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Battersea Bridge


Harry Buschman

"You are an artist are you not, Miss Windgassen?" Mr. Parsons said, elevating his head as though expecting an answer. Not getting one, he went on. "I trust you know what artists do ."

"I suppose ..." Naomi looked puzzled.

"They are supposed to create beauty, but I thought we knew that – of course beauty is a debatable question. Do you know what beauty is, Miss Windgassen?"

Naomi knitted her brows and looked past the teacher's head towards the window opened to a gray featureless sky. "It's difficult to put into words, Mr. Parsons."

"Especially if a passing grade in your senior year is necessary for a lucrative career in television?" Mr. Parsons permitted himself a mirthless smile meant to put Naomi's career in its proper light. "Success in television is not a true measure of beauty, Miss Windgassen, especially to those of us who have lived with the beauty of the past. You must never forget the giants of those who went before us."

"Oh, I shan't ..." she hastened to add. "They will always be my guide Mr. Parsons. Velasquez ... Rubens ... Monet ... " her mind went blank for a moment. "And Mr. James Whistler, too. He's a favorite of yours I know."

Mr. Parsons, whose eyes had been, until this moment, sharp and piercing, now seemed to lose their focus. Indeed his entire body appeared to melt like butter in a skillet at the mention of James McNeill Whistler. He rose from his chair unsteadily and raised his right hand slowly describing an arc intending to illustrate a pervading fog obscuring the details of The Battersea Bridge on a foggy winter afternoon.

Naomi had seen Mr. Parsons in this state before, so had most of the graduating class at the Art Student's League. Their sights were set on a career in computer generated graphics for television and a BA in the League was the first hurdle. The League taught the basics of classical art in much the same manner as it was taught at the Sorbonne two centuries ago. Mr. Parsons could not hold a job with an advertising agency or a graphics company but he knew what beauty was all about.

He looked at Naomi with shaggy dog eyes and let his hand fall to his side. He sighed deeply and for a moment she thought he would faint.

"Are you all right, Mr. Parsons?"

The weight of the world seemed to be on Mr. Parsons shoulders. "Yes, Miss Windgassen. I am as well as I can be." He looked deep into the vacant eyes of Naomi ... "but what chance have we? We, who have looked upon beauty. Worshipped beauty. Dedicated our lives to beauty ..."

"Is there anything I can do, Mr. Parsons?"

Mr. Parsons drew the back of his hand across his brow – a gesture meant to wipe the weariness away and at the same time tidy the few blond locks that had come astray. "No, thank you, Miss Windgassen ... your promise not to forget the noblemen of our sacred art will suffice for now." He glanced up at her quickly, "Perhaps another time."

Naomi took the opportunity and left quickly. "Now what exactly did he mean by that." she puzzled. "Another time? I wonder if he meant what I think he meant."

Whatever he meant, Naomi was intent on getting a passing grade in art appreciation from Mr. Parsons. Without it, she had no hope of graduation this year, and without that diploma clutched tightly in her fist there wouldn't be a chance of a job in television. There were openings on the Simpsons program this year. A lot of the illustrators had moved on to Disney World and Bollywood. She could hold her own with any of them but she couldn't even get an interview without her diploma.

"He's a creepy old dude," she told herself, "but if I'm gonna get anywhere ..." She flounced down the corridor to her class in ceramics, she made a mental note to be especially nice to Mr. Parsons from here on in.

“Little tart,” Mr. Parsons mumbled as he watched her go. “She’ll be back here trying to turn me on, pretending a love for the arts she doesn’t have. She’ll stink of perfume, brush up against me ... cooing all the time, giving herself up for a “C.”

Mr. Parsons turned to the reproduction of Whistler’s blue and silver study of the floating debris on the river Thames. He flicked an almost invisible grain of dust from the ornate frame. His lips were pursed the way mothers pursed their lips when they wiped their child’s lips after they had suckled. J.M. Whistler was a powerful tool – he was quite satisfied with himself.

©Harry Buschman 2008

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