The other day, when I reached for my letters, I felt a folded newspaper amongst them. I slowly pulled it away from its sealed brethren, and out of the little brass house marked with my last name.
It revealed itself minutely, a quiet dusk of black, white and gray. There were stars and crosses on its cover – confusing and tantalizing. There were lines that might have formed languages; or possibly they explained the twelve astrological legends. There were curved expanses of white and pink – a mathematical drama of color and pattern. What did it all mean?
Finally, a pair of heavy-lidded eyes, yawning under their awning, ended my speculating. They were a deep, unreachable blue – hypnotic lamps – and stared from a chemical field of white lead and arsenic.
Her shining, choking bodice swept low and a sapphire brooch hung over it like a dark sun.
My lady's hair was frizzed and powdered, and jeweled galaxies wound through the cloudy curls. Her ears, pierced by barbarous means, were hung with twin pearls – reflected moons, chaste and desirable. Her head – separate from an uncomfortable, misunderstood body – reclined on a starched platter of wire and lace.
No one knows for sure who painted this portrait, nor the identity of this pale lady. From the cover of my newspapaer she watched me, trapped in a madness of 17th century ornamentation. I studied the silver and black calligraphy that traveled from shoulder to hem; from a breastplate of iron and bone to a skirt shaped by a hidden, wooden cage.
I assumed she was proud: of her stifled and inanimate beauty, of her artificality, of the wealth that gave her the leisure to be as useful as a doll. I thought she might be sad, and for the same reasons. I was thinking of all those things, until I saw the small coral blossom, insinuating itself into a smile that dimpled the corners of her mouth. It was like a whispered secret, a sly revelation – telling me that I needn't have worried.