Phil had never been in this wing of the Metropolitan before. He and Beatrice stood transfixed before a Cezanne: Table, Napkins and Fruit. He stole a glance down the hall and, wonderfully, nothing happened. Here in the cool museum, his usual detractors were preoccupied; no one pointed at him or shrieked as they did in the outside world. Everything in the painting seemed to have its own perspective. The mountainous napkin, the pulsing golden pear, the blue-rimmed plate filled with fruit, ready to roll onto the floor. Of course, the fruit stayed fixed just as the artist had painted it. So odd, a bit like me. Beatrice’s lovely Nefertiti-like neck and profile sent a frisson down his spine, which twitched.
“Pardon my twitch.” Phil hated how his body betrayed his feelings.
“What do you think of the painting?” Bea asked.
Her invitation to the museum had seemed so insistent.
She patted his shoulder.
“I knew you’d be touched. Cezanne’s sensibilities are like yours; he misses nothing. Let’s move on, shall we?” She gave a tug to his leash.
Phil adjusted his girth. He was in love, and love, he’d discovered, required deft maneuvers to be successful. Together they moved to the next Cezanne: Still Life with Apples and a Pot of Primroses. The detail here was almost unbearable in exactitude. The pink primroses’ green leaves in a cream vase taunted him, Reach out and touch. But wait.
“The edge of the table is disturbing,” he said, leaning in.
He was about to speak when a tittering behind him cut him off.
“What’s a monster doing in a museum?” said the taller girl.
Two seventeen-year-olds, young women really, with long appendages and manes of golden hair, stood gawping.
“Upper West side precociousness is the only monster here,” Bea hissed.
The girls howled and skittered off.
“Hormones make you do and say funny things.” Phil shrugged his great shoulders.
“You have incredible reserve.”
“Reserve is a necessity when you look like me. Can’t go around scalding everyone.”
“I’d muzzle those girls,” Bea said. “I have a constitutional hatred of adolescents.”
They arrived at Uccello’s St. George and the Dragon. Phil froze. St. George’s lance pierced the dragon’s eye. Its jaw opened in shock. Blood spurted from the wound, and the gory tongue lolled obscenely. He focused on the hurricane eye forming behind the knight.
“Quel monstre!” Terrible. Do I look like that?”
She gestured to the artwork, “Does the lady in the painting appear frightened?”
Dressed in a scarlet gown, the lady held the dragon’s leash in one hand, the other hand evenly gesturing to the knight as if to say, “No need to slay the dragon. I have tamed him.”
“She appears calm.”
“Uccello painted an earlier version. I prefer this one. It says so much more, don’t you think?”
Phil appraised his lover’s acumen. His tail shuddered. He blew a hot jet of steam in her direction.
She bared her own protuberant teeth.
His three-chambered heart skipped a beat. He released another puff of steam and they strode on through the gallery, Phil following her lead.
Dedicated to the poet Larry Fagin (July 21, 1937 – May 27, 2017) who told me to write a story about a monster who wasn’t a monster, and who introduced me to Uccello’s painting of St. George and the Dragon.
Lucinda Kempe’s work has been published or is forthcoming in New World Writing, r.kv.r.y., Frigg, the Summerset Review, and the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. An M.F.A. candidate in writing and creative literature at Stony Brook University, her narrative nonfiction was a semi-finalist in the Under the Gum Tree’s 2016 inaugural contest.
Eleni Gavrielatos is an illustrator and potter in her senior year at Alfred University, School of Art & Design. Her work has been exhibited at the Art Students League, the Long Island Museum, and the Mill Pond House. An Anderson Ranch Scholarship recipient, she spent two weeks this summer in Snowmass, Colorado working in porcelain. Eleni the Egg (@eggbunnie) | Instagram photos and videos
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