the growing mystery of my flighty genderqueer.