The Last Portrait
... when I walked in it was pandemonium, brushes snapped, furniture upended. Paint ran in crimson, emerald and cadmium streams, flowed on the wooden floor. Stink of turpentine. The silk cottage scene backdrop, with fluffy lambs, ripped into shreds. Costumes everywhere. In the middle, the servant girl, or rather young woman, was crouched, rolled into a ball. Like a furious pebble, she rocked from side to side. Father was pacing the room, howling, "She is the last portrait on our list, and she refuses to be painted!" "No stuffed tigers" she shrieked back, and "No feathers in my fucking hair." Then, she stood up and kicked a hole in the blank canvas. "No one is changing my face" she said, and collapsed back on the floor. Well, everyone in the household had to be painted. Orders from on high. Nothing to be done. We, the portrait makers, had to execute. Decorate. Imitate. Duplicate. That was our devise. "Daughter, help me," father trembled and moaned. Never good when emotions rose. I took him to the kitchen for hot chamomile tea. Sweetened with acacia honey. I went back to see the young woman alone. She was drawing lines of scarlet on the parquet. With one finger, she traced a red web around her. Blood-colored ordinates. "We have to paint you", I whispered gently, kept my distance. Explained the instructions. Calmly. Added that there was a threat of death, or imprisonment, if we didn't replicate her face. She ignored me. But I could tell she was listening. Ear cocked to the side. She was young but bright. Knew the law. The portrait decree. Once a year, everyone had to be copied, imitated, portrayed. Hung on the wall by the end of the chosen day. Yet still, she shook her head. I begged her, offered to dress her in: the tiara, royal naval uniform, or the yodeling costume. Even as a female Elvis.