The Artist's ModelbyNatalie Nessus©
(Dedicated to my kind and stern editor who measures my words into strict order and then interprets my meaning so skillfully.)
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Paris, the summer of 1929, 'the last summer' we called it later, remembering the October Crash; it was the end of an era but I also remember it as the summer of my awakening.
It seems like yesterday. A heat wave had swept through Europe and its arrival in Paris coincided with my own. The heat wave died after five days but as it died I was reborn.
Paris sweltered and so did I, as my mother had insisted I wear conservative clothes complete with foundation garments, and as a dutiful daughter, I obeyed. My mother described me as 'an ample woman' so the foundation garments kept my full and rounded body in check.
As I laboured in the heat, walking down the boulevards in my starched dress and brushed cotton petticoat, short of breath because of my corset, I envied the freedom of the Parisian girls in their breezy dresses. They wore their skirts to the knee (my mother would have fainted at the sight) and those girls had obviously eliminated the restrictive undergarments; garters, petticoats and corsets were no longer appropriate for the girls of Paris in these wild times. Everywhere I looked the girls displayed their legs, and they dressed as if they were free to move, to dance, to swing and sway. Stockings were rolled, the sheerer the better, while seemingly respectable women wore rouge and powder. I was glad my mother was not with me.
I had been dispatched to Paris in a hurry after my fiancé had run off to Canada with the daughter of his father's chauffer. We had heard the news just as my mother and father were about to take me to my first opera, Puccini I believe it was, but after that abrupt announcement the opera vanished. I had seen Mother scream with rage at the whole incident and I could not decide whether she was angry with my fiancé for leaving me or for causing such embarrassment for her. To make matters worse, the maid wasn't even British! My mother, her face red with embarrassment, arranged with my uncle to have me assist an anthropologist in Paris while the humiliation evaporated.
My role was to sketch articles of interest that were to be published in the anthropologist's thesis. Each day I would climb the stairs to the second floor, to that small office with its big desk, unlock the iron chest and lay the articles so I could draw them.
The building had four floors and a jazz band rehearsed on the floor above me, while an artist had his studio on the top floor. As I climbed the stairs on that fifth day, I could hear the band playing upstairs and small children squealing in the street behind me. The office was stuffy and hot, so I opened the doors leading out to a small balcony and let in some air. The anthropologist was in the country, and for that I was grateful as I hoped that the humiliation would evaporate quickly so I could return home, before I had to meet him again.
I unlocked the iron chest and selected an artifact to sketch, carefully placing it on the heavy wooden desk. Charcoal and crayons, together with crisp sheets of cartridge paper, were taken from the drawer and spread out on the desktop. I drew steadily through the morning, starting first with the shrunken head from Equatorial Guinea. When I completed the sketch, I took the calligraphy instruments from the second drawer and carefully lettered the description and illustration number below my drawing. I had learned the art of calligraphy as a young girl at the knee of my aunt on many a rainy Sunday afternoon, and it now proved to be very useful indeed.
The clock chimed ten and, flushing self-consciously, I opened the door to the hall and furtively glanced down the stairs. For the past few days I had opened this door, so I could watch her go past on her way to the artist's studio.
My obsession with her, for that's what I feared it was, began on my first day while the anthropologist was detailing my instructions. On that day she had glided past the open door, a long green knitted scarf loosely hanging from her throat, and our eyes locked for a moment over the gesturing hands of my instructor. She had an exotic and exquisite beauty with lush brown skin, dark pools for eyes, pouting lips and short coal black hair. Those liquid eyes swept over me, she raised an eyebrow mockingly and was gone.
From then on, I opened the door so I could watch her undulate past on her way to the artist's studio. I knew the studio was her destination for I had followed her once, stealthily keeping back so she would not see me. She knocked imperiously on the artist's door and, while waiting for it to open, turned and smiled slyly at me, causing me to blush furiously and hurry back down the stairs, my skirts rustling.
Late at night when the heat stopped me from sleeping, my nightgown sticky and clinging, I wondered about her. She had to be a model for the artist, I had decided that almost immediately. With such beauty there could not be any other conclusion, but what was her nationality? Was she a gypsy or a dancer, a singer or an artist herself in some way? One afternoon I had heard a woman's voice singing with the jazz band and I wondered if it was the beautiful model, as the voice was husky, raw and emotional.
I heard the front door creak open and I rushed back to the desk, perching on the hardback chair, hunching over the paper in an effort to appear busy. As I listened to her footsteps grow closer, my heart raced, and I forced my eyes to remain on the paper, sensing her stop in the doorway. My face was hot as I lifted my eyes. She was standing on the landing with a cane basket on her arm, her eyes on me as a slight smile played around those full lips.
"Il fait chaud aujourd'hui," she said.
The chair clattered as I stood, nervously adjusting my ankle length skirt. "I'm sorry," I stuttered. "I don't understand."
"C'est très chaud un jour," she said with a smile. "Et vous êtes très chaud."
I shrugged helplessly, face glowing as she blatantly inspected me, that smile still there. Her blue silk dress, tiny pale blue flowers on a deep blue background, was so short, almost to the knee and I gasped a little when I saw her legs were bare beneath the hemline.
"Il importe pas," she said, turning away and in a moment she was gone.
Slowly, I sat down, my fingers trembling as I reached for a charcoal stick and breathlessly began to sketch a small white bone. As I worked I could hear the traffic in the street and my mind drifted until the feeling of another's presence startled and overwhelmed me. I jumped a little when I saw her standing there, once again leaning in the doorway and calmly watching me, a small crystal bowl in her hand filled with ice cream. Hypnotised, I watched her slowly eat the frozen treat with a silver spoon, sucking on each mouthful until the spoon shone clean.
With her dark eyes fixed on me, she walked in, casually kicking the door shut behind her. I found myself standing, my fingers nervously checking the waistband of my skirt and the collar of my blouse. Her eyes never left me as she stood next to the French doors, my own eyes watching the spoon between her lips, while my ears filled with the sound of my own heartbeat. The noise of the traffic also seemed louder and I thought I heard an almost imperceptible suction noise from her as the spoon moved in her mouth.
"Do you speak English?" I croaked, my throat as dry as the cartridge paper now forgotten on the desk. She tilted her head, watching me as I spoke and then shrugged. Moving so close to me that I could smell her musky perfume mixed with garlic and tobacco, her eyes locked on mine and she raised a spoonful of her dessert to my face. Without thinking, I opened my mouth and she slowly slipped the spoon between my lips, the ice cream cold and sweet, melting on my tongue.
She fed me like that three more times, as my breath rasped in my throat, my knees so weak I gripped the edge of the desk for support. Her eyes watched me impassively each time she lifted the spoon, with only a sardonic lift to the corner of her lush mouth as I whimpered softly the third time that she slid the spoon between my lips.
Without warning the bowl and spoon clattered on the teak desk, and her fingers moved towards the mother-of-pearl buttons on my blouse. My breasts were rising and falling quickly, my breathing restricted by my tight corset.
Exhaling sharply, I watched as she deftly undid the button at my throat and moved onto the next one, her eyes searching my face all the while. "No!" I gasped, moving my hand to stop her. With no change of expression, she slapped my hand away and continued until all the buttons were undone. My breathing was loud in the room as she retrieved the bowl and licked at another spoonful of ice cream. She watched me in wry amusement as I panted against the desk, my blouse open to the waist.
She moved quickly and her silver spoon flicked down as she tapped it against the buttons still fastened at my wrists. Mild irritation flickered over her face and she tapped sharply once more on my wrist. My hands were shaking as I undid those buttons for her while she watched, savouring another small mouthful of her ice cream.
Once again, the bowl and spoon rattled on the desk and she deftly pulled my blouse from my skirt, opening it wide and then pulling it sharply down so my upper body, encased in those stifling undergarments, was exposed. I gasped in shame and struggled to move my hands, but my blouse imprisoned them for a moment as she calmly studied me, her finger idly stroking the side of her nose.
Then reaching out, her hands seized the blouse and in an instant it was gone from my body, sailing through the air to land on a chair. Hot with embarrassment and the beginnings of something else I couldn't yet name, I folded my arms against my large breasts but once again, she slapped my hands away, her eyes moving over my breasts as they rose in the white lace cups of my corset.
She then hooked her fingers into the waistband of my skirt and pulled me sharply towards her. Her eyes burned on me as her soft fingers stroked the valley between my breasts.
Suddenly, she spun me around so I was pushed against the desk, my breasts flattening against the teakwood, as she deftly undid the buttons of my skirt and pulled it, along with my petticoat, down around my ankles. With my stockings rolled to my knees, I felt a flood of moisture in the thin fabric covering my sex and wondered if I had wet myself or worse, my monthlies had arrived early.
I swallowed hard when I felt her hand press against my sex and I flushed in humiliation as she rubbed through the silk crotch of my corset, realising in that instant that someone, other than the family physician, was touching me intimately for the first time.
I moaned in protest as her hands pulled at the studs that held my stiff undergarment in place but she ignored me, opening the corset and then roughly pulling it down and away and I felt a sudden weakness, accompanied by a strange forbidden feeling, flooding through me.
She spun me around once again, and I faced my tormentor naked, the hot breath ragged in my throat. I saw a faint smile transform her serious face, her eyes travelling up and down my body as my arms and hands futilely tried to shield my nudity from her. Her hand slapped my arms away but, in silent desperation, I swung them back across my breasts and my mound.
Without changing expression, she slapped me firmly across the face and I dropped my hands, a sharp cry of pain and shock escaping me as the stinging heat rose in my cheek. Her fingers held my chin firmly and I felt my naked body crush against the silk of her dress, as her lips met mine in a surprisingly slow and delicate kiss, her tongue smoothly touching mine. A quick tug at the nape of my neck and my long hair fell free, tickling my bare shoulders and sweeping down my naked back.
I swooned against her as her wicked fingers ran through my pubic fleece, stroking, caressing and flicking at me as a foreign and wonderful feeling rushed through me like a rising torrent. I had never experienced such exquisite pleasure, which coupled with my sense of humiliation, sent me reeling against the desk while her fingers teased at my wet sex.
I groaned with a mix of self-consciousness and pleasure as she leaned forward to gently lick my swollen nipples, my heavy breasts swinging free as she pushed me back further against the desk. Her fingers stopped moving as quickly as they had begun and I felt a desperate need to continue, to keep going as I felt myself floating free.
"Please," I moaned, face flaming and eyes tightly closed. "Please don't stop," I begged and her fingers started again as she whispered softly in my ear in French. My body rebelled against everything I had known up to that moment, my life, my upbringing and my conservatism, and I bucked and writhed in ecstasy until I screamed out unintelligibly, my mouth pressed against her long neck, my body taut like the stretched string of a violin.
Slowly, I rejoined life and I heard the sounds of the city and the low growl of thunder as dark clouds rolled in. The temperature was falling quickly and I could plainly see my sweat and my juices smeared against the veneer of the desk. The shrunken head lay on the floor, the crisp cartridge paper was rumpled and damp, my breasts were smeared with charcoal.
I lifted my head and she was standing by the window, watching the clouds move rapidly over the horizon as she finished the melted remains of her ice cream. I didn't know what to say to her and I lay on the desk naked, certain that I looked like a beached white whale and wondered in amazement at what had just happened to me.
She turned then with a look I could not interpret, and she walked toward me, tucking my corset and petticoat under her arm, then tossed me the crumpled blouse and skirt. Eager to hide my body, I slipped into the skirt and then the blouse, hastily buttoning it over my bare breasts. It felt odd to be naked under my clothes but it also felt strangely liberating and sensual.
A crack of thunder shook the building and rain began to flood then like a cleansing torrent of tears. I shivered in the cool breeze that came with the rain. My nipples were plainly visible through the blouse but I did not attempt to hide them as she leaned close to kiss me one last time. Her lips, so full and soft, lingered on my own for an eternity as I gave myself over to her.
"Anglais esclave", she whispered, raising an eyebrow and I nodded, not knowing what I was committing to, but she seemed to expect an answer and I gave it to her willingly. She had a cheeky smile on her unforgettable face as she left the office, my undergarments under one arm and the bowl and spoon in her hand, as the rain drummed hypnotically against the windows.
I shivered again as I watched the rain and wondered what I was going to do, now that my life had changed forever. Nothing could ever be the same and I thought about tomorrow morning when the artist's model would once again glide past my door.