After Hours

After everyone goes home, the night shift at the art museum moves from picture to picture and opens their sides to the cavernous air. They tilt the statues up on their bases, uncover the secret doors. A faint trilling sound intensifies with each opening. Small apparitions begin to emerge from each unlocked work.

Pale lavender petals drift from the edge of Monet’s endless views of his gardens at Giverny, dissolving into a lingering haze with a faint scent of herbs and pond water. Silk ribbons slither out of the Watteaus and Fragonards and weave themselves like mating snakes into complicated spherical knots. Dalí’s giraffes and attenuated elephants race down the long galleries and scamper gaily up the marble staircases, hoofbeats popping like the corks of miniature champagne bottles, trailing their flames like banners. As they gallop past the Seurats, confetti flies everywhere.

From Magritte’s skewed visions come a procession of bowler-hatted businessmen, worrying about railway schedules and lost time. They politely ignore the extra hands that are starting to crop out in unusual places and stare in dismay as their train emerges steaming from the ceiling. Near the Mondrians, where a lattice-like scaffolding nearly fills the hall, the white-clad figures who are climbing it with paint buckets throw dripping globules of primary colors at each other with abandon.

Bananas, coconuts, and breadfruit land with a thump beneath Rousseau’s and Gauguin’s lush jungles, to the delight of the guards, who are feeling a bit peckish. Henry Moore’s monumental nudes prove to contain only rice-pudding, eventually discovered by a herd of Rosa Bonheur’s horses, who interrupt their impromptu haute-école quadrille to devour every morsel. Nothing eats what they leave behind, which is subsequently mistaken for an avant-garde installation.

The tiny monsters and giant fruits from Bosch’s disturbing paintings take the opportunity to sit or sprawl languidly on the velvet-cushioned benches, smoking cigars and hookahs and reading the museum brochures and forgotten newspapers. Breughel peasants and the Reverend Robert Walker ice-skate over the waxed floors, while Picasso’s distorted instruments play what sounds like a mélange of plainsong and polka. Whistler’s mother and the three Graces are trying to persuade the museum guards, who are covering their ears, to square-dance. Ancient Greek statues dispense individually-sized wine amphorae to a line of Toulouse-Lautrec cancan dancers.

They don’t open the Renoirs any more because the harrowing creatures that crawl out of Redon’s and Schiele’s works invariably spent the night swarming in front of them and trying desperately to climb in. But even from the other side of the frames, every time the guards walk by they feel warm breezes, smell roses and delicious food, hear laughter and the tinkle of wineglasses and music they would love to dance to.

©2003 F.J. Bergmann

"After Hours" appeared in Rosebud #29, April 2003.

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