Fernando Aranguiz

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The Portrait

From the very beginning it had been a project that, once finished, would have disastrous consequences for her dreams.  But Eniel could not stop herself from doing it as she made the decision to paint the portrait her lover had asked for. Something inside herself had told her that once all the forms had been transferred onto the canvas, it would be the end of everything. 

The end of the relationship and the end of the portrait; but since Eniel was living towards the end of the 20th century, this sort of absurd premonition was quickly dismissed, despite her feelings and her lover’s smilingly-delivered warnings: “The day you finish that painting will be the day we’ll say goodbye forever.” Eniel beamed her wide smile and wept within herself without knowing why.

For months she only painted a couple of times and they were the best moments of the relationship.  The truth was that she didn’t even paint anything — all she did was prepare the canvas.  Perhaps for that very reason the lovers’ trysts and picnics in the woods, the afternoon naps full of sweet words and caresses multiplied with the passing days and Eniel felt more beloved than ever.

No one until then had seduced her the way that stranger from other lands had; making love as if it were poetry in movement.  Sometimes just the memory of their lovemaking made her feel as though she were melting inside and then she dreamed of the moments when their bodies would fuse again.  He didn’t just make love completely and with utter absorption in the act, he also did other things that no other man had done before.  Eating was one of them; and Eniel, who had learned to cook in France, finally found a twin soul in the sensuous world of gastronomy.  However it wasn’t a matter of simply eating, but of the entire ritual accompanying it. Especially when those eyes looked at her through the candle’s flames and those nimble fingers gathered morsels of seafood and brought them to Eniel’s mouth.  No one had ever fed her before, and he always insisted that she suck all his fingers one by one every time he did it. She felt a tickling sensation that began in her throat and ended exactly in her sex, moving down her entire spinal column.  It was as though she’d had contact with a live wire.

One afternoon when Ledam was feeding her like that, she felt her nipples grow hard, her legs went weak as her entire body was begging to be touched, caressed, kissed and bitten.  She wanted him to embrace her and love her with his entire being.  Ledam read the signals perfectly. How he did it was a mystery to her, undressing her right there at the table in the middle of dinner, while with one hand he kept feeding her while with the other he softly and unhurriedly stroked her breasts, her nipples, her arms, her thighs, until he reached her triangle and her desire.

That strange man then entered her vagina with his tongue and with exquisite care, encircled her waist with his hands and firmly set her on top of the table. There in the middle of all the plates food still uneaten, as if nothing unusual were going on, he continued to kiss and eat her until he brought her to ecstasy itself.

Thus the days and weeks passed and at the end of a few months she received the first signal of alarm.  When Eniel returned from shopping on the day they had agreed to meet, Ledam did not arrive. It was strange because he had always been surprisingly punctual but an entire hour came and went. Finally Eniel decided to call him, more than anything else to convince herself that he hadn’t had a car accident or that anything tragic or unforeseen had happened to him. Ledam answered and the conversation was brief and tense.  Ledam apologized, Eniel felt smaller than ever, the silences across the invisible line became unbearable and that afternoon Eniel didn’t cook, didn’t make love, didn’t laugh. That afternoon she painted the portrait’s background. Ledam didn’t arrive because he had been distracted doing God knows what, and he simply had forgotten that it was the day of their usual meeting.  While the grey covered the canvas, Eniel felt that she wasn’t as important to him as she had believed. Yet only a week later she was in the man’s arms once again. She almost completely forgot about the incident between the caresses, the French bread, the olives and the warmth of the fire feeding their naked bodies.

Spring didn’t bring Eniel all the flowers she would have wanted, but unfailingly in spite of that fact, each time she was with the man from another planet she was capable of fusing with him into one single being, feeling a joy and harmony that was completely and absolutely pleasurable. Yet hardly had he left when Eniel felt that she ceased to exist in his world, and this confused her beyond the explicable.

How could he be so detached?

How was it possible that she existed only in his present, but not in the slightest way in the future he contemplated?

Ledam only smiled in answer to Eniel’s protests.  But once he told her with unusual seriousness, “Eniel, I love you completely when I’m with you and when I’m not, it doesn’t have any importance because that moment simply doesn’t exist for us.”

Eniel couldn’t believe it and tried to provoke a quarrel to be able to tell him what she felt, but all she got was the humiliation of seeing herself lose control, aside from his refusing to take back a single word he had said, all the while gazing at her with eyes full of affection. An affection she could not stop perceiving.

“I’m not interested in possessing you or in possessing your time. All I ask is that you give me the same thing,” Ledam told her in a low voice.

“Well if that’s how it is, then our love has no future,” she argued.

“But it has a beautiful present,” the strange man countered.

“What fucking use is it to me to have this marvelous present with you if when you leave I’m left with the taste of what could be and will never be?” Eniel answered, in despair.

“It’s useful for us to enjoy without inhibition…” said the man, visibly affected by the direction that things were going in.

“I can’t enjoy anything that I can’t project forward.  I’m not like you.  I need for my entire life to go in one single direction but you arrange your schedule to see me just once a week, sometimes the entire weekend, but nothing more.  It isn’t enough.  I’m tired of this utterly compartmentalized life because of your personal interests,” said Eniel, on the verge of tears. The hot summer brought no change in the impasse they had reached, but, inevitably, the extraordinary affinity between them led Eniel to immerse herself in the pleasures of the present. For months she accepted these singular conditions in which the reality she experienced was only in the present.  It was ephemeral, powerful, intoxicating, but impossible to project.The man changed nothing about his way of being and Eniel always felt she was enveloped in a love she had never felt before.  A love that was complete and different, intense and contradictory, but without a horizon.  That made her drunk and at the same time left her in deep despair and frustration because she could not take it beyond their occasional encounters.  

The man roundly refused to consider the possibility of living together. She returned to the canvas and began to paint what by then had become evident.  The painting could be nothing other than a self-portrait, and Eniel painted herself naked and exquisite, floating on a lake of crystalline waters.  All the sensuousness of that entire year with the strange man began to take shape in her work.  As Eniel added each new brush stroke, the distance btween her and the inevitable was shortened, and the portrait acquired growing depth and meaning.Finally she was able to finish it by Christmas.  There was nothing more to do; to her own astonishment, she fully understood that the relationship had reached its end.  Everything she was, was in the portrait, and Eniel was surprised by the beauty and perfection of her work, at the same time as she marveled at the discovery that had been heralded from the beginning of the relationship.  The lines and colors were perfect, but the most remarkable thing about it was the total and absolute sensuality that irradiated from the painting.  Not even in her deepest dreams had she imagined that she could create something like it, charged with a power and an intensity that leapt into the gaze of anyobserver.The man contemplated the portrait with such admiration in his eyes that Eniel became nervous, since he said nothing for many minutes.  He traced each line, each shadow, each curve with his look as though he were before his favorite  dish, and with those same eyes he devoured the painting as he had done with her so many times. 

Eniel felt a weakness in her legs once again and the man embraced her, then kissed her for a long time with passion and an affection that would seal for always the absurd and compelling relationship they had shared.  That night they made love knowing it was the last time.  They also had dinner knowing it would be the last dinner they would share in the intimacy they had created for each other. 

Eniel never completely understood what it was that had happened between them, what had not worked in the relationship when everything seemed to indicate that they were made for each other.  For many months she tried in vain to find an answer to the most mysterious event in her life.  The man disappeared with the painting under his arm and they did not see each other again for a long time.  

Eniel had several relationships with other men, but invariably found that they lacked something magical and enigmatic that “the man of the present” – as she had affectionately christened him – was capable of weaving.  One night while she finished a painting – since Eniel was a painter – she realized that every time she had worked on her self-portrait, she had done so without knowing how or why, in painstaking detail, with immense care, with a deep wish to give something of herself to her lover.  And in effect, she attained it and was never able to do the same thing with any other painting, no matter how she tried, especially when she considered that she had used her fingers to paint the entirety of her body on the canvas, no brushes, only her fingers.  That night Eniel understood that the man was not right when he referred to the present as the only valid thing.  That night she felt deep nostalgia for those luminous days, that after all the effort and devotion she had later given to building a lasting relationship with another man, she had been unable to even approach what she had lived with Ledam.  What Eniel never knew was that the man of the present not only took with him the best of her, but he gave Eniel the best of himself, and it was the reason for the intensity of her memories, of the nostalgia that enveloped her.  Such a thing is not so easy to give just like that because what people give to each other without calculation or projection is sometimes the only thing that is completely valid.

Ledam had set aside one of the walls of his room exclusively for the portrait and not only was he able to remember his lover, but each time he wanted to he could caress her and speak to her as though she were there, before him.

And in the play of reveries and the impossible times of presents, pasts and futures, it’s hard to say whether it was really Ledam who held Eniel for always and she who lost him forever, or simply the other way around. There was no way to know until one afternoon Ledam showed up at Eniel’s door step with the painting under his arm and told her what she had been waiting forever to hear. 

“I can’t keep caressing a painting. For all that the present brings into our lives, I have lost my fear of the future. I love you today and I also love you tomorrow”

Both of them opened the door of their hearts to the unknown future.

 

Santiago – Chile,  January 1, 2000

THE LOOKOUT

These stories were written in the last twenty one years and in general they are about the theme of intuitions and internal realities that are not always visible, but are undoubtedly true. Truths that push us in a profound and human direction.

View it at Amazon.com or just click on each one of the links to see that story in full. The cover of this book was designed by my best friend Rafael Edwards