Madam X by, Kathe Campbell

All I wanted to do was fly out the door and retreat home, far from posh offices and traffic, and yet this was a must matter one does in the evening of life.

"Now, if you'll just sign your full name at the bottom of each page, Kath." Immediately my heart raced, and I grew tense as my attorney patted me on the shoulder. Changing wills and attending too many funerals of my peers were not keeping this old gal's youthful heart unwrinkled, and worse, why is my name so long, I puzzled? So many pages to sign and date, sweet young things hovering over me, sipping coffee, organizing paperwork, witnessing my hieroglyphics, and lending support.

My right arm had gone by way of an accident years before. Crippling rheumatoid arthritis in my left hand saw it drifting at near right angles to my wrist, rendering me capable of little more than a backward, childlike scrawl. Only a fair to middlin' writer in my elementary journey, I envied those who passed penmanship with certificates of excellence. Now stiff and knurled fingers refused to cooperate. Despite daily keyboard exercise, I'm like the toothless old geezer holed up over on Moose Creek who signs his name with an "X," and I'm wondering if we might hit it off together.

Trucking up my mountain, I ponder how bizarre that I can change oil, put new batteries in the ranch outfits, or fire up the compressor to inflate tires. It's even easy as pie throwing on my farm and ranch hook and riding out on my ATV to mend barbed wire the elk has snapped, but holding a pen is pure torture. My arthritic hand has weakened, and what remains has finally gone where I pray my mind doesn't go anytime soon. Who could have ever imagined such a cockamamie thing in this pulchritudinous, awkward trek toward eighty?

A real test of my agility had me curious when a packet of papers appeared in my mailbox recently. By filling out a four-page questionnaire, I might be eligible for yet another senior discount for prescription drugs. I could go for that, so I settled in with a pencil to painstakingly print one letter in each box. Then, after fixing all the blurbs, I decided to meticulously go over each letter with a pen. It would take me forever, but how hard could it be? I almost felt like a child on the day the teacher delivered bottles of ink into those perfectly round cavities on our desks. But the effort had the old lefty played out and shaky, and smudges of black had spoiled the forms.

Neighbors were at work and my family was out of state, so I swallowed hard and called our local Council on Aging. Oh dear God in heaven I brooded, is this really me -- feeling forty, but on bended knee begging for help like a bumbling old fool? A pleasant sounding girl had the forms handy and volunteered to fill them out, even signing my name next to her signature and title. Within the week a letter arrived stating I qualified for an additional drug discount. But as I went to page two - the catch. If I failed to fill out those cussed forms every month, I would lose that whopping big four bucks. Somehow four bucks worth of customary chardonnay before my early bird suppers sounded more beneficial than an extra four bucks worth of pills.

Though this one-armed old prune manages life's challenges reasonably well, my biggest worry is what editors and publishers think when I return a contract signed with ungodly looking doodles. Some of the sharpest minds on our planet sign their work in unwieldy masses of scrambled letters facing every which way - with a cool line trailing off the page. My ungainly John Hancock must be a sign of genius, so I've decided to quell splays and sprawls and start thinking of myself as that flourishing, enigmatic lady on the mountain. And though there's not the slightest resemblance between me and the foxy Parisienne hussy of the 1880's, you may now call me....Madame "X." *

Kathe Campbell

Kathe Campbell lives her dream on a Montana mountain with her mammoth donkeys, a Keeshond, and a few kitties. Three children, eleven grands and three greats round out her herd. She is a prolific writer on Alzheimer's, and her stories are found on many ezines. Kathe is a contributing author to the Chicken Soup For The Soul and Cup of Comfort series, numerous anthologies, RX for Writers, magazines and medical journals.

* * Portrait of Madam X by John Singer Sargent, 1884 Madame X or Portrait of Madame X is the informal title of a portrait painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amlie Avegno Gautreau, wife of Pierre Gautreau. The model was an American expatriate who married a French banker, and became notorious in Parisian high society for her beauty and rumored infidelities. She wore lavender powder and prided herself on her appearance.

Madame X was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent.[1] It is a study in opposition. Sargent shows a woman posing ostentatiously in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and hides at the same time. The portrait is characterized by the pale flesh tone of the subject contrasted against a dark colored dress and background.

For Sargent, the scandal resulting from the painting's controversial reception at the Paris Salon of 1884 amounted to the failure of a strategy to build a long-term career as a portrait painter in France.
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