A Storyby Robert Olen Butler
While I’ve been distracted, the clown has taken a seat at our veranda table in absolute silence. But of course. He is, after all, Pierrot, and beneath the makeup, a mime.
Damnable distraction. Before I knew the clown was there, Colonel Leclerc, sitting at my right hand, was leering at Solange, who returned from a freshening inside the hotel and stopped to vamp for him. I could not bear to see her play at being the woman she once was. I’d rescued that woman from the Place Pigalle and made her my model. I’d redeemed her nakedness with my art. But Leclerc would rather buy her than one of my paintings. Instead of a Vachon, he would have the artist’s erstwhile whore.
All this flared through my limbs, so I forced my eyes to go beyond her, out to the Estérel Mountains and the twilight that had begun to transform the cerulean blue of afternoon into the Prussian blue of incipient night. I thought: This present shade is on my fingertips even now. I have come to Nice to paint, not just to hawk. She is a whore no longer. She is exalted. She is my Muse. My necessary Muse. She knows that.
With this I looked from the Estérels back to Solange. At her toilette she’d painted her cheeks and her mouth afresh. Heavily. Luridly. She’d created a nakedly impassioned face. But she immediately shot her eyes at me. I know the nuance of her looks. I have painted them. This look was to say: I will snare him for you. He will buy your paintings. He will have me only through you.
This is what she told me. All this in the briefest of glances. She returned her attention at once to the colonel, and they continued.
So I lowered my face and looked across the table.
And he was there.