Giovani sat in the park near his favorite bench. The air was crisp this early afternoon, the sky cloudless blue. Winter was coming. His eyes were old, heavy, and his hair wild and white. Business men passed by, talking on their phones, mothers pushing strollers, darting after toddlers wanting only to explore. He watched a pigeon snatch up a crust of bread, all that was left of two lovers sharing lunch together, moments before. They had kissed passionately and left in opposite directions.
Giovani sighed, his eyes watery. He dabbed them with a tissue and looked at his gnarled fingers spotted with dried paint.
On that day, when there was a chill in the air and falling leaves, she sat down on the bench across from him. Long ago she had left behind middle age, but retained graceful beauty. Her hair was white, pulled back in a ponytail. He watched her move, a hand stroking back a loose unruly strand. He recognized her.
At that moment she noticed the him and she smiled.
It was that smile he had seen so many years before. He read her lips, “Giovani.”
“Teresa,” he whispered back. She rose from the bench and crossed over to him, bent over and gave him a hug.
“How long has it been?” she asked
“I do not know. It seems forever.” But he knew--48 years since he first saw her, and 45 since the last time. She tenderly took his gnarled hands in her own. He controlled the wince.
And they talked. Life had been long for both of them. He saw now that her face was lined with joys, and only a few cares. They talked about children, grandchildren, careers, travels, and life. Giovani’s eyes watered. She smiled at him again, pulled a tissue from her clutch, and dabbed the corner of his eyes, then she kissed his forehead.
He reached up and touched her cheek. He swallowed hard, “May I…?” he asked.
48 years ago, a struggling artist had seen a young woman, fair and beautiful, with ebony hair, in this very park. She came with her fiancé. Giovani had never seen a smile so beautiful.
One day she walked alone in the park, and he courageously approached, “I am a painter, not well known, struggling. I know this is forward, but may I paint you? It’s your smile.”
At the word smile, she smiled. And it was the first time she ever smiled for him. She followed him to his studio where he looked at her for an hour. And then he began to paint.
That painting, and Teresa, changed his life. He never struggled again.
“I am a painter,” his voice crackling with age, “I know this is forward, but may I paint you? It’s your smile.” His eyes watered and she again touched them with a tissue.
She followed behind him pushing his wheelchair and entered his studio. The first time it had been spartan. Now, it was filled with paint, and light, canvases and beautiful portraits, capturing the souls of those who sat. A few looked just like her. “Sit right here,” he told her.
“Should I?” she asked. He nodded. “Don’t judge me.” He laughed. As she had 48 years ago, she disrobed. For an hour he stared at her, saying nothing, and then he began to paint.
Step by step, layer by layer, he painted, each stroke capturing the light, her elegance, and beauty. When darkness came he covered the canvas. His hands throbbed, his eyes watered.
“Are you finished?” she asked.
“I’ve only just begun.”
“May I see?”
“It isn’t done.”
She nodded and left, returning the next afternoon, and the next after that, for a week. On the seventh day, he rolled back, looked at the painting, back at her, and wept. She arose, her once firm breasts sagging, her once toned tummy now with stretch marks. She looked tired. He was exhausted. “May I see it now?”
She walked to where he had sat painting, and looked at what he had finished.
What she saw in the finished painting was a near duplicate of the painting he had created 48 years before. “This is not me.”
“Oh, it is you, my dearest Teresa, it is what I see.”