short story, the portrait artist.


Do not dare to mock my solitude, I am more than happy to spend my time on this wall, soaking up the sun listening to the sounds of the square. These were his thoughts on the Sunday morning as he perched himself on a wall in the church square. Tranquility waited behind waitress chatter, which hovered like bees buzzing above the chimes of the bells of the Santa Maria,

He waited patiently, twisting his pencil in his fingers caring little for time, aware that those who pass have very little of it,

He sat facing his blank canvas casually smiling like a bird of prey. Searching the crowd of teasing tourists through his squinting eye, Traipsing up the medieval stone steps, in awe of the scene, their eyes lifting towards the great and irritated tower, inattentively looking down on them all, down from its heavenly sky.

He look for her, a stranger, a face to capture, waiting for her arrival. He was sure she would be there today. She will walk slowly pass and then pause a while wondering if he is capable of producing a likeness. he knew that he could but he was in no hurry, or to appear eager, she had to come to him.

Do not mock my solitude, I am perfectly aware of your tedious thoughts of superiority. Come perch yourself and squint not into the sun, look not at the light It reflects more than you will ever see, more than you will ever feel. I see all I see, into the depths of your unconsciousness, my paintbrush limits no boundaries, no final strokes, it cares for nothing with rules.

But he is able to sit and wait, A mother asks him “How much?” but her son with the brown unruly hair and striped tee shirt wants to eat ice-cream. He does not want to create the boys image. A Chinese woman excitedly sits on his canvas chair, her boyfriend pulls out some Euros. At last some rent money, or maybe a glass of cold wine later. He paints through the motions, they look on nodding with agonising approval.

Where is she? He craves a story seeking answers in the lines and contours erasing flaws but lost, no reasons with answers only a picture of truth, He can do it, he can pour truth on to a page and sometimes only for ten euros and a tip of two.

“Can you paint Isabella?” said the husband or possibly a lover.

The artist glanced at the woman with her hands on her hips.

“Maybe today is too hot for your oils” the woman said.

She was the one he had been waiting for. The artist strokes his fingers across her cheeks. and guides her to the chair. The husband or lover, he cares not either walks towards the cafe and finds a chair amongst footling friends.

Relentlessly he paints her tones and shadows, he highlights the things she wanted him to know and desires to reveal.

I can paint to the end of your story, the end of love.

But he was tired of final endings,

“How Much?” she said

“You cannot pay enough for this privilege, I see something else, I see you didn’t mock my solitude. I see an attempt of admiration of me. Not such a mere portrait artist standing in a torn tee shirt am I, You value what I can see and how I can make you feel. What am I showing you as you look at the canvas once white and full of empty endless blanks of nothing space that only I can fill. So you look and lean forward and you see something else, what do you suppose you see?

‘I see your truth” she replied, “You with an all knowing smile, Your painting of me is reflecting your truth”

“So should I hide behind my ego sickly withered and ashamed? this feeling and stripped naked soul, is not yours, but mine. Women? I have painted you before. When was that? When I slept and the fiestas took away my spirit to the time of a past life, when we danced in the square, you in a red dress, my hand firmly at your waist whilst you whispered something strange into my chest, your head buried under your falling wavy brown hair. The music in the square, intoxicating rhythms and rhymes from the poets sitting sadly on the sidelines. Or did I paint you in the morning? When it was too early to wake you, I could not enter your dream as the sun rose over the horizon and I drank my cortado from a chipped glass, still steaming through my fingers. Your eye lids heavy, lifting slowly, did they not stare through me? telling not the secrets of your dreams because they were for you and for you alone.I see it in the portrait of your face. A time before, when we were lovers and time which was lost, forgotten and shaken away. Now You mock my solitude because you have found a power over me. 20 euros, for this canvas. Please.”

He watched her wander back into the crowd towards the cafe, the portrait placed between white tissue and string, her fingers entwined, He watched her disappear as he mocked his own solitude of wasted hours wondering who owns the beauty of this solitary, creative and rebellious hour. No man or artist worthy of words could mend. He knew she would never return.

‘Let me look” her lover mocked, But the story on the canvas would never be their love which was to hang in their bedroom until the end. Looking over sleeping lovers and mocking their solitude.

Lauren Staton

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