(On Seeing “Balthus: Cats & Girls–Paintings & Provocations” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Thérèse is green.

The bus sways and snaps and the girls talk over each other, one louder than the other, the other louder than the first. Thérèse was a girl once, a girl with a cat. Surely she chatted about inane girlish things, but she cannot imagine herself this absurd.

Thérèse is not frivolous. Straight dark eyebrows and deep-set eyes. Once a severe child, not conventionally pretty, but interesting. The word the painter always used.

(He painted her floating in daydreams, isolated in rooms, suffocating. Looking over her shoulder, looking past the viewer, gazing from one mirror to another. He painted and painted while her foot dangled. Her feet did not dangle on canvas. One day, she realized, she would grow up, leave. No one would recognize her.)

The years dragged.

Thérèse rides the bus, listens to the chatter, holds her breath. The girls get up, move to the exit; they are nearly identical. Not sisters, but all the same height with long dark braided hair, blue jackets, pink school bags.

Therese has never wanted to look like anyone else.

(Therese has never really looked at herself. The painter decided what she looked like. She took his word for it.

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