Tuesday, December 23, 2008

MRS. OLIVIA ALGER RICHARDSON


You sat still for Sargent with lilies hanging over your heart and hair as black as coal.


Earlier that morning you fitted your collar and said “The Richardsons will walk with folded hands today?” And your little girl said, “Yes.”


Then you cut your bangs and brushed and braided your slate hair until it shined like pitch and you suddenly remembered a dream you had where each lock of your hair was a small Raven with slick black feathers and ink eyes and you worried that if your braids were to come loose at the ends that all the Ravens might fly out of your hair, leaving it the color and texture of granite, but when your hair came down the Ravens never flew. Instead, they nested.


You put away the dream the same way someone might fold a wilted flower into the pages of a book and hope not to find it again.


It was John Singer Sargent who held your chin in the top of his fist, and who turned your head just slightly, and who turned your shoulders, just slightly. It was John who saw how shallow your eyes were, and how narrow your mouth and lips, how pale your skin. It was John who made your shoulders disappear into the walls.


And you sat, as if you were peering through the floor, while the Singer roughed your form in charcoal pencil. Then, after awhile, came the sweet smell of the oils. You looked at his right shoe, newly shined that morning, and by mistake you thought once again about the Ravens except this time you were certain that you could feel the prickle of their perch across your scalp

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