ALEXANDRA THOMPSON                     

The Different Shades of Light

         No eating in the museum.  This was clearly marked on a sign at the door, but what about simple logic!  Simple logic should have told the old man that he couldn’t sit on the bench, cutting his pear into quarters, and stare at that painting.  He had sat in that same spot yesterday afternoon as well. 

         Manuel, the security guard, frowned and stepped forward.  As he strode towards the bench, the old man raised his arm and pointed to the painting.  He spoke as though he and the security guard were old friends.

         “Have you ever seen such a beautiful woman?” he asked.  “The more I look at her the more I see.”

         “You may not eat in the museum,” Manuel said, fingering his badge.

         “The colors are explosive,” the old man continued, popping a pear quarter into his mouth and talking between chews.  “Voluptuous.”

         Manuel cleared his throat.  “May I remind you, Sir, that eating is not allowed in the museum?”

         The old man nodded, closed his knife and put it into the pocket of his trousers.  He wrapped the remains of the pear in a handkerchief and put it into the same pocket.  He sighed.  “She is so lovely.  You know, I was married for 47 years, and never once would Esther have allowed me to look at her body this way.”

         Manuel peered at the painting that spread out over three canvasses and covered the entire southeast wall.  Her blue head took up most of one canvas, with her enormous orange and yellow breasts and pink belly occupying the second.  Her legs, fading from deep blue into purple, stretched out to her tiny lilac feet.  She was curling her toes.

         “It is very bright,” Manuel said, and turned to go back to his post.

         “As it should be,” the old man said.  “Would you care for a pear?”

         Manuel turned back to the old man.  From out of nowhere, another pear had appeared in one hand, with the knife poised in the other, ready to slice.

         “You were here yesterday,” Manuel said.  “Eating an apple.”

         The old man nodded.  “Esther loved to visit museums.  But it all seemed so dead to me – dead pictures by dead artists.”  He shrugged.  “Now Esther is dead, and suddenly the pictures are alive.”

         Manuel kept an eye on the paring knife still hovering above the pear.  “Your wife passed away recently?”

         “She did.”

         Manuel waited for further details, but none were forthcoming.  “I’m sorry,” he said.  “I’ve never been married, myself.”

         The old man seemed to perk up at this.  “Really?  Then it would be easy for you to fall in love with Larissa.”

         “Larissa, Sir?”

         The old man pointed towards the painting with the hand that held the pear.

         “She won’t tell me her name.  A woman full of secrets.”  He winked.  “So I’ve given her one myself.  She is easy to fall in love with, don’t you think?”

         Manuel leaned closer to the old man, glancing back towards his post.  There were no other guests at the museum.

         “Sir, perhaps you should take some fresh air.  Eat your pear out of doors.”  He looked towards the painting and shrugged.  “I’m not much for modern art myself.”

         The old man nodded and continued.  “Esther was always on a diet.  Why would an old woman diet?  What did she care?  What did I care?  Now look at Larissa.  You could get lost in all that ripe flesh.”

         The old man slid the knife cleanly into the pear.  Manuel looked at the painting.

         “Notice the detail,” the old man said.  “Her legs, parted just enough to give you a glimpse of the life between them, eh?  And those breasts, what do you say?  Imagine diving between them, suckling like a babe.”

         Manuel ogled Larissa’s protruding red nipples and blushed as he felt himself stir inside his trousers.

         The old man popped a piece of pear into his mouth.  “She speaks to you, doesn’t she?”

         The rest of the afternoon, Manuel avoided looking at the painting.  Yet as he took his supper in the café down the street from his one-room apartment, he was surprised at how easy it was to talk with her.  She sat across from him and leaned forward on her lime green elbows, her head cocked to one side as she told him about the comments she’d received at the museum that day.  Holding her close in bed that night, he spoke of love, and finally, imagining her plump fingers dancing over him, of lust.

         The next day, Manuel overslept, dreaming he lay gripped between milky purple thighs while he suckled at firm yellow-orange breasts.  At work, the old man waited, peeling an orange, the peel curling into his lap.  Manuel hurriedly pinned his badge on his jacket lapel, and for a moment felt embarrassed at his behavior the previous evening.  Was she not, after all, only a painting?  He stood with his back to her.

         “My friend,” the old man called.  “Would you like a piece of my orange?”

         Manuel sighed and approached the bench.  He sat down next to the old man, and both of them looked at Larissa.

         “You know, life is over,” the old man snapped his fingers, “just that quick.”

         He handed Manuel a piece of his orange.  Manuel inhaled the pungent scent, touched it to the tip of his tongue and took a bite.



Until she retires to a boat somewhere in the Pacific, Alexandra lives and writes in Vienna, Austria.  Her passions include traveling, photography, and her family, human and otherwise.  She was a Pushcart Prize nominee, and has had her stories and photographs published in Carve, Literary Potpourri, The God Particle and StorySouth, among other publications.  E-mail: