by Jef Murray | June 12, 2011 12:03 am
“But that’s absurd!”
The young man was furious. Across an ancient rosewood desk, the older gentleman smiled at him, but did not answer.
“It’s absurd!” said the young man again. “If I want you to paint me a portrait, why should I have to tell you such things? I didn’t come here for a psychotherapy session, nor for some New Age mumbo jumbo!”
Raphael Poole, the proprietor, leaned forward in his chair. “Mr. Thomas, I understand that this must strike you as odd. But you have to understand that Pendragon Portraits does not simply render the pigmented equivalent of a photograph. One of our paintings is a window into what awaits you…it is much more than ‘just’ a portrait.”
Miles Thomas had heard of Pendragon Portraits from his friend. He and Annie had worked together for years at the same financial firm. But six months before, Annie had abruptly quit her job and all but disappeared. When Miles chanced to see her again, he was astonished. His once obese co-worker had shed fifty pounds and was more lively and engaging than he could ever have believed possible. He asked her out for coffee, and she fairly bubbled over describing the changes that had been occurring in her life.
“I always knew there were more things out there for me to do,” Annie had told him as they sipped their lattes, “But I never had the guts to step out and pursue them. I couldn’t seem to get over my fears and simply walk away from my comforts and my job security.”
Annie had gone on to tell him about Pendragon Portraits. “Their motto is ‘your dreams await you’,” said Annie. “What an understatement! I went to see them because a girlfriend had recommended them, and during the weeks they were painting my portrait, it was like the whole world opened up for me! I remembered dreams I used to have…things I had always wanted to do when I ‘grew up’, and I realized how distant those dreams had become. When I finally took my portrait home, it was like I held a beacon in my hands that I could come back to over and over again, something that beckoned me forward….”
Miles had, of course, been puzzled. He really didn’t see how a painting, any painting, could have made such a difference. But he couldn’t deny that she seemed a completely different person.
“Could I see the portrait sometime?” he had asked her.
“Well,” said Annie, blushing, “I still don’t like to show it to anyone…it’s like my own lucky charm. Plus, I’m in the middle of moving to a new apartment, so I can’t really have anyone over to see it, at least not yet. But, I’ll tell you what; if you get a chance to visit the Pendragon studio, I’ll let them know it’s OK to show you a photo of it. They keep archives of all of their portraits. Very private, of course…but they’ll share it with you if I tell them to.”
So, Miles had looked up Pendragon Portraits on the internet. Their site was simple, but it contained beautifully painted landscape images throughout. “It’s curious that they don’t have any of their clients shown,” Miles had thought, as he looked over the site. “It’s just landscapes. I wonder why they don’t post their finished portraits? Privacy issues, I suppose….”
Nevertheless, he had contacted the studio by email and had set up an appointment. He at least hoped to see Annie’s portrait. And he thought, while he was there, perhaps he’d find out more about their work. Now, however, he sat in the office of the proprietor, flushed with annoyance.
Raphael Poole gazed at Miles for a few moments. “Perhaps we can discuss your own portrait further after you have had a chance to see Miss Gardener’s. I believe it might help you to better understand what we can offer you.”
“Fine,” said Miles, still annoyed.
“Please follow me,” said the older man, standing. He stepped to the back of the room and pushed aside the curtain that separated his office from the remainder of the studio.
Miles followed him into a vaulted room studded with lights, mirrors, stools, tables, and dark wooden wardrobes. The proprietor went to an oaken file cabinet and withdrew a portfolio. He laid it out on an adjacent table beneath several lamps; then he opened it, laying bare two enormous pages with many photographs of a single finished painting.
Miles looked at the images, and his jaw dropped. What he perceived was not so much a portrait as a scene from a fairy tale. Within a walled garden, a lithe young woman with curly golden hair was seated with a large book on her lap. Around her were several children who sat or lay or kneeled around her on a bright blue blanket. All the waifs were in rapt attention to the tale the young woman was reading, while above them the limbs of a cherry tree in full bloom rustled in the breeze, showering them with pale petals. Roses bloomed at the foot of the garden wall, and above all there soared a cerulean sky dappled with downy fair-weather clouds.
Miles looked more closely at the woman reading the book. It was Annie: not the Annie he had known at his job, but an Annie far more like the one he had had coffee with. She was slender and animated as she shared the story with the children surrounding her. And she was not dressed in modern clothes, but in a ruffled gown, brightly coloured, that Miles might have expected to see in a scene from Victorian times.
“You see,” said the proprietor, “our portraits are less about who someone appears to be than who they are deep within.
“We all have dreams, Mister Thomas. What we try to capture in our work here is who you once wished to be, and perhaps may be again someday. For Miss Gardener, that wish was to reach out to children who are neglected and to whom she could offer love and support. I do not know how she will find a way to make that dream a reality, but I believe that it will yet come to pass.
“The question you must ask yourself now, should you wish us to create a Pendragon Portrait of your own, is the one I asked you before. What is it you dream of being, Mister Thomas? Who is beneath all the layers of respectability that you have accumulated…the person whom you have ignored over the years? Who is the person, if you will, that God has asked you to be? And how might we help you to once again make his acquaintance?”
“Have you seen it yet?” asked Annie.
Two months had passed, and during that time Miles saw Annie nearly every day. He had helped her move into her new apartment, and many of the hours when he was not at his own job or at the Pendragon studio he spent helping her sort through advertisements for possible employment. The week before, she had found an opening for an aid at a hospital for handicapped children. The position included training, and despite the fact that the woman in charge thought she was overqualified for the position, Annie’s enthusiasm and her easy rapport with the children she met earned her an almost immediate job offer.
“No, I’ve not seen it yet,” said Miles. “I decided I didn’t want to see it until it was completely finished.”
“But maybe you should see it alone first…in case you don’t like it.”
“No,” said Miles, “I want you to be there, too. After all, you’re responsible for my meeting Mr. Poole in the first place. Besides, I can’t imagine not liking it, not after all of the discussions I’ve had with him.”
“Have you told him about your own job hunt?” asked Annie.
“No, not yet. I guess I don’t want to jinx it. Jobs in astronomy are so rare…I just don’t want to get my hopes up too high, too soon.”
“Well, something will turn up. I just know it will!” Annie smiled and squeezed his hand.
“I appreciate your confidence in us, Mr. Thomas,” said Raphael Poole. “And I’m delighted to see you again, Miss Gardiner.” He took her hand in his and kissed it.
“Come,” he said, straightening. “Your portrait awaits you.” He swept aside the curtain behind his desk once more and beckoned to them.
They stepped into the vaulted studio. A single draped canvas stood on an easel in the center of the room, with lights placed all around it. Raphael Poole stepped up to the canvas and withdrew the covering.
Miles and Annie stepped forward and gazed at a nighttime scene. A figure in medieval attire stood upon a parapet beneath a midnight sky. Stars and galaxies swam across an ultramarine heaven, and silhouettes of banners hung from the castle tower above. The man, none other than Miles himself, was gesturing at the grandeur of the vault above him, but his eyes were turned, not towards the planets, but towards the golden glow of a doorway at the edge of the canvas. And within the doorway stood the figure of Annie, hurrying out into the cool of the evening to share in his excitement.
Tears sprang into Miles’ eyes as he looked at Annie in the painting, then at Annie herself, standing beside him. And he could not help but notice that her eyes, too, were brimming with tears.
“Is this your dream, Mr. Thomas?” asked the proprietor.
“Of course it is,” replied Miles.
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