It was in Gallery 244, for European Painting and Sculpture: The Girl by the Window by the Window by Edvard Munch. Mama had not liked it, saying “Oh, Vivi, she looks so alone in the picture. Let’s go see Monet with his yellows and orange haystacks”.
But I liked the colors of blues and grey and the girl…what was she seeing in the shadows, what was she feeling?
Now, as I gaze at it, I know she is me at twelve years old. I am looking out my bedroom window in our neighborhood of Little Italy, seeing the man in the street. He wears a dark suit and fedora and his watch and cigarette shine in the street light. I knew him then, and now, as Mr. E. He is there to protect me from Papa’s enemies. I didn’t understand what Papa did that makes men angry at him, but I do now. Papa manages millions of accounts for businesses all over the world, especially in Chicago, New York, and these days, Russia.
Back then, when I was twelve, I knew only this—Papa was downstairs as Mama lay in her bed they rolled in from the ambulance yesterday. I could hear Papa weeping, but my tears were roped tight in my throat, my neck still bandaged.
A few weeks before, I was in the car with Mama as it crashed into a wall, glass shattering into my neck. They say the car brakes were not working, even though it was a new car Papa had bought for her in the late spring. Mama was driving me home from a symphony concert and she was happy; I was happy. But all that changed with the crash. Mama’s head slammed into the car door. The doctors at the hospital said her brain was bleeding and they couldn’t stop it. So she came home to die.
“Amazingly evocative, don’t you think?”
A voice startled me. I turned and saw a man with glasses, hands drawn across his back, revealing a blue and grey striped tie. I noticed it was knotted European-style, like Papa’s with the skinny end of the tie hanging longer than the front-facing wider side. For years, I would watch Papa make his tie before going to work, before going to Mass, and I often tie my scarves in a similar fashion. I look at the man’s face: blue eyes, dark brown hair with reddish natural highlights, slightly tussled under a blue knit cap. His face is still flushed from the outside cold. It is a nice face with a smile that turns down a bit at the edges, as if he is practicing it.
I nod, but remain silent.
“Yes. I like this one by Munch very much,” he continues.
“Well, maybe ‘like’ is too strong a word for it. But it’s one of my favorites in this wing. I also like Monet,” I add, as if to bring Mama into the room.
“Sure. Monet’s good. But Munch goes deeper, finds a way to suggest a feeling, usually with shadows. I get that.”
I am surprised he does.