She sat on the plush circular settee with her legs tucked under her and propped the sketch pad on her round belly and sighed—not for the first time that day. All these works of great (and not-so-great) art all around her, and Clarice couldn't find one thing to inspire her...not even to mediocrity. It was a bad day. She certainly didn't feel up to the task of living up to the origins of her name—bright and illustrious she was NOT this afternoon.
As she absentmindedly twirled a long strand of her blonde hair, Clarice felt she was being watched. It made her a bit uneasy, and she tried to look around at the other museum visitors without appearing too obvious. A group of quiet, yet unruly schoolchildren were off in the distance, the boys teasing the girls ("Isn't that always the case?" mused Clarice)—making faces, tugging on hair, then looking wide-eyed and innocent whenever one of the adults happened to glance their way. Two nuns to her left were pondering "The Vision of St. Thomas of Aquinas," while an exotic, dark-haired, waif-like beauty to her right gazed vacuously at the artwork that filled the large gallery, then at the area around each piece as if searching for some lost bauble.
That's when she saw him. He was tall and slender—an almost "bookish" sort of fellow with large round glasses. Clarice was reminded of Harrison Ford's archaeologist character, Indiana Jones, in his academic guise. She abruptly realized she was now staring at him, and dropped her eyes to her sketch pad, hoping that he hadn't noticed her returning his stares. "Why in heaven's name is he looking at me?" she wondered.
Like most full-figured women (Clarice jokingly referred to herself as "fluffy"), she assumed that when men scanned the occupants of a room, their eyes would bypass her and go straight for the women like the vacant-eyed beauty who was now wandering aimlessly in the gallery. This youngish professor-type, however, was seemingly fixated on Clarice, and she contemplated a hasty retreat from her perch. It made her uncomfortable to be looked at with such unabashed admiration.
Feeling that if she abandoned her spot on the velvety maroon cushions she would be even more noticeable, Clarice instead turned her attention to her pad and without thinking, hastily began sketching. "Maybe he'll go away," thought Clarice, but secretly hoped that he would not. Her pencil seemed to have a mind of its own, and before she knew it, her sketch was almost complete.
"I think you flatter me...my nose isn't anywhere near that handsome, but a bit more aquiline, I believe." Clarice, startled at the voice behind her left shoulder, dropped her pencil. The sound seemed to reverberate throughout the gallery like a cannon shot (at least to Clarice), and she winced when she realized she had just rendered a remarkable likeness of the handsome stranger. She blushed as he bent over to pick up the now rolling pencil, amazed that he had approached her, much less gotten close enough to look at her drawing. He wrapped his hands around Clarice's shaky palm, and gently placed the pencil back in her hand. She almost tossed the thing back in the air from the unexpected shock of his touch. "Calm yourself, girl," she thought, "All he did was give you back your pencil."
"May I sit down?" inquired the stranger. Clarice didn't trust her voice, so just nodded, dropping her eyes again. "Can I go home now?" was the thought that filled her brain. Handsome strangers didn't just sit down and start conversations with HER. With a start, Clarice realized this was not some half-baked fantasy or short-subject at the local "artsy" cinema. "What if he's an axe murderer?" worried Clarice. "Get a grip, girl...don't panic..." As she fought the internal war of whether to run or stay, the decision was taken out of her hands.
"I'm terribly sorry to have been staring at you," began the stranger. "It's just that I've been noticing you for months, and finally gathered the courage to introduce myself." He extended his hand toward Clarice, who had regained enough presence of mind to shake the hand presented to her. His grip was firm and sure. "Hello," he said, "My name is Evan." "Clarice," she managed to squeak out. "Noticing ME?" she blurted. "Why?"
When Evan laughed, his whole face lit up, and his eyes danced with merriment. "Why? Well, I always notice beautiful, intelligent, finely-crafted works of art with heart. If I didn't, I don't suppose that I would keep my position here." So taken with the rhythm of his low-keyed, melodious voice, Clarice almost missed the double-edged meaning of his words. He was calling HER beautiful and intelligent—not to mention a work of art! It was not that easy, however, for Clarice to abandon her shield, and she was about to resort to one of her usual facetious retorts, when Evan put a finger to her lips, saying, "Just smile and say 'Thank You, Evan,'" which, to Clarice's astonishment, she did!
"I'd like to show you one of the special exhibits that I've assembled. It doesn't officially open until next week, but it would make me very happy if I could show it to you first. It's on the second floor." With that, Evan stood up and extended his hand to Clarice, who was hoping that as she uncurled herself from her spot, her legs wouldn't just turn to Jell-O and send her zaftig body sprawling on the slick floor. To her relief, she was not only able to stay vertical, but managed to scoop up her art supplies and put them in her portfolio case without any loss of life or limb.
As they leisurely strolled through the halls, Clarice learned that Evan was a curator at the museum—the youngest, in fact, on staff—and had put together some of the most interesting exhibits she had seen over the past two years. They came to an area which, although subtly lit, was closed with "Exhibit to Open Tuesday" signs. Evan pushed back one of the barriers, stepped back and ushered Clarice into the exhibit. She was stunned as her eyes took in the whole spectacle. From one end to the other there were paintings, sketches, statues and sculptures of women. Not svelte or emaciated, haunted, bleary-eyed "if I squint, she'll disappear" type women, but what Clarice always called "womeny women" with round bellies, bottoms and breasts. The exhibit signs inside read, "Women: Their Beauty Is Boundless."
Clarice noticed that there were many famous works she knew were not part of THIS museum's collection—she should know, she'd traipsed these halls for two years and was intimately acquainted with most of their pieces. Noticing her unspoken question, Evan grinned, "I have some friends in high places." "Must be pretty good friends, Evan, to part with these for even a few weeks." Clarice sighed as she virtually saw herself in one of Renoir's "Bathers" paintings. A large Titian canvas overwhelmed her as she rounded the next corner, and Clarice realized she had not seen ONE piece of artwork representing small-bottomed, flat-bellied, tiny-breasted women posed in an unflattering or demeaning fashion. They were of women working and playing, singing, dancing, reading and just plain LIVING life to the fullest. It wasn't just a tribute to voluptuous bodies, however, but to the whole woman. Again, Evan seemed to anticipate her question, "It's an exhibit to the beauty of WOMEN, Clarice, not little girls or shadowy wraiths. I want people to see what I see: that the roundness of a woman is beautiful, that women are lovely in all their activities—work and play. We have lost sight of your true beauty; fallen prey to the myth that a womanly body is somehow unattractive and her curves must be camouflaged—and God forbid, she should have a mind as developed as her body."
Evan escorted Clarice through the entire exhibit, pointing out obscure tidbits of information not found on the little plaques next to each item. He was witty and clever—she could hardly remember a time with a man when she felt she could let loose with a laugh that shook her whole body. Evan asked her opinion on the pieces and the exhibit, and even moved a couple of the small statues when Clarice suggested they might be better viewed in another spot. Evan was not only interestING, but seemed to be interestED. When they reached the end of the 'tour' however, Clarice sighed again. "Oh, well...it was a delight while it lasted, but back to the real world..."
As she turned to thank him, Evan gently took her hand and kissed it, then lightly brushed his lips against her wrist and palm. Clarice was frozen to the spot as he released her hand and tentatively began, "Well, it's almost four--tea time. I don't suppose you might be interested in joining me 'round the corner? They have the most wonderful scones and lemon curd, and I've love to treat you to their old-fashioned, British high tea. Please say yes." Clarice nodded and managed an, "I'd love to."
As Evan closed up the exhibit area Clarice chuckled, "Perhaps this wasn't such a bad day, after all." Evan tucked her hand in the crook of his arm, and they both smiled as they walked down the corridor and out into the sunshine.