The River

Combining my two loves…

guglielmi_the_riverO. Louis Guglielmi (1906-1956)
The River, 1942
Oil on Canvas
Location: The Art Institute of Chicago
Photo Credit: The Art Institute of Chicago

I wait on the edge and shield my eyes. My skin feels as though I have walked through rain. I find a tissue buried on the bottom of my purse. Cherry-red lipstick marks one side, and I’m careful not to press too hard when I wipe my face.

A small girl in a green jumpsuit hangs on her mother. “Why must it always come on the hottest day?”

Her mother speaks between long, drawn out breaths. “Because feeling as though something is pressing on your back while your feet are buried in the ground stops you from running off and making a scene.”

The woman standing to my left nods church-like and whispers, “Amen,” because that was a pretty good way to put it.

I try to grip the railing, but my hands slip and my vision flashes black. I’m convinced I won’t make it when a cloud of cool air drapes over me. I pull it tight around my shoulders, stand up straight, and peer into the water.

The ripples come first followed by a beast the size of a whale. I crane my neck to see its eyes. Before I do, it fans into long strips of celestial, denim, and baby blue. It no longer resembles an animal; just thousands of leaves floating on the sea.

The changes are subtle. My back straightens, my skin tightens, and my gray hairs turn chestnut brown. Some years, I feel my heart beat stronger, though I worry that might be in my head. Today, I see better, which is new.

The shades of blue swim on, leaving me the same age I was a year ago, and a year before that, and twenty years before that. It’s strange to think I look the same as I did the first time it came by.

Now, only a few of us come. Staying young had gotten old for most of the others.

The mother picks up her daughter, grinning.

“Can I stay home next year?” asks the girl. “It’s always too hot.”

“When you’re older,” her mother replies before nodding to me and carrying the child away.

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