First Place Winner
This year's First Place winner is The Portrait by Edna Heard who was born and raised in Liverpool, England. Edna says books have always been a very large part of her life. School gave her a love of reading, which has lasted all her life (so far). Before the advent of television and electronic gadgets, books were the main stay of life, and still the preferred method of keeping her entertained.
Leaving England, she came to New Mexico as a young bride, and lived there until moving to Texas (Georgetown) six years ago. She has truly found her home here, and has only one very big regret - she didn't move to Texas years ago!
by Edna Heard
Margie arrived early for the auction. Her one goal; to leave with the small writing desk advertised in the catalog. She passed the wall with various mirrors, pictures and portraits, most she wouldn’t want to own, but one portrait, asour faced woman in an old fashioned dress – probably Victorian, thought Margie, caught her eye. The womansat, back ramrod straight, hair pulled back in a bun, glowering out at the world. Her plain high necked black dress, completed the picture. Margie moved on, found the desk and stroked it lovingly. But it was time to take her seat as the auctionwas starting.
The seats were filled and people were standing around the walls. She squeezed in on the front row – she didn’t want the auctioneer to miss her bids. Up camelarge furniture, old furniture, dishes, bowls, ornaments and bric-a-brac. Bidding was brisk, and two hours went by beforethe desk came up for sale. Not too sure of what to do, Margie decided to hold back andwait for the first few bids before joining the bidding. Hoping it wouldn’t go for more than the $200 she had ready, the bidding started.
“Who will open the bid with $500?” asked the auctioneer looking around. Margie’s stomach sank – several people wanted it and the price soon rose. “Sold to number, hold up your number sir, sold to bidder 157 for $780.” Well, that’s that thought Margie sadly. “Her” desk was going home with someone else.
No point in staying any longer thought Margie starting to gather her bag and jacket to leave when she saw the next item was THE picture. She decided to stay, andput her purse down wondering what it would go for. Would the man who took ‘her’ desk buy it, she wondered - she hoped so, he deserved being glared at each time he sat down in front of it.
The auctioneer asked “Who is going to bid on this old biddy who looks like she just drank a glass of lemon juice?” Everyone laughed, as the woman in the portrait looked out over the buyers inill tempered displeasure The auctioneer asked for $120, there was silence in the room as people waited, the auctioneer looked over the group. “Come on, you could always tell people it was your mother in law.” More laughter. “OK, $50, who will give me $50 for this very pleasant woman” Another laugh, and Margie felt a surge of sympathy for the woman. It was bad enough that no one in the family wanted her, but to be ridiculed like that, itmade her feel sad somehow. Auctioneer – “$20, surely someone will give me $20 for this old bat.” Margie heldher paddle up, which the auctioneer noticed, and down came the gavel with “Sold to the lady here, who has just improved her home security – no one would break into a house with a face like that on the wall.” The auctioneer knew how to work the crowd and get laughs along with the bids.
And that was how Margie came to be driving home, the picture on the back seat of the car, and not the lady’s writing desk. Not sure where to hang The Picture, Margie walked around her small apartment, and finally placed it on the floor againstthe wall she had chosen to hang it on. Looking at it closely, she decided the expression was not so much bad temper, but infinite sadness or grief. She felt sorry for this woman, whose eyes seemed to beg for understanding, her expression showing great unhappiness as though atragedy had broken her heart, and there was no healing and no one who cared.
Margie sat on her chair, facing the portrait, sipping a cup of coffee andwonderedwhat had happened in her life that had made her so miserable? As she stared at the portrait, a name suddenly popped into her mind- Julia. The picture portrayed a woman who could have been any age, old enough to be her grand mother, or a great aunt, soMargie decided to call her Aunt Julia What kind of life had she led? Was she a poor relation living with her family, or perhaps married and with children. No, there couldn’t have been children, they would have taken her portrait and passed it down through the family. Was that a wedding band on her left hand? Hard to tell from the tight way her hands clasped. Other than the ring, if that was what she was wearing, she wore no other jewelry, so perhaps she was in mourning for her husband, or perhaps a child? Margie wanted to know more about her, but there was nothing to find out. It was a portrait by an unknown painter of an unknown sitter.
When she got up the next morning, and passed the portrait leaning against the wallMargie said“Good morning Aunt Julia, I hope you slept well, and like your new home” Aunt Julia looked at her with her disagreeable expression and said nothing. Each time Margie passed her, she spoke to her. Later that evening while sitting reading, she looked up and glanced at the portrait thinking she’s not reallysour, her face is in repose, she’s not smiling, but she’s not frowning. “Oh, Aunt Julia, I wish I knew your secrets.” she said.
As the days went on, Margie eithergot used to Aunt Julia’sexpression, or was it very slightly changing? It was subtle, but Margie swore thedown turned corners of her mouth began to even out. Days and weeks passed, and as the months went by, the straight line of her mouth began a very slight upward turn at the corners, not much, but Margie was sure it hadn’t looked like that when she bought it, but – how could a portrait change? No, she thought, she was just getting used to her, she smiled thinking, of the portrait asa ‘her’ and not an it. She’s becoming real to me she decided.
Margie remarked on this to Aunt Julia one morning, as she dusted the room. Standing there with the duster in her hand, and surveying the picture, she told Aunt Julia“I’m very pleased you came to live with me. I really hoped you would be happy here, and I think that you might be, judging by your expression.” As she continued around the room, Margie wondered if anyoneknew of her conversations with the picture would think her quite mad. Through it all, Julia remained silent, and Margie decided when Julia started answering her, she would get herself checked intoa mental health clinic. But despite all her denials, Julia really did look, if not happy, at least a little less miserable.
Margie’s day had been one of those when nothing went right, everyone was out of temper, and wanted to argue. So, at the end of the day when Margie came home, she had dinner, then made a cup of hot chocolate, and took it to her chair, which brought her opposite THE picture. “Aunt Julia” she began, “Have you ever had a rotten day, where the people you worked with found fault with everything, and no one wanted to agree on anything? Well, I’ve had a day like that today. The boss won’t listen, then wants things yesterday and doesn’t know why I can’t produce things on the spot. One day I hope to be married and start a family, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? A man about the house, and perhaps a little boy and girl, just think Aunt Julia, you would be a great, great aunt then.” She sighed. “You haven’t met Jim yet, he might be the one, but how can you know? I wish you could talk to me, and tell me. I bet you would know. He hasn’t asked me to marry him yet, but I don’t think it will be long before he does.” Margie felt she was talking to a wise aunt, who understood and cared.
The next morning, when Margie passed the picture, she noticed that there was a little twinkle in Aunt Julia’s eyes, they had a sparkle that she hadn’t noticed before. Margie told herself she was quite mad, talking to a picture, then thinking she saw the eyes change. But it was there, it was definitely there. She rationalized, it was a trick of the light at that particular time of day, and had been there all along. It just took the dusting and looking at it from a different angle in the morning for the sunto bring it out.
That night, Margie continued the conversations andfound herself telling Aunt Julia all about her life, and work, how one person had been ugly to her, but she overlooked it, and made an excuse for her. In the dim light of evening, she thought she saw the mere whisper of a relaxing in Aunt Julia’s ram-rod straight back, and her hands were not as tightly grasped in her lap. Now, thought Margie, I’m not imagining that, you can see she has a wedding ring on that finger, and I know I couldn’t see it that well before.
“Aunt Julia,” she said“I hope I’m not losing it, but I suppose talking to you proves that I am.” But Margie did feelcalmer after she had told Aunt Julia all about her problems, so her conversations continued.
Margie had been busy all day Saturday, shopping and cleaning the house, and preparing dinner for her and Jim. She was showered, dressed and ready when hearrived. He hadn’t been to her apartment since she got THE picture, and seeing it on the wall stood for a long time looking at it. Margie held her breath, hoping he wouldn’t say anything hurtful about it, as she felt very protective of her aunt, as she now thought her. “Who is she?” asked Jim.
“Oh” said Margie, “That’s Aunt Julia. Shehad a hard life. She lost her only child and her husband within months of each other, she never really got over it.”
She stopped amazed, her mouth open and asked herself- where in theworld did that come from? She waseven more surprised that shedidn’t correct herself and tell Jim she had made it up on the spot, it just felt right. Jim continued looking at Aunt Julia, then said“No wonder she looks so sad” And when Margie looked, it was an expression of sadness, great sadness, not anger or sourness. Margie felt drawn to her, and wished she could hold her while she sobbed, then comfort her.
As Margie got to know Julia, more of her story seemed to come out. Next she found herself telling a neighbour that Aunt Julia had died and was the last of the family, so there was no one to claim her portrait, which had languishedthe attic of her old home for years. Years later when the new owners cleared out the attic, the portrait wassent to the auction, and as Margie explained to her neighbor, it was only by luck that it had come into herpossession. It all seemed so logical.
Life continued with evening talks to Aunt Julia, and secrets passed from Margie to this wise aunt. One evening, after dinner, Jim knelt at her feet and asked her to marry him. She was so happy, but hesitant too, and told Jim that.
Jim said“Think it over Margie. I love you, and I’ll make you happy, and you will make me the happiest man in the world if you say yes.”
Margie loved him certainly, but there had been other loves, and after a while, it wasn’t love anymore, then the former loved one became a problem and then an annoyance. Would that be the way it was with Jim? It was a big step, and one that she was afraid to take. She told Jim to give her time, and she would think it over.
There were many kisses and whispered words of love from Jim, but it was time for him to go, and he asked her to think about her answer. She smiled and said “ I can think of nothing else Jim,” she assured him After he left, Margie made a mug of hot chocolate, and with a small handful of cookies, she sat on the chair facing Aunt Julia, and told her that Jim had asked her to marry him and she didn’t know what to do. She cited all the reasons for, then against and couldn’t make a decision. “Oh Aunt Julia, I wish you could give me some advice, I could really use it about now, should I marry him or not?.” Just before she looked down to take a sip of chocolate, in the dim light she swore she saw the very brief but unmistakable nod of the head. Margie’s head snapped back up – she questioned herself – were her eyes playing tricks on her? Was she seeing what she wanted to see? Or, even more unlikely, had Aunt Julia really nodded? Was it an omen? “Oh Aunt Julia” Margie said‘I do believe you have given meyour blessing. You think Jim is the right man for me, and I think so too. I’ll phone him now and tell him, I know he’s probably wondering why I didn’t say yes immediately.
She rang Jim’s number, and he picked up. The first thing he said was“Have you thought about it Margie?” She laughed, and said “yes, I have thought about it, and Yes, yes, yes, of course I will marry you – much laughter and whispers of love followed, and they were on the phone for hours., With a wild whoop, he told her she was wonderful, the most beautiful woman in the world, and he wanted nothing but her happiness. She told him laughing she had to go to bed or fall asleep where she sat, they said their good nights and hung up. As she passed THE picture on her way to bed she said“Aunt Julia, I hope I am happy, as I know your life must have been very sad and very hard. But you are home now, and part of my life and we’ll be your family.”
So it came that Aunt Julia’s picture hung in pride of place in Margieand Jim’s new home. Even Jim had started talking to Aunt Julia, saying good morning to her and good night, always with a sheepish grin at Margie. Through the years, they noticedhow the portrait changed very gradually. The expression softened, and even her handsseemed to be relaxed and spread out more in her lap.
When their daughter was born, Margie held the baby up for Aunt Julia to see, and said “we are calling her Julia after you Aunt.” Avery small, but definite smilecompleted Aunt Julia’s last change. People would remark when they came in“What a lovely face this lady has, so kind and gentle. Is she related?” And Margiewould reply “Yes, she’s my great aunt. We think she’s quite lovely”