An Unusual Lecture

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A lecturer ends up in front of a weird audience.

Submitted: June 19, 2019

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Submitted: June 19, 2019

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Unusual Lecture An

It was a dreary town on an even drearier, wet November night, and I had to give a lecture on art in the local library. When I walked from my car to the red brick building, I could see the faces of two people watch me from a first-floor window. As I approached the entrance, one of the faces turned away, probably to tell the other people in the room that I had arrived.  I pushed open a heavy mahogany door with a smoke coloured pane of glass. The faded gold lettering on the glass told me I had reached the right building; it read “ibrary.” Close enough, I decided. As soon as I crossed the threshold, a man stepped from the shadows in the hall and approached me with his hand outstretched to greet me.
‘Welcome, welcome, we are so glad you could make it. Sometimes the road into town gets washed away during these heavy rains. I hope you had a good journey?’ His voice sounded nervous. Then he began pumping my hand up and down, his hand felt a bit like a wet wipe that had been out of the box for a couple of minutes too long.
‘I’m Dill,’ he introduced himself. ‘We’re all waiting for you in the room upstairs. Please, follow me,’ He let go of my hand and walked towards a broad, marble staircase that once must have looked impressive, but now just looked tired, its shiny surface worn to a dull yellowness with dark lines criss-crossing it, as if the stone suffered from varicose veins. My host started to climb the stairs, but due to his rotundity a wheezing sound escaped from his lungs at every step, and when he reached the next floor, he took a large white handkerchief from his trouser pocket and wiped some beads of sweat from his face. He turned to me me and gave me a wan smile.
‘We’re not as young as we used to be,’ Dill said apologizingly, before setting off into a corridor on the right. Halfway down the corridor we went into the lecture room. It had at least eighty chairs neatly placed in rows of ten in front of a lectern. The number of seats seemed a bit overestimated since there were only a dozen people present. As we crossed the room, they all fell silent and stared at me. Suddenly, I knew what a caged animal in a zoo must feel. Yet, deep down inside I knew these small, rural towns didn’t get a lot of visitors, so the people’s reaction must have been perfectly natural.
‘Let me get that wet coat for you,’ Dill suggested. I handed him my damp trench-coat, he turned and took it out of the room. I had a good look around at the people that were still staring at me. They all had the ruddy appearance of people who spend a lot of time out in the open, and each and everyone of them was wearing a chequered shirt, even the sole woman present. She had a beaming smile and said: ‘Mighty glad you could come. We’re all looking forward to your speech.’ She made it sound as if it was some sort of political rally. ‘There would have been more people, but Burt and Hank Cartwright suddenly had a bad sow, so they had to call in the vet, they won’t be able to make it. It’s a pity, they always like a good night out.’
‘Ah, these things happen,’ I said and added a smile to make it clear I completely understood their predicament.
The man called Dill returned and remarked: ‘I think we can begin in a couple of minutes, they all seem to be there, but perhaps you’d like a cup of coffee first, just another minute or two won’t harm anybody.’
I declined the offer and stepped up to the lectern. I handed my memory stick to Dill and picked up a small remote control. ‘Can I use this for changing my slides?’ I asked.
‘Sure, everything is ready for you.’ He gestured and a pimply youth wearing Buddy Holly glasses rushed forward. Dill handed him the memory stick and said: ‘Now switch your infernal machine on, Gallup, we’re ready to start.’ The youth went to a table in a corner of the room where an outmoded desktop computer with a bunch of wires trailing from it controlled the beamer. Then Dill stepped up to the lectern and briefly introduced me. He ended his introduction by saying: ‘So, we’re going to learn something tonight.’
There was no reaction from the audience, they just sat there in silence.
As Dill walked over to his seat in the front row, the lights were dimmed, and I noticed something strange about the audience; they didn’t seem to react to anything. They just stared at the title of my lecture that appeared in foot-long, red letters on the screen behind me, it read: “The Appreciation of Art in the Neo-Liberal Era.” The only sound that could be heard was a loud creaky noise from the old wooden chair as Dill sat down to enjoy the lecture.
At least, I hoped he enjoyed it. It was the weirdest lecture I had ever experienced. I used my standard opening remarks in which I invited them to ask questions if they felt like it. ‘I may not be able to answer every question you throw at me, but I’ll give it a try anyway,’ I added, but there was no response not even from the usual hackler; two rows of serious faces just kept staring at me, benignly but ominously silent at the same time.
They were the most disciplined  audience I had ever talked to, they sat ramrod-straight through the first half of the lecture. There was no fidgeting, coughing or clearing of throats, there wasn’t even the modern scourge of the interruption by a ringing cell-phone. The strangest thing was, no-one asked any questions either, they just sat there with their eyes glued to my face and switching their stares in complete synchrony to the big screen behind me whenever I switched to another slide. They seemed transfixed.
The coffee break, after forty minutes, was like most breaks I had experienced on my lecture tour, I was simply ignored as the locals chatted about their daily business amongst themselves. Not even Dill and the woman with the beaming smile talked to me. The only one who said anything to me was the pimply youth called Gallup. He made a remark to me as he handed me a cup of coffee. ‘That went well,’ he said as he stepped aside and just stood silently watching the others as he slurped his own coffee. He didn’t seem to be intent on making small talk either. I didn’t know if he had meant to comment on his own involvement or the lecture in general.
The last twenty minutes of the lecture turned out to be an exact copy of the first part, at least, where the behaviour of the audience was concerned. After the lecture, Dill wrapped it all up, and addressed the audience with a final observation: ‘I told you we would learn a lot from this.’ He remarked. It caused the first applause.
Ten minutes later, as I made my way back to the car, I ran into the woman with the beaming smile. She looked very serious. She grabbed my arm and said: ‘I have always known those artists are strange folk. Don’t know if I like them. I do like nice things, just like the next person, but art...’ She let her voice trail off.  ‘I have some nice photos at home, posters, actually, photos are art too, aren’t they?’
‘They can be,’ I said evasively.
Her smile returned: ‘That’s nice!’ Immediately, her serious look reappeared. ‘Hank Cartwright called. His sow died. Too bad, but he’s not an art person either?’ She let go of my arm and walked away.
As I reached my car, I turned and looked at the heavy mahogany door, “ibrary” it still said. I realized it had been some sort of sign, a warning. When I drove out of town with the windshield wipers going on full blast, I came to a decision; As much as I love earning a bit extra by giving these lectures, I’d stick to the larger cities. A couple of nights like this could finish me off in no time. As much as I loved art, it just wasn’t worth it.

 

 

 


© Copyright 2020 Bert Broomberg. All rights reserved.

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