The Portrait

by K. Bruce Justice


I dreamed of you. I dream, when I gently pull the ribbon from your hair and it falls cascading in auburn waves caressing your naked shoulders, your skin that is silk-satin to my touch. I touch your throat trailing my fingers gently upward, lifting your chin to catch the morning light — light so soft it could be a cloud and I can not tell where you begin and Heaven ends.

Memory is what I have, you see, what fills the time between then — when you were each moment and thought — and now my hands are no longer young, no longer agile enough to make eternal what God would not.

Was it thirty years ago... years filled with almost’s? Almost the glimpse of you in a crowd, almost the fragrant scent of your body as I search frantically, hoping time has played a trick on me, contemptuous of my pride with its unfaithful years. Time smelling like stale dust in an abandoned house, no longer a home where there was laughter and joy.

I grasp to kill it, this phantom that poisons my soul, as real as a snake striking in venom pumping ecstasy filling me with its putrefying, suffocating finality. I too should have died that night. Yes, I should have died but no, no — that would have been a favor, an undeserved kindness. No, I had mocked the Creator believing I could capture perfection with these eyes and now, in this self-inflicted Purgatory, He tasks me. He must have penance and atonement for such arrogance. Yes, finish this portrait.

You will sit in the swing and I in this chair, this keeper of my useless legs. Was it really so long ago? The mirrors I encounter tell me with unkindness yes, but you say no, and that my love is truth. Yes! It is that spring as we sit in the swing late into the night with the smell of the new cut grass drifting in the cool breeze. There are tulips red and yellow; and crocuses, all-so-fragile blooms in hazy splotches that quickly wither in summer’s heat. You wear the pale blue dress, yes, the one with the tiny purple violets and lace that I like so much, and the ribbon.

Remember, yes, I remember lying on the beach with the gentle lapping of waves on the shore and the moon, the Man in the Moon, peeking through clouds, wanting to be close to you, coveting the warmth of your body and whisper of your voice. I can imagine what I like, yes, since only you will believe me. Believe me.

What’s that? You’re sad? Need not be; not for me, dearest. I find I have enough to do before you must leave. I am deception. I am enraged at the interruption as I maniacally clean the brushes, store the easel, cover the canvas with my jacket, and place it away to protect it from August’s humidity.

I sit patiently and answer their questions and encourage their make-believe by “feeling well” or “having a good day” or even smile — whatever will meet their need to put a check mark in the box and move on with their routine, their occupation of time. You are right, I suppose; I should not make sport of their insanity, but I did not ask them to intrude, did not invite them to interfere.

It is good that I am painting again, one condescendingly remarks, patting my shoulder as if I were a horse with a broken leg. Yet, we will need to finish soon.

Then I will stand again in autumn as the falling leaves swirl in a kaleidoscope and I will catch a glimpse of auburn, like the auburn in your hair when I gently pull the ribbon and smell the fragrance of you near before the trees are stripped bare and the grass turns to brown, long after all the flowers have wilted and are only memories.

We will place the portrait a last time on its easel and I’ll dip the brush into the colors and complete the last strokes of our embrace. Yes! We will again be inseparable, as the pallid Man in the Moon watches jealously between the clouds to see you smile and the air will be still as the angels’ kisses fall and glisten against your cheek. Now, now take my hand my love, my death... in this winter air... beneath the diamonds of the sky.


Copyright © 2007 by K. Bruce Justice

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