The Painting

(I wrote this in fifteen minutes for a writing group. The prompt was “I doubt she’ll remember me.”)

“I doubt she’ll remember me,” said the painter. I asked what he meant as we walked through a throng of people into the museum. “I meant what I said. Look at all these people. Crowds come to admire her. I painted her, but I’m just one man among many.”

I wasn’t sold on the idea. “Paintings don’t remember anyone, let alone forget them later.”

“You don’t know her like I knew her.” The painter and I cut through crowds photographing exhibits with their cellphones. “When I painted her, she spoke. When I added lips, she told me why she was smiling. When I added eyes, she told me how she saw the world. And I responded by obliging, painting what she told me to make sure I got her just right.”

Finally we pushed our way to the painting. I resisted gasping; the sparkle in her eyes and the laugh on her lips made it feel like the portrait was meeting me for the first time. I was speechless for our introduction.

Soon the flow of people pushed us to the next exhibit. I asked the painter, “did she remember you?”

The painter nodded, tears in his eyes. “She greeted me like an old friend. She hasn’t aged a day.” Before leaving the museum, we wandered through the gift-shop. I bought a poster of the painting, but the painter scoffed when I showed him. “That’s not the way I remember her,” they argued. “A soulless copy just can’t cut it.”

I hung the poster in my apartment anyway, but now I understand the painter’s point. The poster greets me every morning as if for the first time, and it’s hardly a conversationalist.

(We often think artists produce art exactly as planned, but more often, I think, art in the making directs the artist toward its completion. Have you ever started a project, then realized your initial plan couldn’t be completed because the project demanded something else?)


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