Character Exploration: Steam Seen Through Fog


Home. White walls and wooden floors. A peacefulness that’s hard to find anywhere else in the early hours before the museum opens.

Any moment she can spare, Ava ducks out of the offices and into the halls, spending her time breathing in the constructed serenity the museum offers. No eyes on her except the security cameras. She pretends to write things down, never staying in place for long, filling page after page in her handheld notebook with illegible scribbles.

Her pen moves without so much a glance on her paper.

The painting in front of her is a game of expectations – thick black and thin white lines defining a labyrinth that’s impossible to finish. The title plays a trick on the viewer, words like Marriage of Reason and Squalor begging for someone to seek a hidden meaning behind all paths leading to the bottom of the canvas. A pitfall.

It’s not supposed to mean anything more than what is shown – black and white on a canvas forming lines. Art as easy as drawing breath, meant to be experienced and not dissected like laboratory work. The thinness of the white peeking out between the darkness draws Ava in, clearing her mind of all other thought.

What would it be like to live there on the edge of something tangible?

Her time runs out and she leaves, making it to her desk before Mae enters the office with requests. Ava smiles because it’s expected of her. She blends in with the paperwork.

“I need you to get me the notes on the Miró exhibition.”

Blonde, dressed in a suit worth one month’s wage, and wearing her seniority like a badge of pride comes in the physical form of Mae. The tapping of her manicured nails on Ava’s desk makes it clear that, yes, she could stand here all day but, no, she will never lower herself to actually doing so. Her word is to be obeyed, after all.

Nodding lightly, Ava allows the corners of her mouth to lift. “Of course,” she says, already keying her computer into sleep mode.

With a look of approval – a good subordinate never refuses – and long strides Mae makes it out of the office before Ava’s journey has even begun. It’s a regular occurrence by now to be disturbed at her desk for a task that could easily be done by an intern.

But it’s fine. Time sensitive emails will be written in even less time. As long as Mae gets what she wants, Ava remains in the clear. There had been a different girl in the same office – Aubrey – who disappeared after Ava’s first week. She’d spoken out against Mae.

Aubrey hadn’t known how to play the game.

Staying late is par for the course. It’s only after the last email has been sent that the lights are turned off. Almost everyone else has left already by the time Ava makes her way downstairs. For some reason Mae has stuck around, talking to a few of their colleagues. One of them turns their eyes in Ava’s direction.

The words, ‘we should ask if she wants to join us,’ are spoken before a laugh cuts through the emptiness surrounded by black and white marble.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mae says, loud enough to be overheard but not so loud as to be considered rude or callous. It’s unfortunate Ava’s ears managed to pick up the sounds. Mae flashes her white teeth in her direction with a short wave, then looks at the others and mentions something that causes one of them to hide a grin behind their hand.

Unfortunate, that’s all. Ava smiles back, calling out goodnight to her peers, and steps into the city that never sleeps.

She’s everything Mae wants – obedient, quiet, and out of her hair by nine.


Aaron isn’t Mae.

He’s a type case that’s been dropped onto the floor and hastily put back in its drawer, upper and lower case mingling where they shouldn’t, u’s residing with the n’s. He doesn’t care whether or not Ava has the visibility of steam seen through fog – he’s only looking for the clarity he so often lacks.

He’s also forty years old and doesn’t seem aware of the existence of search engines.

“These slides need to be added to the presentation,” he says while dropping an off-centered printout featuring a hastily thrown together word document on top of Ava’s mail. He included pictures, gray-scale versions with far too little pixels.


“Before three fifteen.” Aaron points at the pictures. “You can take these from my computer. I don’t know how to get them to you. Would an email work?”

Forced patience forms a smile on her lips. “Don’t worry about it,” she says. “I’ll make it work.”

The lines in his face show gratitude even if his tone does not. “Three fifteen,” he repeats while stalking away.

“Ready by three,” she assures him. The door to the office closes.

She reaches for the camera in her desk drawer. The only time she’ll consider using his pictures is the day management gives her the weekend off.