And I succumbed, I too, and for several weeks went to worship the ephemeral god, until I found out this supposed orb wasn’t even a whole but a semicircle. We had been going to pay our respects to a semicircle, made whole by its reflection in a mirror. To this day I wish I hadn’t looked at the catalogue and had continued with my fantasy of the whole, but in the end, all that matters is that the Scandinavian’s piece was eventually replaced by something else of monstrous proportions yet not as precarious and that Martin Strake gradually regained his former self and could turn his eyes towards the Turbine Hall without dissolving. I used to envy those who were assigned temporary rather than permanent exhibits before realising that temporary is too risky; you never know what you are going to get.
Life at our Gallery is more predictable.
Early each week we are assigned different sections of a wing and, within these sections, four rooms a day. In the morning we shed our civvy clothes and slip on our uniform: a mouse-grey jacket with matching trousers or skirt, a pale lilac shirt and a shiny purple tie. We are given twenty-four minutes a day to change, an iron always available in the changing room, and in my nine years working here those twelve minutes in the morning and twelve in the evening, during which all kinds of little transformations take place, have gone by in a flash.
Once the museum opens at ten we must be in uniform and at our post. As of that moment we start patrolling our rooms, followed by a forty-five-minute lunch break, then back to our rooms. We have two twenty-minute tea breaks, morning and afternoon. It works well, this variation, after a while even beauty grows tiresome, and I have served every room in the Gallery except for the Portico Patrol, for which special training and a more assertive temperament, ideally, are required. Rotation is the salvation of the museum guard.
Our job has often been regarded as a knacker’s yard, the final outpost at the end of a long journey. Many of my colleagues are in their fifties and sixties, a few even older. People usually end up here after working in something else for years. George used to sort letters at the head post office at Mount Pleasant from midnight to four in the morning. Charlie worked as a car mechanic at his brother’s garage in Clapton. Pat began the job only after the last of her six children had left home. John was a nightwatchman at a bank for three decades. Dave spent twenty-eight years tweaking rides at the carny. Janet had gone bankrupt and was forced to sell her pub. Roland worked at a construction company called Sisyphus until suffering a nervous breakdown caused by a speed habit and industrial fatigue.
Some of us live in Zone 1 or 2, others in Zone 3 or 4 and spend an hour on public transport each morning. Some of us have a degree, most of us don’t. Some of us look at the art, some of us don’t. But we all protect the pictures and are able to direct visitors towards an entrance, an exit, towards whatever they want to aim for or depart from.
Excerpted from Asunder by Chloe Aridjis. Copyright © 2013 by Chloe Aridjis. Excerpted by permission of Mariner Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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