My mother has a broken portrait in her house.
It lives in the attic, over the round dirty windows that look like watching eyes from the furthest bend of the drive.
There’s nothing wrong with it. The paint hasn’t cracked, the canvas hasn’t warped, and the frame has drawn dust and nothing more. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with it.
In that painting is a man. I call it a man because I don’t know any other words for it. It looks like a man, but it’s not.
There’s something wrong with its eyes. It’s the eyes that are broken. They look at me from their painted face and I can feel them on my skin. All they do is watch; it’s all they can do. But they trace my path to and fro through the attic and long for the freedom that allows me to wander from place to place. Something keeps it from getting through, but I know it’s jealous. It’s angry, too. Angry it can only watch.
I don’t go up in the attic any longer. I used to play there, when I was younger and danger was a fleeting thing I could brush aside in my selfish little games. But then it became a creeping thing, a coldness against the core of my spine, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I stopped going into the attic when I saw the portrait, when I saw it was looking.
Sometimes I go to the stairs and touch the door’s rough surface, feeling the silence seeping through the sturdy, worn wood. I wonder if that door is all that’s keeping it in the attic. I wonder if I should go in, and look for her.
A year ago, my mother went into that attic, and she got lost. She closed the door, and she didn’t open it again. They looked for her, and they never found her.
She looked for her mother, too. In the attic with the dust and the painting. When my grandmother got lost, the house went to her daughter. When my mother got lost, it went to me. I keep it to myself, because I don’t want anyone else to know.
I have a broken portrait in my house.