The Ancestor’s Portrait

by swellsbennett

The other day, Nikki and I went to the museum. As we were examining some of the pieces on display, we were discussing which items we would like to have on our walls in our respective homes. She pointed to a pair of portraits from the nineteenth century and said, “You’d probably like those, right?”

No. No, I really wouldn’t.

When I was a child, my mother had a thing for antiques. I remember that we had a bronzed milk can, antique toys, and, among a number of other things, a framed sepia photograph of an unsmiling ancestor who had suffered a stroke sometime before the photo was taken. The woman’s face was completely smooth on one side, and one of her eyes drooped closed. Her hair was pulled back in a severe bun, and she was wearing black. To top the whole thing off, the glass in the frame was convex, which caused her one good eye to follow you no matter where you were. Naturally, I concluded that the woman in the photograph was a witch.

My mother hung this terrifying artifact over the mantel. Before long, I was known as the kid with the creepy picture. Other children would come over and stand in different places in the living room to experience the never-ending glare. If I ever needed to pass through the living room alone at night, I scurried past the picture. The thing creeped me – out big time.

It hung there until the day we left that home. In the new place – where I spent my high school years – I think it was placed in a room I was seldom in. Maybe the dining room. In any case, I didn’t have to look at it every day.

Finally, when they moved to their most recent home, my mom left the photo out of her decorating scheme entirely. I didn’t wonder too much about it – I was just relieved to not have to see it. One day, though, I was in their garage and noticed the distinctive curve of the frame and glass. It’s not gone…it’s just lying in wait.

And that is why I prefer surrealist landscapes.

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