The sitter’s right shoulder juts forward in defiance of posing naked in February. The blurred eye above it looks back into the canvas while the left appears to be marching in to her childless future. A lock of hair breaks free from her comb and forms a question mark which is answered by the tip of the pony tail curling around her neck, leading the way across her collarbone, out of the picture, in between her empty breasts, over her bloated stomach and down to the scar which travels from hip to hip.
Sally stood in front of the painting, now hanging in her father’s kitchen. Never one to diet when she was happy, she had put on two stone since then. Silver hairs were beginning to sprout from her temples like a crown of experience and two deep lines jostled for importance where the slope of her nose used to turn seamlessly into her forehead.
Her father, hunched as he had been since she had known him over a table, was clipping postcards for a collage. His right hand didn’t seem to have left his silver jubilee mug of milky tea in thirty-five years, except to snip the end of his gauloise cigarette, while his left lay aging on his work surface. On the edge of the table was a keyboard of cigarette burns.
“It’s good, isn’t it?” Sally ventured.
Until the portrait, Max had never praised Theo as an artist. His oblique comments would run from: “The website idea is brilliant. I wish I’d had it.” to “Of course it’s a very specific market, Provence” and. “Perhaps he could knock a couple off for me?” But in the instant he saw the portrait, Max started to take Theo seriously not only as an artist but also as a son-in-law. Theo, wanting to milk the respect, had gifted the portrait to Max where it now hung in pride of place.
“It’s the best thing he’s ever done.”
Sally looked from the portrait to the random display on the wall: A series of orange peels cut, fashioned into pitted penises and framed, a ravishing charcoal fantasy of a musical score and an invitation to the Queen’s garden party at which she knew her father intended to wear blue Nikes. She looked back at the portrait and wondered what he saw when he looked at it; whether he saw her, saw the sadness even, or if he merely saw skilfully organised paint.
“Have you got any interesting commissions?” Sally projected into the industrious silence.
“Oh” The syllable fell into his beard and joined the sardines he had had for lunch. “This and that. You know. I’m making a suduko puzzle from the autumn leaves I gathered in Princeton”. Max suddenly took his tired eyes away from his work and blinked at Sally. “You know, the couple opposite me have just adopted a baby from China. It is so lovely and they are so happy. You know, I never thought anything about this adoption lark, but when I saw that child….Are you and Theo…? Because if you’re not it’s fine, but if…well, if it’s money…, you know I will always help you out.”
Sally’s hands, clasped behind her back, fell to her sides and in that moment, she knew that the rotary pens, brushes, charcoal and pencils were only transparent objects and that, even through the fence of them, he did see her. He always had.