Sept exercise (painting) (m)
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|Mon, 09-23-2002 - 8:23pm|
Sept exercise (painting) (m)
Been a long time since I rock and rolled, or posted here. It's actually based on several paintings. Long .... let me know if you go to sleep in the middle of it, the ultimate criticism. I posted a bit of it here before for one of Sammi's voice exercises. Level whatever. * .... * = italics
Adult content. Be warned.
Her name, Amy, means beloved.
She tried to believe it.
She went to one of her refuges that morning at seven, the coffee shop on the corner. Bruce didn't know about this one. She liked it because she could sit at the back, anonymous behind a newspaper and dark glasses, and watch him on the way to the subway. He thought she was at work, but she called in sick again. Yeah, just a virus. The sort of virus that meant you had to wear dark glasses to hide the black eye. By tomorrow, she knew she'd be able to camouflage it with makeup.
At nine, she left for the library. She looked around carefully. She had learned that for all her cleverness, he was twice as smart. He told her so all the time. Once there, she logged onto one of the computers. Bruce kept the password to theirs a secret. She started to compose a message to the group she subscribed to, for women in difficult marriages.
*I've been thinking about how I married him. He says everything that happened is because of me, that I don't love him enough. We were so happy at first, he brought me presents all the time, some silly ones, some expensive things.
It reminded me of being a beloved child, someone who had to be sheltered and looked after, and amused with things,. Sometimes he bought me toys, teddy bears. I think the first thing that made me think something was wrong was when the pearl necklace he gave me broke. It wasn't my fault, the string broke, but I crawled on the floor to pick them up, while he shouted at me how clumsy I was, this voice going on and on. And then he took me back to bed and made love to me for hours and*
She hit delete, and logged off.
The librarian gave her a curious look, as still wearing the dark glasses, Amy settled at a table and spread out the books she had gathered--collections of fairy tales, and art books. She opened one to a section on Vermeer. * * * Belle stands in a shaft of sunlight and lifts the pearls from the inlaid box. They run through her hands like drops of milk, drops of light. She wears an expensive cape of spotted fur, the gift of an exotic animal, just as the pearls were the gifts of a creature that shut its mouth and endured, to end up here in her hands. Worms labored in vain so that she might be clad. She knows that she is expensive and pampered and loved, trapped in this well-scrubbed house with her two sisters, who must marry before she does, caught in a web of prayer, embroidery, household tasks, more prayer.
She drops the pearls back into the box and shuts its lid with a click. It releases a faint perfume of sandalwood, another rare, expensive luxury. She turns to the source of the light and opens the casement window, letting in a gust of cold air that lifts the parchment map on the wall and blows her skirts against her legs. Dazzling white laundry snaps and waves on the lines hung in the courtyard. Houses of brick and stone like the one in which she lives press against each other, separated by narrow allies and yards of cobbles. Only the church spires break free against a blue sky against which majestic, white clouds sail. She watches a seagull as it wafts up on a current of air, high above the buildings, and narrows her eyes until it disappears into the brightness of the sun.
She pulls the window shut and examines the map on the wall. There the oceans break in controlled wavelets against the continents, and miniature ships glide amongst the stiffly gesturing mermaids and spouting whales. Here there are monsters, she reads. Belle traces with one finger the routes from Africa and the West Indies where her father's ships with swelling sails creak and sway their way towards the land. She has read the books in her father's collection, tales of fantastic lands peopled by men covered in orange fur or with fingernails as long as her arm, and of great hairy tusked beasts with tails at each end buried deep in ice.
The church clock strikes. "Dear God," she prays, as she does at least once a day, "Let something happen."
As the carefully woven routines of the next few days unravel in tears, sudden squabbles, and the hasty departure of half of the household servants, she realizes that her prayers may have been answered. Her father is rarely home, and locks himself in his study when he is. The music teacher and dancing master, both ugly men with pockmarks and ill-fitting wigs come no more. Her sister Anna sulks and bangs out tunes on the harpsichord, until it is sold. Her other sister Marguerite screams and sobs when a letter is brought announcing the end of her betrothal to a merchant twice her age and who she barely knew. One day Belle opens the inlaid box and finds the pearls have gone.
She stays up late, and meets her father as he creeps into the house. "What is happening, papa?"
He sinks into the last of the chairs with the gilded lion's head arms and drops his face into his hands. "My ships are lost, Belle."
"They'll come in, papa. They always do." She pours him a glass of wine, the last of the expensive imported vintage.
"Not this time. We are ruined." His hand shakes and wine spills onto his furred robe. His poor child, his youngest, who has no knowledge of the world and its cruelties. He has failed her; he cannot protect her for much longer. "I am glad only that your mother does not live to see this. Tell your sisters their dowries are gone."
She bows her head. She died when her mother was born. That was her fault, too.
There are still prayers, but the sewing they do by the light of tallow candles is to repair and alter their plainest, drabbest clothes, and only a few servants remain in the household. One day a man comes to take the books and pictures, the satin and velvet clothes. What is left is loaded onto a cart. Their father announces that they will leave the house to go to his property in the country, with only two servants, Marie, who was once the girls' wetnurse, and her son Piet who will see to the horses and other animals. Marguerite and Anna weep. Belle runs into the courtyard before the cart leaves and plucks a withered rose from the bush that grew in profusion around the kitchen door. She places it inside the inlaid box and hides it inside her plain, thick cloak. She does not look back as Piet clicks his tongue and urges the horses on, but sits atop the family's possessions while her sisters cry, entwined together.
* * *
They all asked at work if Amy were feeling better and she smiled brightly and said she was fine. She was wearing a lot of makeup. She had to. He noticed, and had told her she looked like a whore that morning. Then he asked if she intended to stay home and clear up this pigsty. As he spoke he smacked his dirty plate down on the counter above the dishwasher, and knocked over the orange juice into a sticky stream onto the floor. He watched her as she got down on her hands and knees to mop it up, and gave her a kick. Not much of a kick, but a kick all the same.
"Your butt's getting big. Better do something about that, honey."
"It's all muscle," she said. It was true. She walked to work now, to save the money from subway fares.
He laughed. "Yeah, right."
She breathed a sigh of relief. If he laughed, it would be okay.
She looked around at work. Not much going on here, today. She hated the lack of privacy the cubicles offered. She logged onto one of her favorite sites, one dedicated to collections of paintings, and clicked on the link to Brueghel.
* * *
It is autumn now and the roads are muddy with a crackle of ice. They arrive at the farm where chickens and geese peck around the yard and have to be chased out of the house. Everyone has to work. Marguerite and Anna snivel for a time, and learn to churn butter and make cheese; they are sentimental about the kittens who lurk in the dairy, and flirt with the cowherds. Their father sits frail and trembling by the fire most of the day. He writes letters, many letters, asking if anyone knows where his ships are, begging for help, for loans. His hair is grayer, his hands shake. Quite often he addresses Belle by her dead mother's name.
Belle picks up an ax early on, decides that she enjoys the balance and heft of it in her hands, and to everyone's amazement, teaches herself to chop wood. She is proud of the tender skin on her hands that smarts, blisters and in a few weeks turns hard and dark; sometimes she takes off her coarse linen bodice and watches the muscles on her arms ripple and bunch. She is the strong one, Marie and Piet agree; the one who wades through ankle deep mud and can fearlessly grab a calf by the ear and haul it away from its mother; the only one who has both the strength and delicacy to cover an arm with goose grease and aid a laboring sow or heifer. She milks the cows and carries brimming pails on a yoke to the dairy. As she chops woods or mends fences, she watches dark clouds scud across a wide gray sky, listens to far-off church bells and prays that something will change.
News comes one day that a ship has limped into harbor, patched and ragged after months drifting off course. Some of its cargo, that was not sold for repairs and food on the way home, remains. Belle watches as her father puts on his fur-trimmed robe, trims his beard and combs his lank, sparse hair. "We are saved, daughters," he announces. "We shall go back to town. Your dowries will be restored, and you shall marry fine merchants."
Anna and Marguerite prance and giggle around him. "Bring us some silk, papa. We are tired of linen."
"And a parrot. A red and blue parrot who will say rude words."
"I want a monkey with a jewelled collar."
Belle leans on her ax and watches them, her breath steaming in the chill air. Her father mounts a shaggy gray horse, and gathers the reins.
"Belle, my dear, you haven't said what you would like."
Belle picks up a block of oak with one hand and places it on the chopping block. She raises the ax high above her head, and swings it down, so that the wood splits and falls apart. Her breath rises like smoke in the freezing air, and sleet spits onto the cobbles. "A rose. Bring me a rose." The ax falls from her hand and sparks as it lands. Her eyes blur with tears and she runs into the stable, flings herself onto a heap of hay and lets herself weep and weep. After a while she realizes she is not alone. She peers into the next stall and sees her sister Anna, giggling as Piet kisses her and pushes her skirts up. Belle wipes her face and leaves.
* * * "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm real sorry. You know how I get. I didn't want to tell you, but our team had this big deal, it's been a lot of stress. It came through."
He handed her a bunch of roses as red as blood.
"Thank you," Amy said. "They're gorgeous." She smiled. She knew how his good humor could turn.
"Put something sexy on. We're going out for dinner."
"Great," she said.
He came into the bedroom and watched as she pulled dresses out of the closet, and nodded with approval as she selected a black, lowcut one. It took her longer than he liked to change and get ready. She had to cover a bruise on her breastbone with foundation.
"Baby." He laid his head against her breast and kissed the bruise. "I'm sorry. Real sorry. Never again, okay?"
"Honey," she said, saturated with tenderness. "It's okay, everything's okay."
"Not those earrings," he said, moments later. "They look like shit."
"That fucking waiter's looking at your tits," he said at the restaurant. His eyes narrowed. "I guess every guy in here is. You like that, don't you?"
She had to be very careful. She smiled and slipped her bare foot up his thigh. "I only want you. They're jealous of you."
He leaned across the table and told her what he'd do to her when they got home. She felt herself grow wet and crossed her arms to hide her stiffening nipples.
* * *
Their father does not return for several days. They wake up one morning to find the sky soft and pale, and large flakes of snow drifting down like a burst feather pillow. The snow clings to the cobbles and the roof, and by the end of the day softens the farm buildings into rounded hills. Late at night, their father rides in, a heavy chest strapped behind the saddle. Belle takes the horse into the stables while her sisters ply him with questions. When she returns, the kitchen is transformed. Dishes of sweetmeats and flagons of wine stand on the table, and a bolt of scarlet silk spills onto the floor.
"We are restored," her father announces. "We shall return to the town in a few days." He glances at Belle, and then away.
"One ship came in, then," she says.
"That is so." He beams.
"Only one? And everything will be as it was?"
"Ah. Not quite, for you, Belle, must go ... an arrangement has been made. That is ... have a sweetmeat, my dear. The finest Barbados sugar."
"What have you done, papa?" She takes a sweetmeat to placate him, and feels the sugar cloy in her mouth.
"I ... we, have a new master. A nobleman. He wishes for your company. Only for a short while. He will of course provide a dowry for you."
"My company?" She spits the sweetmeat into the rushes on the floor.
"He sends this as a token of his intent." Her father reaches into his doublet and plucks out a rose, little more than a bud. As he hands it to her, its petals unfold in the heat from the fire, pink that flushes to a deep crimson. She stares into its blood red heart, then drops it into the flames, where it shivers, crumples and is consumed in a flare of gold.
* * *
Amy shut her eyes and saw the images of Fuseli, the portrayor of nightmares. As Bruce crouched over her, she remembered the hulking fiend who grinned at the supine woman stretched out as if upon a rack, at his mercy.
"I'm going to hurt you," he said. "And then I'll make you ask me for more."
She kept silent. She knew that he would carry out both parts of his threat, and that her objection, or refusal, would lead to greater pain, but not necessarily greater pleasure. He reminded her that if she loved him, she would do as he asked, that the pain would be her way of showing her love. Her fear had to be genuine. She moved with him in a dance of bruised flesh, careful not to falter, always conscious of every action, every response, like the trained performer she had become.
He told her, as he came, teeth bared like a feral animal, that he loved her. She believed him, for that shuddering heartbeat when her orgasm bloomed like a bloodred flower.
"What's this crap?" he said the next morning. "Fairy tales? You stupid bitch, you're not a real woman. What are you reading these for?"
He threw the book against the wall, and slammed out of the apartment, yelling at her to clean the place up. He was going to the gym. That was what Saturdays were for.
Amy eased herself out of bed, wincing at the stained, wrinkled sheets, her soreness. She picked the book up from the floor and stroked its cover. The spine had cracked, and the cover. *Sorry,* she thought. *I'll return it, I'll drop it through the slot so they won't know I did it. He did it.* One of the things she had to do today.
She opened the book to the illustration where Beauty took the Beast's rose and acquiesced again to her father, and later, in the mysterious castle peopled by invisible servants, to the Beast himself. It was implied that the Beast had a fearful reverence of her virginity, or possibly that the defloration of Beauty was so predictable it was hardly worth mentioning.
Faithful Beauty, the obedient daughter, whose goodness and fortitude win her true love, discovers the true identity of her hideous captor. Roses bloom ecstatically in the palace garden, the sisters are married off, and disappear, with the feckless father, from the story. Beauty has tamed her Beast.
Amy checks her purse for plane tickets, money, copies of her important papers, address book. She removes her keys and places them on the dresser, lifts her suitcase and takes a last look around the apartment, the library book tucked under her arm. Beauty's story has ended, this is her beginning.
She is the heroine who enters the dark forest to find her own way.