He realized one day that he'd lived in New York City long enough to notice the little changes in the backdrop. Behind the moving crowd and its buzz of faces, he noticed that a famous restaurant had closed and emptied, that a thrift store had become a dry cleaner, a storefront that had once sold fresh vegetables now sold fast food. In the overwhelming visual glut of the city, these changes occur all the time, and you have to work to notice the small changes in neighborhoods you don't frequent every day. And it becomes exponentially more difficult to register the changes that are marked only by absences, that is, the changes in the people who make up the crowd.
She used to come to the Impressionist galleries, the most crowded galleries in the whole museum, and she was so small and frail you worried she might be jostled to death in the throng. Or even less, her skin seemed so raw that if someone just came too close to her, then that closeness would cause her pain even without a touch, just in the displacement of the air around her. She wasn't old, but it was difficult to guess her age; not young either, but too young to be dying.
Her joints and extremities seemed swollen and nobbed. Her lips, eyelids, and ears were rubbery and heavy. Her hair was short and patchy and close to her head. When she stood in the Impressionist galleries, she lingered in front of the paintings without reading the cards (tourists read the cards), and sometimes she closed her froggy eyes as if the painting could emanate sunlight, instead of just imitating it, and she were basking in the warmth.
But she couldn't stand for long like that before she had to find a bench and rest, looking exhausted, but also, vaguely, happy.
As a guard in the museum it was his job to be invisible, except when someone needed directions to a restroom, or when someone moved too close to the art. So he stood in the doorway and watched the people come and go, made up stories in his head about them when he was especially bored, overheard interesting scraps of conversation as they moved on to other galleries. Like hearing setups all day with no punch lines. So he would finish the conversations in his head, too, anything to keep his mind occupied with something other than his aching feet and how many minutes till his next break.
He recognized repeat visitors to the museum so he nodded and smiled to the sick woman when he saw her, and she smiled back, without showing her big teeth. Other regulars: the dapper old gentleman who hit on young Asian tourist girls; the half-crazy woman who shuffled about the halls in her three pairs of camping socks and old sandals, sitting to write notes in her folder full of yellow paper and brown leaves; several young art students with sketchbooks and dirty hair; an aging socialite always done up with her best pearls.