Nude from Life


But alas, I know full well that this shall never come to pass.

Now is hardly the time to lose myself in fantasies of impossible debauches. I can't help but confront the very real possibility that Nessa simply won't recognize me at all. I lament to admit a marked increase in my corpulence since Nessa left—a symptom of heartbreak, surely. To call me porcine would be unjust; I have simply acquired a hardy portliness. This reincarnation of the baby fat of my youth (I was called "fat ginger" in the locker room—unfairly, since my hair is a deep red, not orange, and at least 60 per cent of my bulk is muscle)—this reincarnation, combined with the growth of a rusty beard and the addition of eye-enlarging glasses to my physiognomy, renders my appearance changed enough to permit the possibility that I shan't be recognized at all without close scrutiny.

It will of course be easier for me if Nessa doesn't recognize me and my perverse scheme thus goes unnoticed. I am here with voyeuristic intentions (those 12 photographs and the hundreds in my memory's album have grown overly familiar—I seek new images, new sensations), and the one thing a voyeur despises most is being watched himself. It is the thrill of stealing beauty that we watchers seek. It is better not to get caught.

And yet I confess I will be deeply disappointed if she doesn't notice me. I want to watch the flush of her cheeks, the look in her eyes—be it longing or disgust—when she sees me outlining and admiring her exquisite form. And I would be a self-deceiver if I didn't acknowledge my deep though rather feeble hope that my hot gaze upon her nudity will reignite some ashen coal of her extinguished love.

The door handle turns. Enter Madame de Saint-Ange: frizzy dark hair, bizarre maroon lipstick, long necklaces jangling, clutching a stack of papers and a box of pencils. The fifteen or so phlegmatic hipsters in attendance begin putting their phones and pens away. Madame stacks her papers on a desk and speaks:

"Excuse me for being so late! I am coming immediately from the exhibition of a former student. Very inspiring work!"

And perhaps I shall be coming from the exhibition of a former lover, though even I don't expect to come immediately. Very inspiring indeed.

"Today, I would like for us, together as teachers and as students, to explore a new pedagogical approach. We are going to free ourselves from some of the expectations, and some of the traditional restraints. We are going to find new ways of relating to the model."

I nod vigorously.

"I want you to put down your pencils, put down your charcoal, put down all your tools, and I want you to take a moment first to focus on the experience of seeing."

That sounds grand to me, but I shan't be able to get my tool down; I'm winking at the brim. Madame moves behind the curtain. My heart freezes, my stomach convulses, my loins electrify. She knocks at the gate of heaven.

"We're ready for you, mon chéri!"

The door opens, and then swings shut. Golden hair and purple fabric are visible between gaps in the curtain. I fear my body may boil itself to death.

My Nessa walks in beauty from behind the curtain to the ottoman at the front of the room, the delicate purple robe fluttering at her feet. I haven't seen my love in months. She is resplendent; the overwhelming joy of her loveliness is matched in power only by the excruciation of my hopeless lust. With a single graceful shrug she drops the robe to the floor, exposing the universe of my desire.

I do hereby certify that I, Randall E. Dolman, died at 4:12 P.M., July 12, 2013, on the elysian shores of the fiery gulf, Boston, MA. Age: 31. Sex: Enormously male. Cause of death: Heartbreak and self-immolating lust.

I had imagined that Nessa would feel the heat of my gaze. But no—it is my eyes that are burning. Her white skin illuminates the room, my ethereal love!

She turns her curly head to face the class and then—have mercy—her eyes meet mine. I die again, this time of shock. That she should recognize me at the very moment she unveiled her nudity is beyond what I had dreamed of. Her jeweled eyes widen. Her lower lip pouts and almost imperceptibly it trembles. Her soft white cheeks flush red and her brow furrows. Never have I seen such a deep, though fleeting, look of pitiful hurt and betrayal.

She quickly looks away, refusing to acknowledge me. She sits on the ottoman hurriedly and modestly crosses her legs, but in doing so she grants us a millisecond of a view between them. I'm burning to ashes. The asexual bohemians seated at the other drawing boards hardly seem to have noticed Nessa's presence. Phryne before the sexless jury: what a waste.

Madame speaks: "Very good, my dear. I will have you do the first pose, please."

Nessa swings her womanly legs to the right and lifts them up onto the ottoman. She twists her torso likewise to her right, turning her back to us and adopting, I swear, nearly the exact pose of Ingres's Grande Odalisque. She rests her weight on her left elbow and places her right hand on her thigh. Her spinal furrow forms a 90-degree curve, beginning at her nape and terminating several inches above her succulent buttocks, which, facing our eyes, bewitch us. The side of her right breast is visible through the crevice bounded by her upper arm and the side of her torso. Her restless feet play with each other (oh that I were a sock, etc.).

"Don't fidget now. Very good. Now, has everybody put their pencils away? Their charcoal?" She pronounces "their charcoal" zair sharcoal and draws out the last syllable, raising it to an inquisitive pitch. "Good. Now I want you to look at the model. Just look. Is everybody looking at the model?"

Bearded paint splatterers are looking apathetically, the philistines. Oculus brachii is looking with all three eyes. Suddenly the tattoo seems not so ill-advised. Nessa stares blankly at the wall, the poor creature.

"We will take five minutes just to look and not to draw. Do not think about drawing. Only think about the model and about the way you perceive the model: what shapes, what lines do you see? What features of the model do not fit your preconceived notions of the nude? What textures, what folds? We will take five minutes of silence. Just look."

I look. I look and look and look. I'm enchanted by the winding spirals of her hair. They flow down to the bottom of her scapulae. How I desire to smell that hair, to inhale that bouquet and fly away to enchanted realms of memory on olfaction's florid wings! My eyes trace her spinal furrow from the middle of her back down to her sacrum, where my gaze rests in sacred land. Nessa has two superb indentations on her lower back, just above the faint pink strip of corrugated skin where the elastic of her panties girdled her waist just minutes ago. These are called dimples of Venus, and justly so, for my thumbs have roughly pressed into these hallowed hollows as I took my Nessa from behind. The imaginary line between these dimples forms the horizontal diagonal of the anatomical structure known as the Rhombus of Michaelis, the vertical diagonal of which passes from the lower lumbar vertebrae to the sacrum, at the top of the gluteal cleft, the groove that divides the buttocks, from the coccyx to the perineum. What shapes! What lines!

The ecstasy of being reunited with the sight of my nude Nessa is now surpassed by the agony of my inability to possess her. It seems brutally unjust, for I have laid claim to every inch of that territory: that hair that I have held and stroked and smelled, the back that I have rubbed and scratched and clawed, the hips that I have kissed and spanked, the breasts which my lips have caressed, and the territory of the abdomen: the field, the little crater, and the shaven mound, which I have explored during my excursions to that orchid of whose nectar I have deeply drunk—do I not have some claim to this smooth wonderland? No, I was but the gardener for a day!

The gardener peers over the fence at his lost Eden, exploring with his eyes what he once tilled with his hands. Madame interrupts:

"What is everybody seeing? Do you perceive the movement of her body's curve?"

She goes on like that. Damn this geometry lesson! Nessa can be no abstract chiaroscuro for me; my mind unavoidably colors in the contours of that flesh with a hundred tender kisses, a thousand soft caresses, and the vibrant glow of each heavenly debauch we ever had. Each of these colors is mixed on my memory's palette, and my perception smears them over my Nessa's skin. She glistens with the mnemonic dew of our past love!

"...and also freedom from the constraints of the customary techniques. Now, it is my hope that this exercise has been edifying for you. Let us try something new. Let us have the second pose, please."

She stirs! Oh, the movement of her limbs nearly sends me into convulsions. She swings her legs back down, keeping her thighs together, withholding her labia, forming a V-shaped crease bounding her pubic mound. Then she raises her knees to her breasts and crosses her feet directly in front of her groin. She wraps her arms around her shins and buries her face in her knees. The pose is oddly fetal, but seductive nonetheless! A little ball of Nessa. I wish for nothing more than to carry her home like that and infuse her with my adoration.

"The nude can represent to us a variety of ideas. The nude can be an image of human strength, but also vulnerability. We will have a chance to explore these ideas soon. First, I want us to try another exercise. I want everyone to take a pencil in their hand. Take your pencil, and lay the point on your paper. Now, I want everyone to take a close look at the model, at her posture. Good. Now, we are going to close our eyes, and we are not going to draw the model, but we are going to explore our ideas about the model through the movements of our pencils. Everyone must close their eyes now."

What? No!

"Everyone! Are your eyes closed?"

I'm squinting through my blurry lashes, trying to make out Nessa's outline. What an idiotic exercise!

"You will now make light quick strokes with your pencils. Do not yet draw lines. Just little dashes. I want you to bring the image of the model into your mind. Think about the movements of her form, and make those movements with your pencils. Again, no lines, just swishes."

The scratching and tapping of pencils blindly following orders—I have no choice but to join in. It looks like I shan't be returning home with a gorgeous drawing of my love. No matter, I've never been able to draw pretty nudes from life—my hands tremble terribly.

The afterimage of my naked Nessa fades into the dark kaleidoscope of my closed lids. I suddenly recall the most recent occasion when I tried to paint a nude from life. It was four months ago. I'd found the model on craigslist. She was a petite little faerie of hardly more than five feet tall. When she arrived at my building I led her up the stairs. She smelled of tobacco. Her straight brown hair was tied back in a short ponytail. She wore tattered jeans and a faded t-shirt beneath her pea coat. She seemed unprofessional, possibly stoned. I had her undress in my studio—no robe—because I knew I could get away with it. I prepared my paint and stole glimpses of her unclasping her tiny bra or unbuckling her belt, pulling her jeans and sky blue panties down simultaneously. Her body was entirely hairless and as snowy white as Boston winter bodies are. She resembled Lefebvre's Chloe, though she was not as perfect. An idiotic tattoo of angel wings interrupted the lines of her lower back's diamond. A silvery piece of metal glittered at her clitoris. Terrible! Still, she was a lovely nymph, and my tremulous hands were soon unable to paint. I paid her an extra hundred dollars to relieve me and sent her on her merry way (that's what she gets for selling her body on craigslist). I can't remember her name—I called her Nessa while she abused me.

When she left I wrote a poem, the lines of which now come iambically pulsing into my head:

A snowy field of undraped skin,
Which fair, though it be cold, still lights
The same incense—once thick, now thin—
That oft I burned on Nessa nights.
This form, an icon to a god,
Does zealous piety inspire,
Not to the graven image flawed,
But to the elusive power higher.
Despair!—my goddess has forsaken me;
Now I, idolatrous, must heathen be.

I expect I'll resort to self-idolatry the moment I dash home, or perhaps it would be best to stop at the men's room on the way out.

"You may now open your eyes!"

Let there be light. Thank God.

"We are now ready to join the process of seeing to the motions of the pencil. Now, when we begin I want you not to draw descriptive outlines of the model, but to move the pencil about the paper freely, in whatever way you feel inspired to move it. Let's do the third pose, please. What I really want to see from you is a letting go of prejudices about the appearance of the nude, and of representational techniques that restrict your interpretation of..."

Madame goes on, dispensing these horrid instructions. Nessa moves again. She lowers her knees, and lifts her face, though she quickly turns away from the class to wipe her cheek—but not before I catch a glimpse of those azure eyes: they are red and swollen, and her cheeks are wet with tears.


On Fri, July 12, 2013 at 6:48 PM, Nessa Olsen <***@********> wrote:


You unbelievable prick. You fat (what happened?), poorly-endowed son of a bitch. This is a new level of filth, even for you. If you ever humiliate me like this again I will ruin you. I have connections: I know gallery owners, I know dealers, I know appraisers, I know professors. John knows even more. Word will get out. We will destroy what little reputation you have, third-rate imitator of French academicism that you are. You will never work in New England again. If I ever see you near me again I will take legal action. Do not respond to this message.


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