Dear Mr. Eastman,
I don’t speak to just anyone. That’s by choice. Most people say really really dumb things. Even when they have the chance to figure out what they’re going to say beforehand. Like on the news. Ms. Fuchsia-blazer makes mistakes reading aloud the scripted story she didn’t come even come up with herself. Or like my kid brother Tommy. Tommy doesn’t know anything. But he usually doesn’t get to figure out what he’s going to say beforehand. And he smiles too much. I guess he’s still better than the newscasters.
Anyway, it’s special when I speak to someone, though it’s usually not special when someone talks to me. But this time it was.
I was in the Art Museum, just wandering around. The security guard gave me a look when I came in, as though, ‘Don’t you touch anything, Missy,’ so I liked him already, for being able to say that without even, you know, saying anything aloud. And saying ‘Don’t you touch anything, Missy,’ isn’t as impressive as just being able to say that with a look, is it? So I thought it wouldn’t be such a good idea to touch any of the stuff.
There were some nice paintings there. I liked one of a lady who was sort of rectangular…I don’t know…she had edges where she probably didn’t in real life. There were some really stupid ones too, with people who didn’t look like people, but kind of inflated pinkish weirdoes. And they had all sorts of fluffy ruffles, like the kind Mom wants me to wear for fancy events. I hate ruffles.
But that’s not the exciting part. I was in a room that mostly had paintings, but there were a few sculptures too. And there was one of a very very pretty girl. I went over to look at it, her. She was probably supposed to be sixteen. Because by the time you’re sixteen you know if you’re going to be pretty or not, and she was definitely pretty and still youngish looking, but older than me. I’m glad I have another three years, two months and twelve days until I’m sixteen, but as my Auntie Evie says (though not about this), ‘the situation does not appear too promising.’ I keep hoping that one day, I’ll wake up, go look in the mirror and there: it will be me looking back, but the miracle transformation will have happened. My lips will be redder, my hair will blonder (it’s kind of not-blonde right now), my little-kid freckles will have disappeared and I will be certifiably beautiful. Then, I will descend from my room to breakfast, pretend nothing has happened and wait for my mother and Tommy to see me. Mom will say something like, ‘Henny! Oh my Gawd, you’re pretty! You were right for all those years about not needing the ruffles.’ Tommy who will be playing with one of those toy airplanes from a cereal box, will look at me, say “ooh” and smile. I’m sure my father won’t look up from the business pages, so I won’t worry about wondering what his reaction will be like. But actually, I don’t think any of this works like that, anyway. And I think Tommy’s going to be a looker. He’s only seven now, but for all I just wrote, I think you can sometimes tell. So at least one of the two of us. I’ll be the one who tries not to say dumb things.
Anyway, back to the statue. I was just there, looking at her. She had longish hair—most of the pretty ones do. And she wasn’t all there. It was just her top half. I kept wondering where her bottom half was. Maybe it was in another art gallery, someplace? Or maybe the museum people didn’t like it, so it was hidden inside the box that they had put her on, like a type of magic trick? I went up close, to see if it looked like she went down into her stand, but no. Then I felt strange, because she didn’t have any clothes on. I mean, that sort of thing doesn’t usually bother me in a museum. There are tons of nudie people in paintings and in pictures. But she, because she was a statue, seemed more real than all of that, and I felt like I was standing really close to a sixteen-year-old girl who just happens to be a knock-out and just happens to be naked.
And while I was standing there, looking at her, I did something I almost never do. I muttered aloud, “I wish I were as pretty as you. I think I wish I could be you for a while.”
And then, all of a sudden, her eyes were real, and she looked straight at me. It was an ‘emergency’ emergency kind of look. Like, ‘listen to what I’m going to say. It’s not going to be dumb. It’s going to be important.’
‘Young lady,’ she said, ‘I have been sixteen’—I was right!—‘for one hundred and twenty-three years. That is a very long time indeed. And I’ll go on being sixteen and being beautiful until I am either melted down, perhaps made into paper-clips or bullet casings, or am taken apart in some other manner.’ She was dead serious. ‘I have learned in my many years that being a statue is not, how would you put it, quite the largest amount of fun one could have, and being a beautiful statue is probably worse. You can’t imagine the terrible looks I sometimes get in the museum. Men (and women too) looking like they want to eat me. It’s true. And you’re quite innocent, my dear. I haven’t seen you looking at my breasts. That’s what most people go right to—and look at my poor nipples! They’re shiny from being touched so often.’ I looked down from her eyes, and the poor thing was right. ‘There’s no respect for a statue, and it’s not as if I can do anything about it. Just fondled. And there’s no stopping them. Oh, I’ve tried, but thus far, this is the best I can do. I can make my eyes quite fearsome. But I do wish I had real arms to slap and pummel with. I’ve been working on moving myself a bit, and I’ve been improving.’ She jostled up and down to show me.
‘But being alive and being beautiful—I wonder if that is much better. If I were a living girl, how many people would stare directly at my front, before they asked my name, or before they knew anything about me? I’m not sure that being loved for being beautiful is so wrong in itself…so long as it’s part of a very pure sort of love, but, recently, within the past few years especially, the people have just looked so hungry.’
‘And of course, there was the girl who was the model for me. She and I did end up looking quite similar (I’ve been told by some of my friends here that that often doesn’t happen in art and that the artist’s rendering is better than the real version, but then my friends are the renderings, and are sometimes rather vain)—but she and I, yes, we did look rather alike. She would come to visit me, while I was still in France. This was long ago. I got to see what I might have looked like if I had aged, and the husband I might have married, and the lovely children I might have had. All if I had been alive.’
‘She was very beautiful, and I could tell that her husband loved her beauty the most, of all things about her. Just the way he was around her. She would come to see me once a year, every year after I was cast. The year she married—she was twenty, I think—he started coming too. And every year, I would have another brief portrait of their marriage. He seemed less interested in her as her bloom faded. She told me as much, too. Yes, we would talk, though, of course, he didn’t know. And one year, he stopped coming, and it wasn’t because he had died. Two years after that, I came here and I never saw her again, though I once overheard someone say she had sent me postcards.’
‘Beware beauty, my dear. I would much rather be you than what I am. And I think you should probably much rather be you, too.’
And that’s what she said. I was very surprised. I hadn’t wanted to interrupt her, but after she had stopped, I had a question.
‘Do you get cold without a shirt on?’
‘Yes, yet another reason not to be my sort of statue.’
So in the end, that’s why, Mr. Eastman, I’ve sent you this report, not because of the stuff on beauty. I don’t know about any of that. But I thought I could send the statue this shirt and scarf so she wouldn’t be so cold. And they might keep the visitors from touching her. I thought I should send this to you, because you all seem to know more about how to handle the artwork than I do, and I think I’m not supposed to touch anything in the gallery. If you didn’t know the story, you also might take off the shirt and scarf if I put them on.
47 Chambers Street”
Perpetually at pains to find financial support, the curator of the museum, Mr. Eastman, thought it best to humor the whims of the odd child, who might soon grow into eccentric benefactress. For half of a single day in December, a Monday, when the museum was closed, he put the ‘I heart NJ’ t-shirt on the statue, and wrapped the scarf securely around her neck. He then took a Polaroid of the affair to send on to Henrietta.
At the end of the day, in the empty gallery, as he unwrapped the scarf and peeled the shirt from the statue, sniggering, he gave one of the shiny nipples a tweak.
Police reports detail that the curator’s death resulted from a heart attack, perhaps induced by the sudden, calculated blow to the chest he had apparently suffered, as if he had been hit by a heavy, falling object. The chief commissioner was doubtful that only a single statue had been stolen from the gallery and an extensive investigation is currently underway. Henrietta Myers-Smith tearfully visited station headquarters with a facsimile copy of a letter she had sent the previous week to Eastman. Lieutenant Grayson recorded of the visit: “imaginative, bright girl; outlandish theory about statue as perpetrator; obviously upset by theft.” No suspects have been named.