Sunday

“The life of a man includes 17 days of pure happiness,” my aunt sometimes told me. “The number of days for a woman is unknown.” As we would walk on Sundays through that park along the riverbank, I would look for the men seeming to have found that happiness. The man in the shade beneath the tree, looking out across the water, seemed to delight in a secret truth at last found out. I pitied him his bliss. His number was now less by one. For the women, I counted the ambiguity as abundance. The woman with the pet monkey must know happy days by the hundreds, I assumed. My aunt would hold my hand firmly, looking watchfully. Sometimes she let me gather leaves or count sails as she went to whisper with somber men. Sometimes she abruptly changed the course of our walking to evade what peril I never knew. When my brother and I were well past 50, I asked him if he remembered my aunt telling us how the days of a man’s happiness are 17. “Of course!” he said, surprising me. Then his words became strained. A rapture spilled upon his face as he said, “I have counted only 11.”

Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884