Category Archives: 23 Chapter Twenty-Three

Eden 23:4

Eden did not see Caroline again. July arrived at last.

“The American newspaper has an article that mentions Aphrodite. You come off as quite mysterious, having refused to give an interview,” Eleanor announced one morning when Eden came out to the garden for breakfast.

Eden reached for the paper, open worry on her face.

“It’s alright, mysterious is good—for now,” Eleanor assured her. They do call you M. Smith.” Eleanor reached into her breast pocket. “Cigarette?” she asked and Eden nodded as the maid brought out a tea service and poured Eden a cup.

Eden sat and skimmed the story. “The picture is widely considered to be one of the best in the Independents this season. There is no doubt that the mysterious M. Smith has an interesting career ahead of him,” the article closed.

“You had a letter from M. Durand-Ruel this morning as well. He is probably hoping to snare you for his gallery before the other dealers get to you.” She laid the letter on the table, where it sat, untouched.

Eden still said nothing. She pulled long on the cigarette Eleanor had lit for her and stared at the newspaper on the table. At last she picked up the letter and put it, unopened in her pocket. “I don’t know if it was worth it,” was all she said.

A week later, Sophia arrived in Paris.

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Eden 23:3

outdoorbreakfastEleanor sat in the garden at a table scattered with breakfast ruins, a cigarette between her lips, pondering a manuscript, pencil in hand, when Eden stepped out of the house.

“She returns!” Eleanor announced, as Eden sat heavily down and reached for a discarded bread crust and some cheese.

“Surely you weren’t painting all night,” Eleanor began. “Did you find your way to Liz’s party after all?”

Eden just shook her head, and Eleanor noticed for the first time, the stricken look upon her face.

“Eden?” Eleanor asked with real concern.

“My model…” Eden began, but couldn’t finish.

Eleanor guessed the trouble immediately. “Your model… was struck by a streetcar? Fell into the Seine? Ran away with your picture?” Eden did not smile.  Eleanor sighed. “What happened?”

“I finished the picture. She had some…something. It was awful really, but I drank four glasses of it—I think.” Eden rubbed her temples. “She was so kind.  And so…”

“Beautiful? Persuasive?” Eleanor pursued.

“Sophia is never going to forgive me.” Eden finally uttered her despair, head in her hands, elbows propped on the small table.

“Your model—what is she called?”

“Caroline.”

“Well, are you planning to run away with your Caroline?” Eleanor asked, not unkindly.

“Of course not. I told her to leave. I hope I never see her again,” Eden sighed dramatically and finally drank the black coffee the maid had brought.

Eleanor propped her cigarette in an ashtray and gave Eden a serious look. “Listen to me, Eden. This isn’t worth mentioning to Sophia. She doesn’t need to know. You’d be a fool to tell her.”

“She will know. She’s like that. She will take one look at me and just know.”  Eden toyed idly with a teaspoon, a look of despair in her tired eyes. Eleanor didn’t doubt Sophia would know—not because of any special powers of perception—but because Eden was so visibly wracked with guilt.

Eleanor tried again. “Darling, the world is full of women. Why the fuss over Sophia Abington? She’s an ocean away and has been for months. She’s busy with her work as you are with yours. Enjoy Paris, Eden! You are young for god’s sake.” When Eden still didn’t meet her eye, she sighed impatiently.  “What I wouldn’t give…”

“I don’t care about other women,” Eden said, finally returning Eleanor’s gaze. “Haven’t you ever felt that way about anyone? Honestly, have you really not?”

Eleanor picked up her cigarette, tapped the ash into the tray and smoked wordlessly until she nearly burned her fingers. She contemplated the girl across the table from her, wanting to take away some of her pain. But there were some things she would not say to Eden—not today.

“Don’t pretend there wasn’t a part of you that wanted this.”

“I was drunk, I told you, and she—”

Eleanor“You were drunk when you kissed Alice Vine too.” Eleanor raised an eyebrow. “Take it from a libertine, darling, sometimes alcohol is just an excuse to do the things we can’t admit we want to do when we’re sober.”

“I’m not like you.” Eden gave her a hard look. “I don’t want my life to be nothing but a series of meaningless conquests.”

Eleanor rose silently and went back into the house.

Eden 23:2

Eden awakened in her clothes to a pounding headache as the morning light streamed in through the studio’s enormous southern windows.

She didn’t see Caroline at first, but as she sat up, she heard the girl’s voice call gently across the room, “tu leves?”

Eden looked up to see her dressed and standing before the easel, looking intently at the picture, a smoking cigarette in her hand. Eden rose and walked towards the girl, who looked away from the canvas now, to smile at the young artist.

“C’est moi,” she said. “The others paint what they want me to be.” She looked again at the picture, “mais ceci—c’est vraiment moi.”

“C’est Aphrodite,” Eden objected. How could it “really” be Caroline, when Eden barely knew the girl?

“As you say,” the model demurred with a smile.

“Last night…” Eden changed the subject. She wanted to erase what had happened. She wanted Caroline to leave. But as she stepped around to look at her canvas in the morning light, her worry temporarily fled. The picture was perfect. It was her dream. Exactly.

She looked at the model. “I dreamed you,” she whispered. “J’ai reve de ceci.”

The model reached out to touch Eden’s face. But Eden pulled away. “Non,” she told her gently, “tu dois aller. S’il vous plait.”

“Tu as une…amie?” the girl asked, “in America, oui?”

But Eden couldn’t speak of Sophia to the model. Instead she just repeated, “I’m sorry, mais tu dois aller.”

Caroline gathered her things in silence, then looked at Eden and said with a sigh, “t’amie a la chance.” But Eden doubted Sophia would feel lucky if she knew what Eden had done.

Caroline saw the misery in Eden’s eyes and told her gently, “Il faut que tu m’oublies. Then, added with a smile, “Mais, je ne t’oublierai jamias—‘monsieur,’” and she stepped into the street.

Eden wished it was as simple as forgetting. She turned back to the picture, covered it and walked home.

Eden 23:1

“Enough,” Eden told Caroline. “It’s no use without natural light.” The sun had long gone, but she had been desperate to keep working. The picture needed the late afternoon light from the window and the lamps had not been sufficient. She’d made no real progress for an hour. “Shall we go down to the café?”

The model picked up an emerald colored velveteen robe from a chair nearby and wrapped it around her shoulders, her loose golden hair standing out against the bright green. Then she walked to the bag she had thrown in the corner of the studio and rifled through it, bringing out a bottle of amber liquid and smiling.

“Pas ce soir.”

drinksShe held the bottle up to Eden, “tu as des verres?” she asked. Eden nodded, turned to a table behind her and produced two glasses from a jumble of brushes and tubes. Caroline took the glasses and poured the drinks. She handed one to Eden, then sat on a low prop couch in the corner of the studio, half hidden in a shadow. The robe was not fastened and as she sat, she made no attempt to prevent it from falling open.

Eden put the glass down, cleaned her brushes and put them carefully away. Then she sat back down on the stool before her canvas and drank. She looked at the picture before her. Maybe it was finished after all. She wanted to see it tomorrow in the morning light before she decided. She ran her hand through her hair and stopped at the base of her neck, squeezing hard. Her shoulders were stiff from sitting and painting for so long.

“Viens,” Caroline said in a calm voice and beckoned.

Eden stood and walked to the dim corner where the girl gestured for her to sit at her feet. She rubbed Eden’s shoulders with surprising strength and the young artist sighed involuntarily. Caroline took Eden’s empty glass and refilled it from the bottle, handing it back to her.

Eden didn’t feel the time passing as she drank two more glasses of whatever Caroline was giving her, all while the girl massaged her neck and shoulders. “Est-ce que tu y restes ce soir?” The model asked quietly.

Eden had not thought of it until Caroline asked, but maybe it was a good idea to sleep at the studio. It was late now. She wanted to be back at dawn tomorrow to see the painting. She was drunk and the rue Jacob seemed far away.

She put her face in her hands, rubbed her eyes and turned to the girl who sat behind her on the couch, half-covered by the velvet robe. Caroline smiled quietly for a long time, before she asked in a whisper, “Est ce que tu veux me baiser?

sexyredbloomEden looked at the girl’s beckoning eyes. The word “non” began to form on her lips, but did not leave them before Caroline leaned down and kissed her. Eden reached up into the velvet robe and touched the soft naked breast she had been painting for weeks. It was warm in the summer night. She marveled that she could have rendered it so many times on canvas without ever having felt it with the same hand that held the brush. She rose up on her knees, putting her mouth on Caroline’s and moving her hands across her body, under the robe…