The True Mei

This is my favorite hour of the day.  I woke up at dawn. I dressed for work in the half-light so I wouldn’t wake my mother.  I went out onto the street, stepping out briskly, matching my speed to that of those around me so as not to be crushed by the crowds.  I taught the children all day, correcting their errors and reminding them of the rules they had memorized. I ate lunch with my fellow teachers, listening to their chatter. At the final bell, I put on my sweater and stepped into the crowds again.  Four blocks to home, my mother’s voice, the smell of dinner cooking.  We watched her favorite program after eating.  It always makes her fall asleep, but she will not go to bed until it is over.  At last the credits roll, the theme song plays, my mother’s snores stop and she bids me good-night.  I am alone with these pages and the brown lamp in the corner.  I can feel the quiet as I gently open the covers and slip into the magic.


I don’t dare move.  As long as I look like just one more girl in the library, studying hard for exams, I ought to be safe.  I can’t understand a word of this book, though.  The words seem to dance around on the page.  It’s hard to breath. I can hear the boots of the men walking up and down.  Their steps sound angry.  The stolen documents press against my back, itching at the corners.  I must ignore the irritation, as I ignore the sweat that trickles down the back of my neck.  Keep my hands steady on the book.  Keep my face impassive. The heavy tread approaches. Two voices confer in angry mutters.  The men are right behind me now. Can the outline of the papers be seen through my dress? Am I breathing too quickly, too slowly, at all? Does my fear give off a scent that they can detect? Now they pass the table.  Now they continue down the rows of shelves.  Now they are gone.  I grip my book tightly and breath.  The first stage is done.


It’s hard not to laugh. When the artist posed me on the stage, she didn’t say how long she would need me to stay.   She is the great Madame Clairot.  It seemed presumptious of me to ask, as if I didn’t value the honor of being her model, but now, four hours later, I wish I hadn’t been so delicate. At first there was plenty to think about.  Several visitors stopped by.  There were indecipherable mutters and clearly heard comments on the tidiness of my hair, the size of my nose and ears.  I wanted to lift my head and remind them that I am a living person and not actually a painting yet, but I didn’t.  I kept my eyes on my book, read the same three lines over and over again, tried to ignore the voices.  Then Madame kicked the all out.  I was glad at first, but after a while the silence was even worse.  I can’t even hear Madame painting or breathing or existing at all.  I’m pretty sure she’s fallen asleep.  She is very old now.  Was that…?  Did she just fart?  She did.  She farted.  Twice. It’s so quiet in here I can hear her farts. She must be sleeping then, but at least I know she’s alive.  I must not laugh.  If I start, I’ll never stop, and this job pays too well to lose it.  I think my ribs might crack from holding it in, though.  If she farts again, I’ll lose it for sure.  How much longer should I wait?

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