Paris Street; Rainy Day

Susan Fuchtman

Image of Susan Fuchtman

Susan Fuchtman

There's a painting at the Chicago Institute of Art by Gustave Caillebotte titled Paris Street; Rainy Day. I used to go and look at it every Thursday. Thursday, because that's the day with the fewest visitors. I'd been there so many Thursdays that there were little depressions in the floor where I always stood.
 
And here's the thing: I loved–love–Suzette. She's the woman in the painting, with her arm looped through her lover's. Her lover is named Leon. He's a foul thing, rich and arrogant and empty.
 
On the far right is Suzette's husband, Armand, who's returned early from a business trip. All you can see is his back and part of his umbrella, which is about to knock into Leon's. 
 
It's a violent painting, but no one talks about that. 
 
Leon and Suzette don't see Armand; they're distracted by something, offstage left. Armand is charging toward Suzette, elbow ready to dig into her ribs.
 
What did Caillebotte have in mind, jamming them all together like that?
 
One Thursday in September, I visited as usual. I was looking at the painting, imagining Suzette in my arms, her diamond earrings on the bedstand and fur-trimmed day clothes shed on the floor, her moist breath in my ear. Suddenly, I heard shouting. There was never shouting in the Chicago Institute of Art, Gallery 201. I looked around; the guard was relaxed. There were no other visitors close by. I look back at the painting and saw that Armand was attacking Leon. Attacking Leon!
 
I moved closer; some of Leon's blood spilled onto my shoe.
 
The street vendor shouted, "La gendarmerie, la gendarmerie!" Before long, the Parisian crowd completely blocked my view. I looked back at the guard; he was scanning the room, at ease.
 
The crowd continued to obstruct the scene until the gendarme blew his whistle. Leon and Armand stood apart, breathing hard, looking at Suzette. Blood was dripping from Leon's nose, his jacket torn, his top hat crushed on the ground. Armand's umbrella was broken.
 
Everything stopped for a beat. Then Suzette said, "I'm getting wet," in a pretty French accent, stepped around the men, the gendarme, through the crowd, jumped out of the painting and over the short rope barrier into the gallery. She removed her hat and veil, walked up to me, and said, "Let's go." Her eyes were bright. 
 
My head was full of white noise like a torrential rainstorm on a metal roof. It was hard to think, but not so hard that I don't know what to do. 
 
I extended my arm, and she slipped her hand into the crook of it as if she'd been doing it for years.
 
We exited the museum, then walked north on Michigan Avenue toward Millennium Park. Passersby glanced at her, but without alarm—after all, this is Chicago. 
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