A Veiled Lady

“We’ve got another one.” The museum warden said.

Herr Engel glanced at his Rolex. “It’s only twelve and this is the second today!”

“What shall I do with her?”

“I’m coming down.”

Why do they phone me every time, Herr Engel thought. This had not been on his list of duties when he applied for the job of curator at the Dresden Museum of Fine Arts. Muttering to himself, he grabbed the bottle of smelling salts and propped a cushion under his arm. Downstairs, in front of the painting, a woman lay in the recovery position. She wore cerulean blue, and russet hair splayed out in waves behind her. A pretty one, Herr Engel smiled. All week it had been matronly ladies fainting at their first glimpse of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna.

“Do your trick!” The museum warden stood hand on hips, instructing Herr Engel. Furrowing his brow, Herr Engel knelt down beside the woman. He sidled the cushion under her head, his fingertips enjoying her luxuriant hair. He inhaled the woman’s perfume and was briefly back in his aunt’s orange grove in Tuscany. He waved the bottle of smelling salts under the woman’s nose. Nothing. He pushed the bottle closer. Still nothing. He contemplated the tracery of veins over the woman’s neck.

“This doesn”t seem to be working.” The warden’s shadow loomed above. “Shall I phone an ambulance? Perhaps it’s something serious.”

“No! we can’t have another ambulance called out to the museum. We have been in the papers quite enough with so many visitors fainting at the sight of Our Lady.”

The warden shrugged his shoulders, turned away and herded the visitors out of the gallery.

Herr Engel sat on his haunches and looked up at the painting that had caused all the kerfuffle. Two cherubim laughed at him, enjoying his discomfort. The Madonna and child had been restored and displayed in a gallery alone. So cleverly lit, the painting was luminescent in the darkened room. He and the Museum Director had wanted to inspire awe in the viewer. But they hadn’t anticipated the re-emergence of the Stendhal syndrome; people being so overcome with emotion that they fainted at their first glimpse of the Madonna.

The woman lifted her head, opened her eyes and smiled. “I bathed in Our Lady’s divine light! She is truly immaculate.” The woman gazed at the Madonna, drinking her in like a drug.

Herr Engel helped the woman to her feet. Repressing a minuscule shiver of revulsion he noticed a snake tattoo encircling her wrist. The woman faltered as she stood and Herr Engel caught her in an involuntary embrace. Arm in arm they walked to the museum café.

“Now would you like a drink of something? On the house of course!”

The woman shook her head. “I must go. I have to pick up my little boy from kindergarten.”

“As you wish,” Herr Engel nodded and waved her off. His tummy rumbled and he pulled back his cuff to check the time. Only a pale band of skin was left, a remnant of Italian summer days. The Rolex watch was gone.

About Susan Carey

Susan Carey is originally from Herefordshire and currently lives in Amsterdam where she teaches business English. She writes short stories, flash fiction, poetry and the occasional novel.

>> Susan Carey's author page

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