By: ZERR HER
CloudPainter — Richard Zeier
“A few years back, we facilitated a trip to New Zealand. Took some of the students cliff-climbing on our last, free day even though it was overcast. Bishop started it off, climbing this large boulder before the rain and wind picked up.”
The professor stares out the window yet again.
“But it was bad enough that rocks were washing off top of the boulder. Bishop was struck right here.”
“Ouch,” I empathize, my thumb running over my own scalp.
“We decided it was too dangerous then, so we all hiked back to our camp and spent the night toasting away to his daring adventure with some fine, New Zealand wine.”
“That’s one way to celebrate.”
“Well, it wasn’t just an ordinary rock.”
“It turned out to be a large chunk of pounamu.”
“Yes,” she sighs, her hands grasping the green gemstone flush against her lower neck.
“He was a good chancellor.”
“It’s a shame,” a low voice joins our conversation. Startled, we look toward the door. … “That being good is no less of a cure for cancer than modern medicine.”
“Killian,” Professor Spora stares knowingly at the tall man.
I immediately follow, though, a bit more formally. “Professor Kuuon.”
“Please, Zoma,” the professor casually corrects me. “I won’t be offended if you call me Killian. After all, I’m sure we’ll become well acquainted by the time the authorities square things out.”
“I know, I know. It’s the system.”
“Hrmm,” Killian paces to the other side of my sculpture. “You’re talented. It’s a shame you’ve never signed up for one of my classes.”
“Zoma is one of the busiest students I know,” Professor Spora defends me. “I’m sure if he could, he would. That said, I did expect more students here for tonight’s open session. Though, perhaps it was all for the best.”
“I hope they’re okay,” I mention.
“I hope everyone out there is okay.”
“Well,” Killian begins. “Best we can do is take care of ourselves for the time being. We’ve taken the liberty of emptying the fridge of its contents. Care to join us?”
“Sheryl will toss us into the flood when she finds out we ate her cheesecake.”
“We’ll just tell her it was Zoma’s idea,” Killian jokes. With a wink, he retreats to the lounge down the hall. Professor Spora follows.
“You’ll love this cheesecake.”
“I’ll be a minute.”
“Take your time!” she yells as her figure disappears into the hallway.
“Zoma,” Killian greets me as I enter the lounge. “Just in time for the last slice of cheesecake. Kyleen was barely generous enough to leave you this piece.”
“Oh, Killian,” Professor Spora defends herself. “I only had two slices.”
“But there are twenty of us here…” I point out.
“And some don’t like cheesecake.”
“Well, if anyone here needs anything, I’ll be in my office doing some work. May as well get ahead.”
“She had three,” Killian whispers to me as Professor Spora exits the lounge. “And would’ve had four if you didn’t show up.”
“Can’t blame her,” I say as I sit down, fork ready to dive into my dessert. “It looks delicious.”
“You could say it’s quite the work of art?”
“You could say that.”
As I finish my last bite, I notice Killian locking eyes with the window in front of him. Head cocked, palms pressing on the table, he peers outside.
“You know, another foot and the water will be up to the window.”
I look over my left shoulder. Debris rides the water and straddles the brick wall outside.
“It,” I begin, gathering my words. “It’s hard to believe it’s this high. That we’re four stories up but almost underwater.”
“You could almost say that is a work of art.”
“Yeah,” I elaborate. “I mean, not the flood, exactly – the rain. It’s so beautiful yet destructive. Refreshing at times. Diabolical at others.”
“And you liken that to art?”
“It’s more art than the art I attempt. I’ve been working on this sculpture for days, but I just can’t capture the chancellor’s emotions.”
“Perhaps the chancellor had no emotions?”
Startled by his suggestion, I place my fork down and bite my lip.
“I don’t mean it,” he explains. “Bad joke. But I know what you mean. Bishop had a way of covering up his emotions. A way of presenting a stoic facade. But he did have a way of letting loose. Did you know he had a large scar on his head?”
“Professor Spora told me.”
“When they came back to the camp—I’ll tell you—I’ve never seen that much blood on a person.”
“She didn’t tell me that part.”
“But Bishop was happier than I had ever seen because of the chunk of pounamu he had found. Or, I should say, found him. In fact, he spent weeks sculpting raindrops out of that rock.”
“The one Professor Spora wears.”
“And another one which I keep by my bed.”
“Very nice of him, indeed. He was quite the man of nature and a student of the arts.”
“But I don’t think he’d agree with you.”
“Bishop enjoyed philosophy just as much as I. We traded many words over the years. So much so that I can picture what he would say about your assertion.”
“That rain is art?”
“What would he say to that?”
Killian rises to his feet and promenades around the room. I look on as he makes the briefest of small talk with the others stranded inside this old building. He returns to his seat, greeted by my confused face.
“Stretching your legs?”
“Stretching my mind.”
“Invoking the chancellor,” I figure.
“But you should know that rain and art could never be philosophically symbiotic.”
“Well, that’s one way to put it,” Killian smiles. “But what is it?”
“Your sculpture, what is it?”
“A clay bust of Chancellor Briggins.”
“A representation of Chancellor Briggins?”
I look out over the deluge as I ponder his question. Still able to taste the cheesecake with every breath, I take another attempt.
“His emotions. It’s a representation of his emotions.”
“Your sculpture of Bishop is more than a replica of his physical features. It’s a representation of him because he simply was.”
“In the same way,” he continues as I nod my head, though his last statement has me lost. “Rain just is. There are two planes of existence in this world: those things that simply are and those that exist as representations of those that are. This is what we call your sculpture or the pounamu pendants Bishop crafted. What we call the Mona Lisa. What we call Symphony No. 5.” He pauses again, expecting a reply from me, perhaps.
All I have is a stare with obviously conflicting thoughts.
“Art. A mere representation of the tastes and textures of its component parts.”
“What about an apple?”
“What would you say? Or what would Bishop say?”
“It simply is,” I channel the late chancellor. “Unless it was cut or prepared in such a way to represent its taste and texture.”
“Like a caramel apple.”
“Very much so,” Killian nods.
“Yes, you’ve said that once before.”
“And I still believe it.”
“But can anything called art be reduced to two sides of a coin? Say, good versus evil?”
“Art is our way of representing the many existences in this universe. Because it’s our representation, it follows that it derives from our minds. Art is the expression of our minds.”
“You know what’s truly destructive?”
“Thousands upon thousands of innocents obliterated by a handful of human minds expressing themselves.”
“Art has never killed anyone…?”
“Has it not?” Killian glances around the room. “The atomic bombs dropped on Japan?”
“Atomic bombs aren’t art.”
“I disagree. Those bombs, merely expressions of our interpretation of physics and the natural elements and chemical reactions that are. Those bombs and the way we used them were truly evil. This flood is not.”
“But,” I collect my thoughts. “What if I were to create a machine that could make it rain? Something not so natural?”
“Then you would be worshiped.” By some. He smiles.
“But what if I used it to flood entire cities?”
“Then you would be worshiped or arrested.” Killian repeats himself. Yawning, he takes a stand, winks at me, then walks off to make conversation with another student entrenched in a textbook.
I repeat his words carefully in my mind … not sure what they mean, but in a way, that is an artform. An expression of the late chancellor’s mind manifesting through Killian and transferred to me. A large piece of debris continues to bang against the wall. I return to my sculpture of the late Chancellor Briggins, ready to represent who he was—scars and odd philosophies included.