The Muse Part 2

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Part two of the short story, in which a muse appears before a painter who has lost love of painting.

Submitted: September 03, 2016

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Submitted: September 03, 2016

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Renee Roux was frustrated, as he paced about in his studio. He was commissioned to do a painting of Michel, one of the dukes, by his estate just outside of Nice. It was a beautiful estate, and the duke was a regal specimen, but Renee just couldn’t find the inspiration, and when inspiration couldn’t be found, he paced his studio, a mess of a room with paint stained upon pallets and upon the tables. Finished and unfinished paintings were stacked upon one another, and rough charcoal sketches upon paper were strewn everywhere.

Renee’s pacing was interrupted when he heard a knock upon the door. He grumbled as he opened it, to find a young woman standing before him with dark hair and brown eyes. She wore a beautiful white dress, puffed out from a crinoline underneath it, giving the illusion that she was wearing huge, white rose petals. Upon her head she wore a wreath of white flowers.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Jovanna Acquarone,” she said, in an Italian accent. “This is the studio of Renee Roux, is it not?” she peaked inside.

“It is, but I’m afraid I’m too busy to accommodate you at the moment.”

“Oh please,” she said stepping in before he could protest. “I promise I shall only take but a moment.”  

Rudely, she looked through his stacks of portraits and drawings, putting them out of order.

“Would you stop that!” he shouted. “I have everything in order for a reason.”

“Of course you do,” she smiled. “Many people just see a mess in your studio, but your mess has order. Is that not what artists do? Create order out of chaos? Do they not paint to give meaning to life?”

“I paint because I feel close to God when I do so.”

“And what’s your current project?” she asked while taking a seat.

“To paint a portrait of the Grand Duke, but I certainly can’t paint it with you bothering me.”

“Nor can you paint it when you are busy pacing back and forth,” she pointed out. “And I might add, it’s a little hard to paint without a subject, unless you have a keen memory.”

“Is there anything else?” he was irritated that she just didn’t get the clue.

“Actually, there is. I’m wondering why you insist on painting what doesn’t interest you.”

“You don’t know what interests me and what doesn’t,” he barked at her.

“Oh, but I do. I can see it in your eyes. They tell me that you’re bored, and that you want so much more. You want to create art for the sake of art, not primarily for the sake of a livelihood. The eyes, they tell us more than the tongue could ever hope to. The tongue is full of beguilement, the eyes are full of honesty.”

Renee sighed. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. But what can I do?”

“You can stop stressing, and take a respite,” she said in a matter of fact tone. “I’m about to head to a café nearby for tea. Then I’m thinking about going to the countryside, not far from the vineyard.”

Renee’s anger at being interrupted was quickly dying. There was a beauty to this woman, and even though she was gifted with her olive complexion, her dark hair, and her Italian accent, there was more than just physical traits. It was her personality that was the most intriguing. She wasn’t bound in chains to the notion of proper decorum, but was rather like a horse who had broken free from her kennel to run free.

“Are you asking me to join you?” he asked hopefully.

“But of course,” Jovanna smiled. “I have always loved your art.” She paused to look at a large painting he did of a lake nestled in the mountains with a cottage by it. “You say that painting helps bring you close to God. Well, the beauty of your brush strokes upon the canvas, the way they form trees, lush and green, and stunning sun-sets illuminating mountains, makes me feel close to God.”

“You really like my work?” he asked.

“But of course. Though I’m from Naples, Italy, I once traveled all the way from home to see your work exhibited in a gallery in Madrid Spain.”

The artist looked at her with a newfound respect. “I guess a respite would be good for my soul,” he said. “Very well, Mademoiselle, I’ll escort you to whatever café you have in mind, and then then to the countryside.”

“And I shall be honored,” said Jovanna, extending an arm for him to take.

Together, they chose to relax at the outdoor patio of the Grain de Raisin Rouge, a lovely café near a channel of water. Renee was drinking from a cup of coffee, and Jovanna from a cup of tea. Children were playing a game of tag nearby, as adults went on their way, holding parasols, and reading the papers. Not far from the café was a fountain with carvings of sirens upon a rock, pouring out water with shell horns. Around the fountain were lovers sitting together, children dangling feet, or old men playing chess.

“Tell me,” said Jovanna taking a sip of tea, “what made you choose to be an artist?”

“I don’t think I chose,” said Renee. “I think the calling chose me. My interest started when I was a boy, when my father took me to an art exhibition. You see, I saw so much strife growing up. I was but a mere child, only eight years old, when the Reign of Terror was going on. Those who were perceived to be enemies of the glorious revolution were executed. I vividly remember witnessing the death of a husband and wife, the two of them lead up to the guillotine. I can never block out of my memory the terror in their eyes before the blade took their heads off. But worse, I can’t forget how people cheered over it. I have mixed feelings towards Maximilian Robespierre. On one hand, he did what he could to help the poor, and he abolished slavery in our colonies. But did he really need to kill so many people? I can’t help but feel that some of it was just murder. To this day my heart has conflicting feelings over him, and towards the French Revolution as a whole.”

“And you chose paining as a way to escape from the pain,” said Jovanna, touching his hand understandingly.

“Yes, that’s right,” said Renee. “There is so much suffering in the world that I find joy in painting an idyllic one. In a way, I try to paint a world that I think God would love. Some artists paint grim scenes of death and suffering. They say it helps us deal with reality, and to an extent I agree with them. But I personally want to create art to elevate peoples’ minds to a higher level of joy.”

“You prove my point,” Jovanna looked at him with concern in her eyes. “I see sadness in your eyes, even after having mentioned that it brings you joy. Does art no longer serve its purpose? I would feign think not. Rather, I think that you are so busy working on commissions that you aren’t following your heart with your work anymore.”

Renee nodded, knowing what she said was true.

“Tell me,” she said, “what do you like to paint?”

“I like to paint pictures of flowers in a spring field, or of brooks of rushing water, or of farmlands with fields of cows and horses,” and as he spoke he felt excitement bubble up within him like a fountain he had kept contained for far too long. “I like painting the beautiful churches in Arles, or in Paris, with their magnificent steeples. I love to paint children at play amongst the vineyards of the chateaus. I love painting what makes me feel edified.” He sighed. “Not stuffy old dukes at their estates.”

“And you should paint those subjects,” said Jovanna. “Because from what I can tell, you are in a cage. I had to leave my cage at one time.”

“You did?”

“Oh yes. I was to be wed to a rich man in Rome. But I didn’t love him. You see, I originally come from a rich family, and decorum was drilled into me. So many rules, so many regulations! Though I may have grown up in a villa of gardens, elegant dining rooms with fine foods and wines, and with bedrooms of king size beds and fine draperies, and whatnot, and though we lived near the sea, I still felt as though I were trapped.”

“I had no idea that luxury could be a burden,” said Renee, thoughtfully.

“Oh, it most certainly can! My parents seemed more concerned about social status and money than they did about me. Each time they corrected me, it was more to help them avoid humiliation in the eyes of others, rather than actually caring for my wellbeing. In fact, they hardly ever associated with me. My greatest company was the maid.”

“That does sound like a horrible life,” nodded Renee.

“Maybe so, but that changed soon enough.”

“How so?”

“I saw your work,” Jovanna said excitedly, “when they were exhibiting it at a local gallery in Naples. I fell in love with it. Your paintings spoke many words of freedom. It was your work that eventually made me decide to leave my parents, and to travel across Europe.”

Renee dropped his cup of coffee, spilling it on the clean white linin. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Thank you works.”

“Thank you, then.”

“Now, I don’t know about you,” she continued, “but as lovey as Nice is, I could certainly do for a stroll out in the countryside. Who knows? Maybe your spark of inspiration will be rekindled again.”

When they had finished their tea and coffee, Renee escorted Jovanna to the countryside, which was within walking distance from his studio and the cafe. A chateau with a vineyard was nearby, in which Jovanna was eager to pick some grapes.

“I think that can be arranged,” the painter said. “The people who own this chateau tend to be very generous. Sometimes when I’m stressed I come out here to pick grapes, and occasionally they’ll say bonjour to me.”

Along the rows of grape vines, Renee and Jovanna walked, feasting on the fresh fruit, which tasted liked spring and summer.

“Look,” she said putting a cluster of grapes above his right earlobe. “You now have the appearance of a Greico-Roman god, such as Bachus. Now all you need is a toga.”

“Or my own winepress to make wine,” said Renee.

“Why do you need your own winepress?” she laughed. “We can make our own wine here.” She took a clump of grapes, and squeezed them over his head, letting the juice run down his back.

“You have some nerve” laughed the artist. “Two can play at that game.”

“No, no, stop,” she laughed as he grabbed her by the arm, while he tried to shove some grapes onto her face. She ran from him down the rows of vines and he followed.

He felt alive as he chased after her. He felt happiness that he hadn’t felt in such a long time. He followed her laughter, and the sounds of her footsteps. Turning a corner, he nearly bumped into her. Jovanna didn’t have time to get away before he slipped a cluster of crushed grapes down her back. She turned around, and reciprocated, by tossing the fruit at him. But he pounced on her, and the two of them rolled through the grape vines, laughing merrily. Side by side, they laughed for a long time, until Renee found his stomach sore from it.

Tired out, they retired to the brook amongst the grove of trees nearby to have their share of water. Renee had a heart of thankfulness. He wanted to live this way every day. He found that he was thirsty for it, even more so than he was for the water. The happiness continued as Jovanna encouraged him to listen to the birds within the trees, and to catch frogs with her in a nearby pond. Renee noticed that beautiful Mediterranean wildflowers were in a rainbow of bloom, in which Jovanna remarked how lovely they were, as she began to knit herself a new crown of flowers. Wearing the new floral crown accentuated the beauty of her colorful soul even further.

“How do you feel,” asked Jovanna, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“I feel inspired,” he said. “I have to paint again. I want to use this location as a setting. I can quickly get my easel and paints from the studio. We’re not far away. I can be back in thirty minutes.”

“I’ll go with you,” she said.

“No. You can wait here.”

“I can,” she nodded thoughtfully. “But I don’t want to.”

Finding there was no use in arguing with her, he let her assist him in bringing his supplies, though he was adamant about carrying the heavier items. When they were back amongst the grove of trees towering over the wildflowers, Jovanna asked him, “What would you like to paint?”

“Well, I’m worried you might think me awfully audacious if I asked,” he said nervously.

“I think I know what you’re going to ask,” she smiled at him gently. “You want to paint a picture of me. Am I right?”

“Yes, that’s right. Jovanna, you are beautiful, inside and out. I haven’t felt so inspired in such a long time. I love to paint what is beautiful, and what is beautiful right now to me is you.”

“But of course,” the Italian woman laughed. “I would love to pose for you.”

“You would?”

“But of course! What would you like me to wear?”

The artist found himself blushing, embarrassed to state what was in his heart for fear she’d think he was a man of ill intent.

“Did you want me to pose nude?” she laughed.

“Well, yes,” said Renee rather timidly. Then he felt a surge of energy rise within him. “But I’m not sorry to ask. You’re a goddess in many ways, an Aphrodite, and clothing can only hide your beauty, not magnify it. I want to put on canvas, every one of your curves, every tone of your flesh, from your flowing black hair and deep brown eyes, to the curves of your hips, all the way down to the elegant shape of your dainty feet.”

“A simple yes would have sufficed,” said Jovanna, as she started to remove her stockings, followed by her dress, crinoline, and her petticoat.

Tossing her clothing aside, she stood naked before the artist, except for the new wreath of flowers in her hair. For a moment, Renee lost his breath. He felt a profound sense of reverence towards this woman. There was divinity within her, as though God himself had created the ultimate form of art. Within her was a fire that birthed creativity. The sun shone through the break in the trees, illuminating her hair like polished ebony. Her light olive skin gave off a light glow. From the shape of her shoulders, to the elegance of her arms, to the curves of her thighs, the strength of her legs, and the curve of her feet, she was a living sculpture that would have put Rodin’s best work, if living and breathing, to envy. But it was her smile that was the most beautiful, for in it was light, love, and hope. Was she even human? Or was she something more, such as an angel from God himself?

“So, do tell. How should I pose?” she awakened him out of his near worship.

“Well, I” Renee, stuttered before concluding with, “I bestow the choice to you.”

Jovanna chose a sycamore tree among the grove, to let left her arm stretch out against, the palm of her hand pressed against it, as her right arm hung loosely at her side. She curved her torso more towards the tree, and crossed her right foot slighty in front of her left. She tilted her head slightly towards her right shoulder, gazing her face slightly towards the sky. Many trees were clustered in shadows around her, but a soft light shone down upon her, from where the branches were scarce, as though she were an angel who had ascended down from heaven. Standing bare upon the carpet of wild-flowers, she was elegant and powerful.

Renee felt that fire rekindled in him, as he dipped his brush into his pallet, and manipulated the colors upon his canvas. He knew that he couldn’t put her actual flesh and her actual soul upon the board, but he could give the illusion of it. No. That wasn’t totally true. He had felt for a long time that an artist at least shared a mirror image of someone’s soul. In this case, the viewer of his work would get a glimpse into the soul of Jovanna. He painted for hours, capturing each of her skin tones, the curves of her body, and the flowers wreathed around her hair. He painted with delicacy and with love. He even painted with that same care the landscape around her. It came to point in which it was hard to differentiate between she and the grove, as they were so alike. Though he worked for hours, it certainly didn’t seem like it.

Upon finishing his painting, he felt more exhausted than he had in a long time. Yet he also felt a sense of elevation of his spirit. Gazing upon his painting, Renee knew that it was easily one of his best. The attention to detail of the the work was exquisite. He had managed to capture each little subtle aspect and nuance of the model, and of the landscape around her.

“Jovanna, come and take a look,” he beckoned to her excitedly.

Without even bothering to get dressed, Jovanna jogged over to take a look at the completed piece. Renee saw approval glisten in her eyes as she smiled. She placed a hand gently on his shoulder. “I knew you could do it,” she said.

“I couldn’t,” he protested. “Not without you. We both did created this. We equally put our hearts and souls into it. And I know that there is more art that we can create. I don’t want to create it alone, but with you by my side.”

“I cannot,” she told him sadly, “as much as I’d love to.”

“But why?” he protested. “Is it something I did?”

“It’s nothing you did,” Jovanna said, as she walked over to her clothing and began to get dressed. “It’s what has been accomplished. My sole purpose was to help you gain your inspiration again, and now you have it,” she said as she put on her petticoat. “There are others who need my help.”

“But I need you,” he begged.

“You will always have a part of me,” she said, as she pulled her stockings up.

“But you inspire me.”  

“Many things inspired you before you turned your passion into a profession,” she pointed out while she put her crinoline around her waist. After putting her dress back on, she looked at the artist with imploring eyes. “Don’t ever let your profession overrule your passion.”

“But you are my passion!” he shouted.

She walked back over to him, and took his hands in hers. “Your art is your passion,” she said. “Your ability to create. You said God gave you a talent. I believe that’s true. God drew me to you to rekindle that talent. He wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t help others in need.”

“But I don’t want to say goodbye,” said the artist, feeling like he was going to break down.

“We don’t have to say goodbye, yet,” she hugged him close to her.

He felt her warmth, and the dress she wore even felt like a rose. Only now he also felt the thorns from a relationship that he had thought was the beginning of something pure and heavenly that transcended above the troubles of the earthly realm. He held onto her tighter. He didn’t want to let go. For a moment she held onto him tightly as well.

Finally, Jovanna let go, and taking him by the hand said, “Can you please escort me to the station?”

Renee nodded, knowing that there wasn’t anything more that he could say.

The sun was setting as he walked with her, hand in hand, to the train station. It was strange about how the day was simultaneously at its saddest and most beautiful during sunset. It was a poetic reminder of life, about how one is given blessings that one must appreciate, before such blessings are lost.

“I am happy,” said Jovanna quietly, although there was a tinge of sadness to her voice. Renee stared at her in contemplation. “I’m happy,” she continued, “that I get to enjoy the rest of this evening with you. I could ask for no greater joy.”

“And I as well,” nodded the artist, though his pain felt immense.

Renee felt another one of his heartstrings break when they came to the train station.“You know, I’m willing to board the train with you,” he said.

“I do know,” she nodded sadly. “But it’s not to be. Trust me when I tell you as much.” Suddenly, Renee found himself tight within her arms as she hugged him farewell. “Thank you for all that you’ve done. Thank you for letting me inspire you. Now go and be happy again. Pursue what gives you joy. Arrivederci.”Then she gave him a kiss on the cheek. 

With these farewells given, Renee watched her train leave the station, the scenario feeling like some sort of tragic dream.

“Monsieur Roux,” came a voice behind him. Renee turned around to find that he was looking at the servant of the duke he was commissioned to paint. “Monsieur Roux, whatever are you doing at the train station? Only watching the trains leave, I presume?”

“No,” sighed Renee. “I was seeing off an old friend.”

“I beg your pardon,” the servant scratched his head puzzled, “but I have been watching your strange manners since before the last train left, and I noticed no one.”

“You had to have noticed her!” exclaimed the temperamental artist. “She was a beautiful Italian woman, and she gave me a kiss on the cheek before she left.

 “Monsieur, I fear you may be hallucinating, for I saw no such person. Regardless, my master, Monsieur Michel is most excited about the painting he has commissioned of you. I trust you will grace us with your presence soon.”

“Yes, but of course,” sighed Renee,  emotionally worn out. “Next week, next Tuesday.”

“Very good, Monsieur,” approved the servant. “Monsieur Michel looks forward to seeing you again. Until then, I take my leave. Au revoir!”

The painting of the duke was the last commissioned painting that Renee Roux ever did. From then on he worked at the vineyards, in remembrance of the short time he had had with Jovanna. That’s not to say he gave up painting. On his spare time he still painted every week, but this time out of joy and pleasure, and not out of work. He had made a few inquires with friends in Naples to find out about an Acquarone family, but they couldn’t find any rich family with that name, nor could they find, or nor had anyone else, heard of a Jovanna Acquarone. Her light had disappeared into the sunset that evening. The only thing he had to remember her by was the painting that he had done of her, which he always kept close by in his studio. 


© Copyright 2017 Jonathan Scott Griffin. All rights reserved.

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