He explains to her, standing before Van Gogh’s Bank of the Seine, that “they had to hunt down historical tubes of paint.” Their last leg of a long backback trip across Europe has landed the two of them on this spot, within the Amsterdam Museum. By now Tilly has learned to tune out Ben beautifully, but this information drags her out of her usual daydream and compels her to listen to him for the moment.
“Do the yellows look brownish to you?” he asks, touching the sensitive flesh underneath her upper arm.
She steps back for a more focused view of what lies within the gilded frame, and runs her eyes over the stippling on the river bank and the horizontal strokes of reflection on the river’s passive surface. Not her favorite Van Gogh, but she does see that the yellows are not the brilliant colors of his famous Tuscan sunflower petals. “It’s sort of a greeny-brown yellow.”
“They found, by studying and aging those old tubes of color, that the chromium in a yellow pigment he used in some of his works is compromised after years of exposure to UV light.”
Tilly nods. She understands how something bright can dull with time and too much exposure.
After a silent dinner, he persuades her to go with him to the red light district. They walk through milling crowds of tourists on a voyeuristic trek, ignore the calls of shills beckoning to them.
The women are displayed in dressed-up picture windows at street level. They are posed for judgment and sale. Mostly white flesh, some dark, under moody spotlights and surrounded by blinking neon colors that spread to the sidewalk and highlight Ben’s face in a shade that makes him unfamiliar. It’s all a bit surreal, though the closure of some curtains indicates something is lurking behind. She pauses, drawn to one woman on a tall wooden stool, gaunt, unlike her buxom competitors. She keeps her eyes downcast, while the other women seduce and work the crowds. Tilly sees shame, need, desperation in fire engine red lace and tense limbs.
Because she and Ben have stopped for longer than the curious looker would stop, the woman raises her head and looks directly at Tilly. She gestures to the back door entrance and Tilly realizes she’s being invited into the garish picture.
“No!” she mouths, and shakes her head vehemently. “No!” embarrassed she’s been misunderstood and now has to reject this stray woman.
She wants to pull him from the seedy grip of the place, the forced erotic charge.
She tries to pull him far back to some original point in time where she can view him again as illuminated in his own natural, promising light.