Never before in my life had I transmuted the kindness of giving my heart to love into the unwillingness to love. But one day, solitude had become my escape, while painting had helped me to avoid the pain when my cry for help had not been heard or rather listened to by those I needed the most. Art had always been my passion, love – inspiration, truth – my credo. But life rippled by so fast – its scattered memories wafted away along the unfathomable road to eternity. I tried to forget my past.
Now, the meaning of my life led only to one goal – to achieve, to achieve the inner balance, emotional stability, to lull the turmoil of my heart-rending feelings. I strived for intellectual perfection of my mind and soul. But time passed, and now, more than ever, I craved for the ideal love.
One day, I began to brood over the truth of my inner state. I struggled to have my mind and my soul interweave into one unique fusion, the paroxysm of creativity. I was ready for the new beginning. A mysterious fire began to flare inside me, as an illusive desire of being loved again. The texture of my tormented emotions was so diverse, so deeply painful, and yet, as pure as the first rays of the rising sun, as a touch of its warm beams. I lingered in life with one wish to liberate myself from darkness, to stop my self-laceration. I was afraid to relinquish a hope waiting for me somewhere behind the horizon. I began to live again in the atmosphere of a viscous desire, languor for a conflict, drama, or for one ideal image of a woman, who would inflame me, make me suffer, annihilate my stubbornness, show me the world beyond the frame of my paintings, and yet, love me unconditionally. Was I ready? Had I have to prove to myself that I was brave enough to free from my past and move into the future she would be the one to force me to begin my voyage into the depth of art and into the depth of the creative impetus. My wandering soul was in search of my muse.
The events I am going to describe had altered my life and become engraved in my memory forever.
At forty-two, I was still a struggling artist, a lonely wolf, embracing solitude, self-imprisonment to my nothingness, my cowardliness to face the reality, open the doors that were still closed upon the world around me. The absurdity of my philosophy lay in my intellectual unrest, incapability to embrace the world as a total unity, desire to devote my life only to art. Had I understood at that time the importance of facing the universe and searching for the absolute truth and happiness not only inward, but also the outward world, I would have broken the frames of my solitude forever, a long time ago. However, things changed when I realized that I had exhausted my inner creative strength and had to move outside of my comfortable existence. I had this inexorable vision of myself as a portrait painter that haunted me in my dreams at night and my mind and soul during the sunlight. I needed a sitter, a model, a face and a body to study. I imagined a portrait of a woman that would penetrate hearts, magnetize everyone by its inner depth, the purity of her soul, and the glamour of her perfect forms.
One cold afternoon, she came to my studio after reading my advertisement in the local newspaper. A latent desire, passion pierced her every movement, her light gait, her refined features, her delicate hands. My heart palpated upon seeing her innocence, her hidden beauty, her confusion, modesty and her smoldering sexuality. I stood dazed in the middle of the studio, uneasy to start the conversation.
“Probably it was very impetuous on my part to come to your studio, but I need money, desperately need money,” she said this in a quiet voice, darting a quick glance at me.
She seemed to be very frail, extremely shy, and yet, I noticed, totally determined. I was smitten off my feet; I felt giddy. I stared at her not being able to utter a single word, until I, finally, noticed the awkwardness of our situation and her attempt to leave. I was overwhelmed by a storm of emotions, the impetus to the creativity, the awakening of my dreamy desires.
I ran after her, catching her by her hand, I almost shouted, “Please stay; you are the one I need.”
Intuitively, I moved close to her, looking straight into her wide-open, bewildering eyes. I felt the rarefied smell of her perfume, and had a wild desire to snuff her out. The undiscerning fear of losing her cast a spell upon me. She stopped at the doorway and stared at me, confused, still undecided about what to do next.
“I beg you to stay,” I repeated feverishly, afraid to lose her, the outline of her perfectly shaped body.
She stirred up a storm of feelings inside my heart, and I knew that I would die were she to leave me now. She stood silently for some time, until a faint smile touched the corner of her lips. Without uttering a word, she moved directly to my sofa and began fitfully to shuck off her clothes, as if a billow of uncertain feelings swept her whole being. The immense blind fear of losing her was replaced now with a burning desire to possess her. She sensed immediately my monstrous desire to satisfy my animal instinct, my passion, but continued to undress, coldly, mechanically, as if I had not been there watching her. Her trust, her faith in me fell upon me as a shame of my actions, my thoughts, and I blushed, blushed like a schoolboy caught cheating. She stood in front of me, her smooth skin glowing, her shy sweet smile frozen on her subtle pale face. I rushed to the canvas to apprehend the beauty of the moment, the softness of her skin, her deep hazel eyes, her reserved smile, and yet, the openness of her sexuality, the fullness of her breasts and the mystery of her soul.
I approached the window to draw the curtains and was astonished by the burning sunset. The sky, like a wounded animal, flared up, shedding a red light, as if bleeding with crimson rays through the moving away clouds. It was a different sunset from anything I had ever seen before and it seized my whole being with some kind of premonition. What on earth had happened to me today? My heart leaped up when I beheld the picture of the vanishing sun. The thought of the frailty of my life crossed my mind. In a slow pace, like a ghost, I roamed stealthily about the room, moving away from the chanting melody of a dark sky and heavy clouds, looping along the town. My hands feverishly yielded to the demands of my soul. I knew the only way to stifle my pain was to take a brush and through my work plunge into another world, capture the innocent beauty of a woman who trusted me with her body, her soul. With verve, I grabbed the brush, and without glancing at her, began to mix the colors. When, at last, I looked at her, she was sitting on the edge of the sofa, her hands crossed on her knees. She seemed to be crest-fallen; her spirit lulled down as she stared at me helplessly with a curious smile. She pierced her look through the invisible wall of space, directly at me, straight into my eyes. I realized that this portrait would be born in the agony of my creative spirit and imbued with pain, profound pain, almost hovering on the verge of madness. The more I observed my sitter, the more I saw a great sadness emanated from the eyes of this strange woman. Was it insanity, mad impulse, sickness of my exhausted mind or my imagination? I felt an incredible elation and a sudden crystallization of my soul, clarity of my mind. My imagination and my mind were inflamed, my hands were burning. An immense pleasure of working immersed suddenly and captured every cell of my heart. I found, finally, pleasure and excitement in my work.
Soon, the evening dust totally mantled the room. I began feeling heady and tired. I turned on the light and its flash blinded me for a second. My studio, in a shape of oval, was chaotically piled with works of art, and at the end of it, on the edge of my sofa, an unknown woman, exhausted and vulnerable, sat quietly, not moving, but only shivering with the evening cold. I brought her a woven blanket and wound it around her body, but a touch of her skin brought me back to life. Torturing desire to penetrate not only her mind, but also her body was so cruel, so vivid, so frightening. I could not help feeling the exultation over her presence, the happiness of seeing her in my room. The fear of destroying it, losing this illusive woman was stronger than my sexual desire. I saw my fear reflecting in her eyes, as she was throwing the woven blanket behind her on the sofa.
Under the light of the moon, rippling through the curtains, I saw her face. It did not express any emotions or desire when I put my arms around her. My hot breath burned her skin, as we both got lost in the powerful flux of feelings. I felt overwhelmed, happy, exhausted. I clasped her body gently in my arms, as we both slowly drifted into deep slumber.
Since that day, she began to come to my studio every day, at the same time. Undressing silently, she sat in the same pose on the sofa, while I feverishly, obsessively, devouringly tried to render her beauty, to capture the gloss of her skin and the sufferings of her soul. We hardly talked, plunged into physical desire – it was almost an animal passion of two lonely creatures, lost in this immense universe, forgotten and wandering souls, striving for perfection, unity and love.
Two weeks of her everyday visits had passed, and I was putting the finishing touches on the portrait. However, to my disappointment, all my frenzied efforts to bring her image to perfection had failed. I deeply suffered from my inability to capture the inner world of the woman I loved. Although her body was gloriously beautiful, her eyes in my portrait still expressed boredom.
Had I begun to realize earlier that I hardly knew her, I would have made more efforts to penetrate her soul, her unknown to me world. But ironically, it was my selfishness, self-absorption, disregard of her human side that prevented me from sensing her own feelings. Unfortunately, my obsession with my portrait grew deeper than my obsession with the real woman I made love to everyday. I felt again as if I were on the verge of madness. I could not sleep, I could not eat or even think straight – all I could see was the face of the woman with cold inexpressive eyes in front of me. I was supercharged with work, with my floating emotions, with the pallet of colors, with her spellbound that mesmerized my mind and my body. I had been lost in the desert of my own passions. I had been searching for sublimation of my soul, but was trapped between two obsessions – with a woman in a portrait and a real woman I had hardly known. It was such a strange feeling, as if my whole being had been divided, torn apart by impossible, outrageous love, selfish and glorious. I was dazed, my blood burning, my heart set on fire – instantly the world closed around me, all the lines crossed in one point – love. How could I express such strong emotions in the portrait, make the portrait talk, tell the story?
One evening she didn’t come. I had been waiting for her arrival without turning the light on. I stood at the window, staring into empty space on the border of twilight and darkness, watching them merging together into one unfathomable union. Does love give birth to a night? I thought, digging deeply into my fear, dreaming about the warmth of her body, the tenderness of her voice. My waiting became unbearable – I was losing my mind, my reasoning. I was in love with her beauty, the unveiled mystery she carried inside her soul, the unexpected.
I went back to the portrait, and through my imagination, through my sufferings emerged a different woman, alive. And following my impulse, with feverish brush strokes, I touched her eyes, her mouth, her hands, and they all began to talk to me. Intuitively, I painted a different woman – her beauty was cruel, her eyes had a hidden fire, and an evil smile danced at the corners of her lips. She was born from the twilight merged with the darkness, a mysterious woman of the night. It was not an imaginative woman anymore; she was real, tangible, almost sadistic, cold, heartless. Her pretentious innocence disappeared, and a new woman emerged, the one I could not see under the veil of my emotions. It was such an eerie disproportion between my ability to captivate the art and my struggle to expose the reality, between the real and imaginative visions. She was the realization of my hunger, primitive fulfillment of my dark sexual desire. I was totally blinded by the perfection of her features, and couldn’t see beyond the image I had created myself.
Only later on, I began to understand that she had given me this magic moment, saved me from my imprisonment, helped me to elude my past, to yield to the impetus of my dream. She had never come back, and I never saw her again in spite of all my endless efforts to find her. After all, my wisdom was born out of my experience. After enduring the days of sufferings and meditations, I, finally, ceased my feelings and went back to work. My passion turned into wild energy, and wedded with my intellectual and intuitive perfection, aroused in me the ascent of creativity. I had one exhibition after another, where her portrait was a great success – it brought me fame and money. I fulfilled my dream and had become a famous portrait painter. I seduced many women in my life, but the illusive woman of the night, who had given me her naked body, but didn’t allow me to undress and seduce her soul, I could never forget.
Yelena Dubrovina was born in Leningrad, Russia. In 1978, she immigrated to the United States. Yelena is the author of two books of poetry "Preludes to the Rain" and “Beyond the Line of No Return,” two books of short stories: “The Dying Glory” and “Portrait of a Wandering Soul,” and a bilingual anthology “Russian Poetry in Exile. 1917-1975.” She co-authored a novel with Hilary Koprowski, entitled “In Search of Van Dyck.” In addition to this, her short stories, poetry and literary essays have appeared in different periodicals. Yelena is the editor of two journals “Russian Poetry Past and Present” and “Russia Abroad Past and Present”. She is a bilingual writer, published in both Russian and American periodicals.