He’d called the New York Times as soon as he saw the photo nestled within the article about the One World Observatory’s opening – Howard Roark across the street from One World Trade Center, staring up at its great height.
There were other people in the photo, many other people, but Gail only saw the young man with his wiry hair freshly trimmed and his back ramrod-straight, the lines of his suit mirroring the lines of the skyscraper, and his profile – even in the grainy newspaper photo, Gail noted the unrestrained awe and love in his features, in the slightly parted lips and the lift of his chin and the way his shoulders fell back and his chest strained upward as if in offering.
Gail had called the New York Times immediately, and requested a print. Two days later, it hung behind his desk in his office, framed by the spires of the city.
He was gazing at it thoughtfully, rubbing his bottom lip in an absent manner, when Howard came in.
“That is me,” he noted, interrupting Gail’s reverie. Gail spun his chair around, oddly embarrassed, as if he’d been caught doing something untoward. “You have a photo of me in your office.”
“What of it?” Gail responded, more sharply than he’d intended.
Howard looked around deliberately. “There’s no artwork in here. No photos of loved ones on the desk. No aesthetic trappings, not even a potted plant. And yet, there is a photo of me behind your desk. The first thing anyone sees upon walking in, before even seeing you.”
Gail flushed. He’d done it on purpose, hadn’t he. No one knew who the man in the photograph was, because no one else saw Howard – the quiet maintenance man, so efficient in his work that there was no reason to pay him any attention, no more than one pays attention to the cycles of the climate control system, or the electricity humming in the walls. But Gail saw Howard, saw him clearly, the way the average New Yorker saw the new World Trade Center – as evidence of the indomitable will of man.
To hang this photograph in his office, the place where only he was allowed to exist, the place where no tribute was given to anyone else but him – it was intimate to the point of discomfort. And he hated himself for being so transparent.
Howard smiled, but said nothing further. The door clicked shut behind him, the lock sliding into place. He came around Gail’s desk and turned his chair around, so that he faced the photo again, with Howard, the real, flesh Howard, standing in front of it. He was still smiling.
Gail’s eyes widened when Howard dropped fluidly to his knees, drawing Gail’s thighs apart and sliding his hands purposefully towards the place where they joined. Blood left Gail’s head in a heady rush, his breath catching in his throat. He started to ask what Howard thought he was doing, if he know what time it was, if he knew where he was, but then his head fell back and his eyes locked on the photograph again.
A trade, he realised; a gesture for a gesture. Gail’s currency was the use of media to reveal his biases. And Howard’s currency was his body – the work of his hands, the calculations of his brain, and this.
They never used the word ‘worship’, but what else could it be?