The Portrait

The portrait was a fairly large one, of husband and wife. The woman- more of a girl, really- was young; her face unlined, her curly hair rich, bringing to mind mahogany wood. Though her face lacked classical bone structure and could not be called beautiful, it held compelling character. Her green eyes were vibrant, even under a thin layer of dust, and her hands, though carefully folded in the lap of her stiff dress, spoke of strength. She sat with proper posture, her back straight, her feet hidden under heavy skirts and unseen petticoats.

However, had one examined the woman's eyes, they might have fancied that she did not sit of her own choosing. She smiled, but it was a sad smile, one that spoke of regrets, of paths not taken. It could be fancied that she would rather have stood, have run, even, run far away with her hair flying out of its careful pins, kicking off the tight shoes that probably pinched her feet, and dusting the dark dress with brilliant flower pollen. But then they would have noticed the hand on her shoulder and the man it belonged to. He did not have a cruel face, as faces go. Actually, as faces go, it was a rather handsome face, framed admirably by his black hair; indeed, it was a face that spoke of a great capability for love. An astute viewer, however, might have seen sharpness in the grey eyes, and deadly strength in the hand that rested on the shoulder of his young wife, and they might have seen his mark in the diamond choker about her neck, for which "choker" was an apt term, as it seemed to strangle her. One who saw all this or knew the history of the occupants of the portrait might well understand the sadness in the dark-haired woman's smile.

The girl walked past the portrait, and paused to glance up, brushing a strand of jet-black hair out of her bright green eyes. Liquid green eyes met sad, oiled ones, and understood them. She gave a heavy sigh, gazing at the painted girl-woman not much older than her. She reached out lovingly to gently brush the painted cheek; smooth the flat, dusty hair. Her grasp had inherited no deadly strength, but her emerald eyes held a better understanding of the world than their predecessor had known. Then she turned away, evidence of a painful memory plain on her face and in her black gown, and the portrait was alone again.

The portrait was alone, yes, alone except for a brief gust of wind that rattled it slightly. After all, that was the only way the young woman's eyes could have moved. And the silk curtain on the opposite wall was slightly open, after all, that was the only way in could appear that a small streak of sunlight gold was moving along the woman's face where the girl had touched. An observer might have scoffed and left the room at this point, but had they stayed, they might see something fantastic. They might see the pictured woman move and stretch, and slowly lift off her shoulder the hand that had rested there since it was painted. The painted man did not move, and continued to stand lifeless. His companion looked upon him with sadness, almost pity, then leaned over and brushed his cheek with a soft kiss. It looked like an apology. Then she slowly reached forward, her hand stretching out, and out, and…out. One step and then another, and she stood within the room, her chair in the portrait vacant. Her eyes were alive, sparkling as she took in her newfound freedom. She turned and gazed in the direction the black–haired girl had gone.

"Thank you, dearest." She whispered, in a voice that held all the power and joy that had been stifled in a previous life. She gave one last, long look at the pictured man, as though memorizing him, and gave another in the direction the girl had taken. Finally, she took a deep breath and turned her back on both, walking off, not planning on wasting her second chance, leaving only an empty chair and a lonely man in a dusty oil painting.