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Flash fiction: The side hustle

Thistle leaned in closer, trying to read the type on the label mounted next to the painting she’d been admiring. She moved the foot of her cane closer to the wall, steadying her small, wiry frame. If she squinted she could just make out the artist’s name and mediums he had used to create this giant masterpiece. By the time she had adjusted her glasses and read a few lines about the artists’ palette and mark-making, a security guard had appeared at both ends of the room, and one was closing in on her.

“Excuse me Madam,” he spluttered, “I’m afraid you can’t step that close to the artworks, you’re triggering our alarm system.”

She looked up at his smoothly shaven face. He looked like a nice young man, about the age of her grandson, who had just finished a university degree in… something. Goodness gracious, she couldn’t quite remember, but he was a very clever young man indeed.

“Oh dear, I am sorry,” she said, taking a small step backward, and reaching out, she steadied herself again on the arm of the gentleman in his fancy black suit. “I just can’t make out that small type, perhaps you can read it to me sonny?”

The security man looked unsure, but after a slight hesitation he dutifully read the entire panel before offering to find a volunteer to set her up for the virtual tour.

Thistle was having none of that modern mumbo jumbo. It all went over her head and she couldn’t be bothered with it at her age - “No, no, that’s fine, thank you,” she announced curtly. “I like to go at my own pace.”

The art gallery was her favourite excursion, and she didn’t like to miss any of the new exhibitions. She wasn’t as steady as she used to be, and her eyesight wasn’t as good as she liked, but she loved the colour and patterns of the gallery’s contemporary collection and all of the emotions, memories and curiosity that they evoked. She’d come more often if she could, but what must be, must be. Monthly it was.

Over the next few hours Thistle wandered from room to room, admiring all the paintings, sculptures and installations. It was dreadfully unfortunate that she so regularly had to bend in a little closer, or step up to see some detail, or lean on a plinth to get her balance - that always brought the security guards running - but she was glad to have some help on hand when she needed it.

At lunchtime, Thistle found a shady spot outside the gift shop and pulled her little sandwich and a mandarin from her handbag. Must keep the sugars up, she thought cheerfully to herself. It had been a very enjoyable morning altogether, and after lunch she’d wander along and catch her regular bus home again, right after she picked up her monthly cheque from the gallery’s security training company.

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