Saturday, October 31, 2009

"the portrait"

Karen and Jim were newly weds when I met them, back in '02 and had just bought their first home in Key West on a quiet secluded lane.
They were furnishing their new place, very patiently, with treasures they would find here and there at Antique Shops up and down the Keys. During my last visit there I was admiring the latest finds but noticed, and had to mention, the lack of any artwork on the walls. That innocent observation has ever since haunted me.

One day, while out and about, the couple stopped in and Duck and Dolphin. Exploring the unique treasures, Karen drifted to a dark and dusty corner at the back of the store where she spotted a framed painting, standing on the floor propped up against a mahogany chifforobe.
It was a portrait of an old, almost sickly looking woman. Her jowls were drawn and there was a pale greenish tint in her sallow flesh. Her eyes seemed to be intensely fixed on something distant and in her thin hands she proffered an ornate gold vial. The vial seemed to glow against the dark shadows of her old fashioned clothes.
Karen called to Jim who was immediately repulsed by the the portrait but still Karen felt compelled to buy it.
When they'd gotten the portrait home they hung it in the half-lit hallway that led from the bedrooms to the rest of the house.

That night, Jim exploded from a nightmare so violently that he woke Karen too. He was visibly shaken and there were beads of sweat on his forehead.
"Just a nightmare" he told Karen "I dreamed that, as I was sleeping, the old woman in that portrait came in with her gold vial and was pouring a strange hot liquid into my mouth."
I'll get you some water" Karen said sympathetically.
"No, I've gotta get up for a few minutes", was his answer.

Jim thought he could feel a presence, as though the old woman were watching him, as he made his was to and from the kitchen, passing the portrait each way.
Back in the bedroom Karen explained that she hadn't realized that the portrait was really so upsetting to Jim and they would absolutely return it in the morning.

When Karen woke to the full light of the morning, Jim's side of the bed was empty. Thinking she'd find her man having coffee in the kitchen, Karen walked the hallway toward the kitchen not giving any notice to the portrait. Jim wasn't in the kitchen, he wasn't in the back garden or anywhere else in the house. Just a little confused and upset, she started back down the hallway to the bedroom but stopped for a second to straighten the framed artwork she'd hung the day before. As she looked, what she saw was a portrait of a very sickly looking young man proffering an ornate gold vial. . .

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