Meetings at Museums
I first encountered Leonora Carrington on a bench outside the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. It was the late 1990s, she must have been in her 70s, and I recognised her from photos. A large Siamese cat rested on her lap and she wore a headdress adorned with white cow horns. I stopped walking and nodded hello.
'My mother is a cow,' she said, her fierce dark eyes on something in the distance.
Was that addressed to me or had it spilled from her mouth accidentally? 'Is that why you're wearing those horns?' I asked.
She fixed her gaze on me. 'They're not horns. They're crescent moons.'
'Oh,' I said. Not a very inspiring response but it wasn't everyday you were rebuffed by a well-known Mexican artist. 'Have you been to the museum?' I asked, trying to make small-talk.
'Yes, to see the Mayan carvings with glyphs.'
'I like to interpret them as recipes for dishes with aubergines,' I said.
'Even the ones that were probably political propaganda?'
I stood in awkward silence for a minute, wondering whether to leave her be. 'It's going to rain soon,' I said. The sky was grey.
Suddenly the heavens opened, rain bucketed down. I grabbed my beret from my bag and put it on. With her arms, Leonora Carrington protected the cat as much as possible from the downpour.
As abruptly as it had started, the rain stopped. She looked soaked. 'Are you a rain god?' she asked, petting the cat to try and calm it.
'Not that I'm aware.'
A group of a dozen children, each dressed in a colourful feathered costume of some sort -- maybe indigenous Mexican, I wasn't sure -- and each carrying a slice of watermelon, approached in single file and walked quickly through the gap on the path between Leonora Carrington and me. I had no idea what they were doing.
When they'd gone, I said, 'Hummingbird sighs are always ripe with watermelon.' I was unsure where the sentence had come from.
'I need to buy some pomegranates and chilli powder.' She stood abruptly, the cat leaping off her knee. Calling it to follow, she hurried away.
The next time I bumped into Leonora Carrington was a week later on the steps of the Rufino Tamayo Museum. It was another cloudy day and I was sitting reading a book at the top of the steps. I glanced up to see her approaching with a white goose on her head. It looked like heavy headwear and I wasn't surprised that she held her arms slightly out to the sides for balance.
'We meet again,' I said.
'It seems so.' She didn't seem overly pleased.
'Why have you got a goose on your head?'
'The cat prefers the Museum of Anthropology, the goose loves this museum.' She nodded to my book. 'What are you reading?'
'Carlos Fuentes.' I held up the book to show her the cover.
'He's a little on the pompous side,' she said.
'I'm only on page three,' I said.
Her eyes were drawn to the umbrella next to me. 'You don't think it will rain again, do you?'
A sudden downpour began, and the goose became agitated. I jumped up and handed Leonora Carrington the umbrella. 'To keep the goose dry,' I said loudly so she could hear it over the rain. She took the umbrella, holding it up over her head, which seemed to calm the bird. I stepped away.
The rain ended. My soaked long hair dripping down my back, I shivered. Leonora Carrington gave me back the umbrella. 'Thank you. The rain god clearly isn't keen on us bumping into each other,' she said.
'Even Ttlaloc can't stop quetzal birds searching for the lemonade of enlightenment,' I said.
'I think it's time to buy some honey.' She quickly placed the goose on the ground and, beckoning it to follow, she strode away.
The final time I ever ran into Leonora Carrington was in Chapultepec Park, near the zoo. I was going to see the quetzal birds, my favourite, and was eating a banana. She was perched on a bench and on her lap, cradled like a baby, was a large golden egg that seemed to have a mouth. She was feeding it with something on a teaspoon.
'Hello again.' I tried a wide smile though that sometimes made me look constipated.
'Ah, yes, hello.' She frowned and glanced up at a sky bloated with clouds.
I held out the half of my banana I hadn't eaten. 'Would that egg like some of this?'
'It only eats an elixir of dark honey, chilli powder, pomegranate and lime juice, which I make especially.'
'Doesn't that give the egg strange dreams?'
'Last night, it dreamed it was the forgotten shadow of a girl named Juanita in Puebla. Is that strange?'
'I thought eggs dreamed mainly of melted sugar cubes peppered with the thoughts of pelicans.' I made that up. I had no idea what eggs dreamed of.
'Did you just make that up?'
I felt myself blush. 'Maybe.'
'I really need to take the egg for a walk.' She stood brusquely, the egg in her arms, and hurried off.
'At least it didn't rain this time,' I called out, but she was already vanishing around a corner.
That was the last I ever saw of Leonora Carrington.
Katy Wimhurst's first collection of short stories, Snapshots of the Apocalypse, will be published by Fly on the Wall Press in January 2022. Her fiction has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies including The Guardian, Writers’ Forum, Cafe Irreal, Magic Oxygen Literary Prize, Ouen Press, To Hull and Back, and ShooterLit. Her visual poems have appeared in magazines like Ric Journal, Steel Incisors, The Babel Tower, Dreampop Press, Mercurius, Talking All the Time About Strawberries, and Streetcake Magazine. She is housebound with the illness M.E. Her story "At Hiverblue Lake" appeared in Issue #52 of The Cafe Irreal, "Crows and Sorrows" in Issue #57, and "The Disillusionment of Mermaids" in Issue #65.