Join us in celebrating today’s new story, “A Portrait of a Virgin” by Rachel Cochran, the second-place winner of our Summer 2018 Short Story Award for New Writers! Rachel was awarded $300 and agency review for this philosophical tale. Now, follow along as the men travel to the home of the tortoises.
I sit among the men, holding my cards and desperate to ignore how the tortoise presses in against my leg. Its gentleness, its trust, its innocence—all are too much for me to bear.
“There is no such thing as a portrait of a virgin,” Ramesh tells us over cards, after we have fattened ourselves on a dinner of salt rice down in the hold. The night sea sluices and ripples past us at the speed of a rushing snake; in the starlight the water is dark as old blood.
The expected outcry follows this comment: Of course there are portraits of virgins! we have seen many drawn, displayed in diverse conditions, locations, and styles! why, Prabin’s virgin bride-to-be just sat for a miniature, which he has with him tucked within his breast pocket! But Ramesh only clucks at us and shakes his head, repeating that there never was a portrait done of a virgin. Begun? perhaps–but completed? never, not once.
“How can you say this thing?” asks Prabin, clutching his cards in one hand and his breast pocket self-consciously in the other. Ramesh agrees that he will explain himself under the circumstances that Prabin’s hand trumps his own, and we all hope that this time, just this one time, Prabin will unseat Ramesh the Champion so that all our curiosity might be sated, but it is not to be, and Ramesh crows wickedly while sweeping our modest pile of coins into his pouch, and we all go to our hammocks, his statement still racing through our minds.
The next morning, we make land at the home of the tortoises.