Friday, September 26, 2008

A Portrait

Her small, square face juts out in relief against a garish orange. Like a rug under a door, perhaps. In the orange, though, barely perceptible globules form, dripping almost, and they make my eyes blink. She has not swum now for twenty years.

We knew each other once. Her face then was not so square and not nearly so small. She was a great woman then, a proud woman. In any case people used to think of her like that, though I am not sure she ever really was either of those things. Probably not great, and surely not proud. People, though, often get confused about things.

I knew her for a brief time only, but I am certain she would agree with me that that time was more than enough time. People do not know each other for a time and then one day simply stop. It is deliberate. There is some sort of reason. Or else there is real loss. And real loss is too terrible a thing to discuss in histories. So trust that this was not a real loss but instead a parting: deliberate, abrupt, absolute. Until now.

Her face in relief against the orange strikes me as a bit overdone. It is too much. It should not be there. She has no right to have her face like that. But then I have no right, I suppose, to say what are and are not her rights. Or her face’s rights anyway.

In another part of another country I have sat for nearly a decade. People have visited me, and I have received them graciously. We have, for the most part, tolerated one another. Why people visit, though, I have never been able to understand. Until now.

I am here now and I am greeted, dolefully, with a small, square face in relief. It cannot speak, but it is there. It glowers. Its eyes have no reality, none of the horror of the old eyes, but they are there. Globules glowering. And then the background, those too, nearly glowering but not eyes, just globules. There are globules that are shapes and globules that are matter. Her eyes are matter.

She has been set, permanently, there. Her painted visage a sort of rebuke. Garish as the orange, she seems to sneer at me. It is comic, almost. And so I smile. Her face – square and small – remains rigid, jutting out in relief against the orange. And I sit staring up at it, smiling, but also very much afraid.

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