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Beth Haverford stood before the Old Master painting, rapt in contemplation.
In a clearing of the woods the frozen nymphs were merged in a bacchanal. The scene was some bright-lit Mediterranean isle, but the artist had muted the skies and darkened the verdure so there was a subtle, soothing hint of the somber to the scene.
Yet there was no modesty or melancholy in the glowing participants. Earthen jars and overturned bowls of wine littered the grass, while the nymphs disported themselves, hands joined by upraised arms, as their feet pounded the earth with abandon, alabaster limbs thrashed in ecstasy, their smooth ivory breasts gleaming, bared by the loosening folds of their chiftons.
These women, slender and pale, with their flushed cheeks and flutelike limbs, their waving tendrils and glittering eyes, seemed utterly and immortally rapt with joy. So blissful, sensuous, alive, so–
That stern word thrust itself aslant her thoughts. These heathen girls! False gods, the service of idols: was it not, even as a fiction, a dream, still just a distraction, a temptation, false and deluding? Life is not, cannot be, love and play. What was it Jeremiah wrote?
“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”
The petite nineteen-year old brunette gazed upon the towering canvas from several feet away. Heedless museum-goers might easily have filed between her and the painting, but happily no such disrespectful persons were around. Seldom did they frequent this room. In this gallery there hung none of the masters known to the ignorant rabble, those associated with cryptograms, clandestine schemes, or flying-machines. No lowbrow curious patrons gathered here now to scan them with their flickering eyes.
So much the better, she noted contentedly.
The only intruder upon Beth’s solitary rapture was a security guard, a beefy middle-aged woman who apparently took a professional curiosity in this young person’s uncharacteristic air of preoccupation. Beth understood just how odd her enthusiasm for art must seem nowadays. How many people went to museums to actually look at the paintings?
But the guard lingered, peering in through the entranceway then scuffling off again, apparently expecting Beth to finally be gone. The wary matron seemed somehow insensibly irritated that Beth remained.
In a quiet cabinet shut inside her consciousness, Beth harbored a mischievous pearl of pleasure at the thought of being somehow suspicious. Again, she could hear the slow heavy shuffle of the guard’s feet as she peered in upon the demure young art-lover. Beth unclasped her hands, held behind her in reverent poise, for a brief moment so as to prove she held no hostile can of spray paint or suffragette’s butter knife. The furtive guard, whether appeased or not, hobbled off once more.
Beth sank again into her painting, her senses shivering with delight, while her mind troubled over the thoughts of the ancient prophet.
Those words of Jeremiah were a favorite object of meditation. It was bad enough to shun truth– but to set up something false, unworthy–unholy– in its place: this was the blackest sin. The artist had penetrated into the very heart of sensuality with this portrait of pure physical release. But what price release? Isn’t physical–sexual– pleasure, she asked herself, not the epitome of a broken cistern? Where in this spectacle of moving flesh was the place for love, true love? Physical beauty– was it not precisely the most suspect of vessels with which to try to capture the heart’s essence?
And yet something inside herself felt awed, stirred insensibly by the dancing vision. A heart without understanding, she admonished herself, could find itself seduced by all that glistening perfection. All those immortally beautiful bodies, each in its turn.
Or even all at once.
What am I saying? she demanded of herself.
Once more the wary scuffle of feet intruded upon her ear.
Tedious old fool, she thought. Does the hyena think I’m going to pick the canvas right off the wall?
Beth slowly turned her face, as if only now aware of the guard, to look at her. She was just as bleary and nondescript as Beth had figured. They should put underemployed art students to work in here, she thought, but quickly changed her mind–no, she decided, they’re too liable to abuse the art.
She allowed no flicker of appraisal to glance from her eyes as they feel upon the woman, but as she turned her gaze back to the painting, she understood, indignantly, that the guard was not mollified at all. A flash of anger flushed her face. Damned philistine, she fumed, what the devil does she think I came here for? To look at her?
A wicked suggestion pealed inside her head like a clap of thunder. She blushed and grinned, the dazzling eyes of a smooth-skinned nymph seeming to gaze at her conspiratorily. Gulping, Beth sought shelter in the dry haven casino şirketleri of her habitual good sense. Yet still the lightning-flash flickered and burned inside her head, alarming but thrilling. The nymph’s haughty eyes seemed to urge her on to– something.
The clear summer sky of Beth’s young head, always so healthful and calm with the pale, limpid light of untroubled chastity and the consciousness of good deeds, was suddenly dimmed, curdled with grey, shifting clouds, swift-winged and ambiguous, ominous of storm. The nymph’s unabashed nudity made something spark inside her, unfamiliar and glowing. Finding no ready shelter, she was felled by the unsought-for lightning, and invisibly swooned before its heat.
With studied unconcern, Beth raised her fingers to her modest ivory blouse and unbuttoned it at the top.
A troubled breath rasped past her teeth. Her skin felt ticklish, as though prickling under drops of rain. Slowly she unbuttoned another. Goosebumps sprang on her arms. She smoothed tense fingers against her clavicles, parting the fold, straying innocently downward. They found a third button and, a tingle rising in her groin, she carefully undid that too. As though singed, she jolted her fingers away and, the lightning stilled, she replaced her hands behind her back. The clouds in her mind parted, leaving her feeling moist and warm.
She turned her blank gaze once more upon the guard. Slowly she turned her eyes back to the painting. And counted the seconds.
Eleven, twelve, thirteen . . .
The guard’s heavy feet shuffled off.
Bitch, she thought to herself, malicious and pleased. If she thinks I came here to play games, well then, I gave her something to play . . . .
A young couple strode by quickly just as Erica turned to note them. They stood for a moment in the middle of the gallery and gazed about, snickering as they moved on. “Some crazy shit,” she heard the guy mutter. The girl’s voice followed after: “Wonder what they paid for all this . . . “
“Bourgeois buffoons,” Erica whispered.
She felt confident in her indignation; she was proud of herself for feeling it. Their disapproval only fortified her fascination with all she beheld, new to her as it was and so at odds with what usually she was exposed to.
One image in particular absorbed her, a photograph of a woman’s nude backside. She closed in upon it, galvanized by perplexity and even fear; it make her own body shudder, yet she could not take her eyes away from it.
Affixed to the model’s naked body was a hideous intruder: the semblance of an alien, eel-like black creature seemed to swim right through the crack of her ass and up through the riverbed of her spine. A shockingly long and meaty rubber dildo. Its cold thickness parted and possessed the woman’s buttocks, its own tail out of sight, perhaps possessing the model elsewhere too.
It was repugnant. The mindless serpentine crawler had lodged itself in the most intimate crevices of her body, its filthy form touching, sliding past or through the very orifices themselves, stuck like a leech, groping its way forward blindly as though to take possession of the woman’s very brain.
And hasn’t it? thought Erica. How could one impassively tolerate such an invasion? How could her arms not be twisted back to tear this abominable thing off her, this inhuman assault, this monstrously sexual assailer? It was as though the classically poised female form had been utterly enslaved, broken in mindless abjection to this primal, indecent, dehumanizing condition, stilled and owned by mindless, slimy need.
Erica wanted, right now, to part her own nether lips, slide her fingers, maybe, through the furrow of her inner labia, squeeze down upon the oozing, gaping channel within. Rub around in the wetness, then reach back and spread her ass cheeks, flaunt them, feel the air on the humid crevice between, the moistness from her fingers sticky against the pale flesh of her outspread bottom, the cool air kissing the puckered little mouth inside.
And yet, just as these untoward ideas transmitted themselves from the photograph, Erica sensibly noted how the artist had flaunted her technique as surely as she had assaulted her viewers’ sensibilities. Even from three feet away she could plainly see the glittery crinkle of the body glue that held the faceless prop in place. It was a bit like watching a monster movie where the camera plainly reveals the zipper on the monster-suit’s back.
Somehow though, this made Erica even more aroused. For the living model had had to endure the gross rubbery prop affixed to her own ass crack. Looking at the fearsome rubber mass, she wondered how the model reacted when she first saw it.
Was the model excited? she excitedly wondered. She wanted now, rather badly, to have something to spread herself open with like that. To let herself be displayed like that.
Or, perhaps, to play the role of the photographer, and put somebody else on display.
She had a sudden vision of herself, casino firmaları down on her knees, businesslike and demanding, spreading some kind of model’s adhesive onto her friend Beth’s bare bottom, fingers working along the peach-smooth groove of her ass, preparing some black rubber monster to be pressed there, a camera mounted on a tripod before them, ready to document it all: Beth’s nudity, her doll-like acquiescence, the humiliation of it all. Beth tense and trembling, Erica calmly assertive, both of them resigned to the sweet inevitability of it all.
Erica was pleased that she had come here. She had not anticipated much pleasure in the museum, but the discovery of the contemporary galleries with their astringent white walls, stylized lighting, and array of chrome and glass surfaces had greatly excited her. She knew to expect such arrangements, of course, in any space given over to “modern art.” She understood, even, that this was all probably a bit cliché; Beth at least would argue as much, and Erica did not feel so confident in her aesthetic judgment as to think she could readily triumph in that debate.
Yet what she saw deeply appealed to her. The artworks were confrontational, unapologetic, brazenly sexual in nature. They offered neither cheap sentiments nor high-minded ideals. Erica was grown sceptical about idealism, and tired of easy sentiment. She’d begun to think that much of what passed for high-minded was just the rote repetition of empty gestures, an impotent display of deference to the past.
She was tempted to drag her friends down here and make them look, saucer-eyed and blushing, at all this decadence. But then, could they respond with anything but indignant annoyance? Would she even get the consolation prize of a few furtive looks of timid, tingly curiosity?
Maybe with the crack-splitting dildo eel, she might. But then, she would have to explain its appeal to her. And she understood she did not want to have that conversation. Not now, anyway.
After all, it was hard just to explain it to herself. Maybe it should stay her little secret.
She turned to another photo in the series, this one showing a naked female torso from the top of the breasts down to the flare of the hips. In the middle, where the navel should be, was instead the superimposed image of a naked vulva, glistening with arousal.
Erica’s mouth went dry. She felt the inappropriate urge to reach her hands out and caress, somehow, the naked torso’s waist. The belly-pussy stared at her invitingly. If she stepped forward, she could bend her lips right into the swollen mass of pink.
Coming from the other side of the angular partition of frosted glass that separated her from the adjoining gallery, she heard an emphatic stomp of feet. She automatically stepped back from the photograph, lest she give away her all-too-eager absorption to other patrons.
The beating of feet came suddenly up behind her and halted. Erica stood still, eyes forward but mindful of the intruder. A quick one-two of steps brought the person up to Erica’s side.
She turned to look. A girl stood there, stiffly planted. She was a few inches shorter than her, even with the help of the thick platform soles of the glossy, gothy boots she wore. Erica was already taking her in when the girl turned and smiled at her, blowing a little bubble of pale green gum in greeting. Her nose was freckly, and adorned with a small golden stud. Her eyes were heavily lined and knowing, blinking out from under the raven-hued shards of her bangs. Erica caught a flicker of gold eye shadow; it reminded her of Roman courtesans in Bible movies and predatory reptiles.
“Hi!” said the girl, with a salacious drawl, her mouth smacking away nonchalantly at her gum. She turned her head and stared at the photograph in front of them, her mouth curling at the sides.
She wore a green peacock jacket, a snug-fitting black skirt paired with black and white striped thigh-high socks over green stockings, and glistening, knee-high boots covered in mean-looking buckles, the laces snaking around her calves in loops before coming back into bows, leaving the top eyelets blank. A small black vinyl purse hung at her side. Pyramid-studded cuffs peaked out on her wrists. Erica took this in leisurely. Just as she was mindful to avert her glance, the girl snapped her head like a snake who has surprised its prey.
The girl fixed her with her heavy eyes. She seemed to have no intention of taking them off Erica and so, after a half-glance away towards the photograph– whose leering vulva gave her no easy relief– she held the stranger’s glance. “Hello,” she said, cautiously.
“Have you seen me before?” the stranger asked. A curious way to put it, thought Erica. She furrowed her brows in denial.
The girl adjusted her stance, easing closer, her hand fluttering against Erica’s side, and she felt suddenly the cold steel of the pyramid studs of the girl’s cuffs chaffing against her tender wrist bone. They felt cool and inviting, but potent with authority. The güvenilir casino girl’s thin mouth curled in a solicitous smile. In a surprisingly gentle tone she asked, “Are you going to be here for a while?”
The main exhibition gallery of the museum was given over to a “Perspectives on Royalty” series, collecting portraits by court painters and modern photographers ranging over a period of four or five centuries. It was into this hall that Beth passed in order to collect her friend, Jessica LeBrun.
Blonde and willowy, Jessica stood in awe before a photograph of Grace Kelly, hanging in an enclave juxtaposed between paintings of a Spanish Renaissance dowager and Maria Theresa of Austria.
Jessica turned to Beth, when she announced herself beside her, almost like a queen beholding a familiar subject to whom she has never before spoken.
“You’re enjoying yourself!” Beth noted, basking in her friend’s hauteur.
Jessica sighed audibly. In a moment this flush of assumed regality passed through her, but before it did it was as though she believed, for that moment, she had joined the ranks of that assembled throng of royals by basking in their contemplation; and, in believing it, she had, just for a thrilling moment, made Beth believe it too.
When the moment passed she said, almost with an air of relief, “I am, yes.”
“I want you to take in this Van Dyck, you know,” Beth said, assuming the leadership role now that the princess was returned to the democratic throng. “It’s part of their permanent collection but the host museum always has to beef up the traveling exhibition a little, just for bragging rights if nothing else,” she said as she led her friend to the opposing wall.
“I saw this,” Jessica said patiently, knowing that her friend would have to show her how to see it through her own, impassioned eyes. It had always been this way, even in the earliest days of their shared adolescence; though of cultured antecedents and attending a prestigious school together, it was always Beth who had discoveries to share with all her friends, things wonderful and foreign and new to them. Beth declaiming Aeschylus in a voice choked with intensity, or playing arias from Mozart and Verdi. Jessica and her peers submitted then to her wild, Romantic passions with the thrill of the forbidden; even now, though the ritual itself was familiar and comforting, it was never quite domesticated, for she was forever nurturing her passions, collecting new ones but never seeming to tire of the old. Beth began to intone her halting, lilting lecture now, her phrases filled with silent interstices for her auditor to take in the details she disclosed, the background she revealed, the tentative comparisons she offered.
For some minutes the two girls were caught up in this elevation, and during that time Jessica began to respond to the woman in the portrait, forgotten to legend as she was, as though she were one of the terrestrial gods– Kelly, Bergman, Novak– whom she had revered since her childhood; she felt humbled before this painting, serenely insignificant: the jeweled tones of the dress and the glistening eyes lidded with authority worked their magic upon her, and all the while Beth, serenely imploring at her shoulder like some reasoning good angel, drew her inside the enchantment.
“I can just imagine,” said Jessica serenely, “her telling me what to do. ‘Fetch my slippers,’ Her Ladyship would say, and off I would go with a curtsy. Don’t you imagine so?”
“She has the bearing of authority,” Beth agreed. “She is the kind of person before whom one could willingly bear to submit.”
“Yes, I think she would have the good of her people at heart, don’t you think?”
Beth studied the duchess’ countenance intently. She sighed and shuddered just a bit, thinking of a time when the whims of those of rank did not bear questioning. “I think so,” she agreed, “yet somehow I imagine her service would be a difficult pleasure.”
After some further moments in silence, Beth shook her head suddenly and said, “I suppose we should start wrangling people together. They’ll close at five.”
Jessica assented. “It’s all so lovely,” she said, sweeping her hand graciously.
“You stay here and soak it in a bit longer,” said Beth. “Do you think Morgan gravitated to the Impressionists?”
“I suppose. Or anywhere she could find a Cassatt. Or something like that. Those sentimental things,” she answered.
Beth slowly wound her way back through the central atrium and up the stairs, past the majestic post-Renaissance paintings that overlooked the stairwell, and entered a corridor flanked with rows of bronzes. She ducked into a room with sparse little Dutch scenes and wound her way on, watching the history of art flit through her peripheral vision, trying not to break the sense of dreamlike ease by letting herself be caught before a singular painting (but she had to freeze, for the third time today, before a “Judgment of Paris” of the Baroque). She shuddered to think that the guard she dealt with earlier should suddenly lurch out from behind some entranceway, freezing her in her tracks, demanding some sort of–explanation? Retribution? But she saw only scattered yawning patrons filing their way towards the exits.
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