My son, Porter, and I have been battling over a moderately terrifying painting, a pretty little portrait of a rustic girl in the woods that I picked up on Painter’s Street in Shanghai. “It’s creepy, mom.”
I have to admit, he’s right. The dealer on Painter’s Street looked shifty and sold it to me cheap, which I didn’t think about in the moment. I’d bought a few paintings around that time, and didn’t focus in on the creep factor until several months later. I said nothing to anyone; Porter noticed it on his own. The painting is all well and good on the surface, a forest scene with all kinds of sweet elements, a pleasant wood, a charming young girl looking out at the world, resting on a rock with a crown of flowers in her hair. What’s not to like, unless you look long and hard and realize there’s something unnerving about the eyes, and once you see it you can’t unsee it. That’s how it ended up in the bathroom.
I feel guilty throwing it away, because art and stuff, but that bathroom is seldom used, so my conscience can plead semi-innocence if, over the course of years, it is accidentally damaged by moisture—darn, isn’t that a shame. Besides, it’s genuinely handsome in that room, and situated as it is over the toilet, my back is always to it, what with being female and all, and I take care not to meet its eyes when I wash my hands. Porter, being male, is not so lucky. “Its eyes are following me, mom. Instead couldn’t we hang a nice metal plaque saying ‘The toilet was invented by James Joyce in 1776?’”
He didn’t actually say “James Joyce;” I put that in because he said some equally random name that I can’t remember. However, for having pulled it out of his hat, he was surprisingly close on the date. The first patent for a flush toilet was issued to Alexander Cumming in 1775. In fact, it turns out that a nice article on the history of toilets would have made fairly interesting bathroom reading, but I never got around to hanging it on the wall.
One day the eerie girl became too much for Porter and he took her down, setting her on the floor, facing the wall. Being a low-traffic area, he got away with it for a time, but eventually I took offense at the hole in the décor, and hung her back. The gauntlet had been thrown, and a week later he sauntered into my room, draped himself onto the couch, and cut loose his 100-watt Porter smirk. “Good luck finding it,” he said.
The mouse had unwittingly challenged the lion.
It’s really not that Porter or any of his teenage counterparts are actually bad hiders. The trouble is that they think like kids, and kids don’t interact with the house in the same way their mothers do. I mean, if kids start secreting items under loose floorboards, they might have a shot, but even then, sooner or later, mom is going to notice something wonky and start investigating. It’s not nosiness; a mother’s quest for order eventually reveals all mysteries.
Porter picked a closet. –Don’t waste my time.
In fairness, each of the bedrooms and bathrooms in our house has a specific set of towels or linen, and any excess is squirreled away in this unobtrusive sliver of a linen closet at the end of the main floor hallway. The day Porter hid that painting may very well have been the first time in his life he had ever opened that door, assuming that if he didn’t open it, naturally no one else did either . . . except his mother who occasionally needs an extra pillowcase, or old towels for a spill.
Not many days later Porter came charging into the kitchen in a t-shirt and boxers. “You know what you did!! How did you even find it? I’m not happy about this, Mom!”
It’s possible that I may have added googly eyes before I rehung the painting.
Not long after the painting disappeared again, this time behind the cabinet in my bathroom, the one where every day I stand in the shower and have a full side view of that very cabinet and all its environs, like God looking at us and asking, “Do you really think you lost Me in that dogleg to the left?”
The painting is back in the bathroom, though I’m sure it will soon evaporate once more, only to be returned, maybe with a tinfoil hat.