My contribution for this week’s Speakeasy challenge. Thanks for reading!
Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes. They follow me from Rubens’ The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (those women asked for it, you know, I picture Pollux saying to his buddy Castor), to another century in which Albrecht Dürer portrayed merchant Oswolt Krel, perplexed but stoic. In Munich’s Alte Pinakothek, the Old Masters haunt each room thick with impastoed oils and heavy gilt frames.
I feel out of place in this man’s man world of mythology and patronage, and now followed by a stranger in a plain blue suit. I could paint any picture on his canvas of blue – he’s a spy, a murderer, a provocateur. Maybe a long lost brother who recognized me by the beauty mark at the corner of my eye. Or the agent of an uncle who has tried to track me down, carrying a secret message from my estranged family. I don’t have an estranged family and I never had a brother. I am alone in the world.
In Germany, I think all old men have glassy, unblinking eyes. I can’t get past the Nazi thing. I imagine that each is the son of an SS officer, and that in their closets are black polished boots and wide black belts and swastikas like Christmas ornaments hanging from chains. I know it isn’t fair, but that’s what happens when your fathers are murderers.
But this blue-suited, unblinking Nazi is following me through the museum of Old Masters, past Dürer, Rubens, Bosch, Rembrandt, Raphael, da Vinci. I put my left hand in my coat pocket and bend my elbow slightly to make it look like I’m holding a gun. I pull my purse tighter over my right shoulder. He moves when I move, stops when I stop. I spy him as I look left to right and right to left. I step down the long stairwell where the rows of slanted light from windows above cast the walls with imaginary jail cells.
Maybe he is intimidated, as I am, by the Great Last Judgement, Rubens’ colossal Jesus, Mary, and Moses, lifting up the blessed and casting down the damned. It is Godzilla-sized, if Godzilla had a living room. The year that Rubens finished it my ancestors were preparing to make passage from England to a temporary refuge in the Netherlands on their way to America, escaping persecution for their Puritan ways.
The unblinking eyes are at my side now, gazing up at Jesus and the pile of dead. He says in perfect English, “I hoped you would come to this, this Great Last Judgement. Everyone should contemplate their fate before a masterpiece.”
“Excuse me?” I ask.
“You will die someday, yes?”
“I don’t understand.” I lie. “I’m an atheist.” I lie again.
“Even more reason for you to pay attention,” he says, shifting his eyes, finally, to the ground. He pulls a pamphlet out of his inside pocket. Jesus is on the cover, looking like the ‘70s hippie that churches like The Way depicted him back in those days.
I pull my fake gun hand out of my pocket and take the pamphlet. Anything to get rid of him.
As he walks away, I say, “You know, Jesus didn’t look like this.”