Monday, August 30, 2021

Not Gay - Chapter 19

Jay’s car barely stays on track in the last turn but then all that’s left is the homestretch to the finish line and he pushes the button on the control down so hard that his fingertip starts hurting. His triumphant cry dies in his throat as Chris’ car hurdles past him and over the finish line, only a split second before Jay would have won the game.

Not Gay - Chapter 20

Everyone is trying to hug at the same time: the dancers in Jay’s team, friends and family of the dancers, managers of the club, and random visitors. With the blaring music in his ears and the weight of the medal pressing against his sweaty shirt, Jay manages to free himself from the crowd and jogs to the far side of the dance floor. Without hesitation he vaults lightly over the low barrier separating audience and dancers, and almost barrels right into Darren who parks in the designated wheelchair space in the front row, effectively trapped between barrier and tightly packed audience behind him. Darren’s smile makes way only shortly for a mildly surprised expression as Jay throws himself at him without a second thought about onlookers.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Onde Anda Você update!

 Hello there!

I'm glad you could enjoy the previous bonus chapter, maybe I'll post those every once in a while—what do you think? My weeks are about to get real busy, and as much as I'll try to keep my regular posts on Wednesday, I never know if I'll make it for sure. I'll try to have as many chapters and bonuses as I can under my sleeve ;)

Without further ado, here's

Onde Anda Você's Chapter Seven.

Featuring lots of Ben and Livia spending some time together, and Bachan! 

Here's the music that comes with it, Nando Reis' All Star. 

Oh, and I wrote this chapter entirely through my phone, so please let me know if you can spot any typos, or grammar mistakes and I'll fix it asap. And I always love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment or reach me through my email, caterin.alighieri@gmail.com

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Onde Anda Você — "why did you move my wheelchair across the room?"

 Hey, everyone!

I'm doing all this posting and editing through my phone because as it turns out, my PC decided it was time to retire, so I hope everything is looking fine. 

I had a crazy week and unfortunately couldn't work on a proper chapter for you, so I decided to turn this month's writing prompt entry into a small bonus chapter of sorts featuring Ben and Livia so that this Wednesday wouldn't go by completely blank. It's something a reader requested a while ago and I found a way to slip into the story. It's a short one, but please let me know your thoughts! 


Here's Onde Anda Você' bonus chapter.


I hope you can enjoy it, and hopefully we'll go back to a regular plot schedule next week. Cross your fingers and check last chapter if you haven't already. ;)


TABLE OF CONTENTS.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Bérénice: Table of Contents

Bérénice is a spunky Belgian who moves to bohemian Paris in the 1930s to pursue her career as an artists' model. There, she becomes intrigued by Jean-Claude, a shy artist with cerebral palsy who uses his feet to paint.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4 

_________________


If you enjoy my stories, my devvy M/M romance novel, Shadowboxing, is available as both an ebook & paperback. Shadowboxing features a romance between Asher, a sweet nerd who has cerebral palsy, and Roy, a loner with a stammer. Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading it!

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Sea Hag Update! Ch 16

 Apologies for missing last week's deadline. Here is where you'll find it, and I will try to be more diligent in the future


Edit: The TOC

Bérénice, part 1

Driven by restlessness, Bérénice moved from Bruxelles to Paris and quickly established herself as a model in Montparnasse. She had been raised on a small dairy farm in the Belgian countryside, but would never be mistaken for a country maid. Striking and gregarious, she had cultivated a cosmopolitan ease well before she was eighteen. She was twenty-three now, and cobblestoned Bruxelles had grown too small for her, too placid. Like a fish into a stream, she slipped instead into the famed artists’ district of Paris.

Tall, athletic, and full-figured, she was often compared to an Amazon. Her skin was creamy and her hair dark brown and curling, lustrous. Classical-minded painters liked her to pose as Judith or the Queen of Sheba; illustrators liked her for advertisements for cigarettes, travel, clothing with dramatic silhouettes: anything that called for a sense of confidence and sophistication.

By the end of two weeks in Montparnasse, she had acquired a full set of new friends, new clients. Her days were busy with posing and her nights with conversation and dancing in restaurants and bars. She was happy to sleep five or six hours and then awake at dawn to stretch like a cat, wash her face, arrange her hair, and hurry off to her first appointment with a painter or sculptor.

Montparnasse was peopled by eccentrics, intellectuals, foreigners, and curiosities: artists who were almost beggars, beggars who were poets; Communists, exiles, opium addicts, escaped heiresses, seekers after enlightenment, Jews, blacks, Americans, lesbians, and so on. This was, of course, exactly what Bérénice had been looking forward to. And so her interest was sparked when she heard of a particular curiosity among the artists: a man who was crippled and had to use his feet to paint.

“And he’s actually good?” she said with instinctive skepticism to one of her roommates, who was also a model.

“Yes; I’ve seen his paintings myself,” Isidore replied lazily.

Hm,” said Bérénice. And by the end of the week, she had discovered that this artist was looking for a model for a new painting, and arranged to be seen by him the following week.


 ***


The next Monday, she was admitted by the artist’s mother, Else, into the studio. Bérénice looked over the other woman with interest: she was about forty, tall and broad-shouldered, with straight blonde hair pulled back cleanly from her face, but she looked hollow and exhausted. She moved slowly and wincingly. Bérénice had learned that the artist worked to support both himself and his mother, who had been in ill health for a long time. His mother kept the house and helped the artist with things that physically, he could not do himself. Bérénice wondered about their frail alliance: what would happen to him if Else were to grow really ill, so ill that she could no longer help her son? But she kept her expression friendly and polite, and thanked Else once she had been escorted in. The other woman nodded and withdrew silently.

The studio, like all others, was cold and damp, but tidier than most. The space was at street level. The lighting would have been better in an attic-level room, but, Bérénice supposed, stairs would have been difficult for both the artist and his mother. Large drawings pinned to cardboard and few finished canvases were arrayed around the edge of the room, resting on the floor against the wall.

Facing her, sitting in a wheelchair, was the artist. He had not yet spoken to greet her, but he was, of course, already watching her closely.

Like his mother, he was surprisingly long-limbed, with wide shoulders—bony, not muscular. Because he sat in a wheelchair, she found it difficult to think of him as “tall.” His eyes were pale blue-grey, his hair sandy in color, his face cleanly shaped, with long cheekbones and a high forehead. Both of his arms were tightly clenched to his chest, seemingly immobile, the hands fisted inwards. He was leaning back somewhat in his wheelchair, with one long leg outstretched so that the bare foot hung over the edge of the footrest, the knuckles resting lightly against the floor. Bérénice found something about this posture strangely touching: it was how another man might hang one arm over the edge of an armrest in repose, she thought.

She looked upward before she might be caught staring, and smiled at him. He nodded absently, murmured something that was probably a greeting, and continued to look her over carefully.

“Will you remove your coat and take a few poses, please?” His voice was baritone, and somewhat blurred, indistinct, as if he were speaking to her while holding something in his mouth. He shifted in his seat, drawing his leg back up onto the footrest; she tried not to regret the loss of the pose that had first caught her attention.

In response to his request, she nodded and shed her coat, moving into the studio where the light would fall on her best. Behind her, she could hear the scuff of his feet on the floorboards as he turned his wheelchair around. At his direction, she paced slowly back and forth, bent, squatted, and then sat on a simple wooden chair, twisting her torso first in one direction, then in the other.

His expression had not changed at all, but she thought that she could tell from a certain relaxation of his posture that he was pleased with her.

Indeed, after another minute, he said, “Yes, this will be good, thank you. If you have no other appointments, it would be good to begin the work today.”

She smiled in agreement, and began to ask him more about the painting: what pose, what did he want her to wear. The pose would be an easy one, a sitting one; she promised him that she could hold it for an hour at a time, with breaks to warm up. He wanted three sessions this week, to establish the preliminary drawings and oil sketch, and then he might call her back a few more times in subsequent weeks to continue the real painting.

While they established these details, he had called his mother back to help him: he wanted to move into a different chair. Bérénice had moved behind a screen to change into the required costume, but shamelessly watched from the seam of the screen as the artist rose slowly from his wheelchair, leaning heavily into his mother’s hands as she supported him beneath his shoulders. It took only three steps for him to move and pivot into the other chair, but his steps were hesitant and shuffling, his legs deeply bent. Several times he paused before daring to shift one of his legs again, seemingly mistrustful of his own motions. And yet his legs seemed strong; she wondered if his hesitancy came more from a fear of falling, for his mother clearly struggled to counterbalance his weight. If he were to slip, with his immobile arms, he would have no way of catching himself. Thoughtful, Bérénice sucked in her lower lip and nibbled on it. Then she recollected herself and moved out from behind the screen.

The studio was quiet; Else had withdrawn once more. Bérénice could hear a series of angry shouts from the street outside, and an automobile horn some distance off, and then the sounds dwindled away. She inhaled and settled into her pose; the artist briefly gave her direction, then nodded when he was satisfied. Between the first and second toes of his right foot, he took up his charcoal.

He sat now in a low chair with a deeply reclined back, padded with a thick sheepskin; the sheepskin was the one touch of luxury in this otherwise spare, somber place, Bérénice thought. Arrayed in front of him were all of his tools: the sticks of charcoal and clean rags, the low easel that held his paper and board.

In Bérénice’s profession, observing the artist was always one of the chief means of staving off boredom, of course. Did he suck his lips or pick his nose as he drew? Did he smirk arrogantly upon completing a passage, or did he mutter and frown?

Observing the artist, in this case, was an unavoidable attraction. He was unique: Bérénice had met plenty of crippled men and women in the streets who were clever and enterprising by necessity, but none who made their way in quite this manner. Who had taught him to draw and paint? What had first given him—or his mother—the idea?

His habitual expression was solemn, almost fierce, his pale brows often drawn together with concentration. His head sometimes seemed to move of its own volition, with small twitches from side to side. With his severe expression, she thought that it made him look like a bird of prey. He wore a clean but worn white shirt and loose brown trousers.

His arms were always clenched to his chest; she had not seen him move them even once. The tension that ran through his arms and hands seemed immense: she could see the tendons standing out in the backs of his hands, and his shrunken fists bent inwards at unnatural angles. She wondered if it hurt for the joints to be fixed that way, or if perhaps his body were accustomed because he had been born that way.

His feet were long and astonishingly nimble. It was strange to watch him using them as if they were hands, moving tools from side to side, repositioning the drawing board. His motions as he drew were so familiar that they seemed expected, natural: of course he would do that. But then occasionally her eyes would take in the whole of his frame, and the pieces would come together: his tensely immobilized upper body, and the determined yet constrained motions of his lower body, which, however adept, were still clearly afflicted by the same muscular tension. Not infrequently he would have to wait and rest before he was able to complete a gesture successfully, letting a series of jerks and twitches run through his frame. Bérénice tried not to be caught watching when this happened.

Between watching him askance and speculating about his past, it was an absorbing session; rarely did she drift away into the formless daydreams that typically took over her longer sessions.

A few hours in, she finally dared to ask: “When did you become an artist?”

His head twitched, and his mouth compressed. It was another moment before he said, "Be still, please." His voice was stern, but not ill-tempered.

She blew out a breath. Some artists welcomed her natural garrulousness, and their working sessions became warm and companionable, but from the start, here, she had suppressed the impulse to chat. Clearly, she had been right to do so.

For the next while, she occupied herself in thinking about the sound of his voice, as little of it as she had heard. From the blurred sound of his words, she had thought at first that he had been eating something. But now, she thought that his tongue, and perhaps his jaw, must be affected by his condition, as well. His tongue seemed stiff; he struggled to shift between consonants and vowels, his tongue needing time to reshape itself between sounds.

She wondered, then, about what the household might be like without any strangers there: would he and his mother always be so terse, so stoic? Or was it shyness that held them back in the presence of others; was it possible that, left to themselves, there would be free-flowing conversation, laughter?

She wondered, watching his spare, fierce face.

During her last break, she asked, “Do you mind if I smoke?” When he shook his head, she added, “In here?” He nodded, and she went behind the screen to retrieve a cigarette and a match from her coat pocket. She moved to the window, looking at the slot of grey sky above the narrow street outside, and breathed the smoke in deeply. With the cigarette held between her lips, she hopped from foot to foot, rubbing and shaking her arms to get the blood back into them, conscious of his stillness behind her.

When she turned around again, it only seemed natural to hold out the cigarette to him and say, “Do you want any?”

He hesitated for a long moment, and then nodded his head briefly. She approached him, inhaled one more time herself, and then held out the cigarette to his lips.

He took it, and made a gesture of unexpected sensuality: he closed his grey eyes and swiftly arched his long neck backwards to inhale. In the same moment, she exhaled, so that the smoke dimmed her vision.

Looking at his pale throat, she felt that somehow, her breath had passed from her to him; she felt the complementarity of their motions as intimately as if they had kissed. She was stirred.

When he opened his eyes again and nodded for her to take the cigarette, she had to blink hard. She was aware that she was flushing, but hoped that it would be mistaken for the results of her efforts to warm herself.

She passed the cigarette back and forth to him several more times, but he did not repeat the gesture of tilting his head back. Nonetheless, the last time she took it, she was aware of the lingering warmth of his lips on the cigarette.

Perhaps half an hour later, they finished the session; he nodded as curtly as ever to indicate when he was done, then murmured that she could ask his mother for the first day’s fee. He rolled a stick of charcoal back and forth gently under one toe; he seemed to be studying his drawings more than he was looking at her.

But when she had finished dressing, and was about to exit, he caught her attention with a sort of stamp of one foot against the ground. She looked back at him inquiringly.

“It was a pleasure to work with you,” he said, a little stiffly.

She nodded and gave a cordial smile. “I’m glad you think so. Good-bye, monsieur.”

He said, rushing, so that his words were even more slurred, “You can call me Jean-Claude.” And then, to her astonishment, he smiled. His pale eyes warmed. Smiling, he looked as shy as a schoolboy who has received unexpected praise.

When she left the building, she had to stand outside for a moment to compose herself, pushing one thumb against her lower lip. Then she straightened herself, shook back her curls, and hurried off along the street to her next appointment.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Bérénice, part 2

It was another two days before Bérénice went to work again with Jean-Claude. This time, not only he but his mother smiled at her when she arrived. She had to pause before entering the studio, taken aback by the sense that she had been suddenly enveloped by a space that before had been resisting her. She wondered what the artist might have said to his mother about her.

Today, he wanted to progress to a more refined drawing than the sketches he had produced on the first day. He must already have been drawing before she arrived, because as she undressed this time, she watched from behind the screen as he carefully wiped off charcoal residue from each of his feet onto a rag, then rested one foot against his drawing board as he waited for her. From how he moved, she had the sense that he was enjoying the texture of the blank paper. Again, this was strangely touching to her.

She resumed her pose for him. This time, she found herself more occupied in examining the drawings and paintings arranged around the edge of the room. She had seen that his process was orderly and classical, unlike the plentiful artists she knew who made a point of breaking with the traditions of the Académie, but his style still had a modern boldness to it. His figures had a strength and liveliness that was more than life-like, as if their expression was being distilled out, purified.

Most of the drawings were studies—figures, architecture, or still-lifes—but the paintings seemed to be from a series, all of men and women in overcoats. They lived in a perpetual autumn, it seemed. The paintings fell into two types: in the first, a man or woman stood alone on a train platform, on a street corner, some other public place, their heads bowed or turned away into darkness. These isolated figures seemed to radiate an urgent signal, but Bérénice could not quite tell what it was—need? Pleasure in loneliness? Holiness?

In the second type of painting, the figures came together: the men and women clasped each other urgently, their figures filled the frame of the picture, their limbs were entwined, even if they had not shed their long coats and gloves. Here, too, there was that sense of obscure radiance, from each of the figures. This radiance was not different in kind; it had not been transformed in embrace: simply doubled.

Sitting still, breathing deeply, the warmth long since fled from her hands and feet, Bérénice marveled over these paintings, their mysterious ardor. And she recognized for the first time the evolution that her image would represent in this series: for she sat alone on her chair, wearing only a man’s belted overcoat, sitting with her head turned, as if looking away in regret—or as if someone had just called her name.

When she guessed her place in the series, she must have moved slightly, or done something else that communicated her surprise, for she found that Jean-Claude had set down his charcoal and was watching her face. When he smiled at her, then, it was if he had been following all of her thoughts for the past minutes, the way that she had fallen into the world of his paintings, and he was now thanking her for it.

Her smile in return was hesitant; the moment felt fragile, somehow. Quickly she recomposed herself, breaking his gaze. She took refuge in professionalism.

But to her surprise, as he picked up his charcoal again, he said, “You are from Belgium?”

He must have been asking around about her, she realized, because they had spoken nothing of this on the first day.

“Yes,” she said, “from the north…”

And to her immense surprise, they proceeded to have a perfectly pleasant and free-flowing conversation. His deep, blurred voice was shy yet inviting, his posture in his reclined chair increasingly relaxed. She began to realize that on the first day, he had been painfully conscious of his own physicality, and had been laboring to limit his motions to only the absolutely necessary. Today, he seemed to be fighting his body less, and consequently seemed less stiff and unhappy. When she took her breaks, this time he, too, carefully stretched his legs one at a time, rolled out his ankles, slowly rocked the balls of his feet against the floor to flex and stretch his toes. She became conscious again of how much of his vitality and expressiveness was concentrated in the lower half of his body, while his arms stayed tightly folded against his chest. She became conscious, too, of how tiring drawing was for him, how much more control and concentration it demanded from him compared to other artists.

Before she left this time, she offered again to share a cigarette and felt a surge of happiness when he accepted. She finished it with him slowly, talking about how she had made her way to Paris. When she passed the cigarette to him for the last time, she watched the way his lips closed around it gently. She resisted the desire to touch his cheek.

 “Next time,” she said as she readied herself to leave, “you will tell me about yourself.” And she smiled conspiratorially, as if they had already agreed that this would be so.

The look that Jean-Claude gave her in return was so genuinely blank that she laughed. At that, he pulled his mouth to one side and gave the little jerk of his head that served him for a shrug, since it seemed he did not like to move his shoulders.

Nonetheless, she thought she could tell that he was not really displeased. After all, he even addressed her by her name when he said good-bye. For the rest of the day, she savored the memory of his slow, careful voice enunciating the syllables of her name.

 

 

***

 

 

At a dark, low-ceilinged bar later that week, Bérénice received a pleasant surprise: one of the musicians performing was a black-haired guitarist with a rough, boyish handsomeness. This was her old friend, Vincent, who was blind, and yet had traveled to half the countries in Europe, playing in streets, bars, and theaters. She had least seen him two years ago, in Bruxelles.

When he reached a break, she ran up to the little platform from which he and his friends were performing. “Vincent! It’s me—Bérénice la belge!” When he registered her, he grinned and reached out a hand in her direction. She clasped it happily, and he let himself be pulled off the stage and over to her table.

“Sweet Bérénice,” he said, as she pressed a drink into his hands. “I’ve found you again; and have you charmed all the daubers in Paris by now?”

With his rough, curly black hair, ready grin, and compact form, Vincent reminded Bérénice of a clever sheepdog. He had been blind from an early age; his eyes were a clear light brown, but unfocused, and the left one sometimes drifted to one side. Nonetheless, he had his vanities: he knew that women, and men, liked his well-shaped hands and muscular forearms, and nearly always left his shirtsleeves rolled up in consequence.

He slipped a finger inside the rim of his glass to test the height of the wine before putting it to his lips and taking a grateful swallow.

Bérénice laughed. “Give me another few months; I’m still getting my footing. But yes, I’ve met people, wonderful people. In fact I think I am on the brink of making a new friend this week.”

“Oh?” Vincent’s head lifted a little, and his softly wandering gaze came to rest on her—on her mouth, she knew, more specifically than on her face. “A special friend?” he inquired, smiling.

Bérénice wriggled in her seat, with both pleased anticipation and a bit of embarrassment. “Maybe. I’m not sure yet. But he intrigues me.”

“Who is it?” He was leaning forward eagerly.

“Maybe you know him. Have you heard of the artist who paints with his feet?”

“Huh! I have. I wouldn’t have thought you’d be interested.” He stroked his chin with two fingers, speculatively; a gold ring glinted on his index finger.

“Oh? What have you heard of him?” Bérénice tried not to sound defensive.

“Bérénice, you like fun,” Vincent said.

“Well, so?”

“I’ve heard he’s a fine artist, but I’ve also heard that he’s, well, a bit sour.”

“Sour!” Bérénice frowned with indignation and clicked a fingernail against her wineglass.

Vincent was working to gauge her mood, now; he had tilted one ear in her direction. “Maybe not sour. But… a bit stiff. He holds himself apart. There are even rumors that he’s… religious.” He said this with a tone of exaggerated scandal.

Bérénice made a rude noise at him.

“Well, you must really like him; it’s not like you to pout like this,” Vincent observed.

Bérénice sighed. “Oh, I don’t really know what I want.” As she said it, she realized what she had, on some level, been hoping for from Vincent: a sign of approval, of understanding. She had been naïvely thinking of Vincent and Jean-Claude as belonging to a sort of brotherhood. But, she reflected now, they were two very different men. Picturing a conversation between the two of them, she could imagine Vincent coaxing Jean-Claude out of his diffidence—but it was just as easy to imagine him losing patience and drifting away, dismissing Jean-Claude as drab, sheltered.

Quickly she turned her attention back to Vincent. “I don’t mean to be sulky. You said what you’ve heard, which is what I asked you for.” She reached out to rest her hand on one of his. “But I think he’s just shy. And he does fascinate me.”

Vincent smiled and shrugged. “You’ll have to keep me apprised of your findings.” He leaned to place an affectionate kiss on the back of her hand.

“Vincent, you really do know everyone,” someone said. Behind Vincent had appeared a slender, brown-skinned woman with refined features and black hair down to the small of her back.

“Who is that?” Vincent said, and then, happily, “Isidore!” He had recognized her voice.

This was one of the two model sisters with whom Bérénice lived. They were Algerian, and had taken men’s names—Isidore and Simon. They were droll and languid, yet disciplined about their affairs; Bérénice found them congenial and amusing. Frequently they brought girls back to the apartment, but made surprisingly little noise when they did so.

Isidore exchanged brisk kisses in greeting with Bérénice and Vincent, then dropped down into a seat next to Vincent. She was wearing an overlarge white shirt and a pair of grey slacks, and held a wineglass and a lit cigarette in the same hand. “What are we talking about?”

“The saint,” Vincent said. “The foot-painter.”

“Oh?” Isidore blew out a stream of smoke and looked at Bérénice. “You took a job with him, didn’t you?”

“And what do you think?” Vincent pursued, before Bérénice could say anything. He was leaning forward, his ear turned to them, his blank gaze turned downwards.

“Well, I already told Bé that I think his paintings are good; but maybe she’s a better judge of that than me, now, if she’s been in his studio.”

“They are,” Bérénice put in, and Vincent gave her a smile. “Not just technique, but expression, too.” She thought of the painted men and women, embracing in mute ecstasy.

Isidore tipped her head from side to side. “But he’s tied to his mother’s apron strings,” she went on. At this, Bérénice frowned. “Well, I suppose that’s to his credit,” Isidore amended. “I’ve heard she’s been at death’s door more than once. But it makes him strange. He used to have more friends, people who were happy to help him go out. But he’s afraid to leave her, now.”

“So he used to go out?” Bérénice said. She found it hard to picture; it was as if he and his mother lived in a separate realm, a Dutch painting filled with ghostly light.

“When he wasn’t working. He works a lot,” Isidore said, gesturing with her cigarette for emphasis. “Again, to his credit.” Suddenly she turned to Vincent. “Vincent, what do you think of this? I think he worries for his mother—but I also think he is afraid he won’t be taken seriously because he’s a cripple.” Again, she emphasized each phrase with her cigarette. “So he stays away from parties, and drink, and he works himself to the bone to be taken seriously.”

Vincent blew out a puff of air. “Don’t ask me to speak for him. But yes, I think there might be truth in that. I—” and here he grinned self-deprecatingly “—I am a recognized type: the blind troubadour. People know what to do with me. But he’s at risk, you see, of being treated merely as a curiosity, a freak.”

He went on: “Here is my guess. I’ve never met the man, and I’ll never see his paintings. But I’ve met men who were like him, in some ways. So my guess is that he is a man who wishes he could disappear into his paintings. He would be happier, he thinks, if the world could see only his paintings and not him.”

Isidore was nodding seriously and pouring herself another glass of wine. Bérénice let out a sudden sigh and collapsed against her roommate, draping her arms around Isidore’s shoulders. The other woman gave her an ironical look. “Maybe it’s as you say,” Bérénice said through Isidore’s hair. But I’ll follow him in, as far as he’ll let me, she said only to herself.

By then, Vincent’s friends were calling for him to rejoin them on stage. He stood and felt his way around the table until he could find Bérénice and kiss her good-bye. He slid his hands down her shoulders until he held her fingertips and said, “If you’re not wholly bent on your holy man, won’t you favor me with your company later tonight, my Bérénice?”

As always, she found his candid smile and uncertain gaze piercingly sweet. With regret, she replied, “Maybe next week—if you’re still here, Vincent.”

He cuffed her arm. “You really are set on him! Well, good hunting. Come and find me next Thursday—if I’m still here, and if you haven’t yet joined him in swearing off worldly pleasures.”

She laughed, and he saluted her as a friend began to guide him back to the stage.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Bérénice, part 3

 Nobody came to the door when she knocked for her third session, but she thought that she heard someone call her name from inside. She tried the handle and, finding it unlatched, let herself in, calling out a greeting as she did so.

Inside the studio, she found that Else was kneeling to hold an earthenware cup of water to Jean-Claude’s lips, and murmuring something to him. Bérénice stopped at the threshold, embarrassed. She cleared her throat.

Else did not pause; she waited until Jean-Claude had drunk the whole cup, still speaking to him, before she rose, touched his shoulder, and moved to depart. Jean-Claude tipped his head to one side to wipe his mouth on the shoulder of his shirt.

Else nodded in welcome to Bérénice as she passed, giving her a weary smile. Bérénice was struck that Else had grown even more haggard over the course of less than a week. Though she still walked with a measured pace and straight back, her skin looked translucent, her eyes sunken, her lips dry. Bérénice felt a surge of emotion: she wanted to embrace the other woman, or tuck her into bed and spoon broth for her. But she already heard the front door closing: Else must have gone out to go to the market.

Jean-Claude must have read Bérénice’s face when she moved into the studio, because he said, “She hasn’t been sleeping well.”

“I’m sorry.”

He shook his head. He looked tired, too, his pale eyes heavy and shadowed. “Even when she’s sick, it’s hard for her to rest, because…” He hesitated, looking at Bérénice, before going on: “She thinks that I might need her.” He was drumming the toes of one foot against the ground; she took it as a sign of nerves.

“I see,” Bérénice said softly.

After another moment, he arrested his nervous tapping, shaking his head again. “Shall we begin? Today, we paint.” He cocked his head to indicate the supplies he had laid out to begin the oil sketch, the looser rendering that would precede the final painting. Fresh paint was laid out on his palette in an arc of colors, and, she realized now, the air smelled of linseed oil.

Bérénice smiled, feeling a prickle of excitement. She flung her arms overhead, stretching from head to toe, then quickly executed a series of exaggerated poses for him, ending with a few dance steps. “I’m ready!” she declared, arms outspread.

He smiled crookedly. “Then why are you still dressed?” And he gestured her over toward the dressing screen with his chin. It was the closest he had come to teasing her.

Bérénice had been excited not only for the first paint stroke to go down—a moment that always filled her with anticipation—but to see him paint, of course. But the fascination of watching him grip and angle the long paintbrushes with his toes was soon diluted by the fact that his fatigue clearly put him at odds with his own body. His head kept twisting to his left shoulder, obliging him to look from the corners of his eyes, and he might spend half a minute considering where to place the next brushstroke, only for his leg to jerk and fall to the side when he tried to execute it.

His mouth was tight with unhappiness and he was breathing in short, hard spurts by the time that Bérénice tactfully suggested that she take her first break. Jean-Claude gave her a brief “Yes,” then pushed out a loud exhalation and flung his legs out in a gesture of frustration, the soles of his feet smacking down against the floorboards.

Bérénice could see him staring resentfully at the paintbrush that he still held between the toes of his right foot, its tuft loaded with yellow ochre. She guessed that he was considering throwing it; only then that would oblige her to go and retrieve it for him, and the paint might spoil something in the room.

She twisted her mouth to one side, wishing she could do something, but held her tongue. She re-wrapped the overcoat around herself, feeling cold air steal up against her bare skin as she shifted it, then turned her back to him in order to begin the little dance of warming herself up.

When she turned around again, Jean-Claude had clearly worked to compose himself. His mouth was set into a determined line; he nodded for her to resume her pose. While she rearranged her hair and the folds of her coat, he rubbed his left foot against the ankle of the other and stared hard at her in the artist’s way, where the whole picture is seen, not the person. Again, she felt a prickle of excitement.

He began painting again. This time, his gestures seemed a little looser, a little more fluid. He paused often to rest and think, but each time he lifted the brush with his foot again, she could feel the unity of the motion and his intent, the brush following his fiercely directed gaze.

During one pause, when he was mixing a new color, he said to her, “I wish I could paint faster.”

Bérénice blinked and tried to conceal her surprise at hearing him actually voice a complaint. Then she smiled. “You’re far from the only artist I’ve heard bemoan this.”

“I know, but…”

After he had been silent a while, Bérénice decided to probe a little. “Are you thinking about process? Or… your body?”

He considered. “Both, I suppose. I trust the process I’ve been taught. I understand how it serves me. But sometimes I think about money—how much many more paintings I could make and sell if I could cut steps, find a new way. And sometimes I wonder whether I might simply discover new things—new ways of seeing, new ways of making—if I tried something different.”

Bérénice was perplexed. “Why don’t you?”

“I’m afraid of losing even more time if I stray. I’m sure you’ve heard about ‘shortcuts’ that waste materials, produce bad results. I feel I don’t have space to experiment. I’m always tired, Bérénice. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many hours when I can paint, physically. There are always more things I should be planning, learning, things I could be doing to try to better manage our affairs, but I can’t, because I have to paint, and painting makes me tired, because of my stupid body.”

With the last phrase, he stamped his free foot against the ground, and then leaned back against his chair, biting his lower lip in agitation. His head was beginning to twitch, jerking through space randomly, and a tremor seized his left leg, lifting it up into the air, the foot extended, before it trembled back down to the ground.

“I’m sorry,” Bérénice said. “I’ve distracted you, and upset you.” She was frozen into her pose with dismay; she didn’t dare to turn her head to look at him more directly. Even from what she could see, distress clutched at her stomach: it was hard, hard to see him lose him control over himself, to look so infirm, helpless.

He shook his head jerkily. “I started it, and I’m not upset at you. It’s better for me to stop today, anyway. I could already tell I was going to get worse again.”

She couldn’t tell if he was only trying to make her feel better. Seeing her hesitate, he flexed the toes of his right foot to tap the butt of his paintbrush against the floor and said, “I mean it. You can stop for today.”

She hesitated one moment more, then said, “If you’re sure…” and rose from the chair.

He tapped the paintbrush against the floor again, then added, “I don’t suppose… you would like to stay and share another cigarette with me?” His voice was once again as shy as it had been on the first day.

“Only if you start adding the cost of cigarettes to my fee,” she said, and felt rewarded when he snorted. “But really—of course,” she said, smiling. “Wait just a moment.”

While she dressed, he called out, still sounding diffident, “There are blankets in the covered basket behind the screen. Will you bring me one? You should take some, too.”

She emerged with several piled in her arms and an unlit cigarette between her lips. One blanket she laid on the floor by him, for her to sit on; as she did so, she stole a glance at his oil sketch, and exclaimed, “Oh!”

“You like it?” he said, sounding skeptical.

“Very much,” she said. The loose strokes, the ghostly, glowing indications of light and shadow, filled her with a hushed pleasure and expectancy. “I often like the sketch better than the finished painting,” she added.

“Me, too,” he said, with a wry twist of his mouth.

“It’s like seeing a spirit… The final work sometimes seems to have too much cleverness in it. But where did you want this blanket?” she said, almost interrupting herself.

“Can you just… put it on me?” he said, seeming embarrassed.

“Like this?” She draped it around his shoulders, tucking it in gently so it wouldn’t slip, conscious of the stillness of his clenched, withered arms under the fabric, conscious that this was the closest she had gotten to touching his body.

He had let out a small sigh, and a shiver ran through his body; he must have been cold. “Yes, thanks.”

“It’s nothing.” She folded herself down cross-legged onto her blanket at the same time that she pulled out a book of matches. Striking one, she lifted it and said, “Santé,” before she touched it to the tip of the cigarette. She inhaled, let the heat and aroma scorch her throat and fill her lungs.

He inclined his head when she reached the cigarette up to him and echoed, “Santé.” His head was still twitching; she followed his motions carefully until she was sure he could take the cigarette.

They smoked in silence for some time before Bérénice asked, “How did you learn to paint?”

When his face went stiff, she said teasingly, “I warned you last time that I wanted to know more about you.”

He gave her a look, then scuffed his feet against the floor.

Then he began, in his slow voice: “When I was little, when my mother had to work, she left me with a neighbor and her children to look after me. They found they could keep me happy for hours if they left me in a chair with a lump of charcoal—or chalk, if they could find any—to draw with. I drew everything I saw around me.” The tremors in his legs had calmed; he traced one toe across the floor and added, “I learned to draw before I learned to talk.”

The way he said it, she wondered how long it had taken him to learn to talk.

“When I was older—there are some schools for children who are crippled, or blind, but they can only take so many children, and my mother could never find the right time or the right way to find a place for me.

“Instead, she found me a place in the studio of an Austrian painter. I was about twelve; he might have been almost fifty. He was half-mad… but very talented. My mother paid him a fee to let me sit in a corner of the studio every day and watch everything, listen to everything, do what I could with the materials she could afford for me.

“Sometimes he would forget who I was and why I was there, and he would lunge at me in a rage and rail at me, accuse me of trying to steal his secrets. It was terrifying; sometimes I hated him. I knew if he wanted to beat me, or throw me out, there was nothing I could do about it. But he never laid a finger on me… To be honest, I think he might have been afraid of my body, or repulsed by it.

“Thinking about him raging just makes me sad, now. He was so confused. I didn’t understand how he could be so angry.”

Bérénice was shaking her head in disbelief.

“Anyway—when he wasn’t having a spell, I loved being there. He rarely spoke to me, but I drank in every moment of watching him work. It was as good as… as being fed when you are hungry. Watching him answered questions that I wouldn’t even have known how to ask.

“Of course the best moments were the ones when he would actually come over to see what I had been working on, in my corner. Sometimes he would walk away again without saying anything, but sometimes he would stay and point out where I had gone wrong, and what I should do in the future. I would imprint every word he said into my memory, every gesture he made, and revisit them for weeks.”

Here he stopped speaking. He was staring at the floor, tracing one foot back and forth again.

“And then?” Bérénice prompted gently.

“And then it all ended, after almost two years. He hadn’t shouted at me in a long while; I had the sense that he was finally accustomed to my being there. But one day he stormed into the studio, and I got ready for it to start all over again—but I realized he was crying. When he saw me, he rushed to me and flung his arms around me and babbled and cried. I was terrified—as I said, he’d never touched me before. I kept trying to pull away from him, but he only held me tighter, until he was crying silently.

“Then he rushed away again, and started bringing me—things. His palette, brushes, tin plates, I don’t know what. He piled them in my lap until they started falling on the floor. All I could do was say, ‘What’s going on? What’s going on?’ But he never really answered.

“Eventually he ran to me and kissed my cheeks and… tried to hold my hands, then my feet. Then he rushed out the door.

“That was the last time I ever saw him. Neighbors said he was taken away by men later, but they didn’t know who—police, or doctors, or something else. I think most everything in his studio was auctioned off—oh, god, are you crying?”

“I’m sorry,” Bérénice said, scrubbing at her cheeks. “I cry easily. It’s stupid. Please ignore me.”

“Please don’t cry,” he said.

“It always helps when people say that,” Bérénice replied, and succeeded in making him smile.

“Well, maybe it will make you feel better to know that I do still have his palette.” And he reached a foot out to gently touch the edge of the worn wooden oval. “And a few of his brushes, too.”

She echoed the gesture, reaching out to touch the other side of the palette. “It does help. Thank you… No matter how many stories you hear of people in trouble, the world always seems to find a new way to open a wound in your heart.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t leave your heart so bare,” he said, with a half-smile.

She shook back her hair, searching his face. “Well, you must admit that your role in the story is unique.”

“Maybe.”

“If you hadn’t been there, would anyone have known how much feeling there was in his heart? Whatever that feeling was. What could have happened to him?”

“Ah, now you’re really romanticizing…” But he said it with a note of melancholy, looking away from her.

“A different question, then. Why does your mother call you ‘Jisse’?”

He gave a start, his legs jerking upwards and briefly trembling again, then clicked his tongue with exasperation. “You heard that?”

“One or two times,” she admitted.

“Hm.” He pursed his mouth, then said, “J. C.—Jisse. Just short for Jean-Claude.”

Bérénice smiled. “Funny. I like it—but I won’t presume.”

Now he was giving her a strange look, with his pale eyes. She thought that he might say something, but he didn’t.

She wiped her cheeks and sniffed once more, then began to stand up. “Jean-Claude, I need to leave soon—for this sculptor who will want me to reassure him the whole time that no, I can’t tell he’s losing his hair… do you want me to come back? Since we didn’t finish today—”

Before she had even finished the phrase, he had said, “Yes, please.”

She smiled. “Two days? Morning again?”

“Yes, please.” He was still watching her strangely, and this time she saw him start to open his mouth, then close it again and look away, exhaling audibly.

She stepped into her shoes carefully. “Do you need anything before I leave? If your mother came back, I didn’t hear it.”

“No, thank you.”

Nonetheless, she went to him, knelt by his side, and kissed his mouth.

They parted. She held his face in both hands and watched his eyes, seeing for the first time the particular striations of pale grey and darker blue. The sound of her heartbeat filled her ears. “Yes?” she said softly.

“Yes,” he said, and they kissed again, longer this time.

When they parted again, she stroked her thumbs over his cheeks, felt his breath moving warm over her face, watched his pale eyelashes flicker. He leaned in to place gentle kisses on all the parts of her face. She reached out and touched his hair, his long neck. She dared to reach one hand down and slide her fingertips down his leg—it trembled under her touch—pausing at the rise of his anklebone.

“You have to go, I suppose,” he said, barely whispering.

“I do, and I can’t imagine anything more stupid.” Her body ached to feel him, all of him.

“You have a spotless reputation for timeliness, as a model,” he said regretfully.

“I do—and that’s even more stupid.”

He laughed.

Smiling, she curled her fingers around his ankle and whispered urgently, “I’ve cried enough tears for this morning. No more tragedy. We’ll see each other again in two days—or sooner than that, if you could see me tonight. Won’t you come out with me tonight, dear Jean-Claude?”

At that, he pulled back, and she saw his eyes move to the doorway, as if his mother might be waiting there.

“Are you afraid to leave her alone?” Bérénice said, when he was still silent.

“Yes.”

“I understand… Two days, then?”

“I think it’s better that way. I’m sorry.”

She kissed him again, his mouth and each of his eyes. “Don’t worry. I’m already thinking about how to clear my obligations for the rest of that day. I’ll scatter them behind me like beads.” And she made an illustrative gesture. “That is, if you can spare the time… Ah, look at you! Your smile makes me wild. Good-bye, Jean-Claude.”

Again, they kissed. Then she rose and hurried away, leaving him in his chair, smiling to himself in disbelief.

New book out

Hi PD Fiction Blog readers,

just wanted to let you know that I finally finished editing and working over "For The Love Of Not Walking" and it is now available on Amazon Kindle and KU.

Some of you may remember the story from a few years ago and if you enjoyed it then, I hope you consider purchasing it for your Kindle so you can now read the new and improved version. If you enjoy it or any of my stories, please leave a review or rating. I am always happy to connect with my readers behind the scenes or on social media.

I am constantly learning and working on improving my writing, so my readers will have a good experience. I have some other stories in the works and may tackle "No Strings Attached" next. I know it needs A LOT of work.

I miss you and hope this finds everyone in good health. 

Here is the link: 

For The Love Of Not Walking

Love, Dani



Thursday, August 12, 2021

Bérénice, part 4

During her session with the balding sculptor, she was patient, even generous, with his ill-concealed wheedling after praise and reassurance. Even after she had to fend off several attempts to fondle her bottom, she emerged feeling virtuous and ebullient, and brought home mussels and a bouquet of rust-colored chrysanthemums for Isidore and Simon.

Isidore raised an eyebrow when she saw Bérénice bustle into the apartment with her booty. “What are we celebrating?” Isidore was scrubbing at a stain on her shirt by the sink, while Simon was sitting at their rickety table, one leg drawn up onto her chair, eating a slice of sausage off of a knife. She followed her sister in raising an eyebrow. She was younger than Isidore, and wore her hair short. She had the same refined features, but was less slender, with a rounded, muscular figure. In addition to gypsy girls, Greek sorceresses, and so on, she was asked sometimes to pose as an Arab or Italian boy.

In answer to Isidore’s question, Bérénice declared, “Friendship! Friendship, and beauty. And whatever wine Simon is drinking.” She stole a swig, then began searching for a pot to boil the mussels.

“Have matters progressed, then?” Isidore inquired.

“With the saint of the studio?” Simon put in. Isidore must have reported their conversation with Vincent to her.

“Mm…. yes.” Bérénice smiled down into the pot as she filled it with water in the cracked enamel sink.

“Strange taste, for your first conquest in Paris—but who are we to speak,” Simon said. “Is it that you like toppling idols? Or do you simply prefer the unusual?”

“That Vincent is no idol, and it struck me that you must have toppled him plenty of times,” Isidore put in.

Bérénice snorted. “It’s true, Vincent is an easy catch—but a sweet one. You know he never lacks for bedmates. I don’t know—don’t you ever feel that the world is simply full of wonderful people, and all so different, and love is the best way to taste that difference?” She swung the pot onto a gas burner with an excess of enthusiasm; water splashed out one side. “Tch…”

Isidore exchanged an amused glance with her sister. “I can’t disagree, but isn’t that another way of saying you prefer the unusual?”

“Usual, unusual… I don’t know. Don’t you also think that once you love a person, they become, at the same time, the most unusual and the most usual person you can imagine? Everything is new—but everything is also safe, and close, and natural.”

“Bérénice, I can’t match your philosophizing, at least not before dinner,” Isidore said. “But I’m happy for you, and I hope he gives you the sweetness you deserve. You’ll have to keep us apprised as to how clever he is… with his feet. Maybe we could learn some things. Simon, pour her a toast—to love in new configurations.”

Bérénice was blushing, but laughingly joined the other women in intoning, “To love in new configurations!” Each took her turn drinking from the same hastily filled wineglass.

Then Simon pleaded, “Bérénice, light the stove! We need dinner!”

 

 

***

 

 

The next morning, Jean-Claude sent her a message by way of the young boy whose family lived upstairs from his studio. “He says that after your session, he can have lunch with you—as late as three o’clock,” the boy said, looking Bérénice up and down with undisguised fascination. He must have been about twelve years old.

Bérénice beamed. “Thank you! Here—buy yourself something that will impress your school-friends.” And she pressed a coin on the boy, who bobbed his head in thanks before hurrying away.

As for work that day, Bérénice had a treat: two sessions with women artists, one a painter and one a print-maker. No pinches on the bottom or lewd comments, today. Posing as they sketched, she felt a happy sense of companionship, even complicity. The painter, a stout Russian with a vast knot of frizzy blonde hair on top of her head, was voluble, and Bérénice cheerfully entered into the flow of her stories and gossip as the artist made great slashing marks on her paper with a red conté crayon. Several times Bérénice was tempted to share that she was, herself, on the brink of a new adventure. But in the end, she didn’t speak of it. She imagined that she was already communicating that knowledge through how she held her body for the artist’s regard: with a renewed sense of physical purposefulness and contentment. At the end of the session, the Russian heartily clasped her hand and praised Bérénice’s vigor and expressiveness.

With the print-maker, who was silent almost the whole session, Bérénice simply posed and thought of Jean-Claude. She remembered the long lines of his face, the crease that formed in one cheek when he smiled, the pale translucence of his eyes when she had looked into them for the first time—like a cool grey crystal of agate. She thought of the stillness of his arms and hands, their angular shapes half-hidden by his draping shirtsleeves; she wondered again if they gave him pain. She thought of the strange elegance and strength of his gestures when he painted; she wondered if he ever wore shoes… She wondered if his mother had slept better, yet, and if there was anything that might help her regain her strength.

She thought of the melancholy and respect, even awe, in Jean-Claude’s voice when he had spoken about the mad Austrian painter with whom he had had his erratic apprenticeship. She wondered how much his mother had known of the painter’s rages. Somehow, she doubted that Jean-Claude would have told Else the whole truth, for she could not imagine his mother permitting him to return if there were any chance of physical threat. She wondered how much Else might have given up to afford that apprenticeship; she wondered how much Else might have suffered in her life, as a woman alone with a crippled child. She wondered where she was from—her name, at least, was German—where her relations lived, what had happened to Jean-Claude’s father.

And she wondered what Jean-Claude was painting today—and whether he was thinking of her.

That night, she went out with Isidore, Simon, and several others to a café where the musicians played tango music at night. While Simon danced with her new girl-friend, a plump black dancer named Aïcha, Bérénice danced with Isidore, laughing when she flashed her green eyes about the room dramatically. Then they traded partners, and Bérénice let Simon whirl her about the room. Then Isidore was back at her shoulder: “He wants to dance with you,” she shouted over the hubbub of the café, pointing at a tall man with curly brown hair, “but wants to know if you are a lesbian.” The man raised his cigarette to them in an ironic salute.

Bérénice laughed. “Well, what did you tell him?” She was sweating; she fumbled for a glass of water.

“I told him he could find out for himself.”

Bérénice swallowed her mouthful of water and rolled her eyes. “Well, I’ll let Aïcha have you back,” she said to Simon, and went to the curly-haired man.

He drew her back into the dance as the violin trilled. He was a skillful dancer, and she liked the confident touch of his hand on her back, the speed of his gliding steps across the room, even the sheen of sweat on his brow. But when he tried to hold her eyes with his, she felt only a reflexive flicker of emotion. For the remainder of the dance, she had to repress laughter at the urgency with which he was trying to bore into her with his gaze.

In the end, they exchanged a few kisses: pleasant enough, but uninspired. When he shrugged and exasperatedly gestured her back to her friends, she gave an apologetic laugh.

She had already begun thinking about Jean-Claude again: plenty of men were good dancers, she thought, but there was only one man exactly like him.

August Writing Prompt

 Thanks for all the fantastic prompt suggestions!  I think I have enough now for at least the next few months.  I'm going to only include one sentence in the prompt though, because that will produce the most variety in the stories.  

You can include the prompt anywhere in your story.  Or you can simply be inspired by the prompt even if you don't use it.  

Put your story in the comments!  Don't count on it accepting a comment longer than 400 words, but last time some people broke up their submission into two separate comments. 

Without further ado, here's the prompt:

"Why the hell did you move my wheelchair across the room?"

(I'm going to play by the rules this time and put my submission in the comments.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Bérénice, part 5

Late that night, she was awoken by a harsh whisper. “Bérénice. Bérénice!

She peeled her eyes open. It was Simon, she realized, crouching by the side of her bed. She blinked several times; her eyes were heavy. “What is it? Is something wrong?”

Simon gestured back over her shoulder at the doorway. Silhouetted in the light from the room beyond, Bérénice saw the slim figure of a child, a boy. It was Jean-Claude’s neighbor again, she realized.

Instantly she sat up, pushing back her blanket. “What is it?” she repeated.

“His mother is very sick,” the boy said softly. “She’s been taken to the doctor, but he had to stay behind. He wants to know if you’ll come help him.”

Bérénice was already getting out of bed. “Yes, of course,” she said. “What time is it?”

“A little before four,” Simon replied.

“Oh, god. I’m sorry you woke up before I did.”

“I wasn’t sleeping,” Simon said dryly.

Bérénice was casting about the room, grabbing a sweater, a wool skirt; she jammed her feet into boots, seized a coat. “Did he say he needed anything?” she said to the boy. “Food, money?” She felt a little dizzy, but she took a deep breath and blew it out hard, until she felt clearer.

The boy shook his head. “No, he just asked to see if you would come help him.”

“Yes, yes,” Bérénice said again, moving out her door. Simon and the boy trailed behind her. In the other bedroom, beyond the little kitchen, she could see Aïcha sitting wrapped in a blanket, looking puzzled and worried. Bérénice gave her a tired smile.

Then it seemed that they were already down the stairs, out in the street, Bérénice leading the way, the boy almost running to keep up with her long strides. It was a damp, raw night; mist had come in from the Seine, blurring the streetlights.

“What did you say your name was, again?” Bérénice asked.

“Paul,” the boy said.

And, breathlessly, the boy told her: her family had been awoken by Jean-Claude crying out for help below them, sharply audible through the gappy floorboards.

His mother had been tossing and turning all night, he explained later, unable to sleep; finally she had risen to get out of bed—he wasn’t sure why—taken a few steps, and fallen heavily to the floor. By the time that Paul’s mother had hurried down, Else was still unconscious, although breathing regularly.

With a little effort, a taxi had been hailed from the street; during the time that it took to find one, yet another neighbor, who had a telephone, had been roused, and a call placed to the doctor, so that he should be ready by the time the taxi arrived.

Paul’s father had carried Else into the taxi—but the taxi could not take Jean-Claude in his wheelchair. This was why Jean-Claude had asked for Bérénice’s help, Paul finally explained. Jean-Claude had asked the rest of Paul’s family to please go back to bed—but if Paul could remember his way back to Bérénice’s apartment…

The quarter was so small, they lived less than a half a mile apart; when Bérénice and Paul arrived at Jean-Claude’s studio, Paul guessed that it had only been half an hour since he had first been sent out.

Nonetheless, in the darkness, chill, and uncertainty, Bérénice felt keenly each moment slipping by—a sickly, nightmarish sensation. And when she opened Jean-Claude’s door and saw him waiting just beyond, she felt as if she had been struck in the chest. Slumping to one side in his wheelchair, he was twitching constantly, his head jerking from side to side, his legs clenching and straightening arrhythmically. His face was so white and drawn that he looked ten years older. With his arms clamped to his chest, he looked as if he were being gripped and shaken by a giant’s hand.

“Bérénice,” he said, and she was shocked again by how slurred his voice was. He struggled to voice the last syllable of her name; it disappeared into a muffled “mm.”

She concealed her reaction and simply answered, “Yes. You want the doctor? The one on the western side of the quarter?”

He nodded jerkily. From the look on his face, she could tell he was afraid that Else might die before he could see her.

“Yes. Yes,” Bérénice said, feeling that she was reassuring herself more than him. “Paul, you should go to bed. Thank you.”

The boy nodded and backed away; then they heard his feet running lightly up the stairs.

“Jean-Claude, it’s cold outside. Let me get a blanket for you.” Before he could say no, she strode over to the studio. Even without turning the lights on, she was able to navigate well enough to find the basket of blankets without difficulty.

She was already thinking about the short flight of stairs outside the studio. “Now how shall we go?” she asked Jean-Claude as she tucked first one, then another blanket around his shoulders. He was wearing his customary shirt and loose trousers, and a pair of leather slippers; she wondered if Paul’s mother had helped him dress.

He was still struggling to speak, grimacing as his head jerked. As she maneuvered him out onto the landing and reached for the outside door, he finally managed, “Take me down. In chair. Backwards.”

Quickly she pivoted his chair until she was ready to guide him backwards down the front stairs, balancing him from below. This proved to be easier than she had feared, but it made her mouth twist to see how his body lurched each time they dropped down another step. When she ran back up the steps to close the door behind them, she could see Paul’s mother watching, worried, from an upper window. Bérénice raised a hand briefly.

Then they were off down the pavement. When they turned onto the Boulevard Raspail, Bérénice spoke a silent blessing on the wide, well-kept pavements of Montparnasse’s main thoroughfares. She set her hands firmly on the wooden pushbar and set off at a pace only a little slower than running. Her breath bloomed out opaquely into the mist; sounds were deadened around them, even her own footfalls. They passed occasional knots of late-returning revelers, someone out smoking a solitary cigarette, two prostitutes wearily chatting in a doorway. Heads turned as they passed.

Crossing over to the western side of the quarter, they passed the Cimetière du Montparnasse. With a chill in her heart, Bérénice resisted the instinct to slow her pace to a more ceremonious one. The mist gave it all an uncanny, storybook-like flatness: the boundary of autumn-bare trees, the dense rows of funeral monuments receding into the silver-blurred darkness… Jean-Claude’s head was averted from the sight, but she could not tell if it was voluntary or not. Briefly she released one hand from the pushbar and reached out to touch his shoulder, but regretted it when he jerked violently in reaction. She replaced her hand, set her jaw, and kept going.

After the Cimetière, to break the mood, she ventured to ask, “Why didn’t you go in the taxi?” Clearly his wheelchair could not have been brought that way, but if Paul’s father had already accompanied Else, he could have helped Jean-Claude, too…

After a pause, Jean-Claude answered, “He didn’t want to take me. The driver.” The bitterness in his voice was clear.

Bérénice made a wordless exclamation of anger. She could picture it: the driver, superstitious or squeamish, already uncomfortable with the unconscious woman—might she die on him? and he be blamed?—had therefore refused contact with her crippled son. She admitted that even she had been shocked by Jean-Claude’s appearance tonight, by the erratic violence of his movements, his groaning voice. But still—to separate a son and his mother under such conditions…

Jean-Claude would have given in, finally, anxious for his mother to be seen by the doctor as soon as possible. She cursed the driver’s small-mindedness.

Nonetheless, Jean-Claude seemed to be regaining some measure of physical composure. His body was moving with less agitation; she was no longer afraid that he might lurch from his chair. In the mist, she could see his breath pluming out more steadily.

“The doctor,” she said carefully, “he’s someone who knows your mother?” She had been wondering—if Else’s condition were bad enough, might one of the hospitals not be a better choice…? And the expense of a private doctor…

“Yes,” Jean-Claude said. Reading her question, he continued, “The public hospitals near the quarter are terrible. People are afraid of them—l’Hôpital Cochin especially. That’s where people go to die, surrounded by strangers in filthy beds.” He fell silent again, so that his words hung heavily on them.

Bérénice exhaled and said, “We’ll see her soon.” Her voice was firm. And, knowing that they were close, no longer fearing she would exhaust herself prematurely, she broke into a real run, feeling with grim satisfaction her feet pushing against the pavement, her thighs burning, her hands propelling him forward.

Onde Anda Você chapter update!

 Hey everyone! I almost didn't finish this chapter in time for the Wednesday post, had a huge tech issue with my PC, but here I am! Didn't wanna leave y'all hanging after last chapter. This is a long one, with lots of Ben and Livia. Let me know what you think, and I hope you like it!

Here's Onde Anda Você, Chapter Six

And here's the music that comes with it, Raimundos' Mulher de Fases. It's all about women and their phases, which I think fits well given the context, haha.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Bérénice, part 6

 At the sight of the light in the doctor’s office, throwing into stark contrast his name painted across the window—Dr. Frédérique Blanchar, Médecin & Chirurgien—she drew in a deep breath, she slowed.

The front door was only one step above street level, but when she pushed Jean-Claude over the step and into the foyer, she could see that the clinic itself was up a half-flight of stairs. Before she had even brought his wheelchair to a stop, he was already pulling himself to the edge of his seat. “Stand in front of me,” he instructed.

She did, and quickly untucked the blankets from around him, throwing them over the back of his wheelchair. He said, “Hold me under my arms.” She had seen Else help him this way once before. “I’m going to stand up. Stand above me; I’ll take one step at a time.” She nodded, taking a deep breath, and he pushed himself to standing, his legs shaking.

Once they had steadied, she found that he was able to hold most of his own weight, except that his posture was bent and awkward. His first step upwards was tentative, fumbling, but after that he was able to move from step to step with surprising speed—except that once, near the top, he lost his balance with a jerk and began to fall backwards. She arrested his backward motion easily and held him while he caught his breath. His eyes were wide. Looking down at his tightly clasped arms, she thought again about how helpless he would be to catch himself in a fall.

After another moment, he muttered, “Help me keep going. Into the clinic.” She did so, moving backwards with his shuffling steps across the landing. When she felt the door at her back, she leaned back until he could lean his weight against her chest, disentangled one arm, and reached it behind her to fumble for the door handle. She got it, and quickly threaded her arm under his again to better take his weight, calling out a soft greeting to whoever was inside the clinic as she did so.

Inside, thank god, there was an empty spindle chair directly by the door. She pivoted, bent, and tried to release Jean-Claude slowly; he all but collapsed into the chair. Someone exclaimed “Jean-Claude!” from behind her; she had a confused impression of someone reaching to help her. When she was sure Jean-Claude was steady in his chair, she stood up, breathing hard, and finally turned to take in the full scene.

Electric light shone down harshly on the clinic. The walls were pale green, the floor black-and-white checked linoleum, the walls lined with white drawers and glass-fronted cabinets. Everything looked too bright and somehow stale, worn, at the same time. She felt suddenly her fatigue, and put out a hand to steady herself against the wall behind her. A stocky, brown-haired man with spectacles—Paul’s father, she could see the resemblance—had risen from his chair and hastened towards them, hesitating now between seeing to Jean-Claude or to her. It must have been him who called Jean-Claude’s name.

And the doctor had been bent over Else, who lay, looking pale and sunken, on an examination table, beneath a thin blanket. The table was white enamel; Bérénice thought that its whiteness was horrible. The doctor straightened now; she could see that he was wearing his paisley dressing-gown beneath his white coat. He was about fifty, square-set, with short, gleaming dark hair and a heavy dark face. He looked at Jean-Claude with sympathy and, she thought, a touch of warmth, despite his obvious fatigue.

Both he and Paul’s father seemed briefly puzzled by her, but fixed their attention instead on Jean-Claude. Paul’s father seemed about to pat or clasp Jean-Claude on the shoulder, but ultimately hesitated to touch him where he slumped in his chair, turning away with an uncertain expression. She leaned against the wall and tried to catch her breath.

“How bad is it?” Jean-Claude said.

“The fall was not bad,” Dr. Blanchar said, his voice measured. “She’ll be sore in the morning, some bad bruises—but no breaks, and she didn’t hit her head.” Jean-Claude exhaled. “She woke up during the taxi ride here, and after the examination, I let her fall asleep again. So she’s just resting, now.”

“Good,” Jean-Claude whispered, his voice barely audible.

“The real problem…” Here she saw Jean-Claude spasm with anxiety, his feet knocking against the floor. She reached out a hand to his shoulder. “The real problem is that she has a mass in her abdomen—and one here.” The doctor touched the base of Else’s neck, above her left collarbone. “The one in her abdomen—it’s grown from her stomach, it’s squeezing everything. It’s why she’s lost so much weight.” His voice was low and rapid, yet clear.

He paused. Jean-Claude had let out a wordless moan of sorrow, convulsing in on himself in his narrow chair. When he lurched dangerously to one side, Bérénice caught and steadied him. His flesh seemed to burn her through the fabric of his shirt, he was so full of suffering.

Paul’s father had averted his face, but Dr. Blanchar was still watching Jean-Claude steadily.

Jean-Claude seemed to recover himself, though his breaths were sharp, almost sobbing. With great hesitation, his words slurred and interrupted by twitches, he said, “Would you be able to operate?”

“Yes,” the doctor replied, “but not tonight, it wouldn’t be safe after the shock. She needs to rest, recover some strength. You need to keep her at home for at least a week—no errands, only walking around the apartment, small frequent meals, whatever she can eat. I can give her something for the pain, to help her rest more easily.”

“Yes,” Jean-Claude said, “yes, whatever you think will work, we can do it.” And Paul’s father leaned to him from the other side with a reassuring murmur; Bérénice presumed he was offering his family’s help.

And from there, the night, which had woven itself together with such sharp threads of alarm, seemed to unravel itself rapidly. Paul’s father disappeared to find another taxi to take Else home. Dr. Blanchar dispensed medicine in a dropper-bottle and discussed fees with Jean-Claude in a low voice. Paul’s father reappeared to collect Else and carry her away carefully, followed by Jean-Claude’s fierce gaze; she murmured in her sleep when she was lifted from the table. Bérénice had finally found her way to a chair and rested there, her mind blank of words yet awhirl with sensations and impressions.

She almost laughed when Dr. Blanchar finally inquired, “And who are you, mademoiselle?”

She was readying herself to leave; she didn’t pause as she buttoned up her coat. “I’m one of Jean-Claude’s models,” she said, smiling reflexively.

“Oh, I see,” he said. He gave a speculative look first to her, then to Jean-Claude, who, looking ready to fall asleep, barely moved his lips in a cool smile.

“Well then,” Dr. Blanchar said crisply, eyebrows raised. He handed the medicine to Bérénice in a brown paper sachet to stow in her coat pocket, and together they helped Jean-Claude back down to his wheelchair. Bérénice was grateful for the assistance; this time, Jean-Claude could barely support his weight, his legs sprawling out erratically with each step. Still, six steps could be handled quickly enough with her and Dr. Blanchar’s support, and soon enough they were back out on the pavement.

The mist still held, but it had lightened by a few degrees, the sky greying; dawn was coming. Though few were still out on the streets, there was an indefinable sense of the city awakening. They proceeded homeward in exhausted silence.

Bérénice drew in a long breath when she thought about the final set of steps awaiting them back into Jean-Claude’s studio. As they drew closer, she had the sense that he was steeling himself, too: in his wheelchair, he was carefully extending each of his legs one at a time, stretching as she had seen him do when resting from drawing. His gestures were tentative and his legs trembled often, his feet curling involuntarily into tight arches, but still it seemed to help. When he stood up from his wheelchair for the final time, he leaned heavily into her, but was able to bear more of his weight, and was able to make his way up the stairs with few missteps.

“Don’t go back for my chair,” he told her breathlessly, his head hunched below hers, when they were in the doorway of the studio. “Just keep going. It will be faster.” And she helped him shuffle through the little kitchen—it was her first time being in any space but the studio itself—and into the bedroom beyond, until he could fall backwards into his bed with a grateful sigh.

Each arm of the little L-shaped room was almost fully occupied by a single bed; Else was asleep in the other, of course. Bérénice checked to see that Else was sleeping comfortably, her breath even, and reassured Jean-Claude of it.

She went back to retrieve his wheelchair from the street; she closed all the doors behind her; she went back to Jean-Claude’s bed and, exhausted, climbed in with him. He did not protest. She pulled the blankets up over both of them, wrapped her arms around him. Both still fully clothed, they slept.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Writing Prompt ideas?

Since our last writing prompt was such a fun success, I wanted to open the floor up to writing prompt ideas for next week.  Please put your ideas in the comment!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Onde Anda Você update!

 Hello, lovely PD readers! I'm back with another chapter, and I know I've been promising more Ben action, and there's some in this one, but not as much as we'd like hahaha I hope you enjoy this chapter, it's longer than the past ones. Writing Ben and Livia's story has been such an amazing past-time, I just can't stop, haha!

here's Onde Anda Voce chapter five!

The music is Leoni's Garotos II. The background is that Leoni parted ways with his companion and bandmate Paula Toller and wrote a response to her song Garotos, in which she calls boys immature and reckless. In his version he basically says boys are just fools around women. 

Hope you like it!


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Monday, August 2, 2021

Vote for Best Cover

Hi there, Devo Girl here jumping in on a day when I think no one else is posting. The cover of my latest novel, Flowers by Night, has been nominated for a cover contest on AllAuthor.com. 

 


 Please vote for my cover here: https://allauthor.com/cover-of-the-month/11970/

The cover is by our own amazingly talented Rowan. Let's support dev authors and artists by voting for her beautiful work. You may be asked to sign in either by Facebook or on AllAuthor.com. If you want to stay anonymous, get your vote in early, as the first 20 votes do not need an account.

The deadline is August 7 so don't delay!

The ebook is also on sale this week and next week for $0.99 at all online retailers, even outside the US.