The Musings of Mrs. Magritte

Joyce Goldenstern

Short Fiction

The Musings of Mrs. Magritte drew inspiration from and was an expansion of a poem Goldenstern published in Ninth Letter, 2004 print edition (Volume I, issue 2).


Around the black flame a halo of shadow flickers. An anti-halo of sorts. The egg’s all locked up in its cage. Which sign means hope? The apple, the hand, the stone, or the wall? Pick one. In the evening after the hour of closing, we walk the museum halls alone. Alone in the evening after the hour of closing we walk the museum halls. We walk the museum halls alone in the evening after the hour of closing. This is not an apple. This is not a pipe. The artist stares at an egg; his brush paints a bird of prey. When we dream the world presents itself as a dream. When we are awake, we must speak of our ignorance.

Once when we were twelve, we held hands on a field trip. We walked the museum halls alone. He told me later that he knew then we would someday marry. Hope infused all artifacts: the stone, the apple, the petrified egg.  When we married, I had two miscarriages. The eggs never hatched. We decided to live without children. We bought a Pomeranian and had one family photograph taken during the War and another after the War.


Consider the blood painted on the naked woman’s face. Consider the tranquil room. The murderer lingers by the phonograph listening. His coat folded over the back of a chair. His hat on his coat. Witnesses witnessing – faces lined up in the window like shameless apples on a sill. The police just there – statues for a composition. All men are mortal and wear bowler hats. The murderer is a man. The murderer is mortal. The murderer wears a bowler hat. What Sherlock supposed: logic alone can solve a crime.

He never spoke to me of the death of his mother. His father locked her each night in a room. He did this because she was always trying to kill herself. The night she escaped, she drowned in a river. Her white dress flowed over her face, covering it, while exposing her genitals. The police found her body days later.  He accompanied his father to the station to identify the body, to identify the disfigured face under the veil. This I learned from anecdotes and newspaper accounts. He often painted me, his muse, with a scarf covering my eyes, my nose, my lips. 


We have seen these two before. In the backseat making out. Fucking in the swimming pool. Disappearing from the party. Making a scene in the hall. Here we have the lovers. Two. The first even number. A natural pair. Not of two minds. Not of two hearts. Not of two choices. Blind the lovers kiss. Blind the lovers scorn us. Blind the lovers count to two. Under a blanket, under a towel, the lovers see what they want to see. Out of sight, out of …. A tree falls alone in the forest. The sound that one lover kissing makes.

We were hailed a couple of constancy. Few knew he urged me to take a lover.  It started as a way to distract me from his infatuation with Sheila Legge, the surrealist phantom who captivated crowds by covering her face with a bouquet of roses and by carrying either a pork chop or a prosthetic leg through the streets of London. Eventually he became distracted not by her exhibition, but by the distraction he had imposed upon me; that is, he started accompanying me to my trysts. I do not advise infidelity. We kept up bourgeoise veneer and comfort, but we did not speak to each other for four years.   


The train speaks of relativity. And the clock, of course. And slowly Einstein speaks of it. His hands move following the strains of a violin. The hands of a conductor. The hands of a clock. The train. A flashlight mounted to the floor. A mirror mounted to the ceiling. The path of light and its return. That, my friend, equals time. Someone on the platform. Someone – someone else – on the train. Time could slow down. Now you see. Stop even. Depending on where you are how fast you go. The photograph of the artist standing next to his painting is a work of art. The work of art of the artist standing next to his work of art is a work of art. The title: Time Stabbed or Time Transfixed, depending on the translation. A title, Magritte says, is a title. It needn’t tell us anything.

Do you remember his painting of a huge baby boy holding a tiny mother?  He might also have painted (but did not), a huge baby girl holding a tiny man.  That was our relationship. That also proves size is relative. We sometimes took night journeys on trains together. And, the hand of a clock, I would say, always awaits to stab you in the heart.


The painting shows a real hand holding a real leaf. Your hand is real and holds a leaf. Are you asking forgiveness? Are you making amends? If someone were to touch your hand would they feel the smooth fat of your palm? A natural encounter? Your eyes though tell another story – glass buttons glued with Elmer’s right where they belong on the bald wood of your face. Your lips transfixed in a permanent oh are not for speaking. Can one believe in your arm? Shrouded by a towel, your arm, one cannot be sure. And the clouds framed by a window, could they be real? As real as your hand? As real as the artist’s hand?

After four years of silence, he slipped his hand across the dinner table and touched my fingers.


“I believe a cloud in a painting is a cloud and nothing more,” said Magritte. “I believe a cloud in the sky is just a cloud. Not a castle. Not a mother. Not the king of heaven nor a hawk. Not angels’ hair. I believe a cloud in a painting is a painting of a cloud and nothing more. And if, for example, a cloud were to float on a champagne glass larger than a mountain, then that cloud would mean nothing – or rather, cloud. And if with scissors the artist were to cut a shape of bird out of the sky and paste that bird on a canvass, then the clouds there in that sky in that bird are clouds and nothing more. Consider a cloud on a canvass in front of a sky filled with clouds. Consider a painting of a cloud on a canvass in front of a sky filled with clouds. That is a cloud. That is a painting. That is not a cloud.”

Still I like to lie on my back on green hills and stare at the clouds. Still I attend mass. For my mate and from my mate, I learned not to trust meaning and yet images and nature and holy sacraments are puzzles I ponder. Take a snake disappearing in tall grass. The heart skips; the breath falls short: Absolute Zero. Zero is a number, but not a number. Although I was his muse and model, my husband kept me separate from his work. Once though, reciting a poet’s line, I caught his professional interest and surprise. The poet quipped and I remembered her phrase and repeated it to Mr. Magritte. “Zero to the bone,” I said she said.

Joyce Goldenstern lives and writes in Chicago. Her novel In Their Ruin is scheduled for publication from Black Heron Press. Her website is

Photo credit: Stefano Pollio, Unsplash

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