The Milkmaid


The book has vanished. I don’t mean left the house, or popped out to see a friend. I mean vanished. Gone.

At first it is weirdly liberating. A rich sense of promise (or is it a threat?) to pick up new projects (and resurrect some old ones) descends in the empty house, the kind of silence as after a group of teenagers decides to leave en masse.

Suddenly, there is just me.

It is as though it never existed.

Signs of its life with me are scant. Hoping to find something, I climb to its room, but there is nothing. It’s funny, I think to myself. For years I nagged it to tidy up after itself, but now it has left I find myself missing the carnage.

For some reason I decide to do some hoovering. Moving the furniture to get at the dust I come across some credit card receipts: the butchers, the off license, a stationery shop I have never heard of, and a rather pretty one from an art gallery, with a tiny reproduction of a Vermeer.

It’s famous: The Milkmaid. I think, for three hundred and fifty-odd years she has stood there, faithfully watching that thin thread of milk descend towards that plain earthenware bowl,  her shoulders broad and uncomplaining in ordinary Dutch daylight.

The book has never spoken about it. I decide to keep it, slipping it into my back pocket, in case it decides to come home.



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