You lean your back into my chest and read aloud. I turn the pages.
Des Esseintes has acquired paintings of Salome by his contemporary Gustave Moreau.
A rapture comes into your voice, and Salome glows from the page.
You, pausing: Funny. Your boyfriend, Oscar Wilde, wrote a play about Salome.
Me: Looks like she was on everyone’s mind.
Me, remembering: The Moreau museum is just down the street. Should we go at the end of the chapter?
The Musée Gustave Moreau opens its doors to us. Wood floors arrayed in herringbone creak underfoot.
You, excited, seemingly knowing the route: Let’s start at the top. Salome is up there.
We ascend two sets of stairs past the artist’s apartment and study into an enormous room of paintings.
Three walls of dark pink, a final wall of windows on one side. I pause. You pull at my hand, but I resist.
You, slipping away: I’m going up.
I watch you ascend a spiral staircase. You pause at the landing midway and motion for me to follow.
Me, raising a finger and mouthing: One minute.
You continue. I turn my attention to the images that surround me. I am standing in a vast gallery of the unfinished.
Techniques and styles mingle, overlap, compete.
Miniature elements of precision—the flower petals in a garland around a young man’s tanned brow.
Rough impressionist landscapes rendered in simple, violent brush strokes.
I draw my breath and follow you upward.
From the landing, I look down at the wood and metal loops of the spiral staircase forming a receding nautilus.
I find you in front of a small painting, rapt at attention.
Me: I’m here.
You, after a moment, turning to pull me close: Hey.
We watch in silence.
Salome dances before the figure of Herod.
She is a white apparition, a ghost burnt on the canvas. He, little more than a grey shroud decaying in parallel with the grey of his throne.
The vast interior in which she dances is bathed in the golden light of a setting sun.
You, pointing: Look. She is levitating.
Her feet arch like a ballet dancer on point, but her toes are inches off the floor. Her eyes cast downward as if in mourning.
You draw me to the next room. We find the same scene repeated. Salome dances for Herod.
Now she is surrounded by the outlines of ornate columns, scepters, a crown. Her naked body visible beneath a tracing of jewels.
Me: John the Baptist lost his head for her.
You, a shift in mood: Hey, I think I’d like to be alone a bit.
Me, off-put, hurt a little: Ok. I’ll wait downstairs.
You: No, I mean I’d like to be alone. We can meet later…at the apartment.
Me, heart sinking: Ok.
I give you a hug. Your arms wrap limply around me.
I plod down the stairs.
At the entrance, I purchase two postcards of Salome and exit to the street.
I take the car out of the garage. Drive toward nowhere in particular but cannot escape the feeling of alone.
When I fall asleep, you are missing.