five paintings

by Fifi Joyner

     Despé stepped into the next room. The rain thumped against the roof, the drops trickling down the large windows. Paintings hung along the walls, the oil slowly fading. Sculptures stood alone, waiting in their glass boxes. Despé turned the volume up on her headphones a bit louder. She strolled to the first canvas. 

     An old woman sat at a windowsill. Despé wondered about the book sitting in her lap, her rigid posture, her solemn clothing. A black handkerchief rested on the woman’s breast, her chin turned out towards the rolling hills outside the window. Despé looked out the window of the museum, still seeing the heavy droplets racing down the window panes. A heavy contrast to the outside of the painting. The sun shone and the flowers bloomed. Despé could not help but feel sorrow for the woman. To be so dreary on such a wonderful afternoon. She sighed and moved on to the next one.

     Despé gasped slightly and took a step back. A hunched, rageful man was throwing a book across the room. A red aura fumed around the man, his arm thrown forward due to the sheer force. The book hung midair; it reminded Despé almost of a bird in flight, soaring to the next canvas. Despé looked again at the man, his expression, and wondered why so angry. What could’ve caused the fitful rage? Despé eyed the desk the man was sitting at, its surface littered with letters and quills, and moved to the next canvas. 

     Blue washed the next painting on a dreary, starless night. A young gentleman stood on the sidewalk, one hand tipping his hat whilst the other offered a copious amount of money to a nearby window. Despé saw a young woman standing in the window frame, a magenta light illuminating her face. Her fingertips were brushing the glass, a sad look in her eyes as she stood in little clothing. Despé’s brows furrowed. It was quite obvious how the painting was describing this encounter. But it was unpopular to paint such taboo affairs in the impressionist era. Despé pondered on why the artist would create such a disliked idea as she hurried to the next painting.

     The bleak setting of the painting threw Despé off. A small girl lay curled in a dark gray bed, black lace acting as her canopy. Dark shading hovered everywhere around the child, leaving her in a cold, desolate room. The only color on the canvas was the poor girl’s pink cheeks. 

     ‘The child probably suffered from pneumonia,’ Despé thought. ‘Poor thing.’

     She could almost feel the girl shivering under her blankets. Despé wondered why the artist hadn’t depicted the girl’s parents on the canvas, or at least a nurse. The girl was wholly alone. Despé touched her own cheeks and brought her coat closer to her own body. 

     Despé raised her eyes to the last canvas on the wall. Two small children sat on a park bench. The boy held a balloon, the girl held a small ice cream cone. The boy was clutching his blue tie as if to loosen it from choking him after Sunday mass. The girl sat neatly with her free hand in her lap, her fingers on a pillow of pink fabric. They looked completely content with being alone, yet together. What were the children doing, all alone?

     Despé sighed and sat down on the bench in front of all the paintings. She folded her hands in her lap and stared.