life: a dialogue

Alfred carefully navigated the last two steps, bracing himself on the railing of the staircase.

He’d worked here nineteen years now and still never learned to trust the steps – they were too smooth, too even. He preferred to feel rough brick under his shoes, but that didn’t fit the aesthetic of the gallery.

Before him sat a younger man, probably in his thirties. He stared as if unseeing – uncomprehending – the wall of paintings, the kind that commanded prices mainly heard when talking about a millionaire’s fortune.

“Impressive, isn’t it?” He sounded very polished, a curious contrast to his disheveled appearance.

Alfred took the bait, sitting carefully at the other end of the seat.

“Yes… millions of dollars just in this one room,” he agreed.

“Strange. Your employer spends millions collecting pieces of art. I spend hours trying to collect a few thousand in debt.”

“What’s it all for?” He punctuated the gesture with an arm sweep that made Alfred reflexively nervous – he’d spent some time in the sculptures section years ago.

“Life, perhaps,” Alfred suggested. “We all collect now – money, art, books, anything you could want.”

“Maybe we do it to prove our own presence in the world – I am here, I have this bank account or collection of things.”

“Or personality.”

“Yes. ‘Look at all these items I have. They make up some part of me, my personality.'”

Alfred hummed in assent, idly casting his mind back to his own collections. Stamps, comics as a child, clippings of old newspaper articles… now it was childrens’ toys and sports almanacs and his wife’s cookbooks.

“No,” he decided. “It’s to tell a story.”

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