I decided to spend the holidays alone so I could work on my paintings, but the problem is, you’re always inspired when you don’t have the time to put it on canvas, and when you DO have the time, the inspiration has left. Sort of like writers’ block, I guess. When you get like that, you can end up ruining what started out as a good picture, so I decided to go to the Metropolitan Museum, hoping to catch some inspiration from other artists.
I went in the morning, while it was still empty, and was standing in front of a painting of dynamic black strokes by an obscure artist, when a little girl came up beside me and stood staring at it, too. I couldn’t help looking at her ‒ she was adorable, wearing a red velvet frock and matching beret, with white stockings and shiny black shoes. She looked up at me and asked, “What is it?”
I realized that she was referring to the painting and turned to read the title: “It’s called ‘Dogs Barking at Midnight’.”
“Oh,” she said, then added, “It’s very good.”
I nearly laughed at the way she said it, so grown-up like, but thought that if SHE were to draw dogs barking, it could very well look like that ‒ she couldn’t have been much older than five. “Where’s your Mommy?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s getting ready. We’re going to go to Grandma’s.”
“Shouldn’t you be helping her?”
“It’s all right. I’m already packed, see?” She walked over to a violin case on the floor just behind us and picked it up. “I have everything right here.”
“Oh,” I replied. Her mother is somewhere else in the museum, I thought.
“I brought some presents for my friends,” the girl went on, “but I need a big person to help me. Will you?”
“Um, sure,” I answered, wondering what she meant.
She trudged off, violin case in hand, and called over her shoulder, “They aren’t very far.”
I caught up to her easily enough, just as she stopped in front of a model of an Egyptian sarcophagus. Kneeling on the floor to open her violin case, she pulled out a shiny red alarm clock, the kind that has two bells on top and looks like Mickey Mouse.
“Could you put this up on the table?” she asked, offering me the clock with one hand and pointing to the stand on which the sarcophagus rested.
“You want me to put this here?”
“Uh-huh. The Pharaoh won’t know when to get up if he doesn’t know what time it is.” She deposited the clock into the hand that I’d automatically put out, then picked up her case and started walking further down the corridor. I hesitated, then set the clock on the stand as she’d requested. I figured the curator could remove it later.
She stopped next by a statue, a graceful angel that was balanced on only one foot. This time she brought out a red sock and a red scarf. “It gets cold in here at night,” she explained, very seriously, “and I don’t want her to fall to pieces from shivering.”
Hoping that there were no hidden cameras, I placed the scarf around the angel’s neck while the girl gently pulled the sock onto the one free-standing foot. “There,” she said, surveying our work with satisfaction. “Now she won’t be cold. And I have a present for you, too,” she added, opening the violin case again. Inside was a beautiful red paintbrush, which she handed to me solemnly.
“Th-thank you,” I said, and I meant it.
“I think I’ll go home now,” she said, shutting her now-empty violin case. “We’re going to Grandma’s soon, you know.”
I nodded and watched her skip down the hall, swinging her little case.
“Merry Christmas!” I called after her.
She turned around and, with a smile that sparkled like stars, shouted, “Merry Christmas!” then skipped past a corner, disappearing from my view.
The next time I visited the Metropolitan Museum, the clock, sock, and scarf were all gone, just as I’d expected. But I came across a painting called “Going to Grandma’s.” The mother is packing suitcases, while through a window you can see the father starting up the car, and, in a corner ‒ waiting patiently ‒ stands a little girl in a red frock and matching beret, holding a violin case.
So now, whenever I have a lack of inspiration, all I have to do is hold the red paintbrush, and remember.