UKArchive ID: 24596A portrait of Judith weeping by chrissytotoro
Originally published on March 8, 2010 in Fiction

Out of the army for good due to injury in the closing stages of the first world war, Sol decides that he will paint his sister's portrait.

"A Portrait of Judith, weeping"

My war was over, physically at least. For months after I finally got back to England, while they were still trying to save my legs, while I was still in hospital and surrounded by other soldiers from the front, I was still not home. My head still raged with the battles that I and the others had fought.

    It was only when I was discharged with one reasonable leg and such limited use in my left hand that I wouldn’t be of any use to the army any more and was permitted to go to my family that my war finally ended. The absence of memory came gradually and then there was a day when the fighting wasn’t the first thing I thought of and I decide that was the day I would start the portrait of my sister Judith, the portrait I had promised my parents when I first went up to Oxford what seemed a life time ago.

She sat in father's high-backed chair in the library, her hair freshly washed and brushed, her clear clean skin looking a little pale but still dazzlingly beautiful. Mother had allowed her to wear the pearl necklace that Grandmother had insisted should not be worn until Judith turned eighteen. It was the summer that Judith turned sixteen.

The dress she wore was grey silk and it suited her.
Her friend Miriam had said that she should be holding a book, firstly to show off her hands which were long and elegant and secondly because it made her look 'studious'. Studious was the last thing my little sister was.

"Are you comfortable?" I asked. "I really don't want you fidgeting."

She fiddled with the book; it was Byron, poetry and I was certain she had never read it or had any intention of doing so.

"You'll have to hold still for quite some time."

"I really am quite comfortable, thank you. So long as you don't expect me to smile. I really don't think I can manage that at the moment."

I started, pushing to the back of my mind the horrors of the trenches, the terrible sight of death, replacing it with the wood and the quiet garden beyond the window behind my sister's perfect form.

I had been working for perhaps twenty minutes when she suddenly asked; "Do you believe in love, Sol?"
Her question was so sudden and unexpected that my mind froze. I was completely at a loss. I fumbled for words. "Depends what you mean by love," I said, scratching away some blue paint I had only just applied so that I might appear too busy to bother with her question.

"I mean," she said softly, "the quiet passion, the real thing, the only person in the world who could ever make you happy and sad at the same time. The only person you would willingly die for."

"Steady on," I said. "Where on earth have you found all this?"

She didn't answer and when I summoned enough courage to look at her, her head was bent and she was weeping.

"Listen to me, Judith, when you have seen as many dead as I have -- and I hope and pray you never do -- then the word won't come so lightly to your lips. No-one dies for love, Judith, not in the real world."
I returned to my painting, making angry marks on the canvas and wishing with all my heart that my sister wasn't such a silly thing and might understand that love and death, happiness and sadness don't belong in the same sentence.

Eventually I asked; "Who is this young chap who has got you thinking so stupidly?"

"Joshua," said in a very small voice, "and I...."

"Joshua!" I exclaimed. "He’s father’s best friend. Hell's teeth girl, he's old enough to be your father. It's about time you grew up young lady. I hope to heaven you haven't said anything to him. Mother would be mortally embarrassed and so would I. Now you put this nonsense away and don't think of it anymore. Joshua! Goodness me. Falling in love with a man of what is he... he must be forty six at least."

I heard her draw in her breath in a small, painful sob and then the rustle of the silk dress as she stood.
"I didn't say that I was in love with Joshua."

I looked up.

"They were his words, not mine."

Chrissy M-H

© chrissytotoro (chrissy on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 24596
Archived comments for A portrait of Judith weeping
sunken on 09-03-2010
A portrait of Judith weeping
Hello Ms. Chrissy. I've not read much prose of late but I'm glad I started with this. The ending packs quite a punch and no mistake. Is it part of a series? I'm kinda left wanting more. This can only be a good thing.


star bathing under lunar

Author's Reply:
Sunken, many thanks for taking the time to read and comment, I genuinely appreciate it.
There is no more to the story.
It was written two years ago to give one of the readers at a poetry and prose evening his full 'fifteen minutes of fame'.
I suppose I could extend it, add to it but I'm not sure I want to run the risk of being accused of being 'long winded'. We shall see.
Much thanks for commenting and I'm glad you enjoyed what you read.

RedKite on 09-03-2010
A portrait of Judith weeping
A fine piece of verse and am glad to have taken the time to read it thanks Daniel

Author's Reply:
Thanks Daniel.
Are you sure you meant this comment for this piece? I don't think it could be classed as verse.

pdemitchell on 09-03-2010
A portrait of Judith weeping
Hi chrissy - it's a cracking standalone piece well-paced and polished but it feels unfinished despite the little twist at the end. My great-grandfather died at the Somme but even on leave - my grandfather told me - he was appalled by middle-class women who would thrust white feathers into the hands of plainly wounded and shell-shocked men (they used to shoot men with post-truamatic stress for cowardice abck then). Oddly enough, the sense of smell would paralyse men with fear, where an odour recalls a gas attack, shell cordite, trenchfoot. Your hero seems quite composed and not prone to the violent mood-swings of the shell-shocked and the sister's sole source of knowledge of the war were the jongoistic rags of the time. See if you can dig up a copy and have her qoute it at him if you expand the work. if you do, I look forward to reading it - does he confront this villanous and lecherous Josh? We should be told! Mitch 🙂

Author's Reply:
Mitch. many thanks for stopping by to read and comment.
As I said to Sunken, the piece was written as a sort of filler to give a reader a bit more to read. I have thought about expanding it possibly in to something quite a bit longer which would bring this upper-class Jewish family in to the start of world war two.
Thinking along those lines I might have Judith marry Joshua.
Worth thinking about.

pdemitchell on 10-03-2010
A portrait of Judith weeping
Sounds like a good plot line... disabled war hero and the affluent Josh at loggerheads... remember well before the war we had the Daily Mail supporting Oswald Mosely and his brownshirts. Then in 1936 the Battle of Cable Street - where Moseley's fascists tried to march throught the Jewish areas in London and London rose up against them and fought the police as well - nearly half a million people took to the streets in a key moment in UK history as the Quislings were ready and anti-semitism was rife in London and the big cities.... a rich seam of plot tension methinks - what if Joshua or friends were Mosleyites? Just a thought. Mitch

Author's Reply: