An Adventure in Art Appreciation

“Hurry up. It closes in an hour.” Mel waved his arm like a commando leading a raid on a bunker.

“I’m right behind you,” Emily replied, pausing to catch her breath at the base of the long marble staircase before beginning her ascent to the museum’s second floor.

Mel knew this was going to be a long day when Emily booked the Henry VIII-themed lunch—a meal that was far too expensive and took far too long. We should have skipped the Tudor feast and eaten at the café instead, Mel thought.

“Let’s go,” Mel called out when Emily reached the top of the stairs. He was on the move again, nearly barreling into a woman posing for a selfie in front of a falcon-headed sphinx.

“Pardon me,” Mel muttered and rushed onward.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” asked Emily.

“Yes, I’m sure,” Mel said over his shoulder. He’d memorized the museum floorplan. After ancient Mesopotamia, we’ll pass through the Egyptian collection, he thought. It’ll be the Greeks next, then the special exhibit. “Come on,” Mel said, adding another commando wave.

“I’m coming.”

For three weeks, Mel had been on a quest to have his picture taken with great European artworks, checking them off one by one like he was collecting baseball cards. From city to city, museum to museum, exhibit to exhibit, Emily had snapped shots of Mel and the masters. Mel and Van Gogh. Mel and Picasso. Mel and DaVinci. The list went on. So, she wasn’t surprised by her husband’s outburst on the train the previous night.

“How’d we miss that?” Mel exclaimed as they sped through a small station.

“Miss what?” Emily stirred from a brief nap.

“The Scream,” Mel said. “It’s at the British Museum.”

“But tomorrow’s our last day and we have lunch reservations,” Emily reminded him. “We won’t have time.”

“We can fit it in if we leave the lunch early.”

For Emily, spending their last afternoon being served by waiters in Tudor costumes had seemed like a fun and relaxing way to wrap up their vacation. Once Mel spotted the poster for the Scream, however, Emily knew he wouldn’t rest until he saw the iconic masterpiece in person.

Mel charged through ancient Mesopotamia, past gold and silver containers, earrings and beaded necklaces, chisels and sewing needles, and a trove of other artifacts. He hesitated briefly at the mummified remains of a Sumerian woman, her head encircled by an ornate gold band, before pushing ahead into the Egyptian rooms.

“Excuse me. Excuse me. Pardon me, please.” Mel spread his hands to cut through the crowd of tourists gathered around the mummies.

“Keep going,” he shouted back to Emily. “We’re almost there.”

If Emily heard him, she didn’t respond. And when Mel looked back, he couldn’t see her.

“Go through the Greek rooms,” he yelled. “I’ll meet you at the Scream.”

Mel picked up his pace again in the Greek collection, darting through a series of rooms filled with urns, vases, and statues. He was sweating and breathing hard by the time he spotted the door marked “Special Exhibits.”

“I found it,” Mel said, first in a hushed voice and then again more loudly as he strode through the sliding door: “I found it!”

Standing in the middle of a large gallery with his hands on his hips, Mel couldn’t wait to take his picture with one of the world’s most famous paintings. But instead, he found himself turning from one wall to another in an empty room. Where is everyone? he wondered. Where’s the art? Where’s the ScreamHe was about to check an adjoining gallery when the sliding door opened behind him. Expecting his wife, Mel was surprised to see a burly security guard coming his way.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said the guard, his meaty hands balled into fists. “I’m afraid we’ve had a number of complaints.”

Before Mel could respond, the door opened again, and Emily rushed into the room.

“Oh my,” she said. “What’s the problem?”

“No problem, ma’am,” answered the guard. “I was just explaining to your husband that there’ve been complaints from other visitors.”

“I’m very—”

“Where is it?” Mel blurted, cutting off his wife mid-sentence.

“Mel!” said Emily, her face reddening.

“Excuse me, sir,” the guard said, “you’ll have to lower your voice.”

“This is the room for special exhibits, isn’t it?” Mel turned from one wall to the next as if the Scream would appear if he looked hard enough.

“Sir, I’m asking you for the last time.”

“And I’m asking you for the last time,” Mel shouted. “Where’s the Scream?”

“The Scream?”

“Yes, the Scream. Where is it?”

“Well,” said the guard as two of his colleagues entered the room, “I suppose it’s back in Oslo by now.”

“Oslo? What are you talking about? I saw it on a poster last night. The Scream is here.”

“You might have seen a poster,” said the guard, “but the exhibit ended last week.” He motioned to the empty gallery. “We’re preparing for the next show. Now, if you’ll be so kind as to follow me…”

Mel looked over at his wife.

“Emily, I…”

“Hold it,” Emily said to the security guards as they were about to lead Mel from the gallery. She pulled her camera from her purse.

“What are you doing?”

“I’ll see you at the hotel,” Emily said, and snapped a photo of Mel with the security guards.

Retracing her steps through Greece, then Egypt, then Mesopotamia, before descending the great staircase and exiting into the brisk late-afternoon chill of Bloomsbury, Emily quickened her pace, the hurried tapping of her heels on the pavement signaling to the world that her vacation was over. She was ready to go home.