September 27, 2021
A poor older woman went to the Cincinnati Art Museum every Wednesday and stared at a single portrait the entire day. Everyone ignored her most days until one boy decided to talk to her.
“Ugh, that woman is here once again. Every single Wednesday, she’s right there staring at that portrait. It’s crazy, Adam. The museum should really kick her out,” said Gabriella, who was a part-time employee at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
“Gabriella, please. You know how management feels. She only comes one day a week because admission is free. Let the poor woman enjoy some art,” Reuben responded. He was one of the newest curators on staff.
He didn’t mind the woman, and most of the staff ignored her. But Gabriella always gave her a look. She was a snob. Meanwhile, Mrs. Scarlet Hensley sat down on the bench in front of the most beautiful portrait she had ever seen and thought about her life.
In her early 20s, she married Evan Hensley, the son of the wealthiest banker in Cincinnati. But that was the worst choice of her life. She was now poor, old, and full of regrets. But looking at this portrait every week gave her a sense of hope.
So she came every Wednesday without fail. People walked around her, and Mrs. Hensley barely noticed, like that sequence in a movie where one character is still, and the rest are rushing by.
But one day was different. A little boy sat down next to her. He was part of a class excursion to the museum, and while one of the staff members was showing the kids around, he broke out from his group and sat down with Scarlet.
“Hi! I’m Kash. Why are you watching this drawing?” he asked Mrs. Hensley.
“Hi, Kash. My name is Scarlet. I’m watching this portrait because I’m the woman in it,” Scarlet explained.
“What? You don’t look anything like the woman in the picture. Your clothes are different too!” Kash said.
“Yes, I’m very different now from the woman in the portrait, and my clothes have changed too,” Scarlet responded. “But that’s me from a long time ago.”
“Oh! Like when you didn’t have phones?” Kash asked.
“That’s right. We didn’t have many cameras either. They were costly," Scarlett added with a smile. It's nice to talk to someone, she thought.
“But why are you sitting here? We arrived HOURS ago and I saw you here. And you’re still here!” Kash added vehemently.
“I come here every Wednesday because it’s free. I also like to remember what my life was like back then,” Scarlet replied.
“What was your life like?” Kash asked.
“Well…” she started then opened up to Kash about her past.
In the summer of 1962, she was 16 years old and beautiful as the portrait on the wall. She met Reagan while getting ice cream with her friends. He worked part-time at the ice cream shop but wanted to become an artist.
He asked her out immediately, and Scarlet accepted. Then she became the inspiration for most of his paintings. It was a beautiful summer. But unlike her, Reagan’s parents were very poor. Scarlet didn’t care, but most of the people in her circle did.
Scarlet’s father was furious when he discovered their romance. Mr. Harley Bergman was a connected politician. He forced them to separate, no matter how Scarlet begged.
“I can’t see you anymore. My father is a powerful man. He will hurt your family!” Scarlet told Reagan.
“Let’s run away! He can’t do anything if we’re gone forever. Let’s go somewhere. We can go to New York. I can study art while you study fashion like you always wanted,” Reagan suggested.
“We can’t,” Scarlet said, defeated.
“Here. I pulled all my savings to buy you this bracelet. It’s a promise that I will take care of you no matter what happens. We will always be together,” he added and put a gorgeous bracelet on her wrist.
Finally, Scarlet agreed to escape with him, but then her father caught her packing her bags that night. “Young lady, I don’t know what you’re planning, but I will accuse that boy of kidnapping, and he will go to jail! IS THAT WAS YOU WANT?” her father bellowed.
“Dad, I love him. I don’t care that he doesn’t have money. We’ll make it together!” Scarlet cried. Mr. Bergman went silent, and that was worse than screaming.
“You know me, Scarlet. You know I keep my promises, especially if they’re threats. I can do worse things than send him to jail,” he said in a cold voice. She couldn’t risk Reagan’s life because her father had no scruples.
So she broke things off with Reagan. “Scarlet, I don’t care about your father’s threats. He can’t do anything if we’re gone. Look, this is you. I painted you. You’re my everything! I can sell this painting, and we’ll be rich too,” Reagan said while he begged her to reconsider.
“Listen, Reagan. I was playing around. I would never fall in love with someone like you. Please. I just wanted to experience something before I marry the real man of my dreams. So goodbye!” she lied to him, barely able to keep her tears in check.
Reagan never recovered from those words and moved far away. Eventually, Scarlet had to marry the man her father had chosen. But everything went downhill from there.
Evan’s father was caught in a corruption scandal and Scarlet’s father was also involved. They both went to jail, and it destroyed their families. Evan ran away, and she never saw him again.
Scarlet tried to find Reagan afterward to no avail. She got a minimum-wage job at the grocery store, where she worked until retirement. But during a rare visit on the museum’s free day, she discovered Reagan’s portrait.
“So now, I come every week and sit here,” Scarlet finished.
“Wow! But why didn’t you find Reagan? If he’s the artist, he’s probably famous,” Kash added.
“I don’t know, kid. I guess I could try to find him online,” she replied to appease him. But the truth is that Scarlet didn’t want to know. It was too late.
Meanwhile, Gabriella had heard the entire story, and she went to talk to Reuben. “Do you think that lady’s story is true?” she asked him.
“Well, I don’t know. The artist’s name is R. Gould. It’s possible,” Reuben said.
The children eventually left, and the day went by. At closing time, Scarlet got up and waved goodbye to Reuben as she left.
“Did you see the bracelet on her arm?” Reuben asked Gabriella.
“Yeah. Why?” she responded, confused.
“The woman in the painting has the same one,” he told her.
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September 18, 2021