Isabel Yacura

Movement to Material and Space

Erin Dotle walked to the very center of Richard Serra’s Double Torqued Ellipse and when she walked out again, the world had ceased to exist.

It was a monumental piece, in the far-right gallery in Dia, up in Beacon, New York. Erin was pretty sure it was the far-right gallery, at least. Dia was larger and more expansive than she had assumed, with few pieces in each of the wide, warehouse-like spaces. There was a series of huge paned glass windows about halfway up the wall stretching to the ceiling, high enough that there were a few patches of light that managed to drift over the massive rusted walls of the sculpture.

Erin’s visit was on a weekend when Dia was the busiest, but it was the only time she had free to make the long drive out. She had gone early, however, missing the slightly hungover groups of hipsters and NYU Tisch arts students who seemed to spawn in every dark corner.

When she had entered the big gallery with all the Serra Ellipses, there was only a small family exposing their children to contemporary art at an early age and a wandering older couple, both at the near end.

Erin sped up her steps, just a little, and made it to the far end of the gallery, where she couldn’t hear any murmured conversation or small piping questions about the giant wall of rust.

She took a deep breath and walked in between the two ellipses.

They leaned—not quite heavily—and something about them seemed to shut out the sound even further, until Erin was very aware of her breath as the path narrowed and narrowed and narrowed in an ever-tightening spiral.

For a brief moment, she wondered if the spiral went forever. If she would keep walking until her shoulders brushed the sides, until eventually she wouldnt be able to put one foot in front of the other.

It opened up then, this massive circle, a modern version of Stonehenge, the walls stretching up above and around her and the concrete floor cool and mottled under her feet.

Her breath caught in her chest.

There was a small, noticeable clunk.

It was like something had clicked into place, like a pill bottle cap had been forcefully shut, a heavy forcefulness to how it stuttered to a stop. A click, a clink, a clunk.

Erin barely noticed it, still staring up at the thin strip of bubble glass windows she could see above the red walls.

It was a beautiful day out.

She sat down in the middle of the ellipse, a little self-conscious, cross-legged in her creased chinos.

She shifted on her sit bones tensely, prepared to hop up for when the next wave of museum visitors would tentatively make their way through the steep iron walls.

No one did.

She sat there for a while. Longer than she thought. Long enough that she settled on the ground more fully, a nesting bird, her legs eventually stretching out long before her and resting back on her hands till her wrists ached with the stretch.

It was about twenty minutes later when she got to her feet, made her way out through the circular path. There was no one else in the gallery when she emerged, half-blinking in the light even though the middle of the sculpture wasnt dark.

There was a small half-smile on her face, an expression both pleased and secret, at the time to herself she had had amongst the gargantuan piece of art. She stretched her arms above her head, her spine making an audible pop as her vertebrae realigned.

Erin glanced over her shoulder briefly as she entered the next room, but she couldnt see the family or the older couple past the sculpture in the center of the room, weighing down her vision like an aircraft carrier.

The next gallery was empty too.

And the next.

It wasnt until she was walking down a long hallway with open galleries to each side that Erin noticed the silence. And even then, it was only when she reached out instinctively, child-like, to touch one of the fine lines strung beneath floor and ceiling and had guiltily jerked back, looking around for a security guard who had noticed her lapse.

There were none there.

Erin turned in a slow circle, the skylights making big rectangular patches of white on the pale wood floors.

There was no one there at all.

Hello?she said. Her voice was quiet, unsure, afraid of its own stupidity. It did not echo in the space, but fell flat and heavy to the floor under the hum of the air conditioning, the big lights.

She took a hesitant step forward, and where her voice could not carry her shoes did, squeaks that seemed to echo through the room.

She didnt run through the gallery to the exit, some sense of propriety restricting her, sure that as soon as her pace sped up the slightest bit, that would be the moment that she would be caught, or kept, or some other voiceless velar stop that meant she was not going crazy, except in the way that Erin Dotle would have to be going crazy to do something against the rules.

The cafe was empty. So was the front desk.

Erin pushed open the front doors of Dia to a very quiet world.

There were no cars in the parking lot.

At this, Erin began to shake.

Just her hands at first. She started to walk out of the parking lot, up the big hill, on the sidewalk still, to the top, where you could look down at the train station. Erin had parked her car there, after circling three-four-five times the small, crowded parking lot in front of Dia and not finding a single space.

The train station was a silent thing, a still monument of green roofs and concrete.

There wasnt a single car in the parking lot. Not even Erins.

Erin pulled her phone out of her pocket. It was the first time she had thought to check it. Who would she call? She didnt have family, didnt have friends—worked as a remote freelancer.

It was dead anyway, the black screen reflecting her face as a desaturated mask.

Erin stood at the top of the hill for a long while, looking down at the empty tracks and the water beyond it, where the Hudson drifted along. Across the river, the town there sat, like a model that had not yet been finished, not yet populated by tiny people or moving parts.

A quiet world, with nothing moving but the wind and the water. The cars and trains and maybe planes, too, gone. The people, gone. Animals? Life? Had bacteria disappeared too? Would her stomach disappear inside out, eating itself alive as the tiny organisms keeping her alive winked out one by one, like stars in a galaxy disappearing forever?

Maybe it was just her—Erin, who had slid a step to the left into this platonic empty world, waiting for the people to inhabit it. Maybe she would take a deep breath and they would all snap back into place, like puppets in a play when intermission was over, and she would be the only one who knew what this wordless, voiceless, soundless world was like.

Maybe they had all died.

Maybe she had just woken up. Maybe she was the only person on Earth, and always had been, and the rest of the world was just the electricity in her brain creating elaborate illusions to keep the soft meat of her body going. She had forgotten to pay the power bill there, and so the pretense had been turned off and now it was just her in the emptiness, trying to make bail or a down payment or something else to bring them back.

Maybe she was dead.

Maybe this was hell.

Maybe there wasnt an explanation for it. Maybe she had disturbed an atom just so or a photon had been bumped, plummeting to earth, and she had fallen through the floor of reality, of the universe. Maybe back in her world, where things had if not made sense at least followed a twisted logic most of the time, she would be one of those things that didnt follow. Maybe she was someone who they would report having walked into a sculpture and never walked back out. Maybe some white girl would put on too much eyeshadow while discussing her cold case in a thirty-minute YouTube video. Maybe she never existed. Maybe the heartache of her life wasn’t real, anymore. The pain of her parents’ brutal car crash and the debt and death from it. The lengthening of her walks on the weekends, four five six hours till her blisters bled because she couldn’t suffer the silence of her apartment at home. Her phone on the counter where it wouldn’t disturb the dust that gathered on it by vibrating. Maybe this was the relief from that, maybe it was a break, maybe it was god or God or gods saying, “Okay, we made a mistake with this one, let’s scrub it out. Let’s start over. Let’s pretend that never happened. Why don’t you take a break? It’ll be okay. There are orange slices on the sideline, we’ll put you in the next half when you stop crying.

“It’ll be fine.”

When she walked back down to the museum, Erin did so on the white dotted line, in the center of the road, one foot carefully in front of the other.

Isabel Yacura

Isabel Yacura is a writer and editor in Brooklyn, New York. She has been featured in Kelp Journal, Zoetic Press, National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, and other publications. She's currently represented by Haley Casey at CMA Literary, and can be found @isabelyacura on Twitter.