A delightful piece of creative writing about an affair between the artist and his muse. What will happen when he finally reveals his masterpiece of her?
My apologies: I’ve had a bit of a week (that I don’t want to get into), so instead of a new entry, I’m digging into my old creative writing files. This was written based on the prompt gallery, if I recall correctly, during my studies at the University of Edinburgh. On a semi-related note, it was there, undertaking the masters’ programme, that I met the lovely and talented Empress Heidi! ~Myranda
“I am going to make you immortal.”
She pauses her languid stretching to open her eyes, blinking as her eyes adjust to the morning light. At first she does not understand what he means by such a statement, until she sees that he is not in the bed with her but instead stands at the foot of it. He is already clothed, his finery partially visible behind the large easel she faintly recalls noticing the night before.
“Are you painting my portrait, amato? She cannot keep the pleasure from her voice.
“Perhaps,” he replies with an enigmatic smile that she can hear but not see. She smiles proudly to herself, wondering what it looks like. It must be beautiful, even in its beginning stages. His works are always beautiful. She has heard the jealous whispers, murmurs concerning the painter who has surpassed his masters and his shameless paramour, who strolls so carelessly among them on those days when he shuts himself in his studio and she is forced to entertain herself. Wealthy patrons clamour to be known as his inspiration, yet she has not even had to ask. Not that she would have presumed by asking, of course.
She gathers a linen coverlet around her self, though she knows this modest action is childish folly on her part. Still shy under his burning gaze, she has not yet grown accustomed to being the Artist’s mistress. She often wonders just how much his discerning eyes see. She moves to rise from the bed then, but he raises his hand in an imperious gesture, stopping her curious venturing before she can steal a glimpse at her likeness. She sinks back into the luxurious blankets but remains seated, angling herself against the cushions to see him better. He has barely glanced up from his easel. The morning sun is bright in the window behind him. It lights his hair like a halo, she thinks fondly, though the glare behind him prevents her from making out his face.
“Can I not see it,” she asks, trying to lower the pitch of her voice so it sounds seductive. She hopes her tone does not make her sound like a petulant child. She fears reminding him that it has not been so many years since she would have been discounted as just that. She shifts on the cushions again, wanting badly to catch his eyes, but even then she is unable to distinguish his features. Still, she is sure she can hear him smiling when he responds.
“Ah, not yet, bella. Only when I finished. Then I will allow you to see it.”
She smiles up at him from the bed, looking up at his shadowed face through lowered lashes. “Have you painted me without my clothes on?” She is pleased to note that the tone she has adopted sounds somewhat refined, and if it is a bit tremulous perhaps he will dismiss it as curiosity or teasing.
He laughs at this, delighting her immensely. “No, I am not painting you without your clothes on. Are you disappointed, my lovely little minx?”
She laughs then too, a throaty sound of triumphs when he moves away from his easel and toward her. “Never,” she vows as he embraces her. “I could never be disappointed with you.”
She asks nearly daily for him to show her his latest work at first. He responds only with an indulgent smile and advises her to cultivate a little patience. She is determined to prove herself to him, so she curbs her tongue and ceases questioning him about it, even when the hands that stroke her skin are blotted with paint and she wants to know if he touches her canvas self as sensuously as he caresses her skin. Days pass into weeks and months until she nearly forgets the unfinished painting altogether, so she is surprised when he returns one day in the early afternoon but does not pull her into the bedroom where they spend most of their time together. Instead, he takes her arm and guides her to the room that serves as his studio. The easel stands in the centre of the room, covered by a coarse cloth. He leads her across the room and positions her at a vantage point, angling her so that she might better appreciate his masterpiece when he finally reveals it to her eyes. She attempts to look demure but her anticipation threatens to burst forth from her like a song. The cloth is pulled away and her enthusiasm bleeds from her in a choked gasp as his rendering of her is suddenly before her eyes.
The Artist is not looking at her; his eyes feasting on her canvas likeness. “It is some of my loveliest work to date, carina.” He’s so pleased with himself that he interprets her gasp as awe. This is the response he is used to, after all.
“You have painted me as Salome,” she says dully. The tide of emotions is too overwhelming to register in her voice at this stage.
“Yes.” He sounds pleased at her recognition. His smile widens as though he is the tutor and she the patronized pupil. He thinks he is rewarding me, she realizes. He expects me to behave as though he has presented me with a new gown or some jewelled bauble. Was it only yesterday that she would have behaved that way? She feels ill at the thought.“You have painted me as Salome,” she repeats. This time her voice is no long without colour. Her dissatisfaction is unmistakably clear. “And you have painted as John the Baptist.”
“Yes,” he replies tersely. He is no doubt irritated at her failure to provide the accolades he expects from her. An hour earlier, she might have been chided by that tone, recalling that he possessed genius and she should be honoured by his smallest action toward her. An hour earlier she had not known that he had blacked out her dreams so that the underpainting of her hopes has disappeared. She will not tell him what he wants to hear, not when she is appalled and mortified by his depiction of her.
“This is how you see me.” It is not a question, not when he has made it so obvious to her eyes. “As a seductress,” she continues. “Manipulative and deceitful, as someone who could look at your broken head and closed dead eyes with an expression that is, of all things, wistful.”
He is speaking to her now – pleading or justifying or reasoning. She does not know since she cannot hear him. She hears only the pounding of her heart and the blood in her ears. She wants to cross the room and rip the painting from the easel, to crush it beneath her feet. It would do no good. It is too late: he cannot unpaint it and she cannot unsee.
“I cannot stay here, not now,” she announces abruptly. “I will leave Venice tomorrow.”
She tears her gaze away from the painting to look at him. His face is a mask of anger. She almost wishes that he would cross the room and strike her. Such a blow, she feels, would be less painful than the other he has dealt her. He does not understand at all. He thinks she should be flattered, like he thinks the countless other women who long to be in her place would be.
“You should not be so ungrateful,” he rebukes her. His voice washes over her like icy water. I have immortalized you. I told you I would when I first began painting it. I have recorded your beauty for all to see, preserved you long past the day you fade and wither to dust. Kings and peasants can now look upon you and admire you as I do. I have remembered you when all others will forget and you act as though I have insulted you.”
“You have insulted me,” she spits. “You have painted me as a succubus.”
“What should I have painted you as, then?” he mocks. “Mary, the Mother of Christ? You can hardly expect me to see you as such.”
His cruelty should have angered her more, but instead she is suddenly tired, too tired even to give into the tears that have threatened to flow since he unveiled his vision of her.
“You have painted other women as nymphs, as warriors, as the goddesses Diana and Venus. Shame on me for expecting as much.”
“You are blind,” he tells her.
“I was blind,” she insists sadly.
She turns her back on the Artist, away from his gaze. She begins to make her way out of his studio. She pauses, looking back over her shoulder, but he makes no attempt to stop her. He does not even offer one of the arrogant commands she is accustomed to. He has turned his back on her as well, choosing instead to gaze on the version of her that he prefers. There is another figure in the painting, a child looking up into the sky. She wishes it was that child that bore her face or that he had not painted her at all.
“You have never seen me, have you?” she asks, but it is addressed more to herself more than it is to him. If he turns toward her then, if he paints her face again in a different picture, in a different light, she will never know. She has already left him, and all she hears are her footsteps on stone and a door closing behind her.