The Portrait

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My inheritance arrived on the back of a medium-sized truck driven by a bloke with a missing tooth. I thought about asking him how he lost the tooth, but I got distracted by the three boxes he effortlessly unloaded.

“Where do ya want ‘em, lady,” said the tooth deprived deliverer of wonders.

“On the front verandah, please.”

My plan was to unload and sort into piles – keep, donate, chuck in the bin.

In retrospect, my plan was a bit mercenary. A bit callous, even.

I expected my inheritance to be mostly junk.

The young can be unthinking.

Uncle David was my second favourite uncle, and he always called me ‘Spot’ and I don’t know why. I didn’t mind at the time. He seemed harmless enough, and I barely paid him any attention. He smelled like cigarettes, which was better smelling than most of my relatives. Altogether, I had seven uncles and three aunties all with partners (who assumed the moniker of aunt or uncle as well). I was swimming in adult relatives, and my cousins were numerous as well. I only associated with the cousins that were my age and that thinned things out a bit. All my relatives loved to talk and tease.

Uncle David was the exception.

“It’s all a bit much when we get together,” he said to me one day when I found him hiding on the front verandah of my grandmother’s house. We could hear the continuous dim of relatives conversing and children playing in the rooms behind us, all trying to outdo each other.

“Does my head in,” was my reply.

Looking back, in a maelstrom of competing personalities, Uncle David got lost in all the noise.

When he died, I went to the funeral, at least in part because it got me out of school for the day. I was sad that he was gone so suddenly and I wished we had talked more, but then it was too late.

As I surveyed the boxes now sitting on the verandah of the house my father rented for two of my friends and me, I’m wondering why my uncle left me these things and why had it taken more than a year for them to arrive.

I searched the boxes and sifted them into piles, but I searched in vain for a reason.

No note, no letter of explanation, which was reasonable considering his rapid departure — and yet he had left a will highlighting the things that went to me.

As far as I know, I’m the only cousin who received anything — the rest of his possessions went to his immediate family.

The ‘keep’ pile was tiny — an ancient Swiss Army Knife (I’ve always wanted one of those — how did he know?), a silver teapot which I will use for its intended purpose and a portrait wrapped in a dusty canvas.

When I removed its tattered covering, I found an intriguing  portrait of a woman — probably a self-portrait of the artist.

The painting was out of character with the other boxed possessions. It seemed to demand attention.

On the back of the canvas, a few words in pencil named the artist and dated its creation.

The painting was as bright as the day it was painted and the frame was in perfect condition. This painting had not seen the daylight since the time it was created.

Did my uncle know the artist in a biblical sense? Was my aunty aware of this mysterious woman? Was this a sign that Uncle David believed I would understand his secret? Were the rest of these bits and pieces a smokescreen to hide the significance of the painting?

I wonder if the artist is still alive and I will find out, but that is an adventure for another time.

For now, I need to find just the right place to hang this portrait.

When it is up, I’ll make myself a cup of tea, and sit and ponder on the mystery and the uncle who I should have paid more attention to.

Sleep well uncle David and thank you for noticing me.

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