Jenny Palmer

 Tea; gone cold

 

When the face appeared on her Facebook page, Ann was taken aback. She had recently, and regrettably, extended her privacy settings. Now she was receiving posts from all and sundry. Why did people feel the need to tell you the minutiae of their daily lives? What earthly interest could it be to anyone but themselves unless they wanted to prove something? One day when a friend had posted ‘Isn’t life great?’ Ann hadn’t been able to resist responding and had written ‘Bully for you!’ underneath. The friend had promptly unfriended her from her page.
     Ann was used to unusual images being flashed up but this was something else. The face was haggard and world-weary, with eyes that looked as if the soul had gone out of them. It was like something out of a horror movie only this was a real person. That made it worse. It was the face of someone who had been languishing in jail for years. He had committed some horrendous crime or other. She couldn’t recall what. Murder, possibly.
     Ann only used the site for professional purposes like when she wanted to let people know about a great new art show or to advertise her work. It was a pity not to make use of any media outlet you could lay your hands on. God knows it was hard enough getting yourself noticed in the competitive world of art. She had chosen the career much against her parents’ wishes, who considered the pursuit a foolhardy occupation, likely to lead nowhere but poverty and destitution and were constantly nagging her to get a proper job. She had been determined to prove them wrong and had embarked on a career as a portrait artist. At least it paid the bills.

Ann painted in the classical tradition and had built up a reasonably successful career for herself, largely through word of mouth. She would ask people to send in photos of themselves rather than ask them to sit for her. It was less time-consuming. Over the years she had learnt that people could only take so much truth about themselves and was wont to embellish, always veering on the side of flattery. She would gloss over any irregular features such a bump in the nose, a spot on the chin, a frown or an unfortunate hairstyle. Consequently she never got complaints and people recommended her to friends.

 The caption under the face mentioned that he was a public figure. She seemed to recall that he had been successful in the music business once. The person who had got hold of that photo, whether policeman, prison officer or simply member of the public must have thought they were performing a public service. It would serve as a salutary warning to anyone thinking of entering into a life of crime. The man was a shadow of his former self. He was barely recognisable.
     Ann couldn’t help studying the face. It was rare that you got the opportunity to observe the consequences of crime on a person, or the effects of a jail sentence. Most people managed to keep a low profile in such circumstances. So that was what jail did to a person. He didn’t look like a murderer but then who does? She seemed to recall that he had murdered his wife. She was sure she could see shame in his face.
     The face became imprinted on her mind. There was only one thing to do. In order to exorcise it, she would have to paint it. She had never painted a murderer before, at least not to her knowledge. When you thought about it, there must be loads of them just walking around, judging by the number of cases of domestic violence you read about in the papers. Two a day, she remembered. Not all of them got caught and many had their sentences halved for good conduct.

Ann had been looking for a new subject for some time. This would be a new departure. It was someone she would portray just as he was. It wouldn’t need embellishments. It would be a challenge, worth spending time on. If the painting was good enough, she might even enter it for the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. That was something she had always aspired to.
     Ann spent the rest of the week working on the face. As she painted away, she couldn’t help thinking about the crime. The man was artistic. He would have had a sensitive nature. He must have loved his wife. Otherwise he wouldn’t have married her. So why had he killed her?
     Maybe his wife was young and beautiful and he had come home one day to find her in a compromising position with another man. In a fit of rage and jealousy he had grabbed a knife and driven it into her, thereby sealing his fate. We all had fatal flaws and jealousy was his. His problem was he hadn’t been able to control himself. The man had committed an evil act. There was no getting away from that. But the woman had also played her part. She had betrayed him and thereby killed his feelings for her.

The painting was taking longer than she had anticipated. It was hard getting a true likeness. She wanted to portray it all – the anger and the jealousy but also the sadness, the loss and the shame. Weeks turned to months. There was always something not quite right. It needed an extra touch here, a brushstroke there. And every time she looked at the photo, she saw something else. The face was taking over her life. It haunted her during her waking hours and was there in her dreams. If only she could get the thing done, she could be free of it. She needed to get the face out of her mind and onto the canvas.

 Finally Ann could do no more. She carefully wrapped up the painting and sent it off by express post to the Summer Exhibition. She had only just managed to get it done before the deadline. She had plenty to keep her occupied. The daily chores had been piling up and there was a backlog of bills to be paid. She decided to give Facebook a wide berth for a while. Eventually when she was ready to face the barrage of daily details, she logged on again. To her horror the first thing that loomed out at her was the face, or rather her portrait of it. Her painting had been accepted for the Summer Exhibition. One of her friends had kindly taken a photo of it and posted it on their page and it had gone viral.

About the Author

Jenny Palmer returned to her native Lancashire in 2008. In 2012 she published her childhood memoir called Nowhere Better than Home about growing up in rural Lancashire in the 1950s and 60s. She continues to write short stories, poems and articles on local history.

Published: January 26, 2015