A mime, a museum, and an exasperated mom…



Knot Untwisting Under Water


Acuity waits at the hot dog stand, fuming at what she left inside the Museum and reacting to the energy of the street. Nearby, a mime lays a tattered towel on the pavement. He looks up at the sky and bows, allowing his arms to uncross and unfold in front of him, as if presenting the cloth. He gestures to those resting on the grand concrete steps to the Metropolitan Museum.

The crowd seems to Acuity to be in slow motion, each person somehow defining space immediately around them. She forgets that she’s starving, and pins her attention on the mime.

“Here I am, and there you are,” he seems to say. His makeup exaggerates his smile. One arm gently swims through the air towards the crowd, his other arm bends with his index finger pointed at himself.

Food in hand, Acuity sees a place to sit, and walks between the mime and his audience.

His eyes follow her, then he gestures to the crowd, arms extended, palms up and out, as if to say, “Who does she think she is, blocking my audience’s view?” Acuity catches his eye. He pulls in, puts his arms to his side, and rolls his eyes upwards, flutters his eyelashes, feigns innocence. Once she resumes, he walks behind her with a scolding expression, then backs off as quickly. The crowd laughs. The crowd builds.

He returns to his towel. He walks around it, and stops to study every aspect of the cloth. Like a blinking eye, his expression changes from perplexed to animated, crushed to joyful. Finally, he comes around to one side, and solemnly faces his audience. He looks up at them, looks down at the towel, and pauses. He can’t help but continue to notice the woman who passed before him, the one now sitting at the top of the stairs.


Acuity sits, breathes deeply and exhales every molecule deliberately. Actions of just a few minutes ago inside the Museum consume her. She had burst out of the ponderous revolving entrance doors, like an object releasing its buoyancy at the fluid’s surface. She had abandoned her three young boys, and Baxter, her husband. The tape of their last conversation hit play.

“I’ve had it, I need a break,” she pleaded, in the front lobby, just past where the tickets are sold and the information brochures are available, amidst the cacophony of families, student groups, bussed in elderly persons.

“Look, hon, I know it’s been a long day.”

He had not acted much more mature than the boys, giggling with them at the sight of testicles and penises hanging from statues, exposed breasts in framed paintings.

“Long day?  For God’s sakes, Baxter, it’s barely noon!”

“We just need to get them some lunch. And not raise our voices.”

“Who would be stupid enough to bring three small boys to the Met? Us, that’s who! Take them to the café, the cheap one, and feed your faces.”

“Next time you do not want to go somewhere, just say so, okay?” Said firmly, pushing blame into her space.

“Excuse me, if I remember, this was your way of showing how we could still be impulsive.” Her sarcasm, thick as her scorn, pushed back.

She remembered then feeling the pressurized air space of the revolving doors propelling her from the tethered drudgery of her immediate space inside to the expansive view of Fifth Avenue, teeming with street life. Her breath became rapid. For a moment longer than comfortable, she had thought herself capable of putting all four of her “men” into a stroller and pushing it down the stairs.

“Lady…,” a man had said, exasperated. She realized she was blocking the entrance. She moved to one side, saw the hot dog stand, and realized she was starving.


The cold from the concrete penetrates her jeans where they meet the skin of her buttocks. The hot dog by her side is slathered with ketchup, mustard, relish, and onions. She has the small blanket she brought in case one of the kids got cold. She rests her aching back against the wall of the museum.

Four bites later, the food is gone. She notices the crowd swelling on the steps in front of her, and farther down, in front of the mime. Underneath his white lamination, he seems sculpted. She begins to think he is looking at her, even performing for her.

She watches closely. It’s like a robotic dance he performs, slow, deliberate, each staccato movement of a muscle or limb. His arm traces a wide arc, and then his other arm, fisted, comes up underneath it. He hops on one foot. Acuity doesn’t register the song playing on the boom box next to him but notices the beat.

Soon, she is mesmerized. The tension of the morning oozes away. She warms her hands on the insides of her thighs. Her eyes lock with the mime’s. At least, that’s what she thinks. He’s serious, even stern. Sometimes, he stumbles like he’s drunk. Other movements are as graceful as ballet.

She checks around her. No one watches her but the mime. She puts the blanket over her arm and thighs. Gazing at him, she imagines a knot of rope untwist itself underwater. He pushes against a force stronger than the air around him. What would he look like without his oxide makeup, without clothes? She thinks of the art she has just viewed inside, frozen replications in time and space. The mime’s fabric of motion undulates around her.

Suddenly, he rears back like a catapult. Then he relaxes and repeats, like a discus thrower circling three times before release. He rears back a third time, jumps over the towel. He looks startled that he has accomplished this astounding feat, though the towel is only a few feet wide. He gasps. He looks to the heavens, hands together, giving thanks for having bridged the gauntlet. Then he steadies himself, wipes non-existent sweat from his brow, and beams up at the crowd. The crowd claps, a whistle here and there. He strides hurriedly toward his audience, points exaggeratedly at himself.

“I am pleased with my performance,” he expresses.

He ambles up close to one spectator, and gestures, “You liked my performance?” he seems to ask.

The mime pretends to push the spectator gently towards the money box sitting on one corner of his towel, draw out an imaginary wallet, pick out a few bills, and drop them in the box. A few spectators come forward, dropping coins mostly, but a few bills as well.

Acuity stands up, too. She should go back to meet her boys. She’s curious to know if the mime had really fixed on her. But she doesn’t want to know, too. She’s a mother, not someone who “talks” to street performers. He deserves some money, though, so she walks down the stairs. She places a five dollar bill in his box, alone among ones and change. He pretends to give her a big kiss by keeping his legs straight and bending at the waist, acknowledging the comfort gap that cannot be breached. Then he straightens up, and gives Acuity an inquisitive look, twists his face, furrows his brow, and tilts his head slightly backward. He lightly strokes his chin with thumb and index finger.

“Were you getting off on my performance?” he wonders.

“Were you staring at me?” she wishes she could ask.

A pause shrinks the distance between them. He shrugs and looks a bit sheepish.

Acuity remembers the boys, inside, among the time-burdened objects of such gravitas and historical importance. She smiles at the mime.

“You were like watching a knot untwisting under water,” she says, as she takes a step away from him.

He gestures by pointing to her, then to himself, and putting the back of one palm in front of the other, as if to depict two people lying together or embracing. Then he makes a ring with his arms, as if to enclose her. His lips pout.

“So were you.”



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