Outside the darkened windows of Doreene Gray’s second-floor bedroom, a squall buffeted the house and whistled across the gingerbread trimming. A mile away, it sang through the rigging of ships in the harbor of Port Townsend, Washington, whipping the black water into whitecaps, then speckling the foam with rain.
Doreene slid out of bed, grimacing slightly at a twinge in her lower back. At fifty-eight, she could avoid many of the signs of age, but not all.
The young man beneath the sheets stretched one tanned arm across the bed. “Princessa.” His drowsy voice was further thickened by a Brazilian accent. “You can’t sleep?”
“Don’t have a panic attack, Reynaldo. I’m just going to the can.”
He muttered something and subsided.
Doreene felt her way across the darkened room, but instead of going to the bathroom, she found the door to a small adjoining bedroom that had been turned into a closet. Under her fingers, the old-fashioned lock plate slid aside to reveal a computerized keypad. Doreene silently tapped a code onto the faintly glowing keys.
Once inside, she shut the door and locked it from the other side. The sound of the storm disappeared, muffled by the surrounding racks of clothes. Still in the dark, Doreene pulled what felt like a coat off a hanger and arranged it at the foot of the door before switching on the light.
A cluttered dressing table sat in the middle of the room, its mirror supported by two upright posts. Doreene sat in the matching chair and leaned close to the mirror. She might have been nearing sixty, but she didn’t look a day over thirty. Blond hair curled gently over her shoulders, and her wide hazel eyes looked out from unlined skin.
“Eyebrows might be getting a little thin,” she murmured, running a finger against the fine hairs and then smoothing them back down.
The dressing table had space behind it. Doreene grasped the top edge of the oak mirror frame and rotated it downward. The back side swung into view, revealing a stretched and mounted canvas.
She winced a little at the sight of the hideous portrait. The original oil painting was almost hidden beneath pasted-on bits of paper. Tiny lines of writing served as the furrows that ran from nose to chin. Blotches of red and brown paper, torn from magazine pages, marred the cheeks with an impressionist collage of age.
Doreene pulled open the drawer of the table and removed a newspaper clipping.
Famous Portrait for Sale
Maureene Pinter’s painting of identical twin sister to be sold at auction.
The photo below the subtitle showed Doreene’s sister, Maureene, one hand raised too late to hide her haggard face. She looked every bit of her age, and more.
Doreene gathered cosmetic-smeared tissues from the table and threw them in a nearby trash can until she uncovered a pair of nail scissors. Trimming carefully, she cut the picture of her sister’s face from the article, then looked from it to the artwork in front of her. “Neck, I think.”
She lay the trimmed photo down and found a bottle of foundation. After rubbing some of the makeup between finger and thumb, she carefully shaded the scrap of paper, holding it up to the portrait occasionally to check the color.
Next she uncapped a bottle of clear nail polish and brushed a few strokes on the back of the photo. After positioning it at the base of the portrait’s throat, she carefully pressed it into place.
Doreene studied her sister’s expression on the drying newsprint. “Didn’t expect me to put the painting up for sale, did you? And you have one more shock coming.”
As she leaned back, the newly applied photo merged into the impression of wattled skin. Doreene stroked the smooth column of her own throat and smiled. “If I do say so myself, I’ve become quite the artist.”
Copyright © 2012 by Esri Allbritten