The Way We Lied

Charles looked too, trying to see a family likeness in the gaunt features and wondering whether Mary took after her father. “You said this was your uncle. Did he come to this country too?”
Mary sighed and shrugged. “Sadly no. He was sent to Treblinka. He did not survive for long. He was not an artist. He was a talented architect whose ideas were thought unacceptable and they killed him.”
“But when was this painted? I thought it was dated 1948?”
“I believe that date is correct, but I understand that my father painted it in memory of his brother from old sketches he had made years before. I have always thought that he was trying to imagine what my uncle would have looked like towards the end of his imprisonment. But I also see it as a tribute by my father to his brother’s personal qualities. My father told me that Stefan was the kindest, most generous man he had ever known. And I like to think that he is breaking the bread in his hands to share with others, even though he has so little. Don’t you think that is how it looks?”
Charles studied the picture with deeper understanding. He felt as if the figure was inviting him to partake in this meagre meal and he felt humbled. “Thank you. Thank you for telling me all this. I had no idea. It makes the painting mean so much more.”
She turned away from the portrait at last and smiled at him. “I’m glad I’ve had a chance to tell you what I know of it. I feel it is important that custodians of my father’s work hear what he has to say.”
Charles laughed. “And he is saying what exactly? Help the hungry? Waste not want not?”
Mary held her head on one side, considering him. “Perhaps. I think someone who experienced those terrible times, who still struggled to make his message live on, deserves to be heard and to be understood. I think he is saying, look at this man, this unfortunate man, you who have so much. Look at this man and see how he is willing to share even his last crust. Look upon him and think how much you have and what you could share.”
Charles frowned and considered. “I see. Well, in answer to that I would have to say I probably do my bit. We support quite a few charities and so on, both personally and in corporate terms.”
“But is that really enough? Anyone can make a cash donation. And it’s hardly difficult for someone like you with plenty of money to spare. That isn’t honestly a big sacrifice for you, is it? And anyone can give money. You have to think how you could give something that only you can give. Stefan was prepared to give his last crust of bread, so what can you give?”
Charles laughed again somewhat nervously. “Phew ! Didn’t know I was going to be judged for my philanthropy, and I do have a young family to think about….but I think I do my bit.”
Mary stood up and reached for her coat. She held out her hand, “Well think about it. I’ll come again one day soon and see how much more Stefan has taught you.”
Feeling somewhat dazed, Charles walked with her to the lift. He was both pleased and irritated by her visit, but still felt intrigued by her.
As she left he expected to shake hands one last time, but instead she lifted her hand to his cheek and caressed it, oh so very gently. “Take care of Stefan. I will come again soon.”

to be continued May 19


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