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UPDATE 9/2023: GBR has returned from a long hiatus and is reopen for submissions of fiction and nonfiction.
Ready or Not
By Emily Painton

“You ready?” Marvin asked, impatiently. 

“Not quite yet,” Grace said and took a seat on the red vinyl bench facing a large painting. “I’m going to rest here for a moment.” Her feet hurt. She also wanted to stare a bit more.

Marvin gave her a frown and said, “I’m gonna go take a closer look.” He wandered off towards The Raft of the Medusa, a painting filled with a violent sea, drowning men with sorrow struck faces, naked and writhing half-eaten torsos, and snapping sea creatures.

Grace and Marvin had been all over the Louvre that day, through both the Richelieu and Sully wings. They saw Egyptian art, Northern European paintings, and Greek, Roman, and Etruscan antiquities, but Grace had come for the Denon wing with its large French paintings from the Romantic Era. She was exhausted and had almost given up hope by the time she finally found what she was looking for. 

Grace fiddled with the new ring on her left hand, rubbing her right thumb back and forth across the pattern of open filigree decorating the sides. She looked down to admire how brilliantly the diamonds sparkled under the museum lights. She’d been dating Marvin for almost eight years, and over the last few she’d begun to hint about marriage. She’d rip photos of engagement rings from magazines, circle her favorite ones, and leave them on the dining room table for him to see. He would tease her and act like he couldn’t imagine what she was suggesting. Just when she had begun to accept the idea that they might never marry, he shocked her by popping the question there in Paris two days ago, on New Year’s Eve. 

She hadn’t chosen her seat arbitrarily. She’d plunked herself down right in front of the Burial of Atala by Girodet. At almost seven feet tall and nine feet across, the size of the painting was impressive, but it was the emotional intensity of the work that captivated her. It had been almost 10 years since she’d studied in Paris and first discovered the painting of the dark-haired young man passionately embracing the feet of his now-dead lover as she is lowered into a freshly dug grave. Seeing it again not only reminded Grace of the last time she was in Paris but also of someone she had known back then and the feelings she held for him. 

Her end of the massive gallery was almost empty. It was quiet except for the occasional creak of passing feet traversing the parquet floors and the hushed murmurs coming from a tour group in front of the enormous Coronation of Napoleon at the far end of the hall. She turned away from her painting to look in that direction and spotted Marvin meandering farther away from her and into the next room.

She felt her stomach turn and decided maybe she was hungry after all. She rose and silently said goodbye to the beautiful young man in the painting. She found Marvin two rooms over. He stood in front of a small dark piece, contemplating it, left arm folded across his chest, right arm bent up so that he could stroke his goatee. The gesture seemed to Grace like an affectation that Marvin employed to appear superior. He often used it when he was giving her the silent treatment. 

Out on the Rue de Rivoli, Grace pointed out several cafés. One restaurant nearby was recommended in her guidebook, but when they peeked through the window it looked more like a crowded bar. Marvin grumbled at her when she hesitated at the front door. He expected her to take the lead, but her French was rusty and such a packed place unnerved her. They walked on. The sky turned dark and a few drops of cold rain splattered onto the grey cobblestones. A strong icy wind whipped up, quickly transforming the rain into sleet and then snow—but an aggressive sort of snow with flakes that tried to blind them. They dashed into the first door they saw that felt welcoming, a brightly lit place called Indiana Café. The little café served Mexican food, at least a French interpretation of Mexican food, and it was oddly decorated with black-and-white photographs of Native Americans. Grace was disappointed, knowing all too well that Paris was not a good city for Mexican food, but Marvin seemed satisfied, and she didn’t dare make another suggestion. 

As they dined on a pile of limp nachos and finished off a pitcher of watery beer, the snow subsided. Outside, everything was covered in white. Marvin was in a hurry to get back to the room for a nap. Grace wasn’t sleepy. While Marvin slept, Grace tried to snap a few photos of her hand with her new ring on it. They didn’t come out. She couldn’t capture the sparkle very well. Restless and bored, she wandered around the room, kicked a pair of Marvin’s dirty socks under the bed, peeked through the window, and decided she would head out on her own with her camera for a long walk in the snow.
Emily Painton, a painter and writer, grew up in Norman, Oklahoma but now lives in New Orleans. She earned a MA in Art History from Tulane, an MLIS from the University of Texas at Austin, and once spent a summer studying in Paris at the Sorbonne. She loves to travel and one day hopes to be able to spend every hurricane season in Berlin. Her work has appeared in Queen Mob's Tea HouseEllipsis ZineDeep South MagazineThird WednesdayRoute 7, and in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. She is currently working on a memoir.