Mona Lisa’s Smile

François Loeb
03.07.2019
 
Mona Lisa’s Smile
One morning, the Tuesday after the Christmas holiday, the museum guard Dupond made his rounds around the Louvre. He had advanced seniority with a flawless security record, which allowed him to exercise his duty by guarding the Mona Lisa, that famously unique icon of the museum. On this second day of the Christmas holidays, the museum was expecting a rush of visitors when opening the gates at 10:00 am. But at 8:00 am sharp, everything was still quiet and calm when Dupond and his colleagues from the second work shift started their rounds. As it should be on the day after Christmas, Dupond thought, while pacing up and down in front of the Mona Lisa, guarding her.
He felt like an English soldier in front of his queen, and in his childlike, vivid, well-preserved imagination he pictured her keeping an eye on him, only him, her loyal, martial servant, and graciously giving him a smile as a gift. Indeed, a smile fits this picture perfectly, he found, and quietly chuckled to himself, as there was nobody else around whom he could delight with his beaming smile. He turned right again, stamped his sturdy shoes on the floor, and planned to look his queen in the eye now and not later, to return her smile with a male heroic look, with the hope of taking a step, if only in spirit, towards her, the beloved, though unattainable, and thereby conquer a corner of her heart.
Frightened he quickly lowered his glance to the ground, for something terrible had just happened. Dupond had discovered a mournful look in Giaconda’s face, without even a hint of a smile. He first thought it had to be a trick of his eyesight, a projection of his inner state, of the sorrow felt by himself, the brave soldier who had not even the slightest chance of ever attaining his queen. After this reflec-tion the museum guard dared to take a second glance and froze. He remained petrified, as if he had been immured, encased in concrete. Giaconda’s smile was gone. Had simply disappeared. Sad and bereft of her vaunted, incredible, mysterious warmth, she looked out of the rich frame; Dupond found her to be in that moment distorted. What was to be done? What in the world should the queen’s mo-tionlessly standing soldier do for his idol? Trigger an alarm? Inform the head of the museum? Wrest the curator away from enjoying his first coffee?
Wise as he was, he decided not to trust his own perception, as he knew the leapfrogs of his imaginative spirit far too well. Instead to first close his eyes for seventeen full seconds, and then examine the situation calmly once again. He counted the seconds aloud and slowly, like he had once learnt to do – one-mississippi, two-mississippi – until reaching seventeen-mississippi, with nerves that felt like tensely stretched, nearly snapping harp strings, whereupon he took another glance at the Mona Lisa once again.
No smile.
Nothing.
A gloomy look.
A somber face.
An illusion was ruled out.
And so, with heavy steps and heart, Dupond set off towards the big red button that, silent and unused for years, has been situated next to the painting and, gathering all his strength together, broke the glass with his bare hands and, his whole body trembling, activated the alarm. That this had to happen to him, Dupond, during his very last year of service – him, the admirer of “his” queen – was outrageous and utterly unjust: he felt that way in any case.
Immediately an awful chaos arose, guards rushing in from every corner of the museum armed with batons and drawn weapons, followed by the riot police, who stormed the Louvre in full combat gear.
Without a word Dupond pointed at the picture. Initially with uncomprehending looks, the police furiously and decisively called out “false alarm”and were about to arrest Dupond. Finally the curator understood, turned pale as chalk, and whispered, as he was no longer capable of anything else: “HER SMILE?” Swallowing hard three times, he continued almost voicelessly, “where has it gone?”
Feeling aghast yet at the same time releaved, which he had often experienced as a child, Dupond sighed deeply: finally somebody had understood him.
The museum remained closed for this second Christmas holiday. Thousands of people were protesting in front of the gates; nevertheless, the necessary investigation along with the array of criminal and national police did not allow for an opening. Search parties were sent off, every corner of the museum was searched, even in the mansard and the storage rooms, because after all, Mona Lisa’s smile has to be somewhere.
After a thorough interrogation and in a state of shock, Dupond was sent to the doctor accompanied by three policemen, who entirely out of professional interest began to talk about a Mona Lisa Syndrome.
When a ransom demand for over two hundred million was delivered to the President of the Republic, Dupond was clearly rehabilitated, yet the thieves carried out their threat to steal two hundred thousand smiles from citizens every day until the requested sum was deposited at a certain location.
Whether Mona Lisa’s smile was restored and the ransom money paid off, you, dear readers can determine yourselves. Just look around. On the bus, at work, in a flowing crowd of pedestrians: examine yourself as well, in the mirror, or simply during the day reflected by a bright surface and thereby receive the mournful greetings from Dupond who, sitting at home on his couch, patiently yet brokenly awaits his queen’s smile. Daydreaming, he hopes one day to recuperate somewhere in the mountains together with his icon, their smiles melting together, leaving all sorrow behind.

Translation by Shan Wardell
 
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