Amber Koski’s New Short Story – ‘Mad Magritte’

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Amber Koski

“They’re all mad.” Faith said as she tugged her apricot hair over her right shoulder and began re-braiding it. Something she did five times a day, at minimum. Faith often came back from the bathroom with a neat braid falling over her left shoulder, a clear indication of her re-assembly.

“It’s surrealism. You know, like Dali.” Magritte was heavily influenced by Salvador Dali. Everyone knew this, but Faith – who also didn’t care much for art. But Brussels isn’t a place for walking outside in November.

“What’s a portrait without a face?” She flattened the end of her braid and wrapped her hairband around the tip, leaving an inch-long portion.

“Is it really art if its not pretty…if I wouldn’t hang it in my house?” Faith twisted the tip of her braid between her thumb and index finger.

“He says something by putting an apple in front of the man’s face.”

“Something like? I could do the same and sell it for these prices.” I could sense her annoyance with Magritte, an incomprehensible frustration at why this man would be commemorated.

“It’s political. Some of the plaques have titles that hint at his intentions or inspirations.”

“Can we go to the shop? Get a coffee or something. This is beyond me.”

Faith headed for the door, a dark, tinted piece of glass meant to keep the exhibit dim-lit. Magritte’s journal entries, scratched figures and words erratically spread across the page, glowing under tiny museum lights. An artist and his thought process. If I stay I might get a bit closer to his genius and I’d lose something as well.

They say an artist loses his vision when engrossed in the mastery of those before him. I, at my deepest creative plunge, would surly enter the “abyss” unable to escape the black hole metaphor of failure. The curve of Faith’s frame gave the glass door a blurry but somatic quality. Her crocheted scarf engulfs her long neck with her braid tucked securely beneath it.  I’ve never let myself see her this way, as she is but seamless and one-dimensional.

Above the door, stenciled, slick and black against the grey walls of the room “[Often] moved within the context of [A] reason.” If my father were alive today he’d tell me as he had since I was a child “Opposites attract.” Faith was my opposite, and my fascination with her pert perpetuity had just pummeled the artist in me. Couldn’t my father have been original in his advice giving, more Surrealist? If I accepted Faith as my opposite then I’d become nothing with or without her.

[Often] moved within the context of reason.” Faith only uncrossed her naturally flighty hair at night. After we’d turned off the TV I could hear her fingers rake through the latticework that had been done and re-done all day. Her hands must know each strand and its place. In the morning, I’d brush the long, discarded orange hairs from her pillow and fold the comforter down.

“Moved within the context of reason.” She was holding a copy of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums. We were both finishing our last year of undergraduate. When I think of her – that first day – I painfully remember the embarrassing flushed look I get when I am caught staring. “Have you read it,” she asked. “No, but I will once you return it. There’s only one copy of everything here.” “I’ll let you know how it is, once I blow the dust off.” She smiled searching her front shirt pocket. “Reading it for fun?” “Who reads for fun in college?” The found item: a bobbie pin, now between her lips. She pulled her side-swept bangs across her forehead, over to her left ear. Taking the bobbie pin from her lips, pushing a finger in between the metal prongs and securing the thick section of hair against her head.

“[Often] moved within the context of [A] reason.”

“Camembert is not Brie.”

“They look exactly the same.”

“You have to cook Camembert.”

“Then put it in the oven. Jeez what do you want me to do about it?”

“It would be nice if you paid attention.”

“You knew I didn’t care for your elitist lifestyle when you married me. All that crap your dad spouted off at the reception dinner – about us being proof that opposites attract.”

“You know my father gives the worst advice.”

“Chalk and cheese he said.”

“Moved within the context of [A] reason.” “Here’s to the couple. It’s too late to turn back now and you have ten years before you can divorce, that’s how long it’ll take to pay off this wedding. Great champagne though. I’d never thought such different people could be so happy. A far-away thinker, globally gracious, the first savaunt this family has ever seen. And, my big sister, finally finding someone to challenge you but who will also let you win. Here’s to hoping you can forever be his muse even on days when your worlds feel galaxies apart may your love bridge farthest on those days.”

“Are you coming? I really could use a latte.”

“I’m going to stay.”

“I’ll be down by the hotel then, but we have dinner reservations, don’t fuck around here all evening.”

I sat down on the bench before a painting titled “In The Face Of Murmurs” completed in 1928. A couple standing to the right of it whispers. Even at a low volume the language impresses me. I was horrible with learning languages. Mrs. Meyer’s asked me to choose the name I wanted to be addressed as during my year in French 1. When I gave her my own first name she said it wasn’t French enough and that I ought to find a better one. Into week five she asked me if I would “please choose another calling” as she felt I “wasn’t able to focus on the language” and that I “would fail regardless of any overnight improvements I mustered.”

The man began kissing the woman’s neck and she spoke something that sounded coy from where I sat. I left them in their unaffected happiness and stopped at another work.

Intrigued first by the titles and then the work I stood in front of “The Imp Of The Perverse” completed in 1929. The grey substance seeps across a piece of wood, sitting on the surface like oil on a street puddle. Spaces have formed revealing the wood grain beneath; the impenetrable base creates a resting place for the grey fluids but cannot hold it. Holes form between the two opposing objects one stationary the other liquid. One covered, added to, one stretched and now lacking, something less than its original form. I imagine.

And there you are – in a painting across the gallery “The Pebble” completed in 1948.

Magritte must have known a redhead who looked a lot like you. Square shouldered and round with hair that must be tied. His muse turns to her right shoulder – a shy look away or a sultry kiss to tempt her painter? She is centered by the ocean-scape that flows behind her fabric-draped torso. A checked purposefully unfinished blue sky sets her hair on fire like the sunset that I wanted to see there. She wears a tight bun with a black accessory and a short pearl necklace. I can see you neatly decorated ten years from now, coming home from work, taking down your hair as soon as you slip your shoes off at the door.

Magritte’s muse holds up her draped garment, or is she going beyond that? If she were anything like you she would satisfy herself because “a woman deserves to have it done right.” With her left hand she seems to sweep over her breast. But wait, her hand sits perfectly at the round lower half, a precise movement, not simply an itch to scratch. Her thumb and index finger come together around her small nipple. And I think of how long it took you to learn how to use chopsticks.

I leave the gallery through the tall dark doors but I’m not greeted by a flood of sunlight from beyond the glass wall of the museum. It’s late and I know you will be anxious to get ready for our dinner plans. One of the museum employees hands me a booklet as I go towards the large turning front door. I fold it up and slide it into my back pocket. As I head down towards the cathedral, at the bottom of the street, I listen to the faint tick-tick-tick  of the pedestrian crossing signs. I can see you in the café window, your long braid bright against your crème sweater.

“Thought you’d been arrested for touching something.”

“Not yet. It was closing time.”

“I didn’t plan on sitting alone in Brussels all day but I guess you need to find your inspiration somewhere.”

Her phone vibrates on the table. I take out the Magritte booklet. His 1956 painting, “Forbidden Literature” fills the front page. A staircase to nowhere. An index finger pointing at a floating ball, or is it telekinesis?

I look up and notice the people moving past the café window. Faith sits thumbs pecking at her phone’s keypad. The index finger is pointing at something it might never touch, something it can’t have. I fold the booklet up and put it back in my pocket. “Let’s eat – I’m starved.” She puts her coat on and I follow her this time, to nowhere.


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