In her book The Writing Life (1989), Annie Dillard tells the story of a fellow writer who was asked by a student, "Do you think I could be a writer?" "'Well,' the writer said, 'do you like sentences?'" The student is surprised by the question, but Dillard knows exactly what was meant. He was being told, she explains, that "if he likes sentences he could begin," and she remembers a similar conversation with a painter friend. "I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, 'I like the smell of paint.'" The point, made implicitly (Dillard does not belabour it), is that you don't begin with a grand conception, either of the great American novel or masterpiece that will hang in the Louvre. You begin with a feel for the nitty-gritty material of the medium, paint in one case, sentences in the other.
But usually not. Usually she thinks of the path to his house, whether deer had eaten the tops of the fiddleheads, why they don't eat the peppermint saprophytes sprouting along the creek; or she visualizes the approach to the cabin, its large windows, the fuchsias in front of it where Anna's hummingbirds always hover with dirty green plumage and jeweled throats. Sometimes she thinks about her dream, the one in which her mother wakes up with no hands. The cabin smells of oil paint, but also of pine. The painter's touch is sexual and not sexual, as she herself is....When the memory of that time came to her, it was touched by strangeness because it formed no pattern with the other events in her life. It lay in her memory like one piece of broken tile, salmon-coloured or the deep green of wet leaves, beautiful in itself but unusable in the design she was making
She only modelled for him once,' Max said stubbornly, leaning the canvases back against the wall and replacing the sheet. 'Once, twice or umpteen times, it's proof she knew Spataro... how shall we put it?... on terms a man who loved her might resent.''There are lots of artists in Montparnasse, Appelby, and lots of artists' models.''I wouldn't like it. And I bet Sir Henry didn't like it either.''There was nothing between Corinne and Spataro.''That's the problem, isn't it?' Appelby pointed with the stem of his pipe at the shrouded paintings. 'There may have been *literally* nothing between them.
She held out her hand, like a man. He hesitated, then took the hand and shook it. It was very warm. You could not help but be aware of the wild passage of blood on the other side of its wall, veins, capillaries, sweat glands, tiny factories in the throes of complicated manufacture. [He] looked at the eyes and, knowing how eyes worked, was astonished, not for the first time, at the infinite complexity of Creation, wondering how this thing, this instrument for seeing, could transmit so clearly its entreaty while at the same time—-Look, I am only an eye—-denying that it was doing anything of the sort.
She especially liked my bedside lamp, which had a five-sided porcelain shade. Unlit, the shade seemed like bumpy ivory. Lit, each panel came to life with the image of a bird: a blue jay, a cardinal, wrens, an oriole, and a dove. Kathleen turned it off and on again, several times. "How does it do that?""The panels are called lithophanes." I knew because I'd asked my father about the lamp, years ago. "The porcelain is carved and painted. You can see it if you look inside the shade.""No," she said. "It's magic. I don't want to know how it's done.
I need a break after school," she told me later. "School is hard because a lot of people are in the room, so you get tired. I freak out if my mom plans a play date without telling me, because I don't want to hurt my friends' feelings. But I'd rather stay home. At a friend's house you have to do the things other people want to do. I like hanging out with my mom after school because I can learn from her. She's been alive longer than me. We have thoughtful conversations. I like having conversations because they make people happy.
I didn't mind what she called me, what anybody called me. But this was the room I had to live in. It was all I had in the way of a home. In it was everything that was mine, that had any association for me, any past, anything that took the place of a family. Not much: a few books, pictures, radio, chessmen, old letters, stuff like that. Nothing. Such as they were, they had all my memories.
She was satisfied with the answer God had given Moses from the burning bush when Moses had seen fit to question. Who are you? Mose asks, and God comes back from that bush just as pert as you like: I Am, Who I AM. In other words, Mose, stop beatin around this here bush and get your old ass in gear.
Sunshine, I... Starla's voice broke off as she entered the room and caught sight of him standing naked in the corner. She eyed him in an odd, detached way, as if he were an interesting piece of furniture.Talon and modesty were strangers, but the way she stared at him made him damned uncomfortable. In spite of the sunlight, Talon grabbed the pink blanket off the bed and clutched it to his middle.You know, Sunshine, you need to find a man like that to marry. Someone so well hung that even after three or four kids, he'd still be wall to wall.Talon gaped.Sunshine laughed. "Starla, you're embarrassing him.
When she had arranged her household affairs, she came to the library and bade me follow her. Then, with the mirror still swinging against her knees, she led me through the garden and the wilderness down to a misty wood. It being autumn, the trees were tinted gloriously in dusky bars of colouring. The rowan, with his amber leaves and scarlet berries, stood before the brown black-spotted sycamore; the silver beech flaunted his golden coins against my poverty; firs, green and fawn-hued, slumbered in hazy gossamer. No bird carolled, although the sun was hot. Marina noted the absence of sound, and without prelude of any kind began to sing from the ballad of the Witch Mother: about the nine enchanted knots, and the trouble-comb in the lady's knotted hair, and the master-kid that ran beneath her couch. Every drop of my blood froze in dread, for whilst she sang her face took on the majesty of one who traffics with infernal powers. As the shade of the trees fell over her, and we passed intermittently out of the light, I saw that her eyes glittered like rings of sapphires.("The Basilisk")
Before she could think, he bent his head and was kissing her, only this wasn't anything like the chaste kiss she'd gave him. His mouth slanted across hers, demanding her response. Soft and warm, his tongue brushed against the tender skin. With a sigh, Clarissa parted her lips and he quickly took advantage, deepening their kiss.His hand cupped the back of her head and his fingers tangled in her hair, while his other arm around her waist locked her against him. Clarissa twined her arms around his neck and felt the cold wall of the house at her back as he pressed her into it.Her pulse raced as their kiss became even more heated, each second that passed marking time they didn't have. Langston's tongue stroked hers in a dance that set fire to her blood. The shadow of whiskers on his face softly abraded her skin. His hair was silky, and she couldn't resist from pushing her fingers into the thick strands, which he must have liked, judging by the masculine groan that met her ears.When he finally lifted his head, both of them were breathing hard.
There were icons of the Magdalen on the walls and paintings in the Western manner, all kitsch, trash. Mary M., Lucas thought, half hypnotized by the chanting in the room beside him; Mary Moe, Jane Doe, the girl from Migdal in Galilee turned hooker in the big city. The original whore with the heart of gold. Used to be a nice Jewish girl, and the next thing you know, she's fucking the buckos of the Tenth Legion Fratensis, fucking the pilgrims who'd made their sacrifice at the Temple and were ready to party, the odd priest and Levite on the sly."Maybe she was smart and funny. Certainly always on the lookout for the right guy to take her out of the life. Like a lot of whores, she tended towards religion. So along comes Jesus Christ, Mr. Right with a Vengeance, Mr. All Right Now! Fixes on her his hot, crazy eyes and she's all, Anything, I'll do anything. I'll wash your feet with my hair. You don't even have to fuck me.
Souraya thought those days that she knew so many songs about the misery of love because pain kept love within the boundaries of time, and knowable, whereas what she was experiencing passed beyond the horizon of birth and death; it was like the eternal life the prophets spoke of. A gesture, a kiss, a task, a sentence had a golden elemental endlessness, like the scenes in the murals painted in the island houses.
Because of that she had never had enough energy to be herself, a person who, like everyone else in the world, needed other people in order to be happy. But other people were so difficult. They reacted in unpredictable ways, they surrounded themselves with defensive walls, they behaved just as she did, pretending they didn't care about anything. When someone more open to life appeared, they either rejected them outright or made them suffer, consigning them to being inferior, ingenuous.
When Eleanor was a little girl, she'd thought her mom looked like a queen, like the star of some fairy tale.Not a princess - princesses are just pretty. Eleanor's mother was beautiful. She was tall and stately, with broad shoulders and an elegant waist. All of her bones seemed more purposeful than other people's. Like they weren't just there to hold her up, they were there to make a point.
I'm sorry you don't like coming back here," her mother often said, to cap whatever petty dust-up they'd had. How could Emily explain: it wasn't her mother or Kersey she'd disowned, but her earlier self, that strange, ungrateful girl who strove to be first at everything and threw tantrums when she failed.
She was still hugging the cat. "Poor slob," she said, tickling his head, "poor slob without a name. It's a little inconvenient, his not having a name. But I haven't any right to give him one: he'll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don't belong to each other: he's an independent, and so am I. I don't want to own anything until I know I've found the place where me and things belong together. I'm not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it's like." She smiled, and let the cat drop to the floor. "It's like Tiffany's," she said.[...]It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany's, then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name.
She sat up, cheeks flushed and golden hair tousled. She was so beautiful that it made my soul ache. I always wished desperately that I could paint her in these moments and immortalize that look in her eyes. There was a softness in them that I rarely saw at other times, a total and complete vulnerability in someone who was normally so guarded and analytical in the rest of her life. But although I was a decent painter, capturing her on canvas was beyond my skill. She collected her brown blouse and buttoned it up, hiding the brightness of turquoise lace with the conservative attire she liked to armor herself in. She’d done an overhaul of her bras in the last month, and though I was always sad to see them disappear, it made me happy to know they were there, those secret spots of color in her life.
She ran, and leaned to the wall, until her face was close to mine and her breath came on me.I said, 'I'll do it. I'll go with you. I love you, and I cannot give you up. Only tell me what I must do and I will do it!'Then I saw her eye, and it was black, and my own face swam in it, pale as a pearl. And then, it was like Pa and the looking-glass. My soul left me - I felt it fly from me and lodge in her.
They had painted a lady leaning her arms on the sill of the window. This lady was waiting for a husband. Her flesh was slack and she was some forty-five years old. Perhaps she had been waiting since she was fifteen. A rose and mauve lady that had not yet gathered her flesh and her beauty into dark clothes, and still waited, like a rose stripped of its petals, with her faded colors and her artificial smile, bitter as a grimace.
She wasn't dressed like a student. She wore an elaborate burgundy dress with long skirts, a tight waist, and matching burgundy gloves that rose all the way to her elbows.Moving deliberately, she managed to get down off the stool without tangling her feet and made her way over to stand nest to my table. Her blond hair was artfully curled, and her lips were a deeply painted red. I couldn't help wondering what she was doing in a place like Anker's.