A supernatural romance novel by Frank Karkota
An unforgettable story of one summer, the last summer, of a man's life and how he found happiness and love. The Portrait of Lisa is an amazing part of the story.
The Portrait of Lisa
In the Concord Museum of Art, there is a painting called the Portrait of Lisa. In this self portrait a beautiful young woman captures on canvas not only her physical beauty, but also her inner beauty, her very essence, an achievement that is rarely seen in works of art. Art enthusiasts from all over the world visit the museum to see this painting, but they can only wonder what secrets that it might hide. Some people study the eyes of Lisa to see the sparkle that shows such deep love. Others marvel at the smile on her face that seems to hide some hidden pleasure. And some even marvel at the delicate strokes of the paintbrush that meticulously created this work.
Whenever I am in Concord, I visit the museum to see this one painting. Sometimes, I will stare at it for an hour. There is something about the painting that is almost mystical, as if it had secrets from the past that were hiding beneath its oils. I have often wondered what mysteries, what secrets it hides.
One summer afternoon, while I was standing in front of the painting, an elderly woman stood beside me and stared at the painting. She seemed as entranced as I was. I decided to speak to her.
“Hello. That’s a very beautiful painting. But I think that there is a story behind this painting, a story that should be told. What do you think?”
She smiled. “You’re right. There is a story to be told.”
I looked at her carefully and then looked again at the portrait. “Are you Lisa, Lisa Wolf?”
She continued to smile. “That’s me!”
“I’ve read all of your books and seen all of your art. You’re very talented. It’s an honor to meet you! Oh! My name is Frank Karkota. I’m a writer too. But I’ve only written technical articles, mainly anecdotes of my engineering career. I’ve only sold one novel, Tales from a Haunted House.”
“I loved your book. I read every book about haunted houses. Have you written anything else?”
I was very excited that a world famous author would read and praise my book.
“I’m looking for ideas, but haven’t come up with anything yet.”
I realized that we were having our conversation in front of her portrait and blocking the view.
“Call me Lisa.”
“Okay, Lisa. Would you like to have dinner with me? It would be an honor to share time with my favorite author.”
“It’s been years since a young man has invited me to dinner. How can I refuse? And my husband will be away tonight in Manchester.”
We went to a small restaurant which was nearly empty and sat down at a table. Being a weeknight, it was quiet and we could talk during our meal.
“Frank, I am looking for somebody to write the story of my life and the story of my portrait. Would you like to write it?”
“I’ve never written a biography. I’m really not sure that I could do your life story justice.”
“I would want you to write it as a fiction because my life story is beyond belief. It is stranger than fiction.”
I was puzzled that this world famous writer would ask me to write her life story.
“Lisa, our meeting was a chance encounter. Why would you want me, a perfect stranger, to write your story? Why don’t you write it yourself?
Lisa smiled, almost laughing. “Our meeting was not by chance; time brought us together. I started writing my life story, but I couldn’t continue because there are parts that are too painful.”
“Does your portrait play a part in the story?”
“Yes, Frank, it does. Would you like me to tell you the story of my life?”
I was not sure what to say, so I just stared at her. There was such a loving look in her smile and those bright sparkling eyes.
“Frank, I am going to die. It may be in twenty years, ten years, one year, or tomorrow. I cannot say. I want my story known. I want people to know my story.”
I could not refuse, so I decided to listen to the story of her life. At the time, I did not realize it, but her story would change my life forever.
“Let me start with the painting. After high-school, I went to Rivier College for a liberal arts degree. I took a lot of writing courses, as well as some science and history. Since I had interest in art, I took some art courses. One of the assignments was to do a self portrait. I got an A+ in that class.
“Eventually, I graduated. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write stories that would change the world. I had so much ambition, but I had no experience in life. I never had a serious boyfriend and had never known true love. I was not ready to write, so I got a job with a company that wrote tech manuals. It would help me to meet interesting people and experience life.”
I listened to Lisa tell her life story. Her face was animated as she told of her happy experiences. But, when her story became sad, I could see the pain in her face as she continued and at times, there were tears running down her cheeks. A few times, she had to stop to regain her composure. As she resumed her story, it seemed more and more like fiction, but the pain in her face told me that the story was true. It seemed like she was spinning a yarn, and yet, there was sincerity in her face. I could not believe her story and yet somehow I could not deny it. Hours later, when she finished the story of her life, I just stared at her.
Finally, she asked, “Well what do you think?”
“Lisa, I think that everything after your wedding was just fiction. I don’t believe it. You are a great writer and have a great imagination. But I can’t believe that the story that you told me is true. This is not the story of your life.”
“I didn’t expect you to believe it.”
Lisa took a napkin and wrote something on it and then handed it to me. I read the words on the napkin. It said Hillsboro County Registry of Deeds, Rolling Hills Cemetery, Bureau of Vital Statistics. She listed other official agencies. I was very puzzled and looked at Lisa. She smiled.
“Frank, do some research, and don’t stop with these sources. Dig and dig until you are convinced that my story is true. When you’re ready, I’ll send you some of the story that I started writing.”
I looked at the napkin and then at Lisa. She was smiling broadly and her eyes were sparkling. I was overwhelmed by her story. She took the napkin back and wrote down her telephone number.
“Call me when you’re ready and I’ll send you the material that I’ve written.”
We exchanged good-nights and we each went home. As I drove home, the story that Lisa had told to me echoed in my mind. I got no sleep that night as I replayed over and over again her bizarre tale. The more that I thought about, the less I believed it, and yet there was something about the story that seemed true. I knew that I had to research and find the answers.
As I research her and her story, I found conflicting information that gave credence to her strange story. More research tended to corroborate her unbelievable story and so I decided to write her life story as a novel. I contacted Lisa and she sent me the outline of her unfinished autobiography which helped me to recall her story and keep my novel closer to the facts.
After almost a year, I finished writing the story. I called it The Last Summer. I sent a draft to Lisa and she loved it. She made a few corrections which I incorporated into the final story. She also sent some photos from her collection and a copy of her self portrait.
In the spring of 2017, The Last Summer will be published for all to read. I do not expect people to believe this strange story, but perhaps readers can learn some important lessons of love, and of life, and of death, and of time.