[Editor's Note: This is the latest installment of 'Notes From the 422nd Annual Wraiths for Writing Conference,' a biweekly series of story and art that artist Amelia Garretson-Persans has created for Country Life. Trace its roots by reading the previous entries.]
“Imagine the daguerreotype hasn’t even made it to America yet and your memorial portrait has to be completed in oils posthumously. You’ve died suddenly so there was no time to impress your aesthetic preferences on the hearts and minds of your clueless loved ones. The psychic energy involved in hovering over the shoulder of your appointed archivist is tremendous, and the effort of crossing the line into the material world to whisper helpful hints is crushing. You have the strength for three hissed words before your fuel gauge hits zero. What are your words?”
I was at a workshop on choosing your words carefully. We were working in groups of three and answering hypothetical questions. My companions were a bookish young man who immediately said, “Well, ‘promethean’ to start,” and a quiet old woman whose creaking I felt in my spine.
“Big Spanish nose,” I offered. The little professor pursed his lips, unamused.
“I’m just not sure I would expend the energy to bother with it. I don’t think a portrait painted by a stranger would have that much meaning to me. I’d rather use the earth-time to see Buenos Aires or something.”
The old woman’s head swiveled toward me like an owl’s. “You won’t know what you’re like when you’re dead.” Her smile was condescending and jagged.
“Appearances have never been important to me,” I persisted.
When the old woman turned to me again it felt as if she were showing me the face on the back of her head. “Appearances are everything,” she spat through her inverted smile.
“Hazy,” I murmured.
“Haziness makes a good visual metaphor for one’s tenuous grasp on living. Did you mean it as a kind of memento mori for your painting’s viewers?” asked the young man.
“No, I meant ‘hazy’ as in my hand looks hazy,” I said as I looked between and through my dimming fingers.