The Yellow Sign, Part 3: The Portrait

3


A CAVE, IN A WATERFALL, in a wood, and Cecilia Echo Markham, clad in a long diaphanous shift embroidered with fanciful creatures, abed on a tomb. She lies on a mesh of evergreen branches among which are woven lavender, rosemary and mint, an aromatic mattress which separates her from the ancient stone. Two knights, head to toe in gleaming armour, guard the mouth of the cave, solemn hands clasped on their sword pommels. At her feet, a silver dragon. Her dark eyes, still darker in the watery half-light, gaze upward at the roof of the cave and its ribs and ridges and pale clumps of root. She watches, impassive, as it slowly dissolves. It becomes the sickly yellow plaster ceiling of a Parisian studio, lit from without by the sun through limes. The drumming of the waterfall becomes the sounds of a street; horses and carriages, bustling foot traffic, the shouts of costermongers, the distant sound of a band playing in the park beyond the square.


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The studio was on the third floor. A corner room, directly under the eaves. In each wall was a pair of tall windows, all crazed with age and fogged with dust and the old webs of spiders, their milky light dappled by the stately lime trees beyond. Cecilia lounged in the furthest window, bare shoulder against the welcome cool of the plaster and looked out at the church across the street. As expected, at the mere touch of her glance, the church door opened and out he came, carefully shutting the door behind him. He was slim, lithe and eager and wore a green tailcoat and a feathered green hat. Curles of ginger whisker framed an angular face. Slender legs in once-bright white breeches now faded to the colour of bone. Silver buckles winked on his shoes. And, even though there was no way he could, what with the lime trees and shadows and the dirty windows and such, he looked up, looked right at her and grinned that sly grin. It curled along the long planes of his jaw and made his eyes glitter under the hat. The sun on his whiskers gave him the glow and the glee of a fox. He leaned against the jamb of the lych-gate and gave a slow wink. a wink she could feel in every pale centimeter of her skin, as if she were a snare drum and his eyes the brushes.
She knew it was pointless, but she turned to the room, to the other pair of windows, where her artist toiled, and remarked:

“He’s there again. How does he see through the glass?”

Her artist looked up, his spectacles glinting, framed by the easel and the long green drapes against the glow of the window. She half expected a tetchiness. Perhaps a patronising dismissal, but this morning he seemed distracted.

“I’m sorry, my dear – what did you say?”

And more or less immediately he fell back to poking at the canvas with a turpentine rag. Cecilia pushed off from the wall and crossed the room, bare feet whispering on the bare oak boards, circumnavigating the disordered splendour of the posing couch.

“Nothing, really. I saw the church man again.”

As she neared the easel, she felt herself falling into the rythm which his closeness seemed always to inspire. Her legs and hips and spine and elbows seemed to move in synchrony, sinuous, lithe, like the effortless grace of the carp in the fountain-pond by the bandstand. The sensuality of the cats that patrolled it. She swung neatly in behind him, paused at his shoulder, and allowed her fingers to fall on the threadbare wool of his waistcoat. She could feel the prick of his beard along her little finger, and the long lean brown forearms all spattered with paint made something constrict in her throat. She looked at the canvas, where his nimble fingers were pressing and pushing at her conjured figure. She saw the painting, and gasped.

Orpheus House. Two very different isolation chambers, two very different patients.
The larger crisis unit contains the sedated and gowned form of Cecilia, under a Faraday cage and lit by enormous lamps, lamps which neverthless fail to dispel all of the glow that still pours from the crack of her closed eyelids, her half open mouth, her nostrils. That streams down her thighs from under the hem of the surgical gown. That flows a few inches back up tubes inserted in her neck and her temple and which spill from slots cut in the gown. The chrome and carbon centipede of an autodoc crouches at her side, its red eyes – immune to her infection – relaying the situation to Control.
The second, the small white cube, the emergency pod behind the counter of the Chained Library, contains only the exhausted and petrified and horribly aroused form of Evangeline Proudfoot. She is curled foetally on the white couch, looking at the tray that has just been pushed through the door-slot. The tray which contains the grey armoured case of the Necronomicon. She sighs and, pushing herself off the couch, slides across the floor to where the book waits. The heat flares in her groin and fills her rump.

Cecilia put her hand to her throat, to the source of the blush. The painting was like nothing she’d seen before, like nothing her artist had painted before. She was accustomed to seeing herself observed in great detail, from the swell of her bosom to the meat of her thighs. The dark fur between, and the creases above. Beautiful, classical, warm. Sensual, yes, but a poem of light and of shade, not this extraordinary, extraordinary flesh. Seeing the painting she could feel it, feel it grasping her groin and the tips of each breast, heat lightning between. The flutter in her throat and the bloom of heat across her cheeks.
The colours were hot. Swathes of pink and orange, lines and shadow in dark chocolate, patches of sunlight in throbbing gold. In the midst of it she lay abandoned. Head thrown back and mouth open, orange breasts spilling down the golden cage of her chest, broad spread of hip above artless splay of thigh. Legs pink and red and full and powerful, the balls of her feet reaching, toes seeming to beckon. The fingers of one hand on her hip. Arabesque curls of fur divided by a bright pink seam. In the shadows behind and in the stained plaster the hints of two figures, hunched and eager, priapic. Artist and Fox.

“Oh! My…”

The blood beat in her veins and raced under her thin veil of skin. She was slick and throbbing, needful. He looked surprised, dazed, shy.

“You don’t like it?”

Her words came slowly, stuck in the beating twist of her throat. Deep, guttural. Vibrations she could feel twitch in her puss.

“I – No. I. How did you see that?”

The painting was her, no doubt about it, and to the life. But not here, no. Her in her disordered bed in the garret a mile away, squirming and panting alone and dreaming of him, her artist, his knees on her floor and his mouth on her breast, her hand reaching for the tusk of his cock. While in the shadows the Fox watched and unbuttoned his clothes.


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