More Than Life

Entry by: Nutcracker

28th May 2015
My friend Mrs Jones is now an artist's mannequin.

You will be thinking, quite correctly, that she cannot be a close friend if I call her Mrs Jones, and you will be right. I know her only by sight. I pass her house every day on my way to my business. Her house has no front garden, so one passes close to a bay window where I very often see her sitting. She is usually reading but looks up at the sound of footsteps without. On the very first occasion that I caught her eye she held my gaze for several seconds. Longer than one would do with, let us say, a shop girl. There was a lifetime's sadness etched upon her features and I found myself profoundly moved.From that day on, whenever she espied me her face brightened and widened into such a beneficent smile that I could not help but return it. Hence began our friendship.

I enquired of people in the neighbourhood as to the name of my new friend. Some thought Smith, others Davies. No-one seemed certain, so in my mind I settled on Mrs Jones. I wondered whether it would be possible for our friendship to develop. I am a man like any other and I have, of course, my appetites. But be assured that my interest in Mrs Jones was, in the beginning at least, entirely platonic. I would have said as much to her husband, had I ever set eyes on him. But to this day I have not done so. The room where she sits is dark, outside the small pool of light from her reading lamp. I have seen only the shades within, light movements but no forms.

I have reason to believe that I appear a confident man. People with whom I deal in my business will tell you so. But I have my doubts and demons and I have never summoned the courage to knock at that door, that dark green door of Mrs Jones's house. I have stood before it, yes, but then my spirit has sunk within me and I have walked on, quickly. On such days I have not even dared to raise my head to meet her eyes through the window. I have felt ashamed of my quickening desire.

Then came the change. One a certain day of late Spring Mrs Jones, through the bow window of her sitting room, was a different woman. I noticed first her porcelain complexion. It was perfect, more than one would think possible in this life. But there was the suggestion of an accompanying stiffness. I think I almost frowned, and hurried on, perplexed.

On the following day I approached her window quietly, hoping to be able to observe her for a moment or two before she became aware of my presence, but she looked up immediately. It seemed to me that her smile had become fixed. She looked at me with unblinking eyes. I was, I admit, unnerved.

For a day or two I took a different way to my business, but then, regretting my cowardice, passed once more by Mrs Jones's window. It then that I realised that she was an artist's mannequin. And yet she moved. So who was controlling her? We live amongst such mysteries. This gave me cause for deep thought.

A new art gallery opened in the town, fashioned from a former church. It had been long in the making and I was eager to see it. As I walked in the very first painting I saw was of a woman, sitting in a dark room with a small pool of light illuminating the top of her head and the book which she was reading. It was entitled simply, "Woman, reading." The artist's name was difficult to read. It was, without question, a portrait of Mrs Jones. Had it, I wondered, been painted from life, or after she had become an artist's mannequin?

I studied the painting as closely as the gallery restrictions permitted. The brush strokes were bold, assured, vibrant. My friend was portrayed full of life, more than life as I had seen it through her window. I stayed looking at the painting until the time came for it to close. And then, with a certain nervousness but determination, walked to the house where Mrs Jones lived and looked into her window.

She was uncharacteristically slumped in her chair, she eyes closed, her book on her lap, hands folded over it. The life which was so strong in the painting was absent from the woman, if woman she still was.

On the following day, and each of the days until the exhibition closed, I returned to the gallery. Mrs Jones looked subtly different each time. On did I imagine it so? You will not be surprised to learn that after much deliberation I decided to buy the painting.

It hangs now in my own sitting room, where I can admire and talk to Mrs Jones every day. I still pass by the window of the house where she lives. We rarely exchange a smile these days. If we do it is only in passing. What I have at home is so much more satisfying.