I like being inside. My least favorite phrase is “let’s go”. I don’t like air blowing on my face. The wind alarms me. I like knowing that the air I am breathing is air I’ve already breathed.
As a child I studied peanuts, peapods, certain fruits, fascinated by how they were tucked so neatly inside their skin. I focused on the border between container and the contained, the inviting edge where things both come together and come apart. I admired clams and pitied butterflies as they left their cocoons to fly off to uncharted skies.
I liked to think of my body as an enclosure, my brain resting in the tidy capsule of my skull, my body the repository of so many busy organs.
I am happy only in my house, perched as it is on a cliff at the edge of the sea, the sea in which my parents perished. I am the master of my universe right here and if I want, Countess, Duchess, Empress, Queen. Small and insignificant in the world, I loom large in my own house. I venture no further than my own garden.
There’s nothing I want that I don’t have here: from the wall of glass in my living room I can check the ocean’s many moods. Every day is different and, though I have been here most of my life, I have never seen two days exactly alike. I do not want for company. The local bookseller stops by with some frequency, pleased to provide me with current titles so that together we might discuss them. The local grocer makes deliveries, bringing me the choicest of his produce. A neighboring fisherman brings me the best of his catch, straight from the sea to my kitchen table.
My father, an artist of enduring reputation, built this house. It has become an icon of modernism, with its sleek lines and glass walls. My father’s paintings of this house hang in museums around the world. It was at his knee that I learned to paint, but eventually I rejected slimy oils for hard enamels. I like the way the molten glass clings to the metal, forever bonded. In my studio I have a small kiln, and it’s there I fire the miniatures that now command enormous sums. My dealer comes to me three or four times a year and eagerly scopes up each finished piece, each one a tiny cosmos no bigger than your palm, placed in gilded frames I’ve learned to build. Celebrities and CEOs collect them. My dealer brings with her all the juicy art world gossip I care to hear, and she would gladly sell the number of works I give her ten times over had I been able to create them more quickly. Each piece is slow, intensive work, demanding patience and a steady hand. Since demand exceeds supply, collectors vie for these pieces. They sometimes contact me asking to buy one, offering tremendous sums. I leave these matters to my dealer. Sometimes such collectors show up at my door, their expensive cars parked outside. I always let them in, glad to have their company for a while. I show them around my studio. I serve them champagne. They admire my home, the outstanding view of the sea, the paintings my father left behind. They flatter me, in their skilled way. But still, I sell them nothing. I’m an artist, not a businesswoman. I advise them to call my dealer.
It was a hot summer day when the first woman came to me. I don’t know why this one came – she was not an art lover, or a collector. I first spotted her as she climbed the stairs leading up the cliff from the beach to my garden. The binoculars I keep at the window have superior optics and I watched as this woman climbed with ease. She was an athletic woman of no more than 30 – about my age at the time. But still, the climb is steep and strenuous and with the powerful magnification, I could see the beads of sweat collecting on her body as she climbed. She stopped once to wipe her brow but she continued on at once, at a brisk pace.
She was wearing a bikini.
People say I get my height and beauty from my mother and my fortune and talent from my father. This woman seemed to be about my height but the distribution of her taut flesh was different. Encased in her bikini top, shaped like twin clamshells, were large breasts.
My own breasts are quite small and I watched hers with interest as she climbed. They quivered slightly, and I felt an odd stirring as I watched them at a huge magnification. I’d felt this kind of stirring once before, when I was a teenager, for one of my father’s young models. We furtively and passionately kissed in the bathroom one day, and I managed to slip my hand inside her panties. I had just wiggled a finger inside her when there was a knock on the door and she quickly pulled away.
There’s a switchback at the top of the stairs leading from the beach, and I knew my view of this woman would cease until she emerged in the garden outside my studio window. I put the binoculars down and quickly went to my studio, stopping for a moment to look at myself in the mirror. I ran my fingers through my dark hair, cut short as a boy’s.
The flower garden outside my studio was in full bloom. I’d had a hedge of sunflowers planted there that summer, a mammoth hybrid variety that grew to nearly seven feet tall. When I looked out, this woman was reaching up to one of these gigantic blooms perched on its curved stem. She was long-legged and trim. I didn’t want to startle her as I quietly slid open the French doors that led out to the garden.