By DH Hanni
“May I paint you?” Vincent van Gogh asked as he nuzzled his rough red beard into the soft flesh of the whore’s neck.
The whore with the brown untidy braid rolled over to face that night’s client. “You find me beautiful, Monsieur?” she murmured in a soft Parisian accent. Her clear blue eyes looked at him with an innocence she had long ago given up for coin and a roof over her head.
“Oui,” he replied kissing her shoulder. Violet winced at the scratchiness of the beard. It felt like the coarse hairs on her boot brush.
Vincent’s blue-green eyes took on a wounded look at her wince, “Perhaps I should shave next time.”
Violet smiled politely. Her face was rather plain save those fresh eyes, as blue as a spring lake filled with melting winter snow. At just 19, she had yet to be touched by life but Vincent knew the crisp, bright face would soon line and wither. In time, a man’s seed would take hold inside her womb, imprinting upon her taut stomach, wavy brown marks she would never be rid of. The average size breasts, with the dark pink nipples, would enlarge grotesquely. In the upcoming years she would grow heavy and be forced to charge less than the ten francs an hour Vincent paid.
“Monsieur, are you all right?” she asked as she turned over to face him. She could feel his warm breath upon her face. Vincent stared ahead, his mind cluttered with visions of her future. If she were lucky, he thought, perhaps some poor, gentle man would take pity and marry her. Perhaps he should give her one of the many Bibles he had back at his flat, relics from his time as a failed preacher. No, if I cannot preach piety to farmers, what chance would I have with a common whore?
He startled at the touch of her small hand on his forehead. “Sorry, I…I was lost in how I wanted to paint you, my dear.”
“Right now, Monsieur?”
“I do not have my canvas and paints. Besides, it is much too dark to paint. Could I come by tomorrow? Maybe the morning?”
She stretched and yawned. “Monsieur, I sleep until late. Perhaps you can come in the late afternoon or early evening? It would give me more time to prepare.”
“Oui, yes. Late afternoon,” Vincent agreed. “I’ll have to ask my brother for money for supplies…” Vincent mumbled more to himself than to Violet.
“And my wage?” she asked as sleep fought to take control.
“Yes, that, of course.”
Violet rolled away from Vincent. “I need my sleep, Monsieur. I assume you can show yourself out, oui?” She pulled the stained, off-white sheet over her nude backside, formally discharging him from her service.
“Until tomorrow, my dear,” Vincent said as he gathered his shoes and clothes. He dressed swiftly while she snored. He put the dirty rumpled black hat over his orange hair and closed the door behind him.
The next day, he stood outside the flat, and knocked on the faded black door. “Violet? Violet, my dear, are you in?” he said in an excited yet tentative voice. It was early evening rather than the afternoon he had promised but getting the money from Theo had taken longer than expected. He had not liked the idea of Vincent’s painting and was hesitant to support his brother’s latest subject with coin.
“Oui, oui. I’m coming Monsieur van Gogh,” said Violet’s annoyed voice as she opened the door. She was dressed in a plain, loose fitting blue dress; her rich brown hair up in a braided bun.
Vincent’s messy appearance startled Violet. He carried a large white canvas under his left arm. His hands already speckled with various shades of brown, blue, and orange. His right hand carried a box. Its dark surface covered in a rainbow of dots, spots, and splotches. Inside it contained paints, brushes, and rags. His intense eyes were shiny and bright, as bright as the street lamps outside the window. He wore the same clothing from the night before and his person had an intense smell of sweat despite the cool fall evening.
He smiled wide as he brushed past her. “I have been waiting for this all day, my dear Violet. I have so rarely had an opportunity to paint nudes. The Academy in Antwerp did not allow live nudes. Something about preserving the body’s purity or some such nonsense.” Vincent set the canvas and paints down on a table in the cramped apartment.
“Do you have something I could prop my canvas on? Do you know how difficult it is to study the human form without having an actual human body to learn from? All I had to look at was some old, worn out plaster statues. No arms, no legs, not even a head on it. Can you imagine?” he said in a fevered voice.
Violet shook her head as she handed him a large flower pot to prop the canvas on. “Yes, this will do. Let me just move this table here by the window. I need more light. May I light some candles?” He continued on as he brought the table closer to the leaded, dirty window which faced the street. Violet’s apartment lit by the gas lamplights outside.
She observed in amazement the energy Vincent displayed while setting up his work space. Sweat began beading upon his freckled forehead. Bits of orange hair plastered to his forehead as he lit several candles around the canvas.
“Monsieur van Gogh,” she interrupted.
“Yes, my dear?” Vincent looked around the room, searching for what, Violet did not know.
“How much will you be paying me?” she asked as she stood in the middle of the room.
“Payment? Yes, payment. Would twenty francs be sufficient for your time? I shall need you for many hours,” he responded. Vincent opened up the battered paint box and took out supplies.
Violet’s eyes narrowed, “Monsieur, I charge ten francs an hour for my time. If you mean to keep me for longer than two hours, I would require a higher payment.” She folded her arms and declared, “Fifty francs and I am yours for the night.”
Vincent stopped unpacking. His eyes lost their manic look. Twenty francs was all he had left over after purchasing supplies. He knew Theo would be reluctant to part with thirty more.
“My dear Violet, I only have twenty with me. I can bring you ten more tomorrow when I come to show you the finished painting,” he said in an apologetic tone. He picked up a dry brush and stared at the layers of paint caked on its wooden handle.
Violet looked at him. Her plain face made disagreeable with the stubborn, childish look upon it. After a moment she sighed, “I suppose thirty will have to suffice. Would I get to keep the painting, Monsieur?”
“If you like it, yes, of course,” he replied smiling. He finished setting up his space, filled rusted tin cups with water, and placed rags near him.
“Very good. Where would you like me? Shall I undress now?” Violet asked, still rooted in the center of her flat.
“Yes, please remove your dress and other clothing.” He gave Violet a cursory glance as she slipped out of the dress and underclothes. He rather enjoyed the sturdy soft curves of her womanly body. “Take your hair down but leave it in a braid,” he told her matter-of-factly.
“Oui, monsieur.” She stood naked. Her skin and nipples responded to the cool rush of the night air. After several minutes of empty silence, she interrupted the stillness. “Where would monsieur like me?”
“Huh? Ah, yes.” He looked around the scarce and tawdry apartment. It was a depressing room with just a few meager possessions such as pots, pans, dead flowers, and toiletries Violet used to make herself more alluring. His eyes landed on the one bright spot in the room.
Her bed. The only place where some money had been spent. It was soft and inviting despite its dingy, white feather pillows, some adorned with lace, surrounding the linen sheets. The bed was lumpy, like dough that had failed to rise. Violet had affixed a curtain rod around the bed fortifying it with a tattered lace curtain. The sheets and pillows had not been washed in weeks. Vincent remembered the scent of stale sweat, cheap perfume, and cologne mingling together from the night before.
His was inspired for the perfect pose for the painting. “My dear, please lay on the bed. Lay as if you were beckoning a lover.”
She smiled coquettishly. “I know how to do that.” She walked to the bed. Violet eased herself onto her left side, propped up her shoulders, and arranged her legs. The dark patch of hair between her legs was a stark contrast to the dirty white sheets on the bed. She flopped her braid over her left breast. Violet pushed out her painted red lips into a seductive, though Vincent thought it looked ridiculous, pout, “Is this what you want, monsieur van Gogh?”
“Oui,” he said as he nodded. Vincent looked at the untouched blank canvas before picking up his favorite brush. He dipped it in a mixture of off-white. His calloused hand worked freely as he slapped the paint in long strokes. Vincent’s cheeks were wet with perspiration as he fashioned the outline of Violet’s bed. He added in touches of peach and pink to show the stains the bed had collected.
As he picked up another brush to use for Violet’s body, his blue-green eyes adopted an angry, thoughtful intensity. He studied the small, dirty arched feet. The short distance from ankle to knee. The heavy, muscular shape of the thighs, her wage earners, like the flanks of a horse down at the racetracks. The ampleness of the bottom, like two cantaloupes, and the neatness of her waist.
Then Vincent remembered the way she looked when she turned away from him the night before. He painted her as he would remember her best. Untidy braid slithered off to the side. Thickset arms underneath a weary head buttressed by feather pillows. Just another faceless, common whore. Yes, there was a beauty to her form for him but her last position from the night before was a familiar one to him.
The rejection from Eugeneie Loyer in London and Kee Vos-Stricker back home all showed up on Violet’s back. Paint splattered his face as he painted Violet in deep, short strokes. Turbid amounts of paint covered the canvas. He used dark peaches and light brown tones mixed with white to paint her body. Vincent let the darkness of those rejections that plagued him guide his hand over the curves and dips of the body. The body he had tenderly caressed the night before but now resented. His eyes became explosive as he stabbed the canvas with dark brown and black paint as he got to Violet’s hair.
Alarmed by the gaze, which was illuminated by burning candles surrounding the mad artist, Violet tried to shake the nervous feeling developing inside. Vincent looked like a demon as he stabbed at the canvas. His pointed chin and orange beard elongated in the shadows of the street lamp outside; eyes burning with rage. She pulled the bed sheet to hide her nakedness, fearing for her safety. She slipped out of bed, Vincent unaware of the movement, and hastily picked up the dress. She slid it over her heard, studying the painter. He was completely lost in his own world. She padded across to the kitchen and picked up a rusty dull knife.
“Please leave!” she bellowed, the knife pointed at Vincent. Her breath ragged and she dared not blink.
Van Gogh continued painting, switching back to the first brush, the one he used for the bed. He put long lax soft strips of white paint on the canvas. His eyes softened. Violet watched as the devil from a few moments ago transformed into a wounded child. The muscles in his rugged face weakened and relaxed. His hand produced easygoing strokes as he concentrated on the wall and curtains that surrounded Violet’s bed.
“Get out!” she repeated, her hand trembling. Vincent put down the brush, a serene mask on his face, and turned to her. He blinked away the fog in his mind. He looked at his subject, confused. Violet’s wild hair, holding the knife, her customarily sweet voice was shrill as she yelled at him.
“Why…why, my dear?” he asked, puzzled and wounded.
“Because you are the devil. I saw it in you when you were painting me! Leave, Monsieur van Gogh!”
“But, I haven’t done anything but paint,” he protested, still confused by Violet’s outburst. He looked at the painting and down at the mess of cups, brushes, and rags.
“I saw evil in your eyes. Leave! And never come back. I’ll summon the police if you come near me!” She stabbed the air near him as she spoke.
“But, my dear Violet…” Vincent said, approaching with outstretched hands.
“Leave!” She came closer to Vincent. The glint of rust shone weak in the light. The artist turned, gathered the paints in an instant, and knocked over the cups holding the brushes in his anxious haste. He bent to pick them up.
“Leave those!” Violet screeched. He jumped back as if he she had whipped him. He grabbed the still wet canvas and stumbled towards the door.
“Your payment -,” he tried to say.
“Go! Now! Never come back you devil painter!”
He shoved the hat onto his head. Vincent’s pallid face was coated in dampness as he fumbled with the door. He ran down the stairs, stumbling, as the slamming of Violet’s door rang in his ears.
DH Hanni is loves writing in the genres of historical fiction and fantasy. A lifelong reader, DH Hanni decided to commit the worlds created in her head onto paper in the hopes others may want to share in her imagination. Previously she has been published in the online magazine Hidden Animals and in print as part of LocoNeal’s Loco Thology 2013 Tales of Science Fiction and Fantasy. She currently lives in South Carolina with her spouse and 3 furry children.