The Exchange

Evan met the love of his life while he was on an awkward date with someone else. It had been arranged by a professional matchmaker. His date was Liz, and she managed accounts at a corporate medical sales company. Her profile suggested a beautiful, intelligent woman, so Evan decided to give the date an honest attempt.

They went to a seafood restaurant and the art museum downtown. She picked her teeth at dinner and discussed her dog’s lengthy veterinarian history. Evan tried to be interested. He tried not to stare at her cleavage, which served as a landing place for bits of food throughout dinner. He tried to ask her about music, philosophy, sports or anything else, but she kept veering back to her damn dog. He tried, and that was what mattered, wasn’t it? That’s what he would tell people later: he tried. By the time they arrived at the museum, he was already counting the minutes before it was socially acceptable to part ways.

Her heels clacked on the white tile floor. The corners of her mouth were still stained with au jus from her prime rib. Yes, she had ordered prime rib at the city’s finest seafood establishment. He should have met her at a chicken wings restaurant.
In the bright museum lights, her black dress was obviously faded and stretched beyond its capacity on her stomach and hips. Chopin’s Nocturnes fell like soft rain through the speakers, and Evan tried to let the music absorb his negative feelings.

“Ugh, I hate it when the pictures are blurry like that,” she said, pointing at Monet’s “Water Lilies.”

“It’s Impressionist art. It’s supposed to look like that,” Evan said, barely able to disguise his disgust. “You’ve heard of Monet before, right?” Please say yes.

“Yes, duh. I’ve heard of him,” she said with an eye roll. “I just think it’s stupid that we’re supposed to stand here and praise something that looks like a child did it.”

“Are you being serious?”

“Yeah. I mean, ok, so my friend Caroline went to one of those drink and paint places. You know, the kind where you bring a bottle of wine, and they tell you what to paint. Well, her wine was French, and the class was for a Monet painting, which she thought was fun because Monet was French. So the instructor was this absolutely fine specimen of man, but he was gay, not that she minded. He was just eye candy for the evening, you know. So they start drinking and he tells them what to paint, one stroke at a time. And Caroline was totally sloshed by the end. I mean just wasted. She had to take a cab home, and she said the cab driver smelled like marijuana. So they’re painting and getting drunk, and at the end, her painting looked almost just like this. So why should I respect it if my friend Caroline, who couldn’t paint to save her life, could go get toasted with a class of other ladies and a gorgeous gay man and come home with basically the same thing?”

All of her stories were like that, meandering and full of extraneous details.

“I don’t even know what to say to that,” he said as they wandered away from the Impressionist exhibit.

“Well, here’s what I suggest. Say this: ‘Hey Liz, let’s leave this boring museum and hit a night club and go dancing.’ That sounds pretty good,” she said with a horse-toothed grin.

“How about this? Hey, Liz, why don’t you leave this museum since you find it boring? Go find a nightclub or whatever you want. I don’t think this is going to work out.”

She frowned and tilted her head to the right.

“Fine,” Liz said. “You’re a terrible listener, by the way. You should work on that before your next date.”

Then she spun on her heels and clacked out of the museum. Evan wandered to other exhibits, his sense of relief growing with each new room. Why was it so hard to find a good date? The women his friends set him up with tended to be one thing or another: beauty or brains, sports or art, fashion or philosophy. The women the matchmaker set him up with were bottom of the barrel types who were so desperate that he couldn’t tell what else they were. Or they were so classless that he couldn’t imagine any man of taste wanting them, like Liz. They were all so damn talkative. He’d barely said a word the entire evening. She hadn’t even asked what he did for a living.

Evan plopped on a bench in the sculpture hall and gazed around him. And that was where he saw her. At first it was curiosity that drew him to her. She stood alone under an arch in the wall, a Roman style toga draped over her body, carefully arranged so that the right half of her torso was exposed. He circled her looking for a plaque or some indication of her name and creator.
As he walked around her, Evan studied her features. The delicate curve of her breast and up-tilted nipple was superbly crafted. Her waist formed a gentle concave slope to her hip. Evan sucked in his breath. Her face was exquisitely carved with high cheekbones, eyes that were neither too round or too almond shaped, and wisps of wavy hair were sculpted into bands atop her head which cascaded down to frame her face. She was perfection in white marble.

“I wish I knew your name,” he whispered. “I wish I knew anything about you. Where you’re from, who made you, anything.”

Did she tremble? Was there warmth emanating from her marble curves? Perhaps it was his imagination. A raspy alto female voice interrupted the eerily eloquent violin strains of Ravel’s Berceuse sur la nom de Gabriel Faure, startling Evan.

“Attention visitors. It is now 9 pm, and the museum is closing. The museum will reopen at 10 am tomorrow. Thank you for visiting and have a wonderful evening.”

Tomorrow, Evan thought. Tomorrow I’ll come back and see what I can learn about her. He walked slowly away from her, looking back often. The security guard was too busy scrolling through his phone to notice the strange look on Evan’s face.
The next morning, Evan returned, and after casually strolling the other rooms as long as he could stand it, he hurried to the sculpture hall. The bench was too far from her for Evan to study her features with the attention she deserved. When he asked the burly security guard to move the bench, the guard laughed in his face.

“Sure, buddy,” he said. “Anything else you’d like to rearrange in here? Want me to move the sculptures around too?”

That afternoon, Evan called his CFO and made the quarterly inquiry. His accounts were growing as usual, and company profits had never been higher.

“Have we made any sizable charitable donations this quarter?” Evan asked.

“Not yet, sir.”

“Please set up a meeting with whomever handles donations at the art museum.”

By the end of the week, Evan was a “Friend of the Museum,” the security guard had been relocated to one of the painting rooms and replaced with a more apathetic colleague, and the bench was next to his beloved statue. Evan spent all of his spare time there, sitting beside her. Sometimes he sat in silence, and sometimes he whispered to her about his life, his work, his hopes, and his loneliness. His childhood, his opinion on politics, philosophy, and even art dominated their conversations. Over time, his talks became more confessional.

“I hire prostitutes sometimes,” he said to her once. “Don’t worry; they’re clean. I pay a premium price for women of a certain class. A man gets lonely sometimes, and they don’t mind being used.”

The statue had no response but the usual cold indifference. She didn’t judge. She didn’t mock. She didn’t preach. If only she would send him the faintest glimmer of that warmth from the night they met. A tremble, half a movement, anything to let him know she was not an immutable mute. Perhaps she was waiting for a sign that he was worthy of her.

The next time he visited, he leaned forward and softly said, “There are no more prostitutes. Not for me. I’ve closed my dating profiles too.” He cleared his throat and glanced around the room. No one nearby. “It’s only you for me now.”

He stared at her until his eyes burned for the need to blink. Just as his lids began to drop, he glimpsed the faintest quiver in her neck. Didn’t he? It wasn’t just the lack of saline in his eyes, the strong desire to see life in her, was it? He stood at arm’s length from her and studied her for the next hour. No movement.

On another occasion, he said, “It’s amazing what money can do. I’m always in awe of the intangible things I can buy. Things you’d think would be priceless. I’ve bought the love of women—but not anymore of course, as we discussed—I’ve bought the trust of judges and the interest of politicians. Most importantly, I’ve bought the loyalty of my employees. And it was all so cheap, so insignificant compared to what I would have spent for the same. Last year, I gave a half of a percent raise to everyone in my company, and they would have made me king if they could. No other local companies were giving raises with the recession and all. Half of a percent, and they worshipped me. In turn, they’ve made me a much wealthier man this year. Truly amazing, isn’t it?”

Nothing from her. Not a quiver. No warmth. Just the same coldness. The same apathy.

“You disapprove? I didn’t have to give them anything. I was a hero in a time when no other companies were doing anything. It was on the news, for crying out loud.”


One evening, after a nearly three hour visit, Evan leaned as close to her as he dared with the guard in the room and said, “Perhaps you don’t understand how wealthy I am. Without even feeling it, I could double the salary of my entire payroll. I could even buy you and take you home with me.” He paused and considered this, rubbing the back of his neck with his palm. “In fact, maybe I will. In my parlor, there is a large space next to the fireplace. I could put you there, where you’d be warm. Then I could talk to you all night. We could even touch.”

His fingers quivered, and his hand reached out to her. The security guard cleared his throat and nodded at the “No Touching” plaque on the wall behind her. Evan clenched his fist and lowered his hand to his side.

The next day, he contacted the museum curator. The statue had come from the private collection of a patron who wished to remain anonymous. There was no hope of purchasing her.

That night, he went to visit her, discouraged by the dead end, he’d encountered. He stopped at the door to the sculpture hall. The security guard was obviously bored.

“If I give you a thousand dollars in cash, will you give me an hour alone in here?”

“What? Of course not! I can’t do that. I’ll get fired.”

“No, you won’t. I’ll make sure of that. And if you do get fired, I’ll hire you myself. A thousand dollars not to work for an hour. Think about it.”

The guard studied Evan’s face uncertainly.

“It’s not a test. I’m not going to turn you in or anything. Look, here’s the money,” Evan said, pulling out a thick stack of crisp bills. “Put this in your pocket and leave. I can’t steal anything in here. It’s all giant sculptures.”

The guard took a deep breath and exhaled. “Ok,” he said, pocketing the money. “Just don’t do anything weird.”

A moment after the guard left, Evan was standing in front of his mysterious ideal woman.

“I’ve done it,” he said softly. “I’ve doubled the salary of my entire payroll. For you. Do you approve?”

He waited. She didn’t change. Nothing about her showed approval or disapproval in the slightest. For several minutes, he stood his usual arm’s length from her. He swallowed, a slight sweat beading at his temples. Glancing behind him to make sure he was alone, he stepped closer.

He leaned an inch from her ear and whispered, “There’s been a snag. You can’t come home with me yet. Your owner won’t sell. In fact, next week, you’ll be moved to another museum. I don’t know how yet, but I’m going to find a way to stop that.”

The guard was still gone. Alone with her, his heart raced. His hand shook and reached towards her face, stopping millimeters from her cheek. After a final glance around the room, he grazed a finger across her cheekbones. The marble was cool to his touch. Breath caught in his throat, chest exploding in rhythmic pulses, he traced her jawline and the curls in her hair.

“I know you can feel this,” he whispered, lips grazing her ear. “I remember that first night. You were warm. You trembled next to me. I know you want me.”

His index finger slid down the right side of her neck to her shoulder. Did she seem to warm a bit? Was that a smile tugging at the corners of her lips?

His body was inches from hers. He cupped her breast in his hand, massaging the nipple. Evan took a final step towards her, pressing his body against hers. His hand traveled down the curve of her side. Gripping her waist, he placed his lips on hers. They were warm, more than warm; they were burning hot. The toga shifted, and her skin softened under his fingers.

Evan’s brown eyes met her blue ones. Some of her dark curls loosened and fell to her shoulders. Her strong pink arms gripped him. Inhaling sharply, Evan tried to step back, but he couldn’t move. His lips remained locked on hers. His heart was in his stomach, and he couldn’t feel his feet.

Still gripping him, she rotated them so she was facing the wall and he the room. The toga trailed behind her, grazing his pant leg. Finally, she pushed him free of her and stepped back.

The sweetest voice he’d ever heard said, “You disgust me.”

She ran from the room, her bare feet hardly making a sound on the tile.

Evan reached out his arms and tried to lunge forward. Her words stung like a thousand needles all over his body. He couldn’t move. The numbness in his feet had worked its way to his waist, and he was so cold. She had vanished, taking all of his warmth with her.

Eventually, the bench was put back in its normal place. The former guard returned to his post in the sculpture hall. When visitors inquired after the title and creator of the “Desperate Businessman” sculpture as they called him, they were simply told that the information was confidential.

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