This photo by Britt Gaiser inspired “Chiaroscuro”

The square of light traces its trajectory across the floor, inch by inch, minute by minute, moving slowly from right to left. I fade away from it, back into the shadow. Where I’ve always been.

I first learned about light and shadow in university when I had to take an arts option. I searched the catalogue, found one entitled “Painters of the Baroque Era.” It sounded interesting, esoteric, so I enrolled.

I was bored stiff until the day the professor put up the painting The Calling of St. Matthew by an artist called Caravaggio. The professor droned on about something called chiaroscuro – the strong contrast between light that highlights some parts of the painting and leaves the rest in shadow and darkness. He called our attention to a beam coming from a window, something like what I see now, that highlighted some of the characters and left others in the shadows.

Everyone’s eyes followed the light. Mine did not. Mine searched the shadows. What was hidden there? What mysteries? What evil? Or good?

I sought out more photos of Caravaggio’s paintings, to the point I forgot all about the course and failed it. In fact, I failed my entire year.

By then, I on a different course – to see every one of his paintings in the flesh, so to speak. I travelled to Europe, beginning in Rome – there were so many there – and then Florence where I saw the one that affected me most deeply, Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence. It was almost completely shadow.

Then and there, I determined to own a Caravaggio by hook or by crook. But how? They were big. That one was almost 11′ x 6′. I couldn’t wrap it up in my coat and carry it under my arm out the back door like Vincenzo Peruggia had done when he stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre.

I decided the only way was to become like one of Caravaggio’s shadows – there but unnoticed, invisible to all who were entranced by light rather than shadow.

I succeeded, after a fashion. I won’t tell you how or when or which painting or which art gallery. It would be too embarrassing for all concerned – the art gallery because I succeeded, and me because I got caught. They got me but not the painting. And, no, the painting still hasn’t been recovered. It’s in a secret place, waiting for me when I return.

I hear footsteps coming down the hall. The key rattles in the lock and the door swings open. The jailer motions me out with a sideways jerk of his head. I stand. The leg shackles rattle as I walk toward the door.

I walk into the light.

Author’s Note: The painting, Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, was stolen in 1969 from the Oratorio of St. Lawrence in Palermo and has never been recovered. There are many stories about who stole it and what happened to it. A replica was commissioned in 2015 and now hangs above the altar where the original hung.

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