Saturday, December 18, 2021

Not Gay continues

I can't promise to update anywhere near regularly, but I'll do my best. Here is chapter 19! Enjoy! The previous chapters are archived here: Not Gay - Table Of Content.

I'm still working on the ebook of "Lobster with a straw". If you would like to help with final edits (yaaay!), and if you have time to read through the manuscript (or just one chapter) within the next two months, please contact me at lovis.johnson123@gmail.com. Thank you, thank you, thank you! You honestly are the best 😃

Lovis

Monday, November 15, 2021

Short Story by Dani

Hi dear blog readers,

How's everyone doing? I hope this finds you well and in good spirits. 

I miss being here, but I haven't had any new stories to post. All the ones I have are unfinished, and the ones you know have been published for Kindle. "No Strings Attached" would be my next big project, but I haven't gotten around to it as I've been working on new stories and making sure my published ones are good to go. 

The past almost two years have been a doozy, to say the least. I know we are all trying to get through this as good as possible. For me, my writing has kept me occupied, but it hasn't been easy. I work in healthcare, and it's been tough and very stressful to the point of burnout. Life has thrown me a few curveballs, and I tried to deal with it as best as I could. 

Anyway, I was looking through old files and folders yesterday, and I came upon this unfinished idea of a short story. I had about five pages written on it, and when I read it, I decided I needed to finish this gem. I think at the time I wrote this, it was kind of an experiment, but it deserved to be finished, and so I did this yesterday. It also brought back my story "Caoimhe's Hands" to my mind again, which has been sitting patiently on my computer, waiting to be finished. 

I thought about where to post this short story, and the blog came into my memory. The story is fantasy romance; it is probably not overly devy, but it's romantic in a way. I enjoyed finishing it yesterday, and I wanted to share it with you. I hope you enjoy reading it; let me know if you did. 

I miss you and sending hugs out to you.

Yours truly, Dani 

(If you want, connect with me Dani Deveaux on IG, FB, GoodReads,WordPress, or as DevDani on DeviantArt) 

Short Story Cahal and the Maiden of the Lake

Saturday, November 6, 2021

New ebook in the making

Hi everyone!

This is a (slightly modified) repost from the original post that I scheduled for the wrong day. Sorry, Catarina!😅

I know it‘s been a very long time!! Ahhh… I’m so sorry! I literally have no excuse, life just happened. Picture me slinking in quietly again as if the past year hadn't happened (I mean... has it for anyone, really?).

I have great news! I’m currently working on publishing my story from this blog, Lobster with a straw, as an ebook. It took me a while to edit it but I’m finally done!! Yes, yes, yes! I added some chapters and a (steamy… 😊) epilogue and I hope you’ll very much like it. I got so much help from the incredible trio Rowan, Annabelle and Devo Girl - kudos, kisses and hugs to you three. I love you! So dear reader, if you are excited about this news, consider it their achievement.

I don’t have a publication date yet and I got overwhelming replies from those of you who read the original version of this post, calling for beta readers. Thank you so much to those who volunteered so quickly! I'm forever grateful and eagerly awaiting your feedback.

You can find the first, revised chapter of the new ebook here.

Cheers,

Lovis

 

PS: I am already working on new chapters of “Not Gay” as a thank you to those awesome beta readers I could win! 😊

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Onde Anda VocĂȘ is back!

 Oh wow, has it really been a whole month? If you wanna re-read the previous chapter or haven't checked it out, here's an easy link. I kept trying to finish this chapter, and when I did, I kept trying to post it but couldn't find the time. But fear not, I bring good news! I managed to get past it, I feel like the next ones will flow so much better. 

Here's the much awaited (I hope) chapter eleven!

I hope to make it next week. I've a bunch written already. Please please please let me know what you think! I'm worried the story is too... Stretched? What do you think? Should I try and be more concise and tie the loose ends already, or this pace feels nice for you? I've been writing it for so long that I can't really tell, haha 

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts! Be if from the comment box, or my email caterin.alighieri@gmail.com


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

No update :(

 Hey, lovely readers!

I am so sorry to say I don't have a new chapter for you this week... I have about half of it done, but there's still so much to go and I just haven't managed it. Life's been biting me in the ass lately, with work and just stuff destroying my general mood, hence no decent writing. 

I think I reached a place in the story where I know what I wanna do, but I don't know how to get there exactly. But I hope to get past it. I just need to trigger the right plotline. I hope you're still following Ben and Liv's journey.But I wanna let you know that I'll be here next week for sure. I really hate being such a slow poster now—I'll get the story going once again, promise.

It would help immensely if you'd drop an idea, perhaps a prompt?, in the comments. It could be something you wanna see in the story, a phrase, a word... Just to get my juices flowing. I'd love some motivation!

Anyways. Thank you ;) and again, I'm so sorry that I showed up empty handed today. Posting here has gotta be one of my biggest pleasures.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Onde Anda VocĂȘ Update!

 Hey, everyone!

I had this chapter ready last week, but I wasn't entirely happy with how it was looking, so I held it back so I could work on it. It's from Ben's POV, and there's not much of Liv in it. Sorry about that! 

Here's Chapter Ten

It goes back and forth between the present and his time in rehab—I hope it's not too confusing! I tried to get around it by putting the flashbacks in italic but I honestly think it's kinda lazy of me lol But I hope you like it, so please let me know. (This was also intially thought as a bonus chapter, but there's no way a bonus should be this long, so a chapter it is). Hopefully I'll have finished next week's chapter in time.

And the song is from brazilian queen of rock 'n roll Rita Lee, Reza.

Let me know what you think!


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Sea Hag Update CH 18

 Chapter 18 is up!

Honestly, I'm sort of running out of written material at this point, so updates may be more sporadic while I try to finish it.

I thank you for reading and your lovely comments and I will strive to get this done in a timely manner.

<3

And here is the Table of Contents for ease of navigation.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Wednesday update!

 Hey! Thank you all so much for reading and commenting. It really means a lot to me, and I look forward to posting every week. 

I aaaalmost forgot about today's update because I hadn't fully edited the chapter, but I made it! So here we get to see a bunch of Ben's past. I feel like this chapter is kind of... Concentrated? It's shorter than the past ones, but there's lots of dialogues and I'm kind of wary about it, so please let me hear your thoughts.

Here's Onde Anda VocĂȘ, chapter nine!

I actually had a different idea for this chapter, but then it was too late to change (if I wanted to post in time). Maybe I can still make use of it next chapter. Hope you like it! Again, I edited and posted this using my mobile, so I hope I didn't let anything nasty through—let me know!

And give Rubel's Partilhar a listen! It's a feel-good song, pretty hard not to like.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Onde Anda VocĂȘ new chapter!

Hey everyone! I'm sorry that I left you hanging last week—I actually had the chapter ready, but I had an insane week and was so absolutely tired that I forgot to post, and then it was too late. But here I am now!

Here's Onde Anda VocĂȘ, Chapter Eight

I hope you like it, and please let me know what you think. As always, I love reading your comments.

And here's the song that goes with it, Tiago Iorc's Hoje Lembrei do Teu Amor.

Enjoy!


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Sea Hag Update CH 17

 At long last! Chapter 17 is up.

Things are super busy, but I'm trying.

The Table of Contents incase you missed something.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 31, 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.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Onde Anda VocĂȘ 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 VocĂȘ'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 VocĂȘ — "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 VocĂȘ' 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

_________________


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, BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice. 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. BĂ©rĂ©nice 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. BĂ©rĂ©nice 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. BĂ©rĂ©nice 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. BĂ©rĂ©nice 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. BĂ©rĂ©nice 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, BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice’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: BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice 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, BĂ©rĂ©nice 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—BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice,” 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.

BĂ©rĂ©nice 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.

BĂ©rĂ©nice 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?” BĂ©rĂ©nice tried not to sound defensive.

“BĂ©rĂ©nice, 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!” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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.

BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 naĂŻvely 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice lived. They were Algerian, and had taken men’s names—Isidore and Simon. They were droll and languid, yet disciplined about their affairs; BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice. “You took a job with him, didn’t you?”

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

“Well, I already told BĂ© 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,” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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, BĂ©rĂ©nice 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?” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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. BĂ©rĂ©nice 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,” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice?”

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. BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice’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 BĂ©rĂ©nice, 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,” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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.

BĂ©rĂ©nice 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.

BĂ©rĂ©nice 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice 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.”

BĂ©rĂ©nice 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, BĂ©rĂ©nice 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.”

BĂ©rĂ©nice 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, BĂ©rĂ©nice. 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,” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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, “SantĂ©,” 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, “SantĂ©.” 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 BĂ©rĂ©nice 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?” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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,” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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,” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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.”

BĂ©rĂ©nice 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?” BĂ©rĂ©nice 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.