He was, in truth, more than slightly ill at ease;
Not that he hadn’t attended more than his share
Of these events—eaten the sandwiches, stood appropriately grim-faced
In corners of drawing rooms, or smiled and chuckled politely
If, in fact, the individual in question would have wanted it that way,
But, as old friend and attending physician,
He was playing a different and somewhat awkward role,
Even though Judge Salvador had greeted him warmly,
Embracing him as he said You did all that I could have asked.
There are, after all, limits to what science can accomplish.
Walking with the judge into the main entryway
As he prepared to leave, he was confronted
With a portrait of the late Madame Salvador,
which had been painted by their mutual friend,
The noted artist Mediaverdad (the painter conspicuously absent,
Preferring, as a rule, whoring and gambling
To such somber affairs—he had once stated,
Wreathed in clouds generated by his ever-present Romeo Y Julieta,
That he had not committed to attendance
At his own services) as a wedding present long ago.
The work was not simply a faithful representation,
Though Mediaverdad was justly renowned for his expert eye
And command of color and shading—there was,
In the subject’s eyes, the curl of the lips,
The attitude of the elbows and bustline,
An insouciance, a coquettishness
That the physician found unsettling to the point of disturbing
(He had never truly studied the work before,
As he had invariably been greeted in the vestibule
By its subject while she walked among the living.)
The judge, having noticed the doctor’s attention
To the portrait, laughed softly, saying Our Mediaverdad
Is something else, isn’t he? You know, I have found
This portrait to be a great comfort—I admit I find myself
Speaking to it quite frequently (how alive it looks, friend!)
As if she was still here.
The portrait was often in the doctor’s thoughts
For days after the wake, unable to shake the image
Of something unaffected (indeed, wholly unconcerned)
By the cessation of a heartbeat, the absence of breathing.
On those future occasions when doctor visited Judge Salvador
At his home (for the doctor was loyal and considerate to a fault)
He invariably entered the house through the back entrance.
Not to avoid the gaze of the portrait;
It was the height of summer, and the physician reasoned to himself
That it would be almost criminal to deprive himself of the spectacle
Of the garden at the rear of the property,
As the judge invariably planted flora and fauna
Of an unmatched variety and beauty.