Flemish Art
Ravi Mangla

Clarissa and I had visited the gallery to see a special exhibition on Flemish Renaissance artists. She paused at one point, in front of a cherubic young woman, blonde-haired and rosy-skinned, in a meadow of dazzling wildflowers.

“You know who that is, don’t you? That’s Bernice’s daughter—the one who married the African,” Clarissa said.

“Impossible,” I said.

She squinted and leaned in closer. “No, I’m certain of it.”

I read the placard below the painting, and sure enough, that was what it said: Bernice’s youngest daughter, the one who married the Kenyan, frolics in a meadow of dazzling wildflowers.

“I really wish she wouldn’t sniff the flowers like that. She has terrible allergies. I remember from when she was a little girl,” Clarissa said.

“It seems like she’s done well for herself.”

“It seems that way. But it would be nice if she dropped some weight. If she’s going to expose herself for the whole world to see, she ought to go on a diet. Maybe I should talk to Bernice about getting her on a diet.”

“It’s been a long time since you’ve talked to Bernice.”

“Too long. I wonder how she is.”

“Isn’t that Bernice over there?” I said, pointing to an adjacent painting, of a woman in a flimsy white slip on the back of a bucking stallion.

“No, it can’t be. Bernice doesn’t like horses. She witnessed a horrible, horrible accident at a petting zoo when she was just a child. A man stuck … a part of himself … in the mouth of one of the horses.“

“Like in this one?” I said, looking at the next painting. Clarissa winced.

“I don’t like that. What happened to art? What happened to decency?”

“I couldn’t tell you.”

“I thought people had class back then. This is shock art. And they’re not getting a reaction out of me. I won’t give them the satisfaction. No, I won’t. Don’t expect me to recommend this exhibit to our friends either. I’ll tell them not to waste their time. There’s nothing to see here.”

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