CATEGORY:� SHORT FICTION
The Painter and his companion sat in the small room awaiting the arrival of the old man. The summer heat seemed to congeal in the air. Dusty shafts of sunlight peeked through minute gaps in the heavy curtains over the windows.
"I still don't like it!" said the Painter. He gazed at the rough table. "It goes against my sensibilities. I may refuse to complete the frieze." The companion looked up at this, and a slight frown fled across his aged countenance like a flurry of grey snow.
"You can't quit." the man said, his native Sicilian accent laying heavy on his thick lips.
"You can't... the contract..."
The Painter stood up suddenly, knocking over his chair. He slapped both hands on the table in a fit of fury. "It's blasphemy! It's wrong! It's... it's... obscene! Wrong! I don't give a damn about the contract! I... "The heavy oak door eased open and a frail old man peered in. Tight-lipped, the Painter bent over, picked up the chair, and seated himself. The old man walked slowly to the table. He laid a small gilt portfolio on the scarred tabletop. He took off his small round red cap and laid it beside the leather folder.
"Gentlemen," the old man whispered. His voice like the faint susurrus of wind in a bell tower. "This is the paper." He opened the case and withdrew a manuscript crumbled at the edges, filled with spiky writing. It smelled faintly of sand and sun. It had thirteen carefully executed profiles of bearded men drawn in ink gone faint with time. Each profile bore an inscription, the Greek letters neat and small. The old man rasped, "This was found at the Holy City in the desert. These are the faces you will use. Only..." At this, the old man looked intently at the Painter. His heavy gold ring flashed in the smoky candlelight, the ruby reflecting bloody flames as he tapped the ancient manuscript. "These two you will change... If you wish to paint again" The Painter looked away.
The first picture was of a man, apparently of Mediterranean extraction. He had a large nose, a patchy beard and mustache and a definite overbite. He also appeared to have a prominent wart on his chin.
The last picture was of a handsome, faintly angelic man. His hair was straight and long, he had a strong nose and a gentle mouth. His light skin was smooth, without blemish. He seemed perfect, where the first picture almost seemed to be that of an idiot.
"Very well," the Painter said tonelessly. He had studied the faces, read the Greek inscriptions beneath each. "Very well. I shall paint the faces... as you direct ,Father" The old man nodded.
"Good, my son... A wise choice, a very wise choice indeed" the old man sighed. He took the aged piece of papyrus and eyed it. "No one wants the Messiah to look like that. That is the face of a traitor" The old man held the manuscript in the flame of the candle. His mouth made a small smile. Dry as bones, The paper burned quickly and brightly. The painter's companion made a noise in his throat.
Slowly, the old man picked up his small red hat and placed it on his head. "God be with you." He left quickly and quietly. "You heard his Holiness." The companion said. "You had better get to work" The painter grunted and looked at the pile of ashes on the table. The companion smirked slightly, then turned to leave. "Hurry up." he said as he exited the small room. Leonardo the painter turned to his folio of sketches of the inside of the roomy chapel rectory he had been commissioned to paint. He bit his lip in concentration and anger while staring at the faces in his mind. A sad, sad day it was when Leonardo daVinci protected old men in red caps by exchanging a handsome Judas for an ugly Christ in the Last Supper. Taking a blank sheet from his satchel, the painter began to map out his painting.
"If Man scorns Nature, so you think he would care about Words?" �- Thomas Moore, Utopia