It is the autumn of 2012. I am nineteen, naked in the studio of Yelena Konstantinov. It is the first time I have met her in person, and though I don’t know it yet, I am in love.
Yelena’s hand peels carefully from my hip, the only slice of flesh unswaddled by silk, and hovers nervously above her handiwork. There on the faint olive of my skin is an off-white hand print, lined and spiked in the shapes of her long fingers. Even the scar on her palm came through, a slight depression in the paint. A chill sets in immediately and then my skin begins to tighten, the paint already drying in the cold air. I peer at it a moment and then lay down, sprawled and relaxed.
“Stay there.” She flashes me a smile. Cherry lipbalm, shiny white teeth. “You are comfortable?”
“Yes, thankyou.” The couch is surprisingly comfortable, if ancient and broken. A bass cacophony erupts from the aged support beams whenever I move. The silk rustles. I let it brush my lips, watching Yelena’s perfectly shaped ass swing from side to side as she returns to stand by her canvas. She twists and I look away, feigning disinterest.
She begins her work.
Half an hour passes as I lie sanguine on the couch, wrapped in black silk, watching her sketch shapes onto a canvas with an oil pencil. She sings to herself in melodic Russian, a lullaby I’ve never heard, and glances at me through stray strands of her hair. Animal green eyes flashing through a torrent of dark chocolate.
“You are a good model.” She says eventually, standing back from the easel, her gaze flicking rapidly between me and the canvas. She sweeps in suddenly and adds a few quick modifications to the image, and then repeats the process. “Do you do this often?”
“Modelling?” She nods, and I roll the silk against my lip again. “No, not really. It’s not that hard just to lay still for a couple of hours.”
A tinkling laugh graces her lips and dimples her cheeks, lending her body a cheerful exuberance that translates into the painting. Bright colours emerge through the back of the canvas as the light seeps through. Rose Madder, Indigo, Australian Grey. I can see the tubes of paint resting on the splattered table next to her. She paints with great energy, using sweeping movements for lines, scrubbing at the canvas with a rough-haired brush to fill in the white space. It’s almost as if she is dancing with the image, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet in tandem with the movements of her arms. Dust particles drift down from the ceiling, caught in the fluorescent lights dangling overhead. Night falls outside and I find myself getting sleepy, drifting off to the sound of her singing and the scratching of the brush. Euphoria takes me.
Yelena wakes me some time later with a gentle touch, murmuring my name.
“Mary.” A whisper, soft against my shoulder. “Mary.”
She hovers near me, peering into my eyes. I smell turpentine, oil paints and liquid medium, and suddenly I want to kiss her.
Her eyes are warm. Understanding. She beats me to it, grasping my neck, pressing her mouth to mine. Her kisses are hungry, sweet, tasting of nougat and coffee. Her breath is hot. Her fingers are cold.
We roll together and crush the silk, and forget the world outside.