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art by Ron Sanders

Water Lilies

This is M.K. Hutchin's second publication in Daily Science Fiction. Her short fiction has also appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show and her debut novel, Drift, is forthcoming from Tu Books this spring. She studied archaeology at BYU, which gave her the opportunity to compile histories from Maya glyphs, excavate in Belize, and work as a faunal analyst.

Prints made Monet's work look flat. Inside the museum, the thick paint shimmered with roundness and ripples.
Inside the painting, I was drowning.
I floundered, spluttering, but I couldn't find the picture frame, let alone the dry museum floor. A single-span bridge of greenish wood arched across the water ahead. I kicked, sending waves through once-still water reflecting clouds. I dragged myself onto the bridge and lay, panting, my wet hair sticking to my back, the rough wood digging into my cheek.
I shouldn't be here. I should be inside the St. Louis Art Museum, still deciding between five more minutes staring at the Monet or filling my growling stomach with some hot fries.
"Are you happy to see the work up close?" a voice asked.
I frowned at the frog hopping towards me. I didn't remember any frogs--talking or otherwise--in Monet's depiction of this bridge. And I'd studied all of Monet's water lily paintings. Spent a hundred bucks for an eight-hour Greyhound ride to come see one, in person, before I started my senior year of high school. Before I had to decide to apply to art school or the local college for something practical. Like marketing.
"It's good you had a connection with this painting, or I couldn't have pulled you in," the frog said.
I sat, trying not to shiver as a breeze picked up. "I'd prefer being put back into the museum, please."
If anything could grant me an epiphany about what to do for college, it would be wandering that palace of art. Once I was safe from talking frogs. And dry. And perhaps full of fries.
"I can't do that."
I frowned. Was this some kind of riddle? Ah. I knew how this went. I picked up the talking frog--its skin was smoother than I expected--and kissed his head.
"What--what was that?" the frog spluttered. He flung himself from my hands onto the bridge. "I do not believe we know each other, and in any case, I'm happily married, thank you!"
"Um." What was the correct response to putting a move on a married frog? I smoothed my jeans and t-shirt. Thankfully I'd worn black. "Sorry. What... what can I do to convince you to set me free?"
I couldn't stay here. School started in three days.
"My dear, you're not a prisoner. At least, not my prisoner. Look."
He gestured with his chin down the pond. In one spot, the paint whorled around the edges of what seemed like thick, badly made glass. I could only see washes of black and red through it.
"The museum's on fire," he continued. "That's why I pulled you in here, to take you out of harm's way. I can drop you off in Kansas City if you like."
"Kansas?" I peered at him.
"Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Kansas City. It's over there." He nodded across the way, to another thick-glass window. "I assume that's preferable to Paris or Wales? They've each got originals of Monet's other water lilies."
"I'll wait for the fire to go out."
The frog shook his head. "Don't you know what fire does to paintings?"
I felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me. The window back to St. Louis was already shrinking.
I dove back into the water without pausing to even kick my shoes off. Water. There was water in here. Surely I could put out the flames. Salvage something of Monet's work.
By the time I reached the window, it was gone. I treaded, limbs numb in the cold water. The frog swam up, motions smooth and calm. "There's a reason I chose to live in the water lilies. Even if one painting is destroyed, I'm not stuck. I have options."
Options. The word had a soothing cadence to it. Reluctantly, I turned from where the window had been. "I... suppose I'll take Kansas City, then."
The frog led me under the bridge and around to the right. I reached out to touch the swirling window, then paused. "Um. I'm not sure how to thank you. For saving me from the fire."
"I've had more than enough thanks, dear. Go on."
I touched it and found myself on the other side, looking at a painting that still seemed wet with its glistening, generous strokes of paint.
I patted my face and hair. Dry. Had I imagined that, or could the water not leave the painting? I walked through the museum--not the one I'd been in. My phone was fried, too. A guy at the front desk let me borrow his cell. I called Greyhound, transferred my ticket, and hiked to the station.
When I got home, I sat down and filled out two applications. Art school and the local college. I still didn't know which I wanted to go to, but I'd have options, when the time came.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 21st, 2014

Author Comments

A prompt from the Codex Writer's Group reminded me of doing jigsaw puzzles of Monet's Water Lilies at my grandmother's. This followed.

- M.K. Hutchins
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