The faint institutional luminosity in the man’s eyes disturbed me: he – at sixty! – had no conception of life, no panache, no imagination…

For him to sit in judgment!

No, let me paint you a picture,” I returned.  “An autumn twilight… the sky a mass of shadowed hyacinth… Then, imagine!  He offered a butterfly touch on my shoulder as the bus approached.  I trembled, a wakening water-lily bud; he produced the puddle-kissed paper I had accidentally sent tumbling.

My titian-haired hero introduced himself as Vincent.  He gestured to an ad I had outlined in vermillion, murmured, ‘Have you seen the new Gustave Moreau exhibit yet?’

My inspiration.

He escorted me there, after our sunlit luncheon on the grass.  The museum’s visitors formed a pointillist nightmare, dots of scarlet-hatted tourists and chocolate-smudged schoolchildren.  But on Vincent’s arm… the very walls respired; the paintings whispered romantic secrets across intervening decades. 

We walked together beneath the fading tide pool blossoms, the asters lifting bright carnelian heads in the gathering dark.  When they, inevitably, bowed before the season’s hoary hand, we lingered in cherry-paneled cafés and smoke-lit exhibit halls.  We rapped at the antediluvian door of a clandestine waterfront bar; his old-fashioned glass lingered next to my champagne flute.  Snowflakes capered beyond the web-frosted panes – but within, all was summer, light, and grace.

 He took me away… to an enigmatic bed-and-breakfast run by a retired couple who shaped a hothouse Giverny on this side of the Atlantic.  That night – his body at once familiar and mysterious – we came together…

Time and time again…

Dancing candles in the dark.

I believe he first remarked that I myself was a work of art, an Instragram-ready muse for the erstwhile masters of vibrancy.  His phone’s unfiltered face displayed me languid amidst our hurricane-tossed indigo bedspread: a white line, a scarlet mouth.  How could I do otherwise than return the favor?  My idyllic composition owed much, I admit, to Renoir, but there he lay: sated, majestic, half- recumbent on the pillows.  A modern David – every muscle a monument.

He laughed merrily at that.

No belle époque can endure forever; in that windswept season I did my best to maintain my joie de vivre, inviting him for a coffee at a cozy bistro, or lunch at a surprisingly intime museum restaurant.  He came… I found a resort a little way outside the city, where the sensuous winter waves lulled the mind into anticipating summer delights.  He came…

…and if a receipt for a bespoke ring tumbled out of his pocket, some six weeks into the year, I might have been forgiven for – imagining…

…that it was no token… no remembrance of another –

A misunderstanding, a fictive dispute, another false narrative – he could not seem to understand that it was no more than that!

How could he fail to remember how intimately we knew one another’s very eyes, how our bodies clamored for one another, how mind and soul had fused in those balmy autumn days! 

Stark envelopes left at my door went unanswered; he breathed in my dreams.

I lingered in the nesting-places we knew, the haunts he frequented; only there could I shine in his reflected glory, a new Semele, despite the slush-slathered sidewalks.  His face!  When I happened upon it, it seemed a new dawn, as if I had never known him before…

I caught up with him at a Sophie Calle exhibit, exploring her Suite Vénitienne…

One day, soon after, he pressed a paper into my hand, and said no more.  I basked in the unfailing magic of his touch.

I called sometimes, to hear his voice… to express that, for me, he encompassed the beauty and movement the masters had set out to surprise with their tints and hues…

Sometimes another voice on the line – shrill, ghastly. 

A bad connection, obviously.

I discovered, quite by accident, that he worked under some strain – a slight constriction in his eyelids when I saw him now, plodding toward his humdrum desk – I glimpsed a new furrow in his previously untrammeled brow.  I bided patiently for my beloved, as he toiled in his aerie… one afternoon, I chanced to hear his colleagues weighing his precarious future along with their cigarettes.  Vincent descended soon after, bearing the pressure of his pestilential responsibilities… he failed, for once, to meet my eyes.

I trembled to my core.

I knew then that I had to illuminate, for him, the full spectrum of my affections… to show him, in his true light…

Nights of pacing, like Heathcliff on the moors… uncovering a method to realize my ambitions.  The company president’s photo showed he had credulous calf-eyes; he would surely…

I put my plan into motion.  Disseminated my art.

The following day, Vincent emerged, flanked by men in dark suits, into the failing April sun.  He carried a box – a plant, a mug – a livid still life in three dimensions.  And I had never seen such an expression!  His voice – sonorous – but divided – sometimes addressing me, and sometimes a grating, inopportune caller on his phone –”

“Flora,” the paternal policeman cuts in –

“I go by Fleur,” I say, stiffly.

“Fine, well, we delivered a restraining order to your residence two months ago.  Did you receive it?”

The policeman, a model of boomer stolidity, might have had peasant ancestors whose hands merited painting.  The new edition possesses no such gravitas.

“Do you understand that Mr. Vincent Gray gave you a second copy of the restraining order last month, telling you to stay away from him and his wife?”

The ceiling requires a new coat of paint.  A farm-fresh cream…?

“Ma’am –” The policeman plows on, undaunted, like his rustic forefathers – “I need to make sure you understand – you’re under arrest, and facing a stalking charge, which is a Class 1 misdemeanor.  Also… I understand Mr. Vincent Gray intends to pursue a civil action against you for unlawful dissemination of images of him at his workplace, under the state’s so-called ‘revenge porn’ statute…”

Linda McMullen is a wife, mother, diplomat, and homesick Wisconsinite. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in over fifty literary magazines, including Drunk Monkeys, Storgy, and Newfound. Follow her on social media: @LindaCMcMullen