Chapter two beckons.

The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque - Jeffrey Ford

and after the first chapter, I believe I'll be reading this one straight through.  I cannot contain myself, given how much I'm captivated by chapter one.  Here's an excerpt, because I want you to be captivated too.



MUCH TO my unease, Mrs. Reed positioned herself, all evening, beneath or immediately to either side of her new portrait. She had, for this occasion, worn the same black gown and diamond necklace I had requested she wear when posing for me. Given the situation, comparisons between God’s work and my own were unavoidable. I daresay the Almighty’s original was found somewhat wanting in the face of my painterly revision. Whereas, in His unquestionable wisdom, He had gone for the grandiose in the formation of her nose and saw fit to leave a prominent gap between the front teeth, I had closed ranks and reduced to beautiful normalcy those aspects of her features that made her her. By using a faint shade of rose and sparing the chiaroscuro, I had added a certain youthful radiance to the tone and elasticity of her flesh, turning back the clock to but a few minutes after that earlier hour when these corresponding changes would have seemed ludicrous.


Perhaps Mrs. Reed was wholly unaware of these discrepancies or, being aware of them, believed that by standing as close to her fairer double as possible she would permanently confuse artifice and reality in the minds of her friends and family. . . 


. . . Whatever the case, she appeared to be beaming with joy. As for the rest of us in attendance, we were all uneasy conspirators in a plot to ignore the truth. Thankfully, her husband had spent a small fortune on good champagne for the unveiling and encouraged all to drink freely. Many of the fifty or so guests felt compelled to approach me and offer praise for my work, which if not for the alcohol would have left my expression a permanent wince.


“Piambo, the rendering of the goldfish in the bowl on the table next to Mrs. Reed is spectacular. I can count the very scales from here.”


“The barely wilting nasturtiums in that Chinese vase behind her are so lifelike.”


“No one can capture the fold of a gown as you can, and my, how the diamonds sparkle.” I politely thanked them all, . .  [Then Shenz, his colleague in fine arts portraiture approaches . . . ]

“A nice bit of work, Piambo,” he said, and then slightly turned his head and shifted his eyes to look up at me.


“Have some more champagne,” I whispered to him, and he quietly laughed.


“Salubrious is the word I would use,” he said. “Yes, quite salubrious.”


“I’m keeping a running tally,” I told him, “as to whether people appreciate the goldfish or the nasturtiums more.”


“Put me down for the nose,” he said. “A truly ingenious economy of paint.” [Shenz leaves to mingle, and Piambo loses himself in champagne and people watching.]


In my daze it came to me that I not only wanted but needed to be elsewhere. I realized that of late I had been spending more time in chandeliered parlors, drinking myself to the verge of a stupor, than I did in front of the easel.


[he decides to sneak out, but Mr. Reed catches him before he makes his escape, and makes him wait while he fetches Mrs. Reed.]


 “Piambo has pressing business across town, dear,” he said to her. “He must, reluctantly, be on his way. I thought you would want to thank him for the portrait.”


Mrs. Reed smiled, and I fixated on that gap between her teeth. In the days that I’d spent in her presence, she had seemed almost devoid of personality. She had been an obedient model and not unpleasant, but I had never tried to get at her true essence, because it had been indicated to me in not so many words, by her husband, that inner spirit was not to be the point of the portrait.


She stepped forward in a manner to indicate that she was going to kiss my cheek. In that instant, as she came toward me, I caught a fleeting glimpse of something more than the dull affect to which I had grown accustomed. Then her lips grazed my face, and before she pulled back I heard her whisper in a voice no louder than the sound of a wet brush gliding across canvas, “I hope you die.” When she was again standing before me so that I could see her entire countenance, she was smiling.


i can't wait for what happens next.  happy reading. I'll be gone for a few hours.