by David Cain
“I have been accused of thinking about women too much . . . But what could be more beautiful than thinking about women?”
– Auguste Rodin
I had risen early that morning. I remember sitting at my table, drinking a strong cup of coffee, my thoughts plagued with some infernal melody from one of the operas. I don’t remember which one, something french with a femme fatale. The line of twenty notes turned in a carousel of impassioned thoughts. I picked up a pen and began to sketch when a knock came through my studio door.
A young woman, almost a girl, slowly peered into my well lit cave.
“Hello?” she said, a little afraid. Her voice rang enchantingly, the lilting tones of her excitement and nervous trepidation ringing bells of a delightfully feminine timbre, with undertones of a seductive contralto. I wondered if she sang, and then shook my head at my own folly. As surely as they would bat their eyes, all girls like this one sang.
“Come in,” I said, a little gruffly without letting myself stare at her. Experience had taught me it best to start these things coyly, giving the appearance of being unimpressed by the beauty they peddled, notably uninterested in the charms they flaunted. Even in such matters, it is important to haggle. “What is your name?”
“Iris, sir.” She took slow, tentative steps into the clutter of my studio. My eyes caught the flash of a strong calf rustling beneath her skirts. A mischievous smile stole across my lips.
“Don’t call me ‘sir’,” I said, allowing a bit of tenderness in my voice. I took the opportunity to look full upon the young model, taking that first full draught of her lines and colors. Iris struck me at once as lovely, but my critical faculties were already diminished by that stage of my career. Years of looking at women had taught me to discern the beauty inherent in every female’s form, from the plump rose of a newborn girl to the etched character of an old hag. Curious, I tried to decide if Marcel, my nephew, would find Iris attractive and concluded as quickly that he would, for hers was the fertile flowering type that the boy seemed to prize so highly. “Sit down,” I suggested, pointing to a stool in the center of the bright space. Iris calmly acceded to my instruction. “Good,” I thought. “Neither too shy nor too eager.”
Her cheeks had a rosy bloom, full with an embarrassed smile. Blue that seemed almost a flavor of periwinkle formed the thin rings that lit her languid eyes. Her long hair fell in unnatural curls of gold and beige with hints of red in the stream of sunlight.
“You’ve come to model?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. I mean, yes.” Iris blushed slightly, deepening the color of her pale complexion. I felt my heart beat slightly quicker at the sight and I instinctively reached for a pencil.
“Do you know what that means? You’ve done this before?”
“I think so, sir . . . I mean, I’ve sat for a few of my friends.” I could see the muscles of her neck relax slightly, gently.
“I’ll want you here every morning by eight. We’ll work for six to eight hours a day. I pay one hundred francs for a day’s modeling, as long as you continue to show up or as long as I let you in. Don’t curl your hair or paint your face, unless I request it.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, pulling at a lock of her coiffure.
“It will be rare that I ask you to strike a pose and hold it. I’m interested in the flow of movement and life. In that way, working for me will be easier than for some of my colleagues. Generally, I’ll want you naked, but sometimes you’ll simply be draped. I don’t mind the natural inclinations of your modesty, but I can’t abide prudery. Will that be a problem?”
“No, sir.” Iris turned to look away from me, breathing tensely.
“You have a beau?”
“He knows about this?”
“If he causes any trouble here, that’ll be the end of our relationship. It is important for you to realize that we are embarking on an affair. I am an artist and you will be my model. For this to work, you must become more than just an ornament for me to admire while I draw.” I smiled and picked up my pad.
“I’ll start with some quick sketches and watercolors. If things go well between us, we may decide to set out on creating some more serious pieces. I’m going to let you stir my emotions, and then release them in lines and color and form and composition. As long as the feelings erupt from within me, I’ll want you here and will pay for your presence. When I grow bored with you, which will happen eventually if not sooner, I’ll dismiss you. Can you accommodate me?”
“Yes. I hope so. Can I have some coffee?”
“Yes, Iris, certainly. Make yourself at home.”
I began with a few sketches of her facial expressions as Iris sipped the pungent coffee and told me about her family, the inevitable tale of a gruff, cold father and an industrious-but-mousey mother which seemed almost a standard for these young models. Iris’ lips turned slightly at the corners, provocative after a fashion, particularly since she seemed unaware of the subtle invitation they communicated. I touched my tongue to the lead point.
My pencil chased after her lines, teaching me by each stroke the details of Iris’ beauty. She walked over to put the mug on my table and I watched with rapture the rustle of fabric over her hips. I could feel the yearning that presaged a good rapport. All at once, I hoped Iris would work out.
I picked up a charcoal stick. “Can we begin the figure studies?” I asked.
Iris sat down on the central stool again and looked away, hesitant. “Can I ask you something first?”
“Well, sir,” she began, her voice wavering slightly, “they told me that you always sleep with all your models.”
I laughed. Certainly not all of them. “They told you that and you came anyway?”
“If we decide to work on a sculpture,” I informed her, “I will have to touch you. It is the nature of the medium. Anything else that arises between us would only be the spontaneous result of our mutual affection. I must confess that such indiscretions have happened before, sometimes to great effect. This is emotional work, for I will strive to discover and emphasize the beauty of your body and soul. If I succeed, it will be because I want to see you in that fashion. For many women, the rapt attention of such a flatterer is more seduction than any man has paid them before.”
“I understand,” she said calmly. She untied the string at the neck of her blouse and removed it. My hands smeared my thick paper with black, following the quick line of her upraised arm. Another line caught her firm shoulder and the page fell to the floor at my feet. Iris unloosed her skirt and pushed it to the floor. I quickly sketched the fall of her hair as she leaned over, and the muscles of her upper back.
“Stop there,” I told her suddenly. “Leave your shift on for a while. Walk in a slow pace around the studio.” Iris smiled brilliantly and I traced the lines on my pad.
“Do you love him?” I asked her as she strode confidently past my easels. She stopped. “Keep moving,” I said sternly.
“Does it matter?” she asked seriously. “I mean, is it important to your work that I be honest with you?” I tried to draw the shrug of her shoulders and the way her finger pushed a golden lock behind a reddened ear. I rejoiced as my marks reflected something of Iris, her unobstructed path to her emotional well.
“No,” I told her as I hurriedly traced the lines. “I’m not your priest. I’m just making conversation to keep your mind off what I’m doing.” I smeared the line under her chin with the tip of a finger.
“Well, then, of course I love him.”
“But you keep the modeling a secret from him?” I turned to the next page in my sketchbook and curled my lines in imitation of the fullness of her bottom slipping down to her lean thighs. Iris twirled impishly and laughed. I liked the sound of her mirth and added a wash of color to her torso.
“I can’t tell him everything I do, now, can I? Stephan’s just such a sturdy, serious man and if the truth is told, he really doesn’t have much soul. He cares nothing for art,” she explained. “I really should stretch out so that I can move easier.” I nodded my assent, my fingers deftly molding her likeness onto the parchment.
“Do you love him?”
“Yes,” she replied, pausing slightly before she began to bend at the waist, pushing her fingers down her legs to reach her feet. “I rather think I do. He’s good to me.” I caught a glimpse of the pale brown curls hiding her sex and quickly traced their chaos.
“Does he love you?”
“I suppose he does. How can I know? He tells me so, anyway.” She put her hands upon her waist and turned from side to side. I drew the flare of her profiled smirk, the small nose and faint brows. “He does when he wants to kiss me. I guess that counts for something.”
“Uh-hum.” I turned another page and traced the curve of her back as she bent. “He likes to kiss you?”
“Ha!” she exclaimed. “I think that’s all he likes. Can I take this off now?” she asked. I nodded, feeling the warmth rushing into my face.
“Do what suits you,” I instructed her. “I want to explore your motions and reflections. Be yourself.” At once, she lifted the shift over her head. I grabbed a brush and impressed my page with the flush of her pale skin, following the lines of her hips, the bulge of her young belly, the curves of her full bosom. My strokes flew furiously, anxious to capture every moment of her newborn nakedness. Iris turned and continued the pacing.
I stopped working to watch her. There is nothing in the world so captivating as the motion of a naked woman and I let my mind absorb the image, devouring the vision with a ravenous appetite. She began to stretch her torso long and swayed from one side to another. Iris had obviously been trained in dance and the fluid gestures sparked a masculine fire in my blood. I kept myself from taking up my pad.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Very,” I replied. “Your beauty is intoxicating.” I raised my pigment-stained fingers to my lips. “Sometimes the act of working prevents me from seeing.”
“Ooh,” Iris purred. “You are a sweet talker.” She took a few angelic steps toward me. I held my breath as I watched her glide. Her breasts, full and firm tightened and wobbled with each step. I picked up my pencil, instinctively.
“Must we continue working?” Iris asked coyly.
“Do you like to be kissed?” I forced myself to ask, sketching the supple wave of her abdomen. Iris turned her back, forcing me to add another figure to the side of the page. She waggled her bottom at me, teasing my fiery senses with the proximate lure of her sex. Longing to touch her, I ran the lines of her labia between the swells of her cheeks.
“Mmmm,” cooed Iris, settling herself down on the floor below me, her legs spread wide in obscene invitation. I tossed my drawing aside and began another in a flash, expressing the vulgar pose in a dash of coal black. “I like to be kissed, here.” Her fingers traced the moist pink of her blossomed sex. I drew another wrinkled line.
“Iris,” I said, setting my drawing aside once again. “I think I would like to sculpt you. Such
form and substance. So lovely.”
“I thought you might,” she said, her breath growing short as she teased her excitement. “I rather hoped you would.”
If we had but world enough and time
My coyness, dear reader, would be no crime.