The Portrait




"Is it done?"

"No, not quite. It's not quite right."

"Jess!" Ruth cried out in frustration.

"No, it's just not right. Come and see."

Ruth rose from the chaise, glad for the opportunity to move again. It was also the first time Jess asked her to look at the painting. She walked over to the easel and started to lean around.

"No! Come over here, next to me and look at it properly."

Jess moves slightly to his left as Ruth walked over to him.

She took a deep breath and turned to face the painting. Her eyes widened in surprise. After a moment she let her breath out and spoke.

"Jess, it's like looking into a mirror. It's me! It's wonderful! What isn't quite right about it?"

"I dunno. I haven't caught something. It looks like you okay, but it's flat. A camera could have done this. I haven't quite caught the essence of you, whatever it is that makes you unique... The way I see you when I look at you."

He turned and looked at her and Ruth melted. She reached her arm around his waist and pulled him to her.

"Jess, I agreed to let you paint a portrait of me, not my soul. This is my likeness and it's not flat at all. Saying it was like looking into a mirror was unfair. What I see here is much better than what I see in a mirror... Unless it's a magic mirror. It looks alive, is what I meant. But this is without the flaws I see in a mirror."

She pulled his head down so she could meet his lips with hers. For a moment she felt him relenting, turning his attention to her rather than the almost perfect looking image of her.

Abruptly Jess pulled away.

"That's it! It's like a mirror without the flaws. That's what's wrong. I have to capture more than what a mirror sees, not less."

"I think it's sweet that you didn't see my flaws when you painted. Why would you want to see them?"

Jess smiled at her.

"I don't see them, but they're there. I mean, I see them, not as flaws, but as part of your charm. There's more to you than what I've put here. I can fix it. I see, now, what I need to do."

"Oh, no! Do I need to sit more?"

Ruth dreaded the thought of sitting any longer. She already ached from the inactivity. She had better ideas of what they could be doing together. Activities that would not require either of them to sit stone still.

She put her arm around Jess' waist again, but this time he resisted and stared intently at the painting.

"Jess!"

"I can fix it, Ruth. Then the whole world can see the beautiful woman I know and love."

He turned to smile at her. It was the same sweet smile that had made her notice him in the first place, the same smile that convinced her to sit for this portrait.

"You don't need to sit. What I need to do is here," he pointed to his head, "and here," he pointed to his heart.

"Okay, I guess I'll go to dinner with Angie, then. Don't be too long. Come join us for dinner when you 're done."

She moved away slowly, keeping her hand on him for as long as possible... to no avail. Jess was already reaching for a brush and his palette.

Jess worked on the portrait through the night. At intervals he stepped back to gaze at his creation, usually with a frown. Several times he could be heard muttering deprecations to himself and returning to the easel.

Finally he stood back as the dawn light rose over the portrait. He remained standing in a trance-like state for several minutes. Then he let his brush and palette fall to the floor as he stumbled over to the bed in the corner. Sleep quickly overcame him.

"Oh, Angie, he's really good. It looks just like me."

"Really? Are you sure?"

"Of course, I'm sure! I saw it. Why would you think I'd say so?"

"I don't know. I never quite trusted Jess. I suspected he was using painting just to get you up here, and in the nude."

"I admit, I was a bit leery about that part, myself, but he was very proper."

Ruth giggled as she reached the top of the stairs and turned back to Angie.

"At least, he was very proper until I made it clear I was just as interested in him as he was in me. But even then... Well, he's been pretty obsessed by this painting."

Angie puffed up the last step and stopped at the studio door next to Ruth.

"If it was finished, why didn't he come with you to dinner last night?"

"He said he wanted to do something to capture the essence of the 'real' me. Something about my flaws. I asked him to join us when he was done, but I guess he thought dinner was over before he finished."

Ruth opened the door and called out.

"Jess! Jess, are you here?"

She and Angie entered the studio and then she saw him asleep on the bed. She turned to Angie and held her finger to her lips and pointed to Jess. Angie nodded.

Quietly, the two of them walked over to and past the easel, making a point not to look at the painting until they reached the spot Jess had told Ruth was the right distance to properly view a painting.

Ruth whispered "One, two, three!" And they both turned.

Jess woke up to the steady piercing scream Ruth emitted.

He jumped up and rushed to her

"What's wrong? What is it?"

Ruth stopped screaming, but remained wild eyed.

"This portrait is the way you see me? The way you want the world to see me?"

"Yes, Ruth, I..."

Ruth pushed him aside and quickly left the studio with Angie right behind her.

Jess stared after them open mouthed. He didn't understand. He looked at the portrait. He had worked so hart to create the beautiful aura that surrounded Ruth. He was oblivious to the fact that in creating it, he had distorted the original painting into what appeared to be a fun house mirror image of Ruth.

Copyright 2003 Airycat