Great Aunt Audrey’s portrait wore a supercilious expression. In our family anyone acting superior or haughty was told to stop ‘doing an Audrey’.

After Great Uncle Harold died, Audrey had raised five children. Our grandmother, Beatrice, the youngest of the brood, had never known her father. ‘And my mother,’ Beatrice would say with pride, ‘she never remarried, you know.’

Beatrice had once been a powerhouse, with her shock of orange hair and her boundless energy. But she was frail and forgetful now. We regretted not finding out more from her about the family.

The portrait had been suffering from years of grime and dust and smoke. We sent it for cleaning. A fortnight later the conservator called, in quite a state. ‘There’s another figure. All that heavy drapery was added later to cover it. What should I do?’

We told her to restore the original. Perhaps Audrey and Harold would be together again.

After another month Audrey was back—a rustic gentleman by her side with bright eyes and thick red hair. After all these years her expression made sense.

I fetched Alice. ‘Come have a look. I think it’s your father.’

Alice took one look. ‘Heavens, no. That’s Uncle Charles. He lived with us for many years. And then he went away.’

2011—Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

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