Brokencolors

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BROKEN COLORS:AN EXCERPT

Sophie Marks never knew her parents. They both slid into their shallow graves at the end of the First World War, her mother working as a doctor in the Balkans, her father as a mapmaker, sent to Africa to chart an alien land. A battered and cracked sepia photograph was the only real likeness she had of them. They are holding Sophie when she is still wrapped in swaddling clothes. Her mother is tall and thin; at least she appears tall, standing next to the outdoor table under the apple tree. She has dark hair, cut in a sensible fashion, no frills. There is no evident sensuality. Staring straight on, into the camera lens, she is apparently cool and unafraid. On the other hand, Sophie’s father is blurred, having turned his head ever so slightly. That could have been why Sophie’s impression of him was always as a romantic, a dreamer, a vague man wandering along the hazy edges of her mother’s rationality. “You can just see their personalities,” Sophie’s grandmother, Claire, declared. But Sophie used to wonder how people could make that claim. In a photograph, could you really see a person’s self in his or her eyes? Could one detect wickedness in the eyes of villains? Later, with photographs of Hitler, she honestly could not say that she sensed evil in his heart from looking at his eyes.

It was before the Second World War, before the displacement, before the dark curtain was pulled across the sun. Sophie lived in England, far into the core of the country — the Midlands. Her surrogate parents were her father’s parents. Her grandfather, who had always insisted Sophie call him by his first name, Eli, made a living as a potter, but his true vocation was painting. His canvases were portraits of anyone who would sit for him, from the village drunkard to the tea shop lady to the local constable.

“You have to learn to read faces,” he told Sophie over and over again. “People’s faces are etched with their life stories. Then it’s up to you, the painter, to translate their stories onto the canvas as a visual language.”