Jeffery is a security guard at the Nelson Museum of Art located in a rundown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The museum is managed by an NGO and due to the economic recession, had to cut its staff, so he is the only guard on duty. He’s seen paintings of gumball machines and lesser known contemporaries of Monet make it on the walls, usually for two seasons, when it used to be one. He doesn’t know what each painting costs, because the appraiser and archivist, Caroline, went on maternity leave two weeks ago and doesn’t know if she’ll be back.
He’s seen all types of people browse the art, some with blank faces, others squinting nearsightedly as if they could find some hidden meaning behind a lithograph if they just tried hard enough. But silver-haired Magdelenia, who visits every Friday at two o’clock, breezes by, smiling at each piece — whether cheerful or horrendously gloomy – and greets each one like an old friend.
She speaks to them, one by one: “Hello, it’s Magdelenia again. How are you today?” and “Did you get any unusual visitors this week?”
One Friday, Magdelenia enters with plodding steps, dressed in black with a veil before her eyes. She sits down on the bench in the middle of the room, a red plush one that children like to climb over, and waits.
Jeffrey imagines that the paintings would crowd all over her if they could, saying things like “What’s wrong, Magdelenia?” and “Please smile, Magdelenia!” But they can’t, so Jeffrey pulls a napkin he saved from lunch in his pants’ pocket. From his customary corner in the gallery, he strides over to press it into Magdelenia’s hands. Her fingers feel as worn as parchment paper.
“Thank you,” Magdelenia says, and Jeffrey smiles kindly upon her.