It was an overcast day, cold and a bit dreary, late August in Quebec City. On vacation, Michelle and her mother had been strolling, enjoying the narrow streets and old buildings that suggested European cities, while listening to bursts of conversations here and there in French.
All of a sudden, they came upon a row of artists doing portraits, some serious, some caricatures. Michelle’s mom looked at the work of each one carefully and finally said, “This one. Let’s have him do a portrait of you.”
“Ask him how much.”
“Mom…” Michelle whined in a whisper.
“C’mon, sweetheart. Practice your French.”
Michelle pouted, sighed, thought about how to ask, turned to the man and said, “Combien pour un dessin de moi?”
“Quinze dollar canadiens,” he responded.
“Fifteen Canadian dollars, Mom.”
“Okay, sweetie,” her mother said, smiling and nodding at the man.
“D’accord,” Michelle said to him, unnecessary of course, for her mother’s smile had already sealed the deal.
“Asseyez-vous, s’il vous plait, mademoiselle.”
Michelle sat down where he indicated. He looked at her from various angles. Michelle smiled nervously and asked, “Looking for my good side?”
“You have your mother’s smile.”
“You speak English!”
“That makes it easier.”
“But your mother wants you to practice your French, no?”
“Oui,” she said, smiling again.
“Yes, lovely smile, but for now, no smile, look off toward the distance and do not move, bien?”
And so she sat very still, people milling about her on the wide sidewalk. He drew with pastels while her mother looked on. Other artists were on their third or fourth clients before he finally declared, “Voilà!”
Michelle looked at her mother and saw tears in her eyes. Standing up and approaching her she said, “What? You don’t like it?”
Her mother said nothing, just shook her head and hugged her. Michelle pulled away and looked at the picture. It was an amazing likeness of her. She couldn’t believe what he’d done in such a short period of time with pastels no less.
“Why are you crying, Mom?”
“I never noticed your sad eyes behind your smile. You have Daddy’s eyes.”