Mandy and Sam were in a four year relationship, thinking about marriage. This Christmas, Mandy wanted to give Sam something truly special. She had been looking for what seemed like forever. When she found a present that she thought was perfect, she wrote a letter to go with it. This is it:
A few days to Christmas, and I still don’t have your gift. I want to get you something you will never forget. One day, I was passing a Used Art Store. I had never heard of one of those before. My sensibilities intrigued, I went in.
Inside the store, it was very much like a used goods store of any kind. There were oil landscapes without their frames, water colors that had faded, graphics torn at the edges, portraits that showed a lack of skill in the artist and all manner of artsy things. If you could call it art, it was here. At first, I wasn’t sure what to get, if anything. I searched amid the madness, looking for favorites that you might love.
Since we are both girls, maybe something girly? But you aren’t really that type of girl. I know from the stories you told me that your parents rejected you when you came out to them. I wanted to get you something to remind you of the strength that I see when I look at you. The compassion I feel when we lie in bed together.
At last, after much rummaging I find this: a beautifully artistic portrait that no one would call beautiful. It spoke to me like nothing else did. The woman underneath the art was in conflict, just like you.
When I looked at her face, her perfect cheekbones are just a little too chiseled. Her piercing blue eyes pierce that little bit too much. They are framed with alluringly long lashes but she does not look kind. Her ear is crooked and her smile confuses me. She doesn’t look happy, so why is she smiling? Her teeth are perfectly white and perfectly formed. She has a high brow, complemented with cascading white blonde hair. For some reason, when I see her, I see you.
I buy the portrait on the spot.
This is what I gave you this Christmas. I hope you love it.
And this is their story:
Come Christmas, Mandy gives Sam the portrait with the letter she wrote explaining why she chose this present to commemorate their fourth Christmas together. She immediately hung the now framed oil portrait in our bedroom. But now that the portrait had pride of place in the bedroom, Mandy began to regret her choice. As Christmas passed, everything jolly passed with it. The portrait suddenly began to seem less cheerful than ever. Sometimes, Mandy felt those ice blue eyes were staring at her. Some days, when she thought Mandy wasn’t looking, Mandy would catch Sam staring at the portrait, unmoving. Her expression was fixed and impenetrable. The painting was beginning to scare Mandy. She couldn’t understand the effect it was having on her beautiful Sam.
Before getting the painting, Sam had been vibrant and lively. She had been fun to be around. But for everyday that the painting hung on their bedroom wall, Sam got more and more closed off. It was as though the painting was sucking on her soul.
When Mandy suggested taking the painting down, Sam got angry. She wouldn’t hear of it. Sam became more distant every day. Mandy felt as though she could no longer reach her girlfriend. Her soul was dying and there was nothing that Mandy could do. As Sam began to fade, the lady in the portrait looked more magnetic and real than she ever had. Mandy swore she could hear whisperings emanating from the portrait whenever Sam was in the room.
Once, Mandy tried to pry the painting from the wall, but it wouldn’t budge. When Sam caught her in the act, she was livid. Mandy had never seen her so angry. There were moments that Mandy simply couldn’t explain. She felt that Sam resembled the portrait more than ever. And the portrait resembled Sam. The ice blonde hair was becoming dirtier. The eyes seemed less blue. The cheeks were filling out. Mandy felt that she was losing Sam.
Six months after Christmas, Mandy felt that she no longer knew her girlfriend.
Sam lost interest in making love. She didn’t want to converse or gossip anymore. She estranged their friends and stopped going in to work. One night, they went to bed early. Mandy was groggy after her regular nightly tea. Her words slurred as she talked to Sam. Within minutes, Mandy couldn’t move. She lay rigid, her face contorting, as Sam only smiled. Sam lifted a hand to caress Mandy’s cheek. She reached underneath her pillow and pulled out a knife. With a clean swipe, she gutted Mandy’s throat, like fishermen gut fish. “Sam is gone,” Sam whispered. “Now it’s your turn.”
Mandy’s eyes began to glaze over. As she breathed her last, she saw the portrait out of the corner of her eye and saw a tear fall down the portrait’s cheek. Her last thoughts were, “I’m coming to you Sam. I’m coming.”
As the Mandy on the bed died, a woman appeared in the portrait beside the other woman. They linked hands and walked out of the edge of the painting, happy to be together again, reunited. Meanwhile the Sam that was left in the bedroom reached for the phone to report a murder. She sobbed hysterically to the woman on the other side of the phone, crying that she had come home to find her partner dead. “We were supposed to marry!” she cried.
Even when the police turned up, Sam could not be consoled. She out performed every actress she had seen in the movies since she had begun to take Sam’s place. Sam knew her stuff. She had spent the last six months finding out everything that she would need to know when she would need it most. She knew that Sam wasn’t close to her parents. That she and Mandy wanted to get married, have kids. That Sam had the ambition to get trained as a nurse, while Mandy was a secretary in an accountant’s office. She knew everything she needed to make a convincing performance. And it worked.
With her beautiful, cruel blue eyes, she won over the policemen, persuading them that she was in love with Mandy. Meanwhile, Mandy and Sam were reunited in the portrait, both their souls only existing in paint. When the time came, Sam removed the portrait and sold it. It was now a portrait of two women, their eyes crueller than they ever had been alive. By some magic of the paint, the portrait of the two ladies took over the women who bought their portrait. Gradually, they became alive again. And someone took their place.