A Thousand Words
8th May 2018

It’s a portrait of a woman. She has a handsome face and dark features. Below her waist is hidden from frame but she seems to be sitting, her right hand crossed over her left wrist, gripping it slightly. She has brown, shoulder-length hair which is covered by a very thin veil, peeking just over her crown. She’s dressed in a dark green silk robe which leaves the top of her bosom exposed. The background is an impression of a rural landscape. In the distance are some shapes resembling trees surrounding what appears to be a lake. Behind the woman, to her left, is a winding path. Over her right shoulder is the outline of a far away bridge.

The picture isn’t immediately striking, but there’s something about it… Something you can’t quite put your finger on. It might be the way she’s staring at you; the way her eyes seem to follow you around the room… Then it hits you —  it’s her smile. It’s a subtle smile. A faint contentment registered on the upturned corners of her mouth. A gentle satisfaction. It’s the kind of smile that might form when one’s thinking of a loved one. Or when they’re stirring their tea, remembering the time the vending machine gave them two Snickers bars when they’d only paid for one. Or it could be a secretive smile; an I-have-a-secret-but-I’m-not-telling-you-teeheehee smile; a playful smile. Or maybe it’s the smile one makes when a photographer tells them to smile before they take a picture. An obligatory smile. An I’m-just-smiling-because-someone-told-me-to-smile smile.

It’s an enigmatic smile to be sure. The kind of smile that one could spend a lifetime contemplating. The kind of smile one imagines scholars have debated for years. It’s a glass half empty smile. A glass half full smile. A Rorschach test smile, its perceived meaning reflecting the impliers intentions back upon them. A mirror smile. It’s the kind of smile that movies are made about. Movies which star Julia Roberts and Julia Stiles. Not to mention Maggie Gylenhall and Kirsten Dunst. Movies which you haven’t personally seen, but upon further research are about feminism in the 1950’s. Movies which critics are calling “a formulaic Roberts vehicle that isn’t without its charm” and “the female variant of Dead Poets Society.” Movies which will remain in the cultural consciousness for many years to come.

As you stare at the picture you begin to feel uneasy. The smile, combined with her piercing gaze, leaves you feeling naked. It’s as though she can see the true you — like she’s plumbing the depths of your soul and she’s slightly amused by what she’s found there. It could be the memory of the time you you farted in front of the whole class. Or when you passed out at that party and wet yourself. It’s like she knows all of your secrets — the things you do when no one else is around; the things you think about late at night; how many seasons of Suits you’ve watched. It’s like she’s Judge Judy (there’s definitely a resemblance) and she’s scrolling through your internet search history, smiling all the while, savouring the power she holds over you. You look away but still you feel her eyes following, searing your flesh. You leave the gallery in a sweat but her gaze persists, tracking you all the way back home, into your bedroom; into your dreams. Whenever you close your eyes you see them staring back. Unblinking. Your sanity begins to fray. Then it hits you, just as her smile did weeks before — the only way out of this ocular imprisonment is to bare all.

You return to the gallery, determined to confront her anew. Stood before her, looking her dead in the eye, you begin to strip naked, shouting, “IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT??? TAKE A GOOD LOO—” You stop mid-sentence, having noticed something new. It’s her smile — it’s different somehow. You’re not sure how you got it so wrong… It’s not a judgemental, malicious smile; it’s a benevolent, compassionate smile. As though she’s expressing sympathy for the time you farted in front of the whole class; or when you passed out at that party and wet yourself. Or maybe she feels sorry for you right at that very instant. Standing naked shouting maniacally in a crowded gallery. You drop to you knees sobbing, giving yourself up to her completely. She is now your god.

Another notable feature of the picture is its antiquity. The tangible sense of history in every brush stroke. The colours faded by time. What became of the woman in the picture? Who was she? She reminds you of your friend Gabby, from school. Gabby was the Charlotte of your group, and from this revelation you form a kind of composite personality for the woman: a mixture of your friend Gabby (ie. Charlotte) and Judge Judy; a sort of chirpy, no-nonsense, regal kind of character. Who works as a judge. In olden times. You imagine what it would be like to hang out with her, your daydream taking the form of an episode of Sex & The City, only set back then. In olden times. Like, it’s still about a group of empowered women, but instead of cocktails they drink the equivalent of whatever cocktails were back then —  who knows — maybe they had cocktails back then —  I mean, you’re not even sure when “back then” was. Though you imagine it had a lot of castles and banquets and horse drawn carts. Not dissimilar to Disneyland Paris. Anyway, at some point your daydream takes a turn for the dramatic when you’re falsely accused of killing the king. After that it turns into more of a Judge Judy/Suits style crossover? As in, more of a courtroom drama type thing think Ally McBeal meets King Arthur. You think it might make a great pitch for Sex and the City 3: Back in Time. Or it could be called Sex and the City 3: The Curse of Carrie’s Cursed Red—

Oh that’s a thousand words? Sweet. Well that should paint a pretty good picture so… I’m out. Peace.