Allan stood in front of the painting and stared at it intently. “Whistler’s Mother,” on loan from some much bigger museum in Germany or New York or wherever it came from. He let his eyes scan from one top corner, diagonally downward to the opposite bottom corner. It was bigger than he expected it to be; over five feet long. The frame was old, rustic, obviously made specifically for the painting. He’d never really been into paintings, but the old lady looked pleasant.
Allan looked at the painting’s surroundings. He was surprised at how un-secure it looked. When he’d walked into the museum, he’d expected to see it behind glass, or at least with some of those velvet rope things surrounding it. But nope. Here it was, just hanging on the wall, no different than some poster on a college kid’s wall. There were no obvious cameras pointed in his direction, no laser beams or pressure sensors on the floor. The only thing that prevented people from walking right up and touching the face of it was a nice little black sign, politely asking people to avoid doing just that.
Allan looked to his left; a young-ish woman was showing a small child another painting at the far end of the hall. He looked off to his right, at the lone, sleepy security guard about 40 feet away who was paying him no mind.
Allan turned his attention back to “Whistler’s Mother.” Taking a deep breath, he committed himself and took a big step towards the painting. His face now less than a foot from Mr. Whistler’s varnished brush strokes. Allan couldn’t recall ever having been this close to a painting before. It was surprisingly interesting, seeing how the paint had been mixed and swirled and textured to create an eyeball or a flower or a piece of lace. It’s one thing to look at a picture from a distance and think to yourself “I can’t draw that well,” but it was quite another entirely to be right here, looking at just how much effort went into painting in oil.
He looked down at the pamphlet in his hand, and read the cliff’s notes version of the painting’s history. It had been painted over a couple weeks time in 1871, and was actually titled “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1”. James Whistler eventually pawned the painting off to pay his rent. Being a painter seemed like a rough life, in that regard. You were either completely underappreciated in your lifetime and living hand to mouth, or you were crazy.
A small, elderly woman toddled up next to Allan and gazed at the painting. Allan stood motionless for a moment, waiting to see if she would go away.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” She said, as much to nobody in particular as to Allan specifically.
He nodded. “She was a handsome woman.”
Allan stood, once again motionless and silent, waiting to see how long the woman was going to dally. She didn’t appear to be in a hurry. For a moment, he considered coming back and doing this another time, but he quickly scrapped that idea. No, he thought to himself. He had come this far, and if he walked away now he’d never do it. He chose the middle of the day on a Tuesday specifically because the gallery would be about as empty as he could hope for, and this was surely the best moment he was going to get. Old lady or not, he’d reached the moment of truth.
Allan took another glance over at the guard. He appeared to be playing a game on his iPad. Aside from the old woman, there was nobody else in this portion of the gallery. He took another half step closer to the painting and looked old Anna Whistler right in the eye. Then he reached a tentative arm out and, closing his eyes, he touched the frame.
Allan opened his eyes again and gave the painting a disapproving frown. He touched the frame again; again nothing. He looked to his right, but the security guard was still amiably avoiding his gaze.
“Careful, young man,” the elderly woman said from behind him. “I don’t think you’re supposed to touch the art.”
Allan gave the frame a loud knock.
“Oh my,” the woman said with a small gasp, as she started to hobble away from the crazy man accosting an American icon. The security guard turned his head in the direction of the painting and his brow twisted up in a curious look. Allan took one last, deep breath to steel himself, stood up straight, and gave “Whistler’s Mother” a good, solid whack on the side. The painting moved a good two inches on its wall hanging, and an alarm bell started clanging.
“Finally,” Allan thought to himself.
The security guard, still obviously baffled by just what the hell was going on here, kind of half-jogged over to the painting.
“Hey now,” he said to Allan. “Don’t you know you’re not supposed…”
While the security guard was in mid-sentence, Allan quickly reached into his jacket pocket and produced a small handful of deep gray ash. Holding his hand up to face level, he sharply blew the ash into the stunned guard’s face, and bolted like a madman for the nearest emergency exit door. He sprinted down the waxed floor of the museum hallway, blowing past the elderly woman and exchanging a bewildered, panicked look with her as she pulled her purse to her chest and stepped out of his way. Behind him, the footsteps of the coughing, clearly very angry guard were beginning to thunder in his direction. As the alarm bells continued clanging away in the distance, Allan turned a corner and sprinted for the emergency exit. As he hit door’s crash bar and sprinted across the gallery parking lot, all Allan could think was:
“Bobby, you miserable son of a bitch, I’m glad you’re dead.”