by Don Lesser

Now that “Kaleidoscope” is everywhere – websites, textbooks, the new Whitney – after Anne Marie’s tell-all biography and Michael’s predictably fulsome one, and after, god help me, its own calendar, there is really nothing new to say. Still, I remember when Georges and I first saw it.

Anne and the solid Michael were living outside the city. Her studio was a long and narrow former chicken coop attached to the main house. She’d been working on the painting for months it seemed, without comments or peeks or even a sigh or two of frustration. Georges, the critic, and I (merely an old friend) were up for dinner. When we drove up, she met us by the door, zipping that old barn coat she always wore, car keys jangling in her hand.

“Watch Anne Marie,” she said to us. “I’ve got to pick up some things for dinner.” She paused and turned back to us. “Oh, and it’s done. Take a look if you like.”

We ran to the studio before her car was even out of the driveway. “Kaleidoscope,” the painting, was huge, 10 feet long and 6 or 7 feet high. In the lower left corner, the artist in quarter profile from behind had opened a door onto a riot of colors and floating images. From Madonnas to Frank Stella, from Dutch still lifes to Mondrian, it was all there, the artists she loved and the paintings she had yet to make. They all paraded across the canvas, some very detailed, others just suggestions, each one different, each one bearing her own stamp, pushing themselves across the painting, flowing one into another.

It was breathtaking. These days, there is an academic game of nailing down each reference, but Georges and I ran back and forth, exclaiming over each luscious swirl of color, each dotted and smashed brush stroke, each line and angle, laughing as we recognized the quote.

Back and forth, we pointed to details, her sure and confident hand, her private jokes, her cat sometimes recognizable, sometimes just a couple of brush strokes, slyly, wisely looking on, from the edge of a stage, from a pile of bodies, behind a bush, out of a color. Laughing, exhilarated, we pushed and pulled each other. We drank in that painting, sputtering gibberish. It was the first time “Kaleidoscope” had any other eyes on it and any solemnity to the moment was drowned in the sheer pleasure of seeing it.

And then Michael, good old Michael, was there, fresh off the train, still in his suit.

“Well, what do you think?” he asked, eyes shifting from Georges to me.

Georges looked at me helplessly. What do we think? I shrugged.

“We like it,” I replied finally. “It’s good.”

Don Lesser has been a professional nonfiction writer for a long time. He has an MFA in Fiction from UMass Amherst and awards from the Greenbrier Symposium for Professional Food Writers. He finds flash fiction very appealing and well-suited to his current level of distraction.

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