The Portrait by Astrid Sutton Sharkey

They came in from the gloaming. Moneyed creatures of the half-light clad in bright velvets. Arms with skin like tissue paper veneer over translucent bones. I tried to repel them. I hung bunches of sage by the door yet still they resisted, staring at me each day through the garden window as dusk descended.

One day, I left the door ajar and the apparition in the orange dress squeezed through a gap of no more than a candle’s width. I could not stop her. She sat on the day bed and crossed her thin white legs. A shaft of moonlight caught the jib of her collarbones and played around her bony calves, barely wrapped in their tattered skin. I could not escape her.

“Paint me,” she said. “Or I will die.”

Silently I took my palette from the shelf and shifted my easel. I did not address her.

“Don’t spare the paint, artist,” she said “You may build me with your brush.”

I squeezed the tube of vermillion, mixed it with some burnt sienna to a pleasing orange. I used fine brushstrokes of carbon black to create her outline. With my palette knife, I worked the dress in layers of thick impasto.

“Where are my limbs?” She asked.  How could she see my work from where she sat? “Paint them, or I will not survive.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

She looked at me with dead eyes, like oysters long trapped in a stagnant sea.

“I came from another place where Handel and Vivaldi played. I wore dresses sewn with pearls, layers of lace framed my beauty.”

I wanted to be rid of her. I walked to the gramophone, wound it and took a Handel Sarabande from its sleeve. Music filled the room. I walked back to my easel, picked up my brush and coated it with carmine. As I went to apply the paint I looked towards her, but there was nothing left.         


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