PodCastle 746: Colors of the Immortal Palette – Part 1

Show Notes

Rated R

 

The music for the promotion intro is “Sneaky Snitch” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 

Hey everyone, Alasdair here – hope you’re doing okay. The summer months are upon us, which means two things – hat weather for yours truly, and the part of our year when costs are high and support tends to dip. We know things are tight everywhere at the moment, and that includes us. For those of you who support us already, thank you so much. We hope you’re enjoying the great new CatsCast episodes. If you’d like to join them, we’ve got tons of options for you at Patreon and PayPal. Even a one-off at Ko-fi makes a big difference, or check out our great new swag store – maybe like me you need a hat! It all adds up, and helps us bring you the best in free audio fiction every week. Thanks, and enjoy this week’s episode.


Colors of the Immortal Palette

by Caroline M. Yoachim

 

LEAD WHITE

 

I will always remember the view of Paris from his window. Snow, pure and untouched, softens the outline of the buildings and covers the grime of the streets. White, the color of beginnings. His canvas is primed and ready to be painted, and stark winter sunlight glows bright on his undead skin.

The studio is cramped, drafty despite the heat radiating from the stove. One corner is clean and lavishly decorated, the rest a cluttered chaos of painting supplies and personal effects. He studies me intently as I take in the room, evaluating me much as he did at the Café Guerbois when I’d first caught his eye.

I wait for him to ask how I came to be in Paris. Artists are so very predictable that way — no trouble at all accepting this pale immortal creature as one of their own, but a woman of my mixed ancestry? Utterly implausible.

“You should hear the stories they tell of you at the café,” he says. “If Émile is to be believed, you arrived here as a ukiyo-e courtesan, nothing more than paper wrapped around a porcelain bowl. A painter — he will not say which of us it was, of course — bought the bowl and the print along with it.”

“And the painter pulled me from the print with the sheer force of his imagination, I’m sure,” I reply, laughing. “Émile is a novelist and can hardly be trusted to give an accurate account. The reality of my conception is vastly more mundane, I assure you . . . though it does involve a courtesan.”

“A grain of truth makes for the best fiction.” He waves his hand at a worn-looking dressing screen. “Nude, but leave the jewelry and the shoes. I’ll paint you on the chaise. We’ll have three hours in the proper light, and I will pay you four francs.”

“Victorine gets five!” I protest from behind the screen as I get undressed.

“Victorine is a redhead.”

I step out from behind the screen and go to the chaise, running my fingers along the elegant curves of the walnut frame. The cushions are firm and covered in soft green velvet. I arrange myself carefully. Hopefully he will like what he sees. Often what the artists demand is a relaxed-looking pose that is hideously uncomfortable. Like novelists, they require only a grain of truth. The rest is purely of their own creation.

“My name is Mariko, by the way, but everyone calls me Mari.” As if I could pass for a French girl simply by changing my name. Though, particularly with the artists, there is a fascination with all things Japanese. Several of Hokusai’s views of Mount Fuji decorate the wall behind me, the ukiyo-e prints crammed together with neoclassical portraits and a few realist landscapes of the Barbizon School.

He remains facing the window, his attention fixed on the snowy landscape.

“I’m on the chaise,” I tell him, and finally he turns.

“Bring your left hip forward. No, not that far. Bend the leg a bit more, yes.” He paces back and forth, frowning. “Turn your head to face the canvas.”

I smile knowingly. “Like a Manet.”

His frown deepens into a scowl.

“Don’t like a model that talks while you work, huh?” I’ve posed for that type before, honestly not my favorite sort of job, there to be seen and not heard. If the artist is talented enough I can still pick up a technique or two watching them work, but —

“I don’t like being compared to other artists.”

I laugh. More of an ego than usual, this one. Though perhaps he’s earned it. If Victorine was to be believed, he’s been painting since the Renaissance. “Then you must paint me so well that I forget about the others.”

“Tilt your head into the light.” His voice is softer now, and he steps forward to cup my chin, shifting the angle of my head ever so slightly to refine the pose. “And look at me intently. Intensely. As though I were the one naked on the chaise.”

His touch sends shivers down my spine. It feels as if he is reaching into me, beyond the surface of my skin. Intimate. I’m not above a dalliance with an artist if he pleases my eye, or if I need the money or a place to stay . . . but this one is different.

His eyes are as dark as the Seine at night, darker even than my own. I’m laid bare before him in more ways than my mere lack of clothing. The canvas is reflected in the window behind him, and he is painting me in deft strokes of vivid color — as other artists have done before him — but this time the image holds the promise of an understanding. His skill with the paint is breathtaking; his movements simultaneously wild and precise.

It is exhilarating to watch him work.

My back aches and one leg is going numb, but I’m disappointed when he sets down his brush.

“You did better than I would have expected.”

“Oh?” I stretch and, still nude, go to take a closer look at the canvas. Even with the work unfinished, I can see that he is more talented than any of the other artists I’ve known, and his intensity sparks my interest, draws me almost inevitably closer. “There are other poses I could show you, if you like?”

“Hmmm . . . ?” His gaze is fixed on the canvas, studying a streak of bright winter sunlight that cuts across the upper corner.

I’m about to give him up as hopeless when he turns to look at me. I’m lost in the darkness of his eyes, drowning in the intensity of his attention. I can barely breathe, but I repeat my invitation, “I could show you other poses.”

“Yes.” He sweeps me into an embrace that is strong and cold. White. He is snow and I am determined to melt it.

The sex builds slowly, deliberately, like paint layered on a canvas in broad strokes — tentative at first as we find our way to a shared vision, then faster with a furious intensity and passion.

After, when other artists might hold me and drift off to sleep, he dissipates into a white mist that swirls in restless circles around the room, chilling me down to the bones when it touches my skin. His mist seeps into me and pulses through my veins for several heartbeats. I feel energized, an exhilaration more intense than watching him work, a connection closer even than our sex.

He withdraws, and I am diminished. I hadn’t known until this moment what I was lacking, but now I am filled with a keen sense of my incompleteness. I long for him, for the sensation of vastness I felt when we were one.

He does not return to the bed.

I sleep alone and wake to windows white with frost.


VIRIDIAN GREEN

 

The park is vibrant green with budding leaves and delicate spring grass. Birds are singing, the sun is shining, and my lover sets up his canvas on an easel in the shade.

“Must we really have those other girls?” I ask.

“You on your own isn’t enough for a picnic,” he answers.

“I used to be enough, all on my own.” I sound like a sullen child. I’m tempted to tell him that for composition’s sake he should have more models, some of whom should stand to balance out the towering height of the trees, or that the setting he’s chosen bears too strong a resemblance to Monet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, which was in turn inspired by Manet’s notorious painting of the same title . . . but instead I bite my lower lip.

“I’ll let you sit in front,” he says. “And I’ll take you to the Louvre afterwards.”

I sit at the edge of the white picnic blanket, taking great care to crease my skirt at an awkward angle. I open the book that I have brought — Orgueil et Prévention  —and I cannot help but marvel at the degree to which Mr. Darcy resembles my immortal artist. I shall have to ask sometime if he’s ever made Austen’s acquaintance, though if I recall correctly from his occasional ramblings on history he’d spent most of the relevant time period in Verona, trying to hide both himself and his paintings from Napoleon’s army. Or was it Venice? I have such difficulty keeping it all straight, I truly do not know how he is able to recall several lifetimes worth of memories.

The three models he’s hired are chattering incessantly about the latest fashions  —tassels and bustles, hemlines and hats. The three of them have no opinions of their own and are simply parroting some column from Harper’s Bazar, as if Americans knew anything about fashion beyond having the good sense to look to Paris for guidance. They mock my choice of reading material and attribute the poor taste in literature to my being Portuguese, and I do not bother to correct them. They will shun me as an outsider regardless, and I have no desire to make friends with such insipid tarts.

“Suzette, lean in towards Claire, yes, better.” He paints a few strokes and then strides over to where I am sitting to fix the hem of my dress so it drapes more gracefully. He gives me a pointed look. I return his silent rebuke with a look that is halfway between ‘apologetic’ and ‘fuck you for inviting these other girls’. That might seem like a big range, but as a model I’ve learned to do a lot with my expression.

He laughs, and goes back to his canvas without taking away my book —  though my reading it will render my pose too similar to a painting of Morisot’s depicting her sister —  and these wretched girls make it hard to focus on the text. One of them complains that there are ants in the grass, and another that being in direct sunlight will burn her glorious fair skin. I try not to grit my teeth. I’m supposed to have a serene smile, as if this was a delightful picnic with friends. Self-absorbed shallow friends that I have never met before and who will not leave off of talking so that I might read my book in peace.

Now the third has joined the first two in their complaining. He is quite clearly not painting their faces right now or he would tell them not to move their mouths, which would be dearly welcome.

“And honestly why wouldn’t you try,” the least irritating of the three is saying. “After all, youth is fleeting if you’re mortal, but if you can get someone like him to turn you . . . ” She waves her hand in the general direction of the canvas.

“Keep your hand on the blanket,” he says, not responding to her words.

“He doesn’t turn models,” one of the other women says. “That one’s been at it for over a year now and if he won’t even turn her —  ”

“I’m right here, and I have a name,” I say. I turn the slightest fraction in the direction of the irritating woman before I catch myself.

“Don’t move your head,” he tells me.

“Wouldn’t it be glorious to be young forever?” asks the woman who had declared her own fair skin glorious and I wonder if she even knows any other words.

She’s wrong, anyway. Contrary to what everyone assumes, I have never asked him to turn me. Not yet, not yet. I do not want to die into being forever young. If he turns me now, it will be so that I remain a beautiful object to adorn his canvas, and I have grander goals.

“Keep your expression soft,” he says.

Only then do I realize that I am scowling down at my book.

“Wonderful, Suzette,” he adds.

Suzette is younger than I am and has a classic Western beauty. Wonderful, Suzette. Wonderful Suzette. What will happen when I am too old to be his model? He remains forever fascinated with youth, and rarely paints women beyond a certain age.

I do not want to be the art, I want to be the artist. There are women who manage to do both, yet I hear them so often described as models who paint —  and this despite the fact that their talent far outstrips the men . . . who sometimes do appear in each other’s paintings, but never once do you hear them categorized as models. No. They are painters who did each other tribute and documented each other’s lives in masterful works of art.

Think of the time I would have to develop my art if he makes me immortal. So many of my hours are lost holding perfectly still to be immortalized as an object in someone else’s paintings. I want it desperately, the gift of so much time. But when to do it, that is the trick. Eventually he will lose interest and cast me aside, but if I die into immortality now I will be horridly young. Not to mention the question of children, which I do not believe I want, but I am reluctant to give up the option.

Suzette laughs, but I have lost the thread of their conversation so I do not know why.

What if I have missed my moment? If his fancy turns to this woman with her glorious fair skin glowing like a diamond against her emerald green dress, where will that leave me?

By mid-afternoon I am hot and hungry and his attention is fixed only on his work, on capturing the grass and the grapes and the girls. I can smell the fruit practically baking in the afternoon sun, but I am determined not to move or even complain. I do not even turn the pages of my book, reading the same ballroom dance on an endless loop, angrier each time that the Bennet sisters are having a lovely time dancing while I am sitting. in. the. sun. not. moving.

“Take me to dinner when we’re done?” Suzette asks him boldly out of nowhere.

I hold my breath.

“Oh, I’m done with your part now, you can go,” he answers, not looking up from the canvas. “All of you can go, I have what I need from you.”

Suzette flounces off, the other two models following her at a distance, giggling.

I let out a soft sigh of relief when they are gone.

“I’m doing the trees now, and then after that the bowl of fruit, so you can go with them if you like,” he says.

“But what about the Louvre?” I demand.

“Another time,” he says. “I have to finish this before I lose the light.”

His promises are a perpetual first day of spring —  like daffodils that remain forever buds.

 


 

CHROME YELLOW

 

I have no trouble convincing Louis to take me to the Salon. He is both a painter and a critic, and unlike a certain other artist with whom I have parted ways, he showers me with attention and treats me as a person rather than merely an exotic object to be painted. We are quickly separated in the jostling crowd, for as usual half of Paris has turned out to gawk at the paintings which hang from floor to ceiling.

The immortal artist —  and yes, I am sufficiently petty not to name him even now, for his artistic legacy does not need more help from me than I have already given —  is here at the Salon, of course, though I am pleased to note that despite him having taken part in perhaps a hundred Salons, the hanging committee has placed his work poorly. Not at the ceiling, quite, but high enough to strain the neck should anyone wish an extended viewing.

“I was quite fond of Naples yellow,” he says, speaking loudly to some potential patron over the general buzz of the crowd. “The paints now are so exuberant, which has its place, of course, but there’s a subtlety to the older pigment, and I do sometimes miss the ritual of mixing it myself.”

His words trail off as I approach. Perhaps it is only my imagination, but for a moment his edges blur, as though he is fading into mist. Even the merest suggestion of it makes me ache with longing. He was stealing away my life, but in those moments, in that process of the taking, I felt so complete. And who hasn’t chosen, at one time or another, to do what feels good in the moment, even knowing that they might live longer if they were more virtuous?

“Mari,” he says. Only the name, nothing more.

The painting that hangs behind him is titled Woman, Reclining (Mari). Being familiar with his other works, I know that the reason my name appears in the title (shortened and in parentheses) is not because he believes my name is in any way important to the piece, but merely that he has many other works that bear the title Woman, Reclining.

I study the woman on the chaise, illuminated by the bright winter light streaming in through the window. The painting captures things about me that other artists have missed. There is a wry expression on my face and a bold invitation in my eyes.

He has changed the decor of the room. Gone is the eclectic mix of ukiyo-e prints and neoclassical portraits that would have been the perfect background for a woman of my parentage. Instead he’s created miniature renditions of his own paintings from the past several decades. The entire composition is a collection of his work, and my form is but a piece in this collection.

“What do you think of it?” he asks.

I shrug, knowing full well that his question is a bid for my approval and my indifference will infuriate him.

“I’ve captured you so beautifully, and your response is to shrug?” He knows that I am baiting him, and his voice is light, but he cannot keep his face from falling.

“Yes, I should be so very honored, to appear here in the Salon,” I say, unable to match his lightness. “Naked, no less.”

“Ah, so that is it, then,” he says. “You had another painting refused. This is the third time?”

“The fourth.” I’d thought to hide that unpleasant fact from him, but he was, as ever, a keen observer. “My style is not so rigidly traditional as to please the jury. And I —  ”

“ —  have a great deal of company.” At some point during our conversation Louis has jostled his way through the crowd to join us. He catches my dismayed expression and hastily adds, “But your work is far better than that of the others who have been refused, of course —  ”

“This is Louis.” I interrupt him to make the introduction before he can start ranting about the failings of other painters. “He writes for Le Charivari and, as you have heard, he appreciates me for my art and not only for my looks.”

“Good.”

With that one word it is now his indifference that infuriates me.

“My latest attempt at pleasing the jury was a harvest scene of two women working in a field, deep in conversation —  ”

“Which against my advice you signed only as Mari,” Louis interjects. “You should sign with your surname if you want the jury to take you seriously.”

“My father’s name has no place on the art he so thoroughly disapproves of. Besides, it would be too similar to Camille’s signature, and you’ve seen how everyone confuses Manet and Monet.”

Louis opens his mouth to argue, then thinks better of it. Instead he starts ranting about Monet, and neither he nor my immortal artist notices when I leave. Half the reason I had asked Louis here to begin with was to make my immortal artist jealous, and he does not seem to care.

I am invisible, even as my naked form hangs upon the wall. As a model I am a footnote in the story of the artist, and as a painter I cannot win over the Salon jury. What I want most of all is to be remembered, but I cannot even manage to be seen.

 


 

VERMILLION

 

“Surely he will change his mind and paint you again?” I’m sitting with Victorine at the Café Guerbois, nursing my coffee as she sips absinthe. It is Thursday, and Manet is here, presiding over his Batignolles group —  this is no coincidence, of course, for I am familiar with their usual schedule . . . and, having parted ways with Louis, I could use the work. The smoke-filled air inside the café still holds the day’s heat, and by all appearances the discussion at Manet’s table is similarly heated.

Victorine gives a bit of a shrug. “Perhaps. And what of your vampire friend?”

My eyes widen. “Victorine! You must not call him that. People will think he drinks blood.”

“As you like,” Victorine replies, “but that doesn’t answer my question.”

“I want to be the artist, not the art. Surely you of all people understand.” I take a sip of coffee and try to hold back my jealousy that she is taking art classes at the Académie Julian.

“You and I,” she says, “do not have the advantages afforded to women of means and social standing. Morisot and Cassatt need not give music lessons or pose nude to pay for paint. Surely you of all people understand that.

I bristle at her tone but the observation is true enough. Worse, a young woman with fine features and a striking green hat has entered the café and captured the attention of the Batignolles group. Renoir in particular seems quite taken with the girl, who looks not a day over fifteen.

“What you need,” Victorine continues, paying little mind to the new arrival, “is to make a connection with an art dealer. You’ve had no success at the Salon, but Paul Durand-Ruel has had some success selling paintings in America, where the tastes are less refined.”

“What a horrid thing to say!”

Unrefined. My paintings? I should stay in hopes of getting work but I cannot bring myself to spend a moment more in her company. I storm out of the café, my mind churning with accumulated insults. Victorine’s barbs, the indifference of the painters I had hoped to charm, the deplorable youth of the woman in the green hat.

The heat rising from the cobblestones makes the world shimmer, as though the air itself is melting. It reminds me of all the times my immortal artist turned to mist and everything around us melted away. I crave the cold white snow of that first winter, the thrill of his embrace.

I am on his street before I have even truly decided to see him, and I knock upon his door quickly, before I lose my courage.

He is there, and Suzette is not, thank God.

“I wanted . . . ” I trail off into silence because I am not entirely sure what I want, and I am even less sure that he is the one who can bestow it. Recognition? Respect? A way to be seen as more than an exotic courtesan who graces the canvas of painters.

“Time,” he says.

He is staring at me, dissecting me not into shapes and angles or light and shadow but deconstructing my ambitions and my dreams, seeing a pattern that I cannot because once, centuries ago, he was not entirely unlike me. A mortal artist, striving for something greater, grasping without knowing what it was he sought.

“Time?” I echo weakly.

“Where were you, before you came here?”

“At the Café Guerbois,” I admit.

“Trying to secure work from Manet and his lackeys, no doubt.” He scowls at the mere thought of Manet, which I find rather heartening: that even he, my immortal artist, is jealous of his rivals.

“I need money for paint,” I tell him.

“Ah, and now we are back to time again,” he says. “Immortality is, obviously, all about time. When you come right down to it, time is the thing that everyone most values, even you mortals who have so little of it. You simply shift it around instead of trading it directly. Three hours of work for five francs, which then can be used to buy paint.

“An art collector is hoarding time. Time spent by the artist applying paint to the canvas, yes. But there is more to it than that. Each successive painting contains something of the time that went into all the previous canvases, not to mention the time spent studying, practicing. And the art holds other time as well —  the model that sits for the painting, holding a pose for hours on end. Time that she has devoted, perhaps, to keeping a certain figure, or creating an appealing hairstyle.”

I scowl. “Time spent building the resentment that burns in the model’s eyes as she glares at the painter.”

He tilts his head, thoughtful. “Perhaps.”

“The other girls say you have never turned anyone.” The words slip out before I can stop them, my heart racing, knowing the conversation is in dangerous territory now, territory that I have always scrupulously avoided. “They say that you drain away your models’ lives and leave them with nothing. That all you care about is light and paint.”

“Light and paint. Legacy and time.” He leans in so close that I can feel his breath against my ear as he speaks. “You have a good eye for light, and with time you could master the rest.”

“No one tells Jean that he has not mastered the rest, or Jules. People praise them for work that is nowhere near what I do.” I gesture at his wall, largely covered with the works of his fellow Frenchmen, paintings ranging from brilliant to mediocre. There is a sunspot on the back of my hand, a single dark freckle that I had never noticed before.

“Time,” I whisper.

“I cannot give you everything you want,” he admits. “But I can give you time.”

This. This is why I have always been so careful to avoid this conversation. I have always known that he would offer. And that I would accept.

“Yes.”

He dissolves into mist and seeps through my skin. It is different than it always was before. His impressions of the world are mine to take, not mere glimmers at the edge of my perception but a clear vision of his entire being, like slipping into a photograph that holds his centuries of experience, living through a lifetime in an instant. Everything I have thirsted for since our first meeting —  knowingly and not —  all of it is here in this moment of connection. I am complete as I can only be when he is with me, and I absorb all that I can, drinking from him as deeply as I dare, taking him into myself and pulsing with the sheer power of it.

There are but wisps of white mist remaining when I realize that I must let him go. When he withdraws he does not steal a part of me, as he always has before. Instead he leaves behind what I have taken.

He has given me the gift of time.

Energy courses through me like a vermillion flame. I am no longer a mere model from whom he draws inspiration, but an artist, immortal. Time stretches out before me and I long to take him to bed that both of us might burn hot with passion.

But he has vanished, just as he did that first night, winter white and cold. As he always does when I most crave his presence.

I wait the entire night, but he does not return.


To Be Continued…

About the Author

Caroline M. Yoachim

Caroline M. Yoachim lives in Seattle and loves cold cloudy weather. She is the author of dozens of short stories, appearing in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, and Lightspeed, among other places. Her debut short story collection, Seven Wonders of a Once and Future World & Other Stories, is coming out with Fairwood Press in August 2016. You can find her on the web at carolineyoachim.com, and on Twitter @CarolineYoachim.

Find more by Caroline M. Yoachim

Elsewhere

About the Narrator

Miyuki Jane Pinckard

Miyuki Jane Pinckard is a writer, game designer, educator, and the co-founder of Story Kitchen Studio, a community for exploring writing techniques. Her fiction can be found in Strange Horizons, Uncanny Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and other venues.

She was born in Tokyo, Japan and now lives in Venice, California, with her partner and a little dog. She likes wine and mystery novels and karaoke. Follow her @miyukijane (Twitter and Instagram) and at www.miyukijane.com.

Find more by Miyuki Jane Pinckard

Elsewhere