I’m a photographer. I’m crafty when there’s time. I wouldn’t really call myself handy, and if I did, it’d be a lie. Phil hires people to do what he cannot. We cannot. He picked up eight matted picture frames of different sizes, one of those kits, where they show you the many possibilities for grouping them. The handymen–yes, it took two–hung the photos in a neat arrangement. So, for the past few weeks, there have been strangers in our living room, hugging and smiling, black and white prints of catalog people waiting to be replaced. They’re kinda growing on me.
Phil has a house in Newport, so I suppose by extension, I do too. It’s a six bedroom house near the Tennis Hall of Fame and the Cliff Walk. He rents it out during the winter, usually to students. Come the summer, families stay for regattas and chowder festivals, I suppose. Some weekends we used to go. The first time I arrived, I was greeted with lace doilies. Pictures of grandparents, yellowed and caked. Old furniture, a velvet sofa in a night shade. Each room painted in historic, yet loud, colors. Mustard, I think. A forest and a blue. Odd colors really. But even more odd, Phil and his friends had decorated the house, given it a "charming" personality–a personality of complete strangers. I suppose it was befitting given that he would rent to strangers. It gave him a chance to tell the story of the house he didn’t know. Abernathy Rhodes. He lived in the house for how long, Phil? Oh, a long while, he says. I think he might’ve even died there. Some say they can even hear his ghost.
If I start naming the catalog people on my walls, I’m in trouble. Though it would be a cool idea for fiction. The reader believes these people the narrator introduces in her life are all real but is unsure how they’re all connected. Ultimately we learn the characters are all catalog couples, their stories manufactured by a young lady, lonesome, troubled, hopeful, creating a rich inner life within her own walls, and the strangers among her. The Portrait of A Lady.