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The Painting MAG
It has been a long day and the little boy's feet ache from being dragged across too many marble floors. He glances about wearily - this room is empty. With an exclamation of relief he collapses on top of one of the oak benches. It is the wrong kind of bench for resting; it lacks a backboard to lean his tired head against. But these benches are ubiquitous in museums and there is at least one in every gallery. He longs to lie his little body down, but he knows his father and stepmother wouldn't approve anymore than if he were to stretch out on the marble floor and fall asleep. The marble floor looks as shiny as a skating rink, and is just as cold.
There are no windows in this room. Only the ancient clock that appears older than time itself counting the elusive hours. The little hand is on the five while the big hand is pointing straight toward the ceiling. The boy listens to his stomach mumble and gurgle; it is almost dinner time.
The ceiling is so high it looks like a false sky. The chandeliers cast glittering fragments of light against the frozen marble floor. On the walls hang the masterpieces in their gilded frames. The little boy remains unmoved by their proximity; he has seen too many masterpieces that day. Instead he listens to the voices coming from the next room. He listens as the tourists pull apart the paintings with their foreign tongues. He listens as they debate the choices of color, the direction of the brush strokes, the effect of the mood. Their talk bores him and soon, in spite of his efforts, he falls asleep.
When he wakes, he is surprised to find that only a quarter of an hour has passed. The foreign voices have drifted down the passageway like a misty wind that leaves you cold and wet on an autumn day. He yawns and pulls sleepily at his flaxen hair. His eyes glance around the room carelessly. They chance to land on a small painting. He doesn't know why, but he finds it compelling. He slides off the oak bench and glides across the floor in his flat-soled shoes like an ice skater. He stands there staring at the picture for a long time.
A little girl is staring at him from between the confines of the picture frame. Her face is waxen pale with two spots of rosy color splashed across her cheeks. She is wearing a short pink dress. Were it not for the warmth of her eyes; big, round and brown; she would look like a doll. Only her eyes betray her humanity. They are wistful. Hers are eyes made not for seeing but for dreaming.
He knows it cannot be, but he feels it must be a portrait of Susanna. The wisps of blond curl, the chubby fingers are identical to his shadowy recollection of her. He wonders how her image has come to be transposed first to canvas, then across an ocean.
He thought he had forgotten her. He thought he had buried her deep within his soul; somewhere where she could never be unearthed. Many months ago his nightmares had ceased. Her toys had been given away, her photographs hidden from him. They had told him again and again "the young should not grieve."
But now her presence is before him, her flesh and bones transformed into an image carefully copied in many shades of paint. His memory has been re-lit. He remembers the games they played, the secrets they shared, the jokes they told. He also remembers the sirens that shattered the night and the flames that shot through the roof. He remembers two coffins, side by side, one large and one so small - it seemed surreal. He can taste the tears that fell from his eyes. He can smell the ashes that rose up in the air. He can feel the emptiness that lingers, still, in his heart.
He cannot remember the face of his mother who died in the struggle for his life, but he remembers Susanna. A tear journeys down his cheek and dies on his collar.
He hears rapid steps on the floor. They are coming toward him. A hand is laid on his shoulder. He turns. It is his father and his father's wife.
"Come, let's go have dinner now," his father says. He watches his father's gray eyes take in the portrait before him. He watches as his father takes his hand and pulls him away.
"What held your attention for so long?" his stepmother inquires as he is dragged across yet another marble floor.
"Susanna," the boy whispers, "I saw her in the painting." His stepmother frowns and puts her hand to his forehead. His father strains to look back at the picture, dwarfed by the masterpieces in the hall. His stepmother also glances at it.
"There is a likeness," she agrees. His father turns and sees the streak on the little boys cheek where the tear fell. His big hand reaches up and slaps his son across the face.
"Susanna is dead. I told you not to ever mention her," his father says angrily. The clock strikes six and the father rushes in long, hurried strides toward the door. The stepmother follows uncertainly clutching the hand of the little boy and gently running her spare fingers across his stinging cheek. They leave the museum and head for dinner. 1