The Persistence of Jeffrey
I’m in love with The Persistence of Memory. Love it like a lizard loves a sun-baked rock. The feeling ignites in me the moment I see Dalí’s masterwork in the Museum of Modern Art. I wear a sweat-drenched peacoat. My palpitating heart ticks behind it. It wants to escape from my chest and barrel into the next tour guide to demand that they share every morsel of knowledge they know about the magnum opus. But I can’t even speak, let alone personify my internal organs. All I can do is trace my eyes along the curves of the melting clocks again, and again, and again. Eventually, the security guards kick me out after catching me standing in a sunflower-colored puddle of urine—unmoving, unyielding.
That night, I am graced with my yearly phone call from my father. He berates me endlessly, but I set down the phone and let him blather on while I imagine myself as one of the ants perched contentedly on the stopwatch.
My devotion only grows. I ask my mother for a print of the painting for Christmas. It’s not the same as the real thing, but it satisfies my obsession. I spend hours staring at the print, finding new details in it. I make my own hypothesis of what the vomiting creature could possibly be (I will never tell). Time doesn’t exist when I look into the painting. I’m not accruing years, growing horizontally and vertically, sprouting course hairs. My therapist tells me this is normal, that I am becoming a man.
I don’t want to be a man. I don’t want to be a woman either. All I want is to sit against the mountains in the horizon of the masterpiece I want to swim in its mirage, watch all my thoughts spill out of my head like putty and coat the desert floor.
Inevitably, I do become a man. My mother tells me I look just like my father. Every day I look into the mirror and lament the new spots and tiny wrinkles developing at the corners of my eyes. I contrast myself against the smoothness of the clocks and wish that time didn’t march forward so menacingly. I go outside to suck the polluted Phoenix air into my lungs and lay my eyes on an old man sitting on the street corner, hunched over like a goblin, plucking a guitar. He’s on this corner every day yet his deteriorating visage feels so new to me, so horrifyingly new. His withered, sagging skin transforms into a pale blue and suddenly looks like it’s melting in the Arizona sun. My knees lock. I cannot move an inch.
My mother finds me passed out on the sidewalk, burning with heat stroke. Unlike my father, I am not resistant to warmth. When I wake up, I know I must see the painting again in person.
I quit my job and buy myself a plane ticket to New York. As soon as I enter the museum, I feel the tug. I walk in a daze past hipsters and children on a field trip until I finally reach my destination.
I walk up to the sprawling piece of surrealism, encased in its small, boxy frame, feeling the wood floor out with my shoes, my pace measured and deliberate. The clocks begin to tick as I inch towards it. The creature vomits profusely, spewing out the ants that scuttle over to the stopwatch. I hear their tinny little voices calling out “Jeffrey! Jeffrey!'' as the fly on one of the clocks buzzes in unison, a surreal symphony.
My crooked nose is only about an inch from the painting when one of the security guards commands me to step away. My chunky Skechers are rooted to the ground. I ignore him and push my face into the painting. I can barely hear the guard screaming at me or the children calling out to their mothers. Somehow, I fit all the way in. The painting envelopes me like a warm goo.
There I am, suspended amidst the clocks, barely touching the ground. The sun yanks perspiration from my brow and I pant. The creature vomits and pants with me. I glide over and lie down next to it. Its spiny hairs poke me, but it feels more like a caress. My skin begins liquifying into ivory globs and I feel my bones crack and reform inside my body deliciously. I close my eyes and allow myself to bend to the painting’s reality.