Void of all worries, a young girl skipped down the long hallway of a gallery, constantly attracting disapproving stares from other visitors. A man’s clear eyes gazed warmly at her as his sturdy arms lifted her up. He chuckled, “Alyssa, this is a solemn place, a holy place. You must behave.” As a seasoned art critic of nine years old, the girl jerked away from her exasperated father’s grasp and continued critiquing the paintings of Great Masters, clapping her hands and bouncing on the balls of her feet.
Soon, Alyssa paused. She tilted her head at a particular artwork. An image of an elderly man. Its texture, its tone, the sagacious gaze which appeared to follow her, all captured her wanderlust, even as a child. She leaned towards it, arms outstretched, before she was yanked into a tight embrace. Her father confronted her with a stern face before scolding with a mocking grin, “Now don’t touch it, this right here is the famous Rembrandt’s self-portrait!”
He patted her head fondly as she wriggled in his lap, watching him paint something on his own canvas, set before the Rembrandt. Each stroke seemed to apply no individual effect, and yet, slowly but surely, a rough vision of the old painter emerged. Alyssa’s eyes sparkled at this impossible spectacle.
“He’s so old!” she exclaimed.
“We all grow old…” her dad said, keeping a tighter grip, “You too.”
The woman continued to apply one delicate stroke after the other, casting the illusion onto her canvas and trying to perceive the end result in her mind’s eye. A portrait of her father for the Archibald’s Prize, that was the subject of her labour.
As she blended in the colours, the figure grew increasingly indistinguishable from the fading background. The woman felt a disquiet in the pit of her stomach; a nausea of the soul.
The portrait was almost complete, yet the woman found herself unable to complete it. A sense of fear crept up from the subconscious onto her like a haunting shadow. Perhaps it was because she had painted something that no child would want to admit, a reality that no daughter would ever wish of their father.
She had painted his mortality.
A wearied face stared out from the canvas. The weathered impressionist lies engraved themselves into his face, whilst eyes once blue and proud were dull petrified resin. Where they once were like moon drops that would capture her intact and hold her suspended, they were now like glossy marbles that wandered; unfocused and unseeing.
A kettle drum pounded in the woman’s head whilst her gaze searched exasperatedly, flickering between the canvas and the back of her withered father, whose fragile frame stood before her, silently gazing at the pieces on the wall.
He noticed her hesitant pause and turned around, “What’s wrong Alyssa?”
Their eyes met, hers wet and bewildered, his soft and mellow. Alyssa’s lips quivered as she stammered, “I’m sorry dad…I…I just…”
The bells of the old gallery suddenly chimed loudly, announcing the arrival of noon. Startled, her breath caught in her throat like a thick fog. “What even is the point?” Alyssa blurted out before hesitating, waiting for an answer. Frustrated at her father’s silence, she miserably turned the portrait over and muttered regretfully, “Everything’s just gone by so fast…D-dad…I don’t understand how I could go on without you…I…I can’t think straight…”
Her father’s gaze softened as he laid his eyes upon the masterful yet unfinished oil work. Moving with the slowness of the ages, he reached up to caress her hair, “We have had already so many moments together,” he spoke with a tone of assurance. “You can’t hope to pick the fruits of the temporal forever. It is precisely because life will end, that we work so hard so others have something to remember us by.”
“Let me show you something,” he sighed as Alyssa opened her mouth in protest.
Her brows furrowed as she waited, occasionally shifting her eyes to the unfinished portrait. The eyes were yet to be completed. Alyssa realised that she had been deliberately avoiding them, as if filling them in would make it real somehow, make him old, and admit to the march of his impending mortality.
Her father returned with a canvas and sheepishly turned it around, “I know I am not nearly as good as you…”
The image he had painted was amateurish at best, making it evident that he had more passion than practice. However, like so many years ago, Alyssa was stunned by the image, shocked by it’s demanding gaze. It was a scene from a gallery. A Rembrandt classic was in the background, followed by the image of a father with a brush in one hand, balancing a child in the other.
“We did manage to get kicked out from the gallery… you have to admit that is quite
impressive…” he added.
Alyssa’s mind was almost blank with emotion and remembrance.
“You were my little girl once, and I was a young man… I was the painter and you were just a rascal. But now you’re the painter, and a fine… woman,” he corrected himself.
“To remember you by,” he said, “and a gift for you, to remember me by.”
Like an invisible balm, his words anointed her soul and soothed the turmoil within her mind. Reminiscing back to blissfully ignorant times, Alyssa understood no matter how much she wished that they could remain together, it was impossible; as although the two had come all this way hand in hand, they now stood at the edge of time, with one soon to leave.