Funny stories in under 500 words.

The Fiction of Art

Captured on the giant canvas, a gray-haired man stands, palms outstretched, shoulders in a deep shrug. He pleads with the woman militantly posed opposite him. Her wrinkled face tight with rage, she points an arthritic finger at him. Under the table in a corner an orange cat cowers. How long she has been angry with him – minutes, decades – this elderly man who appears to be her husband? Who is the painter depicting?

They are, in fact, the artist’s parents. Barry Ridge breaks out of the painting and walks into the kitchen. He returns to the living room five minutes later with a tray. On it are two cups of tea, a plate with two scones and a bowl of milk for the white cat that now sits on Pamela Ridge’s lap. “You are always so very kind,” she says, smiling at him.

They have calmed downed considerably in the past few weeks. When they drove to the art gallery in Mystic and viewed their daughter’s double portrait of them for the first time, they were stunned as they hadn’t been since JFK’s assassination over fifty years ago.

They spent the two hours on their drive home from Mystic probing their daughter’s psyche. “What would make Riva do a thing like this?” Barry asks, tears invading his voice. “How many times, in the years she lived with us, was I ever angry with you? And we never had an orange cat… and the hideous furniture in that painting.”

Was Riva on the verge of another breakdown? They were paralyzed with the year-long one she had suffered when she was twenty. Had Riva’s own daughter condemned her for the mythic never-ending battles she engaged in with a variety of lovers? Was the double portrait revenge for their not supporting her when she left her job as a portfolio manager to take up painting?

During the car ride home they couldn’t figure out what was behind Riva’s behavior. Pamela told Barry, as she had often, that he had been a caring father who spent more time with his daughter than most. Pamela had been a terrific mother, too, building Riva’s confidence, flowing with her whims and whines.

They went the next day to talk to the priest in the church they regularly attended. He calmed them but did not have an answer about what might have motivated their daughter to create such a monstrous canvas.

Now, as they are finishing their tea, Barry retrieves his iPad from the bedroom. They are planning to return to Florence in two months, and he wants to purchase tickets online for the Uffizi and Accademia. It’s been a quarter-century since they’ve seen the David. He moves next to Pamela to show her a photo of a newly-discovered Botticelli.

“I have an idea,” he says. “You can find everything on the Internet.”

He types in “Riva Ridge” on the Google search bar. What they found sculpted them in stone.

This story was written by Lee Marc Stein, a retired direct marketing consultant living in East Setauket, New York. His poems have been published in Blast Furnace, Blue & Yellow Dog, Blue Lake Review, Message in a Bottle, Miller’s Pond Poetry,River Poets Journal, Slow Trains Journal, Still Crazy, Subliminal Interiors,Write Place at the Write Time and The Write Room. His first book of poetry, Whispers in the Galleries, features ekphrastic poems.

Lee has had short stories published in Bartleby Snopes, nicollsroad, Write Place at the Write Time, Cynic Online, and Down in the Dirt. He leads workshops at Stony Brook University’s Lifelong Learning program on modern masters of the novel. A poor golfer, he excels at creating excuses for not playing well.


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