Portraiture by Elizabeth Hoyle
I’m cleaning in the attic when I get the call.
“It’s not the original,” Mr. Saunders says by way of a greeting.
“Let me guess, another one from 1811?”
“Judging from the condition and saturation of the pigments and the similarity of the brush strokes to others we’ve found, it’s probably from 1813.”
I sit down on the desk with the broken leg. disturbing its dust. “I don’t think we’ll ever find the original, Mr. Saunders. He painted so many portraits of her.”
“This is probably the biggest haystack the art world has ever known but we will find the needle, Kiley. The original portrait of Rameira is going to be worth the search, not just for the money but for the history. We’ll find it. For now, we’ll just keep contacting collectors and museums and see if they’ll let us examine their copies.” Mr. Saunders’s confidence and determination bleed through the phone’s speaker but does nothing to inspire me. Suddenly all I want is silence.
“Thanks for letting me know about the newest find. I have to go now.”
“Bye, Kiley. I’ll keep you updated.”
I end the call before he can say anything else. I get up and examine the sunset through the window. It will be dark soon. Michelle should be on her way home and I promised I’d be done cleaning in time for date night. There’s no way that’s going to happen now.
I start sorting through the boxes in the corner and it’s not long before I find my great-great-grandfather’s landscapes. His name was Jacopo. He used the time he wasn’t a carpenter to paint things for his wife, Rameira. His portrait of her and all its iterations are what have fascinated art lovers and historians for years but his overall talent is obvious from these landscapes. His use of color and attention to detail are astonishing. I’ve never seen these before. Jacopo’s art things have been passed through the family. Grandpa used to call him the Attic Heirlooms since that’s where it all seems to end up.
I open another box and discover even more landscapes and a crumbling sketchbook. I pull out my phone, turn on the flashlight, and page through the book, fascinated. It seems so odd that my ancestor was so gifted when I can’t draw a straight line.
The last box is full of small canvases of his landscapes and even a few paintings of houses. I carefully lift them out and run my dust rag over them, putting them aside for Mr. Saunders and his colleagues to look at.
The final canvas in the box is turned paint-side down. and there’s a small, yellowed envelope tucked in its wooden frame. I gingerly pull it out and turn up the flashlight’s brightness. The loopy writing is undeniably Jacopo’s.
My darling, This portrait is not what I wanted to capture of you but I hope you love it all the same. I vow to keep trying until I get it right. You deserve all the declarations of love I can create and so much more.
I reach for the canvas and turn it over. There she is. Some would say her face is slightly lopsided, her features not as refined as in other versions. Still she is stunning. The date, 1807, is painted under Jacopo’s signature. It’s the earliest one that I know of. Rameira smiles up at me like she’s holding in the punchline of a joke.
“I bet you’ve been laughing all this time,” I whisper to her. I place the portrait atop the rest of Jacopo’s work and carry it downstairs. “We’ve been looking far and wide for you. I feel like I should say ‘welcome home’ but you’ve been here all along, haven’t you?”
Elizabeth Hoyle (she/her) is from southern West Virginia. Her fiction has been featured in Second Chance Lit, Dream Journal,Blind Corner Literary Magazine, and other publications.Her poetry has been featured in Versification and Neuro Logical Literary Magazine, among other places. Find her on Twitter @ERHoyle or at elizabethhoyle.com