Opportunism in Modern Narration

As is still my habit, I would devote any free time during the day to the recital of sonnets and other worthwhile pursuits. I was on this particular occasion engaged in a mock argument in a somewhat Sophoclean style, so as to hone my skills in reasoning and oratory. Speaking first as myself, then as my mock adversary, I carried on quite a delightful and sophisticated conversation. It began to vex me, however, that as the argument wore on my adversary's remarks took up an air of arbitrary disagreement. I even once caught him putting forth an outright lie as truth, possibly in an effort to bluff me into some less favorable position.

At this point in the dialogue I became somewhat enraged, and said so much to the woman who now enters the story. She stood quite near, protective of a polished silver platter. Inspecting the contents of this tray, one would find a fairly attractive arrangement of assorted crackers. Let me make myself clear: these crackers were arranged in such a way as to be impressive to the untrained eye. For even in my state of agitation I was aware of a slight protuberance upon the face of one cracker. This imperfection provoked me to the point of hysteria, and it scarcely helped that the woman seemed sympathetic.

As if to placate my tearful anxiety, she pointed to the west. There, in a startling array of colors and possessing a certain pleasing indifference, columns of perspiration loomed gently in the night sky. "The sweat of the masses is but a metaphor for lycanthropy," she said. "And to be frank, I wish them the best. I once believed myself to be a werewolf, after all; we all suffer fits of deranged dementia on occasion, and I'd be the last to deny my little escapade in Helga's fur coat." She did a little two-step and clawed at the air playfully, as if reminiscing.

Gradually the expression on her face twisted into an unnatural grimace. "Damn these plebeians and their parasitic games! I wish I were a tapeworm... no! I am a wonderful person."

She repeated it several more times to herself, and I was studying her pronunciation when a large but close-knit group of portrait artists approached from behind. They had been painting together for as long as I could remember, and it was a wonder to see their lightness of step. "That's the one," a rangy forerunner of the pack announced, and before I had a chance to flee they had taken up positions surrounding us and started painting. We dared not move for fear of ruining the scene. It was a clever trick and I saw no way to get around it.

After some time relief painters began to arrive in shifts. So, this was how they planned to keep us here; I had pinned my hopes on the inevitable tiring of the attack, and had expected to slip away when they allowed for a break. They would paint until we were weakened by exhaustion. Then they would surely subject us to the most inhuman artistic devices imaginable.

Something like this had happened to me once before in my youth. It had been a cold winter and the thawing of spring was gladly welcomed that year. For this reason my family had seen it fit to celebrate with a picnic in the country. We had packed baskets with breads and jams of the most exquisite kinds, and after arriving at a pleasant spot the lavish meal had been spread on quilts and blankets of all colors and sizes.

As we were sitting to enjoy this afternoon lunch, a small group of men arrived carrying easels and paint-splotched satchels. The short gentleman with wavy brown hair took the lead in making introductions. "We are skilled painters from distant lands. Would you care to have a group portrait as a souvenir of this fine occasion?"

Without waiting for an answer he stepped up to us and began directing us to turn this way and that, or to take on a particular facial expression. His eye settled on a delectable fruitcake, and he feigned nausea at the sight. "I can tell you right now, this whole tableau will look so much more attractive if we tidy up parts of the blanket." With that he whisked it away, and innocently grabbed several misplaced sandwiches in the process.

I thought this odd at the time, and later that evening I questioned my parents about the incident. They shied away from the subject, and I never did get a real explanation. But one particular thing stuck in my mind. As the painters first approached us and I commented on their neat appearance, my father spoke under his breath. "They are hungry artists, and they will use any trickery necessary to obtain food and art supplies."

My thoughts returned to the present and I fully understood the import of our current situation. They were not after me, nor the woman. It was only a matter of time before they would see their opening and fall upon our foodstuffs like vultures.

A small commotion arose in the cluster before us. One of the painters was pointing in our direction and gesturing urgently. Immediately runners were dispatched from this central conflux to the flanks, and it was obvious that some sort of mass effort was being coordinated. The thoughts passed through my head in a heartbeat: They must have noticed the blemished arrangement of crackers. They will attempt to remove the crackers from the tableau. They will use the imperfection as an excuse. We cannot let them seize the crackers.

They rushed toward us, and in the ensuing confusion I managed to rearrange a few of the crackers to hide the blemish. It took the portraitists only a moment to assume a critiquing stance, and another to notice that something was wrong. Some of them muttered to themselves. A few conferred with each other. Others stood around, disoriented. Time passed like an eternity. I held my breath, praying that my handiwork had succeeded. Indeed, I nearly jumped when their leader stepped forward. There was a glimmer in his eye, and I sensed a brief hostility directed at me.

"Very nice collection of crackers." He paused for a moment, leaning close to the platter. As he looked up and smiled, I could feel that his anger yielded to a bit of admiration. "Very nice collection indeed." He shrugged off his defeat, thanking us profusely for our participation, and promising to send a reproduction in the mail "as soon as the copyists have had a chance to work their magic."

With a wave they were off, jogging into the distance, now over the horizon, leaving only a few scattered brushes to mark their passing.

Copyright (c) 1998