The family walking past me: Portrait
They walked in a disturbing tableau.
A father and mother, a son and a daughter.
Picture the father: He has loose curly grey hair of medium length. Glasses. A long face that is going to go slack in the jaws and the chin as he ages, but a proportionate face, with enough depth to accentuate the narrowness, not the droopiness of his features, and with just enough width that the tuck between his eye and his socket is visible to the light, creating a contrast that releases his eyes from his face, giving him an open gaze. He has a dark complexion. He is lanky.
Picture the mother: She is square, more square than her mate certainly, with wide cheekbones and a plank forehead, a fleshy nose that has enough room to sit on her face without distorting any other feature, or its own proportions. Her hair is black, dyed probably, and articulated in a few loose waves that fall from a middle part. She has a friendly, quiet look. The spark in her eyes is dim, and you think that maybe there are factors in her life that have dampened the glow; but it may just be a quirk of her coloring, or the lighting as she walks by.
The children, though.
They are young adults, with their shapes fully fleshed, ready for time to spin the wheel that gives the pliant clay of their features the definition that bespeaks character, attitude and experience.
But what an unfortunate base they have been given to work with. They have sandy hair and fair complexions. They are a petri dish of recessiveness: strong features inherited from one parent’s genes have been combined with weak features in the other parent’s genes, destroying the symmetry of their face.
It is hard to look at, harder even to describe. The girl’s right eye droops and a slackness around the socket pulls her skin over the tail of her eye, leaving her a truncated space to peer through. Her lips are turned in a pout that defies a smile. Her face is long and fleshy at the same time. You can see the hints of her father and her mother, but can’t find the organization of either of their features. It is as if her face was a failed sketch that was thrown off to the side of the worktable. The boy’s face is wide, but has no heft, like a piece of fabric suspended along a wire frame has been soaked with water, loosening the weave and tugging at the lines. His nose is long, and just as it’s ready to assert its prominence above his full lips, it vanishes in a downward smudge, shrinking his nostrils to specks. His eyes are dulled by the flat line of his brow, which loses its strength at his temple and drops into the slack emptiness of his cheek.
The family passed quietly. They occupied their space with no expectations, but seemed capable and cohesive.
I quieted my imagination. Don’t try to find their story, I said to myself.
I took out my workbook and tried to write this sketch.