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Authors: Amanda Filipacchi

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BOOK: Nude Men
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I am a little ashamed to admit that since posing for Henrietta I have become very confident when I’m around my girlfriend, Charlotte, and neglectful, as though I have power now.

 

chapter
four

 

 

 

T
he day of the second posing arrives. I buy Lady Henrietta a potted lily of the valley, my favorite flower. She likes it, smells it, and is very polite and proper. I realize that I want to ask her out on a date. But I have to wait a little while to see how things go.

Like the last time, she tells me to lie down in the most comfortable position I can find. She paints me while nibbling on marzipan lions, and I feel great. I become even more self-confident, and I continue talking about my life.

After fifteen minutes of posing, Henrietta shouts, “Sara!”

A moment later a tall little girl enters the living room. She has long blond braids and reminds me of a child heroine from a fairy tale, like Alice in Wonderland, or Gretel. She is so pretty, her skin is so flawless, and her features are so perfect, that she looks like a cartoon. She is wearing white knee socks and holding a Barbie doll. I can’t quite determine her age. Her body is rather developed and looks inappropriate in her childish clothes, but her face is very young, very little-girlish.

She walks over to Henrietta and stands next to her, looking at me.

“What do you think of my new model?” Henrietta asks the little girl.

“Excellent,” says the girl. “Where did you find him?”

“In a coffee shop, eating Jell-O.”

“I’ve never seen a more extreme O.I.M.”

“Thank you,” says Henrietta. “Jeremy, this is my daughter, Sara. Sara, this is Jeremy.”

I want to ask them what is an O.I.M., but due to the terribly awkward situation I’m in right now, my curiosity leaves me as quickly as it came. Sara walks over to me and extends her hand. I am so shocked that this little girl can see me naked, and that Henrietta has a daughter, and that the girl is approaching me, and that she wants me to touch her while I’m naked, that at first I don’t move. I feel that any movement on my part would emphasize my nakedness. But the girl doesn’t move either. She just stands there with her hand extended, so I finally shake it. I have a lump in my throat, the same sort of lump one gets while watching a sad movie and trying not to cry.

“Sara, I have a little problem here,” says Henrietta. “I need your expert opinion. Jeremy is supposedly lying in the most comfortable position he could find, but it doesn’t look quite right.”

“You’re right,” says the little girl. “It’s totally off. It looks very tight. And he lied to you. He’s not in the most comfortable position he could find. In fact, he’s not very comfortable at all.” I marvel at her perceptiveness. I am lying in a rather uncomfortable position, and I hadn’t bothered to change it.

“Naughty, naughty, Jeremy,” says Henrietta, shaking her paintbrush at me. “You are not comfortable. How do you expect me to do good work if you’re fooling me? Do something about it, please, Sara.”

Sara stands right in front of me and says, “Get up.”

I get up. I have never, ever in my life been so conscious of my penis. The greatest wish I have right now is to be castrated and look like a doll, with no sexual organ, just smooth flesh.

Sara puts a pink sheet on the sofa, and then a black sheet, and she tells me to lie on it again, in the most comfortable position I can find. I obey her. She covers one of my legs with a corner of the pink sheet, and she says to her mother, “How’s that?”

“You are a genius, my daughter. Thank you. Now run along and get ready for your dancing magic lesson.”

“Please,” says the girl, “I
really
don’t want to go today.
Please
.”

“Oh, come on, it’s only twice a week.”

“That’s a
lot.
Don’t say ‘only.’ That is so much a lot.”

“But you’re always in such a good mood afterward.”

“That’s because I know I have three entire wonderful days of peace before my next stupid dancing magic lesson.”

“No excuses. Come on now,” says Henrietta in a high-pitched, nanny, Mary Poppins voice.

Sara leaves, her cheeks and lips red and shiny, shooting dark-blue glances at her mother.

Henrietta says to me, “Sara has exquisite taste. She always manages to find the perfect position for my models. And she knows precisely what props to use.”

“You mean you always let her see naked men?”

“Of course.”

“How old is she?”

“Eleven.”

I decide to change the subject, not wanting to seem critical of her. We talk of pleasant things. After an hour, she tells me that the painting is finished, or at least that she can finish it without me. She says I can come and see it next Saturday, when it is completely done and dry. I feel sad, afraid that she intends our next meeting to be our last.

Then I remember I wanted to ask her what she’s going to do with her painting of me.

“I know I’m not very good-looking,” I say. “Why did you choose me?”

She smiles kindly, probably at my modesty, and says, “I have my perfect models, which I use for the magazine, and I have my imperfect models, which I use for artistic reasons. I find that painting imperfect models is a much more interesting and intelligent thing to do. It is a way of admitting the defects of life.” She stops abruptly and then says, “I’m sorry. I just realized this may have been hurtful to you. I apologize.”

“I wasn’t hurt at all.” This is not true. I was hurt. She chose me as an imperfect model. She chose me to be a representation of the defects of life. I am lying to her because I want her to keep talking, to say all the horrible things that are on her mind, so I’ll know from the very beginning what she really thinks of me. I try to act relaxed and cheerful.

“Could I see portraits of your imperfect models?” I ask. “Sure.”

She leads me to the other end of her living room and takes paintings out of enormous cabinets. She leans them against the wall. Some are very funny. They are all much worse than I am, which depresses me.

“Do you think I look as bad as they do?” I ask glumly.

She smiles slightly and says, “No. I’m changing my style, moderating it, using more subtle subjects.”

I feel better. I think this is a good time to ask her out. Even though she has a daughter (which doesn’t change my feelings for her at all) and may also have a husband, she also may not, so I might as well try my luck. She doesn’t
seem
to be living with anyone, but of course one can’t be sure.

Before I came over today, I thought a lot about asking her out, so I know exactly what I’m going to say.

“Would you like to go and see a movie with me?” I ask.

“Ah! I’m glad you brought it up,” she says. “I wanted to talk to you about that type of thing exactly.”

I raise my eyebrows nervously and resist the urge to ask something that might sound stupid, such as “What type of thing?” So I remain quiet. I bet she’s going to tell me that she doesn’t date her models. Or on the other hand, maybe she feels I took too long to ask her out. In any case, if she accepts my invitation and wants me to choose the movie, I chose one already. It’s Spanish, with English subtitles, about a toreador caught in a love triangle. Nice and intellectual. Nice and artsy. It’s called
We Are the Taurus.

She says, “One of the reasons I decided to speak to you that day, in the coffee shop, was that I wanted you to meet a friend of mine. I think you’ll like her.”

I don’t understand what she’s talking about. Does she want to match me up with someone other than herself?

“Her name is Laura,” she continues. “She’s performing tonight at Défense d’y Voir, a little club. We could have dinner there and go to a movie afterward.”

“She’s a singer or something?” I ask.

“No. A dancing magician.”

I frown. “Like Sara’s lesson?”

“Yes. Laura is Sara’s instructor.”

I wish I could ask, “What
is
a dancing magician, by the way?” But I don’t allow myself to, because I’m afraid the answer might be too obvious, like: a magician who dances. I wonder if the little scenario that took place earlier between Henrietta and her daughter wasn’t arranged solely for my benefit, to pique my curiosity or something, which it did. Maybe it was supposed to make me think: Wow, I am going to meet someone who does what Sara begs her mother not to make her do. It must be something awe-inspiringly unpleasant.

 

L
ater, in my apartment, while standing in front of the mirror and getting dressed for the evening, I realize I look just as maggoty as ever. I immediately try to push that negative, grossly inaccurate, grossly exaggerated, paranoiac thought out of my mind. Then I remember that the little girl called me an

O.I.M., and I try to guess what those letters stand for: Obviously Imperfect Maggot, Ordinary Inbred Mosquito, Occasional Insect Murderer, Odiously Immortal Man. No, it must be something good, because Henrietta said thank you: Optimally Impressive Mannequin, Outrageously Inspiring Model, Our Incomparable Male, Obediently Indecent Meat. But the girl is the one who said it, and maybe she saw me as a threat: Old Intruding Molester.

I pick up Henrietta that evening at eight. I’m surprised she got so dressed up for me. I’m flattered. It makes me feel very self-confident, and I act a bit more familiar with her.

“You look great,” I say.

 

D
éfense d’y Voir is an unusual little club, more of a restaurant, really, except that there’s an open space among the tables for dancing, and a small stage at the end of the room. Henrietta explains to me that the restaurant’s name is a French play on words that means “forbidden to see” or, when spelled differently, “ivory tusk.”

Apart from the choices on the menu, it’s casual in every way: the prices are reasonable, a few jeans are sprinkled here and there, and there’s no coat check. Henrietta tells me that she will pay for us, that she’s inviting me. I’m so surprised to hear her telling me this before we even start eating that I don’t even bother to object. I’m also slightly mortified, but I force myself to forget about it instantly. The waiter comes to take our order.

Lady Henrietta says, “To begin, I would like the
petite croûte d’escargots et champignons sauvages
.”

I barely know any French, so I read the English translation of what I want: “And I’d like the pigeon salad with couscous and Xeres vinegar.”

“And as a main course,” says Henrietta, “I would like the
steak tartare pommes frites.”

I say, “And I’d like the roulade and grilled legs of partridge with leeks on a bed of wild greens.”

Lady Henrietta orders red wine for us.

I am curious to know when the dancing magician woman will come out, but I don’t ask because I don’t want to seem interested in this person, which I’m not. We eat. It is okay. I try to make her talk a little about her life. I don’t want to say anything that might jeopardize our relationship or turn her off.

“Are there any other men in your life?” I ask gently.

“There are none,” she says, sort of distractedly. This answer makes me so happy.

She’s looking at the people around us a lot.

“How old are you?” I ask. Whether she’s twenty or forty doesn’t make any difference to me. I’m asking her because I want to know as much about her as possible, and I believe in directness.

“Thirty,” she says.

“I’m twenty-nine. What about the
past
men in your life?”

“Oh, they were like anyone else’s past men.”

“Which is?”

“I went out with a few. They lasted a year at the most. It was fun while it lasted.”

“Would you like to find a relationship that will last?”

“I’m sure I do.”

“What do you mean, you’re sure you do? Is that a way of saying you’re not sure?”

“One of my traits is that I am usually not sure about anything.”

“What about Sara’s father?”

“What about him?”

“What became of him?”

“He died.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

I know I probably shouldn’t ask “how.” But what about “when”? Am I allowed to ask “when”?

“When?” I ask in a small voice.

“Ten years ago.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“Yeah, me too,” she says, and looks around at the people, probably wanting me to drop the subject.

“How did it happen?”

She looks at me. “Flying accident.”

“A plane crash?”

“No, hang gliding.”

Am I allowed to ask, “Have
you
ever hang glided?” or would that be dragging out the unpleasant subject for too long?

BOOK: Nude Men
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