The Portrait

Posted: July 22, 2012 in Poor Dumb Bastard
Tags: , , ,

Gregg Haggerty stood alone in his basement, staring at the portrait of his wife Alysin for a few long moments. His mind embraced the image and the memories it resurrected. Gregg spent that past year trying to capture her youth and vibrancy on the canvas. He started painting to relieve his anxiety, as a way to fight back the panic that dictated his life. What started as therapy became a hobby, and the hobby became an obsession. Gregg wanted to be in control. He found that by painting a picture of an object, by capturing an image in a fixed moment in time, he could control it. Everything it was or would ever be would be up to him. The objects he painted obeyed his rules, they did what he commanded, and Gregg knew that they would never change. One of his friends told him that he should take up photography instead. Gregg scoffed at the suggestion. Photography was too passive; it didn’t give Gregg as much control over the subject as he wanted.

Alysin was beautiful, Gregg remembered. He missed her beauty. Gregg thought Time was a curse. Always moving, always changing. He saw what time did to his wife, how it stole her beauty and her allure. Time had raped her, it violated her. Gregg swirled his brush on his palette, and brushed it lightly on his smock, wiping off most of the pigment. He then traced a few light strokes across her hair. Gregg loved how she wore highlights. He used to think that Alysin was vain, that she spent too much time primping or putting on make-up. Every time they went out, Alysin had to dress up, even if she had to dress down. He missed that now.

Gregg looked at the wall where he had posted the photos of Alysin. He captured her smile from their wedding photos. Never had he seen a smile like that, a smile so radiant that it banished darkness to the tiniest corners of the world. He looked at the photo of her sitting with Ellie. Ellie must have been two or three at the time; Gregg wasn’t sure. Alysin held her so effortlessly, so lovingly. He made Alysin sit with the same motherly love and confidence. Gregg missed those days. He cursed Time for stealing that happiness away from him. But this portrait was his way of stealing his Alysin back from his wonderful memories.

Alysin’s eyes told of the playful mischief that had won her so many friends. Gregg looked at the pictures of Alysin from various parties and celebrations—birthdays, block parties, and of course, Ellie’s wedding. Alysin was full of life, and Gregg preserved that life in the eyes of the portrait. Gregg dressed her in a beautiful evening dress. Alysin had such a refined taste in clothes. He pulled a picture off the wall. He remembered when the picture was taken. They had attended a charity dinner for the Metropolitan Art Museum when Gregg was still a member of the board. Alysin was gorgeous that night. He loved how she looked, the dress she wore, the way she did her hair. She would now wear that same dress and have her hair done in the same style forever.

Gregg wanted the portrait to be a monument to his beloved wife, a testimony of his love to her memory. Having finished the final touches to her hair, Gregg took a fine-point brush and added points of white and gray to the gown to make it sparkle like it did that night. He stepped back and gazed at his beautiful wife. He loved her so much, and he missed the woman in the portrait. Time had corrupted Alysin’s beauty and had stolen her vitality; but now she would be spared Time’s merciless insults. She would live forever as Gregg wanted her to: unblemished, perfect, and unchanging.

Gregg sat on the stool and looked at his beautiful, loving wife. He only needed to do one more thing. Gregg dipped a brush in black paint, and wrote the following words at the bottom of the portrait: “Alysin Haggerty, my sweet, my beloved, my all. GH 2012.”

Gregg spent so many hours, so many days, and so many weeks to perfect the image of his wife. He was so enamored with his finished product that Gregg did not hear the door to the basement open or note the creaking of the steps as someone descended into his makeshift studio. A hand on his shoulder broke his trance.

Gregg turned around and saw Alysin standing behind him.

“Alysin, what are you doing, I told you not to come down until I’ve finished!”

Alysin’s hair had grayed since the picture from the charity dinner, and it had been a long time since she could fit into anything like the dress she wore all those years ago. Her face was no longer smooth but wrinkled and dry. Her eyes shone less brightly, dulled by witnessing the troubles in their marriage. The smile in the portrait had been replaced by a lackluster grin born of resignation.

“Yes, dear, this is you, the way I want to remember you.”

Alysin walked up to the picture and looked at it closely. “This is what you’ve been doing with all your time?” Gregg couldn’t tell if she was angry or hurt. Gregg always had trouble reading Alysin’s moods. They changed quickly and erratically. In the portrait, however, Alysin’s mood would be constant. She would always be happy; she would always be serene. “You’ve been spending all your time, painting this, this, thing?!”

“But Alysin, this is you,” he pleaded.

“No, Gregg, this is not me. This is something out of your imagination. You’ve been ignoring me for years. First, you hid from me from behind your work. Then you hid from me from behind your therapy. And now, you’ve simply replaced me with this!”

“But Alysin, I love you, that’s what this is about.” Gregg spoke with shock and disappointment.

“You don’t love me. You love this,” she threw her hand in the direction of the portrait. “While you’ve been creating this imagined me, you’ve been ignoring the real me.” Alysin stormed up the stairs and slammed the door shut.

Gregg didn’t know what to do. He realized that he no longer knew his wife. All he knew was a portrait of what he wanted her to be. So Gregg remained in the basement, adoring the portrait of his memories, while Alysin cried upstairs, alone.

THE END

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