“Keep that dress down,” I repeated. (He kept saying.) “Charles was right, you are he most impudent puss.”
(All is well; he disapproves of me.)
“The extravagance of a wedding portrait for a mistress you will never marry!” I shook my head. I don’t know what exotic games Charles and his dusky lady had played, but they were well beyond me. (Still, there is a strange, strong gloom in his boys’ eyes…. I do not possess him yet.)
“It is a melancholy commission, Mlle. Duval.” (This would never do; I arched an inquisitive eye.)
“To paint me in the dress I am to wear to his funeral tomorrow?”
I nodded. (He was far too deadly earnest, even for a funeral. Damn that Charles’ detestable testament! We are still alive after all–and he is young.)
“You had better call me Jeanne. Would you say I am the most impudent puss in all of creation, or just Paris?” I demanded. (Her question was vexatious, but it did result in my expanding the geographic range of her impudence.)
“Let’s say,” I began, “in all of France.”
(I couldn’t let a man have the last word, however downcast his countenance or sad his eyes. He’d never be willing to pay if he thought he already owned me. But then, pure mulishness also left one deposited at the roadside with a long walk back into town….)
“And her dominions,” I insisted, pushing down my dress with caressing hands. To this demand, he acquiesced in silence; a man at his best.
(I kept quiet. Women have a fetish about having the last word. It is best to indulge them in their trivial preoccupations–this way, when something important comes up, as it was beginning to, it is the man’s turn to prevail.)
I gestured for her to continue to smooth down the lacy extravagance of her wedding costume with my loaded brush like a courteous conductor. This she did, her dull skin making a ghoulish twilit contrast to both the black ribbon at her neck and the fairy-spray of material she sat in–like a sullen child overwhelmed in the playful arcs of a lusty fountain.
(It is best to let a painter have his way in painting, Charles always said. That way, one cannot be blamed for the result.)
“M. Manet, what do you think of my feet? Are they too small for these dainty velvet slip-ons?” I saw him lick his lips as he let his gaze rove down my form–which was, if I may say so, ably displayed. (Irrepressible minx!)
“Smallish, perhaps,” I offered, not wanting to be drawn in (as it were). There was still too much painting to be done in the good lemon light of afternoon. Maybe when dinner time came… and the appetites began to lead the nose with evening scents… we could….
“Call me Eduard, please.”
(Oh, I had him! Now he would strum my fiddle, so little in the middle, and I would hold my nose at his male grossness (so one must appear to do). When we had kissed cheek-to-cheek in greeting, I had felt the hard earnest of coin in his pockets. And now another earnest was hardening as I paddled my feet in slow rotations.)
“This light, it stings my eyes. Look, a tear!”
He came close to examine me, peering deepeningly, as if leaning precipitously over a shadowed brink. Then, just as I was sure we’d crouch and kiss, he started abruptly away. “Do not be ashamed,” I almost cried. “It is only natural, after all.” I was cresting like a wave in my suggestive saddle of silks and crinolines. Where had he gone? The tear had obscured my sight, and now it was pitch dark in the room.
“I’ve shut the curtains. Some champagne to dash the pain from your eyes?” (Yes, yes!)
“Oui. What year is the vintage?”