Returning

By Audrey Renner

            Felicity examines the halls of The Great’s Garden Museum one last time. Her footsteps echo through the dark, empty museum. She enters the Dutch Room and stops. A lone woman stands in front of the frame where Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee once hung. She holds a thin box draped with an old sheet.

            “Excuse me, the museum is closed,” Felicity says as she walks towards the woman.

            The woman turns to face Felicity. “Yes, I know,” Janna says. She swallows hard. She places the box behind her legs, away from Felicity. “Do you think you could help me with something?”

            Felicity stops. “With finding the exit?”

            “No,” Janna says. “I need help authenticating a piece of art.”

            “You’ll have to come back-”

            “Please, it should just take a moment.” Janna sets the box on top of a glass display and steps back for Felicity to examine the piece.

            Felicity sighs and walks towards Janna and the box. She uncovers the box, dated on the front 1990. She tilts her head. She unclasps the box hinges and opens the top. She gasps loudly, placing one hand on the shoulder of the woman and the other hand over her heart. She looks at Janna. “This better not be a joke, young lady,” she says.

            “Is it real?” Janna asks, eyes wide.

            Felicity takes her hands away from Janna’s shoulder. She lifts the canvas and, on the side, reads ‘Rembrandt ’33. Felicity looks at Janna “Where did you find this?”

             “My childhood bedroom,” she says, looking at her.

            Felicity places the canvas in the box and points at it with a shaking finger, not taking her eyes off of Janna. “Do you know how much this painting is worth?” she asks.

            “Millions,” Janna says. “If it’s real.”

            “Rembrandt signed his landscape paintings on the side as to not draw attention away from the art,” Felicity says. “I can only guess he would have done so for his one and only seascape.”

            Janna gasps and places her hands on her hips.

            “I would need to further inspect it,” Felicity says, framing the canvas with her hands. She looks to Janna. “Would you like that?”

            Janna reaches over, shuts the box, and pulls the sheet back over it. “Maybe I don’t. Because if it’s real, then I’ll have to give it back, won’t I?” She paces away from the painting.

            Felicity narrows her eyes and crosses her arms. “Is that not why you brought it here?”

            “No, I brought it here to know if it’s real,” Janna says. “But now that I’m here… I’ve been stabbed with a double-edged sword.” Her voice breaks. She wipes her faces with her jacket sleeve.

            Felicity opens the box again. She looks back and forth from the painting to Janna. “Did you know this was stolen?”

            Janna shakes her head. “Not until recently. My dad told me this painting was a family heirloom, passed down generations from great-grandad Rembrandt himself. But then I asked some relatives about it and they said they’d never seen it or heard of it.”

            “Do you know who stole it?” Felicity asks.

            Janna catches her breath. “I have an idea.”

            Felicity takes a few steps towards Janna. “It’s very admirable of you to bring this to me,” she says. “Would you like one last look at it?”

            Janna scoffs. “You’re not giving me a choice, are you?” she asks.

            Felicity shakes her head. “I am letting you decide, but I’m expecting that you’ll make the right decision.”

            Janna sighs and walks towards the painting. She hovers her hands over it, careful to not touch it. Her fingers follow the ocean waves, breathing deep to relax. “Could I ask you something?”

            “Of the painting?” Felicity asks. “Go ahead.”

            “Is a piece of art worth anything if no one will see it?” Janna asks, still looking at the painting.

            Felicity crosses her arms. “I think so. I believe you can make art for fun. Who says you need an audience?”

            “But how would Rembrandt ever know this seascape was good without an audience? How is it worthy of a frame in a museum?”

            Felicity’s eyes wandered the room before landing on a self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh, lit with a preservation light. “Van Gogh didn’t sell a painting in his life. Was the time and craft he put into his art not worth it?”

            Janna swallows. “Perhaps not,” she says. “This is a beautiful painting and I once believed it to be mine. But I don’t think Rembrandt would like it if this painting stayed stolen forever.” She walks around Felicity and towards the exit of the Dutch room.

            “What’s your name?” Felicity asks. “Surely you would like credit for returning a multi-million-dollar painting.”

            Janna stops and turns around. “Don’t mention me,” she says. “Tell the public that someone returned it. That’s all that matters.” She continues towards the exit but stops before leaving. She turns to her left to the self-portrait of Rembrandt hanging on the wall. He smiles down at her. She smiles back, tears still staining her face.

            She exits the Dutch room.

Audrey Renner is from Overland Park, Kansas. She studies Creative Writing at Full Sail University.

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