I am in France in Le Grand Massif visiting our daughter who is a ski rep for the winter season. Unfortunately, she is ill with bronchitis so we haven't been able to do much together. Rhys and I have discovered snowshoeing. Things have certainly changed from the time of Nanook of the North. I was expecting raffia tennis rackets, instead we have what look like plastic speed boats on Rhys, and Turmot or Flounder on me. We crunch our way through a silent landscape 'cept for the light swishing sound of a descending skier or snowboarder. No chance of us creeping up on anyone. The unexpected positive outcome of having time has been the opportunity to do a bit of writing. Below is a short story for your amusement.
‘Just turn to the light. I want to see your profile’
‘You’re so beautiful.’
‘My mother never thought so. She thought my profile was horrible. She thought I looked like a monster.’
‘Well, she was wrong. I would like to paint you.’
‘I don’t believe you. You’re just saying that so you can get me into bed. I know your sort. You get your thrills from cripples.’
‘That’s unfair. You hardly know me. I’m being sincere.’
So it started. Every Thursday afternoon Yvette would leave the little room she rented on Rue Garreau and take the steps towards Montmartre and the artists’ quarter. There in a disused laundry beneath the Sacre Coeur, Michel had his studio. He wasn’t well known then of course, although it was said he moved in the same circles as Picasso and Dali. He was something of a loner and didn’t like to share his models. It was his sense of secretiveness that was later to be his downfall.
On Thursdays he would take special care to prepare himself. First he attended to his studio. He employed an Algerian, called Hamas to clean the floors until they shone like sapphire. He would inspect the crevices in corners in case there was the merest suggestion of a hanging spider web or morsel of stale bread lurking. If he found something, anything suspicious he would berate Hamas until it was spotless and then he would flop down on his chaise longue with a sigh and royal gesture, resting until he felt well enough to attend the Turkish Baths down on Pigalle. He always asked the masseur to scrub his lower back until it tingled. He washed his own private parts scrupulously with anticipation and excitement.
At 3pm on the dot Yvette would ring the doorbell and Hamas in a fresh white jalabiya would be there, standing to attention , ready to open the heavy oak door that led into the courtyard. In summer a bower of crimson bougainvillea welcomed visitors, its perfume pervading over the wall to where Yvette was standing, pert and alert to whatever the afternoon and Michel might offer and what she was about to offer them.
The door opened and Yvette entered. She walked briskly across the courtyard and tapped the glass door of the studio.
‘Entrez!’ Michel would whisper so only Yvette or a mouse might hear and she entered, closing the door firmly behind her.
Beside the door was a laundry basket and Yvette would peel off each item of her clothing and in a burlesque gesture would toss her skirt, her cardigan, her blouson and her stockings into the basket. All that remained was her little cloche hat and her brown and white brogues.
Michel was sitting with his back to the door, supposedly oblivious to Yvette. He wore a white artist’s smock. His easel was in front of him with an African print thrown over a canvas. Yvette made her way around to face Michel, but first she took a Japanese robe hanging on a peg by the door and wrapped herself securely into its folds.
‘Voila!’ he said, and whipped off the material from his canvas, took up his paintbrush and with studious attention to detail, spent the next two hours painting and repainting.
‘May I see?’ Yvette would say after each session.
‘You may see when it is complete,’ he would answer.
‘And when will that be? She would ask
‘When it is time.’
Time went and came, came round and around again and still the painting was not finished. Yvette was getting impatient. Nothing interesting was happening. Michel showed no interest in her as a woman. He wasn’t paying much for the sitting either and she was becoming bored by the Thursday routine. She decided it was time to liven things up.
Late one icy December night, not long before Christmas, Yvette wrapped up warm in her clothes reserved for the opera and funerals and climbed the steps from Rue Garreau to Montmartre. The square was quiet and nobody was about. She climbed over the gate into the back yard of the laundry and hid in one of the rooms that had been used for drying. She could hear the faint sound of Michel’s snoring. He had told her on many occasions that he was a very sound sleeper. She also knew that Hamas had a lover down near Pigalle and he would be away until the small hours.
She gathered her velvet cloak about her and entered the studio. There bathed in star light was Michel’s easel. Yvette crept up to it and with a dramatic gesture pulled off the African print. She gasped. There on the canvas was not a profile of herself but a painting of her huge nose staring at her from the toe of one of her brown and white brogues.
‘This is hardly original,’ she murmured to herself. She replaced the material over the canvas. ‘I’ll show him,’ she muttered, and left the studio as if she were her own shadow.
She closed the door and made her way to the artist’s bedroom. She stood watching him for a few seconds from the doorway, then took a razor out of her cloak pocket, felt its blade.
‘Perfect,’ she thought, and walked slowly to the side of the bed. Michel continued to snuffle in his sleep, oblivious to what was about to happen. Yvette stood behind the bed and looked down on the whiskery nose from above. She took Michel’s head in an arm lock and with a decisive slicing action she cut into his face. Michel awoke screaming, his arms and legs flailing.
‘Who are you?’ he shouted. But Yvette’s face was covered by her hood and she continued quickly in her mission. Blood oozed everywhere, put she worked deftly until she had the fleshy appendage in her grasp. Michel lashed out, tried to grab her, one hand on his open bleeding face, but she was too quick for him. She made a dash for the door and was soon over the wall and back in her apartment in Rue Garreau before you could say, ‘nose job’.
In the dark she washed Michel’s blood from her cloak .Then she washed and dried her hands meticulously. She lit a candle. She took out Michel’s nose, washed it carefully, fondling it as she examined the protuberance under the light. From under her bed, she brought out a small pine box. She turned the rusting key and opened the lid. Inside were small compartments like those used by a museum to separate precious stones or unusual specimens of beetle or butterfly. There she placed Michel’s hairy nose alongside the twenty other noses she had catalogued and arranged in alphabetical order of original owner. She locked the box and took a carpet bag from under the bed. She threw her velvet cloak around her shoulders, blew out the candle and smiling, slipped out into the night.