The small museum was part of a private college. The tuition was quite expensive, so they were able to afford such things as a Rodin partial figure sculpture and another one of those large Georgia O’Keefe flower paintings.
All of their contemporary pieces were kept on the lower level. Simon spent most of his time there, where a huge painting hung in the far corner. It took up most of the wall and needed five track lights to fully illuminate it. The painting was entitled, Green is the Color. This was appropriate because it was made up, mostly, of green paint.
In fact, Green is the Color was caked and sculpted with paint. It seemed to have been applied with wide flat tools instead of brushes. The paint swept in turbulent waves of green along the canvas. Evergreens lapsed into bright green-y yellows, then hurled up from the canvas in nervy fluorescent greens. In places, it seemed to swirl into vortexes of dark green so dark they became deep blacks.
Simon always stood about a foot from the painting. A security guard at the museum once told him that this was the closest distance he would be allowed to view it from. The guard, apparently, had been afraid that Simon was either going to lean forward and lick the mounds of paint, or was going to leap-up and cling to the painting, perhaps even try and press himself into it.
He could feel the security guard’s vision lassoing his head from behind and pulling him away. A foot was close enough though. His entire field of vision swarmed with the color green. And, he could watch the moisture of his breath condense on the mounds of thick paint.
Simon always walked away from these “encounters” telling himself that “viewing” this painting was just another way for him to enjoy his favorite color. No harm in that.
Simon first noticed the woman one afternoon when he decided to visit the rest of the museum. He noticed her because she looked so blatantly suspicious. She was rather small with bright blond hair and was wearing a white flouncy dress. She stood in front of a large dark Victorian portrait. A painting of a wealthy woman with a cat in her lap. Simon stood at the equally dark portrait beside it –- a wealthy man sitting high and erect on the back of horse. It was pretty evident that she was not interested in either picture as she continuously glanced at the guard in the doorway. In turn, the guard was clearly watching her.
Another visitor asked the guard a question, which required him to step into the gallery next door. The woman immediately darted to the far corner of the gallery. She stopped in front of a marble bust of a man. Then, she began to rub her hands over it. Simon watched, a bit dumbfounded, as her fingers glided over every arch and corner of the marble face. She closed her eyes in a look of great satisfaction. Simon was close enough to make out the name of the sculpture: The Earl of Gloucester.
It easily could have appeared that she was molesting the stone-face of The Earl of Gloucester. But Simon saw something in the way her hands wavered over the curves of the marble, and the intent look on the woman’s face. It was as if she was a withered vine suddenly enveloped in a long denied sun-shower. This wasn’t molestation. It was someone reconnecting with their long-distance love.
Simon heard the crackle of voices over walkie-talkies. Three bulky guards hobbled into the gallery and pulled the woman away from the completely unaware Earl. The woman managed to let one finger linger and caress the statue’s ear as they pulled at her -- as if it had been her tongue taking one last kitten-lick. The guards escorted her quietly away.
The gallery was now empty except for Simon. He glanced over at the besmirched Earl of Gloucester, which sat silently, staring at the far wall as he always had. Any expression of pleasure or shame he kept to itself. Simon considered, for half-a-second, going up to him and letting his hands dance over his cool marble face. But the idea of losing access to his painting kept this curiosity at bay. He wandered from the gallery and made his way slowly down to the entrance.
Simon found her sitting on the broad cement stairs in front of the museum. She was staring out over the ivy-covered brick buildings across the street. The low hills of New England peeked up in the distance. Simon walked around in front of her and saw that she was crying. Her hands weren’t at her face, nor was she crouched over to hide the tears. She sat with her face perfectly exposed, letting the fat streams roll over her thin cheeks and drop from the edge of her chin to the stairs.
Simon didn’t know what to say. He fumbled around in his mind for a greeting.
“I’ve lost my love,” she declared.
“What?” said Simon.
“My love, my love,” she said. “They just told me that I can’t see him anymore. It’s like Romeo and Juliet –- the Capulets and the Montagues. We aren’t meant to be together and, yet, we can’t be separated.”
“Are you talking about the statue in there?”
The woman looked up at Simon. “Statue? I believe you mean ‘bust’.”
“Oh, yes…of course.”
“Who are you anyway?” She scanned Simon up and down.
“Simon. I was in the gallery when they escorted you out.”
“Oh, I’m Julia. So, why don’t they let people touch art anyway? Especially sculptures. They were made to look so attractive. I am only acting on an impulse that the artist probably intended to create.”
“I’m not sure.”
“And it’s not like I can change what I feel. I love what I love.” She paused and stared at Simon. “You know what I mean?”
Simon paused and stared at Julia. Again, he couldn't think of what to say.
Julia stood up and looked off down the street. “I can’t let this end here.” She walked away and gave a vague lift of her hand that Simon took to mean “goodbye”.
The college’s library was right next to the art museum. He wandered into the Periodicals Room, grabbed a copy of Newsweek, and found a seat near a window. It was the furthest away from other people.
He tried to clear his head of the encounter he had just had. But his thoughts kept coming back to Julia. How strange she was, sure. But the image of her caressing the bust kept repeating in his mind over and over. It was clear that what she was saying was true. Then, he thought of Green is the Color. He imagined his hand reaching out to feel the waves of paint. The press of his fingers touching...
He turned and she was standing at the window staring in at him.
Simon slammed the magazine shut. Julia waggled her finger, asking him to come out. He plopped the Newsweek on the table and met her in the library’s courtyard.
Simon was barely close enough to hear her when she started speaking. “I need you to help me.”
“What do you mean?” Simon said as he got closer.
“You understand what’s happening. You need to help me get The Earl of Gloucester out of there.”
“What do you mean I know what’s happening?”
Julia sighed loudly. “Come on. I’ve seen you staring at that painting. I know you would love to reach out and touch it. You’re like me”
Simon coughed. His thoughts clogged together.
“Listen,” Julia continued. “All we have to do is come here on a Tuesday morning. There are only two guards. I’ll sneak in, in disguise. You do something to distract them on the bottom floor. I’ll be long gone before they notice. This place is hardly Fort Knox. I’ll meet you here on Tuesday at 8:30 in the morning. We can work out the details before they open…”
Simon was lost. An hour ago he had been happily enjoying himself with his favorite painting. Now he was planning a heist.
“Wait, wait…,” he interrupted. He was beginning to find himself again. “I appreciate art. And, I really, really like that painting. You’ve got me wrong though. I just like the painting: that’s it, no more, no less.”
“Get out of here,” Julia laughed. “No one looks at art that way. I could see it in your eyes. Desire. Real pure desire.”
Simon had heard enough. He turned and walked away. But before he got out of ear-shot, he turned his head without looking right at Julia. He wanted to yell back, “I love the color green, so what?” But instead, he turned back and kept walking.
The lawn didn’t really need to be mowed. Simon was feeling frustrated after his encounter with Julia. He disliked it when someone misunderstood him –- thought he was one way when he was really another -- a shy guy when he really just had nothing to say; a loner when he just held high standards for friendships; a potential “art-groper” when he was really just taken with certain pieces of art.
Simon found it kind of comforting to cut the grass. He enjoyed the repetitiveness and sense of accomplishment after having mowed his back yard. It was also the smell, too. He loved the smell of a freshly cut lawn.
Simon waved to the elderly man who lived next-door. He didn’t know his name. The old man dragged a trash can along the driveway to his garage. He waved back without stopping.
Simon pulled the handle that started the engine with a harsh yank. The mower sputtered then kicked into life.
The sweet smell of cut grass drifted up around him. He paused and took a deep sniff.
Simon argued quietly to himself, as if someone pressed him with questions. “I couldn’t be like her? I don’t have an obsession with an object.”
A few feet further along, he stopped, again. Simon stared down at his feet. His vision was a swarm of green. It was not the chaotic swirls of Green is the Color. It was mostly a pure solid mat of grass-green.
Simon shook his head. He continued mowing.
“Everyone has a favorite color, don’t they?” He continued arguing. “People are always asking one another what their favorite color is. No one asks what marble busts you are in love with.”
The wind turned and the scent of the cut grass filled his nostrils. He stopped mowing. The smell was heady and it made him sway a bit.
Simon looked up to see if any his neighbors had noticed him swooning over his lawn. He coughed and began to push the lawnmower again.
He only made it a few feet further, and then he stopped again.
Simon felt an odd desire rise up inside him. He suddenly wanted to drop to his knees and press his face into the grass, to lie out prone on his lawn and let the grass-juice cover him like a perfume.
The peering eyes of his neighbors seemed to bear down on him, whether they were there or not. He ignored them. He continued to stand, making it look like he was just pausing to rest.
Simon let himself take a series of deep breaths. He felt the sweet and slightly tangy scent fill his lungs to capacity, felt it make the leap from air sac to blood stream, and blood stream to his head. To his hands. To his feet.
He stood quietly in the center of the lawn with his eyes closed.
“This is it”, he said to himself.
His body was filled with the color green.
Simon wasn’t sure if Julia was going to show-up. He wasn’t even really sure why he was waiting for her that next Tuesday morning, at 8:30 A.M., in front of the art museum. He told himself that he was going to meet with her and try to talk her out of committing a felony.
Julia walked up the front stairs a few moments later. She wore a very cheap-looking black wig. It did little to conceal her identity.
“Let’s go talk by the library so we don’t look suspicious.” She did not act at all surprised that Simon had shown up.
“So, what are you going to do to distract the guards?” Julia asked when they stood in front of the library.
“Listen, I'm not going to help you,” he told her. “I came to stop you.”
“Oh come on. You barely know me, why would you come here to stop me? Why not help me? It doesn’t have to be complicated. Take off your clothes, quack like a duck, spit on a painting. Just get their attention.”
“No, no,” he continued. “This is crazy. You'll get caught, you'll go to jail. Then you'll never see the bust again.”
“I'm not allowed to return to the museum. What have I got to lose. I could get away with it and never have to be secretive again.” She walked up close to Simon and looked him in the eyes. “Listen, you're going to have to give me a better reason not to do this.”
His mind was blank.
“Fine. If you're scared about getting caught, then all I ask is that you stay out of my way. In fact, if you could just go down and visit your painting, it would at least get one guard out of my way.”
Simon was aware of how unprepared he had been to convince Julia of doing anything but steal the bust.
“Thank you, then,” she said and walked into the museum.
Simon walked straight for his painting, following the invisible path he took daily. He stopped at the imaginary one-foot line and began to stare at Green is the Color.
The vagaries of green swirled and encompassed his vision. It quickly absorbed his attention. The painting seemed to almost vibrate the air around it with its intense color. He was much more aware of the pulse that the canvas seemed to have. He hadn't noticed before that the painting actually seemed to breath in time with his breath. How odd.
The guard at the far end of the gallery coughed. Simon was leaning extremely close to the painting. His feet had not crossed the one-foot line, however.
He remembered Julia and wondered if she was close to the marble bust now. He wondered if she was feeling something similar to what he was feeling. Perhaps not. She had a passion that lived in her body. It demanded to be expressed through touch. Whatever he was feeling, it lived in his head –- locked in his skull and peered out quietly.
Then it occurred to Simon how else his situation differed from Julia’s –- why he was not like her. By loving a color, he could focus his affection elsewhere. He could love anything that was green –- a painting or a lawn. Julia’s obsession was more specific. She needed to be specifically with the bust of The Earl of Gloucester and that was it. And without it, her passion withered.
Something clicked in Simon's head.
He almost laughed aloud as he felt something like a bubble pop in his chest. He realized what he was about to do had somehow been inevitable -- if only he had been thinking clearly.
Simon moved his foot forward and planted it right at the base of the wall.
It was as if an actual invisible alarm sounded. The guard in the gallery called out, “stop, don’t move.” Simon didn’t look, but he imagined him drawing a gun, even though he was sure museum security didn’t carry guns.
There was a span of a few seconds which seemed to elongate into minutes. In that moment, Simon could hear the crackle of the guards voices over the walkie-talkies. He heard their hard-soled foot-stomps run across the floors above. He was breaking the law, or at least something close to it. There was something intoxicating about this. Something exhilarating. His heart thrummed in his chest. His forehead broke out in an excited sweat.
The guards ran across the gallery floor toward him. Simon could feel their clammy hands grab his shirt collar before they actually tried to yank him away from the painting. His painting. He hoped that Julia was running, at that very moment, with the marble bust of The Earl of Gloucester under her arms like a football.
“Go Julia!” he thought to himself.
Simon leaped up and grabbed onto the frame of Green is the Color. He held onto it tightly with one hand as he let his other hand glide over the bumpy mass of paint.
It felt exactly as he had always imagined it would.
As the guards pulled Simon off, a sound filled his ears –- the sound of the painting being torn into pieces –- pieces that easily fit into his pockets.