Wildflowers part for the strong white hooves as they carry their master in a motionless trot away from the ocean of passionate brush strokes that mush together to create a symphony for the eyes.
Mother is tugging on my arm; she wants to see the modern art exhibit. “We can’t spend all day staring at one picture, Ariadne. I payed to come here and I want to get my money’s worth.” Her words barely penetrate my ears. I don’t hear her explosive sigh or the click-click of her boots disappearing into the pop art hall until long after she’s gone.
Now the window is dark enough to see my own face, hollow eyes like a lost puppy staring back at me as if I could answer the question “What do I do now?” The museum is silent, and I start to hear skeletons creaking in the hallways. Then I take out my cell phone and shine it on the painting. The magnificent stallion clip-clops toward me through the sweet grass, singing a lullaby in the language of nickers and whinnies. I rest on the bench to behold this anonymous painting, to listen to the song of freedom and joy. My eyelids feel safe enough to sink down over my eyes.
Before I know it, a man in an official-looking uniform is shaking me awake.
I squint at the harsh light streaming in through the window.
“This is private property, Missy,” he grumbles. “Do you have an admission ticket?”
I’m still wearing my membership sticker from yesterday. He sees it and nods grudgingly. “Don’t sleep on the furniture again,” he admonishes. “This isn’t a hotel.”
When he leaves, tears are welling up in my eyes. I have no one to take care of me, and I haven’t even finished elementary school yet! When my rainy vision clears, I take one last look at the painting before turning my back and clambering out the window, as the door is too far away and I have no time to reach it. I run down the sidewalk and through the park, and I feel the white horse running with me, giving my legs the strength to continue as my own breath gives out.
I still remember that moment of pure freedom, of responsibility to no one but my special stallion, as I’m standing in the realism gallery lecturing tourists on the facts about the paintings around us. Every time we come to the untitled horse, I feel I have returned home, and I don’t really like to share it with these unwanted guests. But I have to eat somehow, so I put on my lipstick and smile at the visitors to hide my distaste.
One Saturday afternoon in spring, an unexpected patron arrives in my territory. Her hair has grayed and her skin is carved by the fault lines of age, but those icy eyes are the ones that taught me silently to cross my ankles and zip my lips – Mother.
She has no eyes for the artwork, but zooms straight toward me, pushing aside my current tour group. “What do you think you’re doing here, Ariadne? Pursuing art history? Didn’t I tell you you have no talent in that department? And how’s the pay? How are you going to support me in my golden years, might I inquire?”
I’ve imagined this moment many times. In my head, I always deflect every criticism Mother throws at me with the shield of my newfound confidence, the spite of the wicked words I’ve been brewing for her in my brain for ten years. But now that she’s in front of me, in flesh and blood and artificial perfume, my voice is nowhere to be found. My knees go weak. For a moment, I think I am literally going to bow before this force of darkness.
The voice of a horse rings out over my head, powerful and certain. I look up in awe to see the white stallion leaving the boundaries of his frame and galloping into the third dimension. As his hooves hit the ground, he grows to life-size, perhaps even larger, and charges straight toward my adversary. She escapes out the window just in time.
The white stallion nuzzles me, rubbing his face against mine, massaging me with soft hair and chiseled muscle. Though it is the first time I have embraced a painting, I feel I have been held by this creature many times over. I ignore the staring museum-goers and looming news cameras as I mount my trusty steed. Slowly, solemnly, we make for the exit door. We promenade down the sidewalk, bathed in golden light, taking our sweet time.
Note: This post is dedicated to my mom, who, like the painted horse, has given me so much encouragement and advice and has helped me battle the evil forces embodied by the false “Mother” in this story. She might be just about the only person reading this, so I hope she likes it.
Image credits in order of appearance:
“Crocus vernus” by Smihael – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crocus_vernus.jpg#/media/File:Crocus_vernus.jpg
By Jpaul10 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons