I tiptoe down polished pine stairs that end in the corner of an expansive room. Bright fog light floods the narrow stripes of spruce flooring and grayish green wainscoting. Bookshelves hug the windows of a reading alcove and punctuate the larger room like suspenders running from waist to shoulders. Mullioned windows normally frame postcard pictures of island woods, water and shoreline, but today only fingers of spruce and rocky gardens close to the house, can be seen through their lenses.
Overstuffed couches and chairs line the walls, pushed back to make room for easels and stools. A large wooden chest draped with a cream colored cloth sits between a massive stone fireplace and the easels.
I pull my robe tightly around me as I join the group, already engaged in the morning workshop session. Polly, the workshop facilitator was talking about logistics.
“All week, Linda will pose in the mornings.” She gestures graciously in my direction. “Afternoons are free to do what you choose.” She continuess to describe a variety of options for the workshop participants.
I tune out, my eyes on the box. The thudding of my heart is disguised by the rumble of a lobster boat heading along the thoroughfare in front of the house. Leaning against the wall, I squeeze my legs together and hold the collar of my robe closely around my neck with one hand. The other grips my thigh through the deep terry cloth pocket.
Earlier in the kitchen, Lenny, the household manager, had teased me relentlessly.
“You know you have to stay perfectly still. ” He said. “No matter what they do.” He pinched me as he moved across the kitchen to the fridge.
“I doubt they’ll be pinching me Len.”
“But you do realize they will be scrutinizing every one of your parts?” He grinned and winked lewdly.
At 16, I had spent plenty of time naked. Skinny dipping was family tradition in my uncle’s quarry. The difference being that at the quarry, everyone was naked and secretly awkward. Being naked on display was a very different thing.
I stuck out my tongue at Lenny, took my coffee mug upstairs and prepared myself. Splashing water on my face, I thought of my dad.
“I don’t have the greatest body.” I had worried aloud to my father over breakfast earlier that spring.
“You are an artist’s dream.” He responded.”Do you know the term Rubinesque?” I shook my head. “You have the kind of figure that was glorified in the Golden Age. Take a look at the classic paintings. The women were curvaceous, not the stick thin creatures you see everywhere today.” I had shrugged, remaining unconvinced.
In the bathroom on the island, wearing nothing but my robe, I clung to his words.
Downstairs, the group spreads out to their easels and settles in. Polly hands me a faded blue book.
“A prop for you. Maybe not for every session but I think it will help everyone ease into this. It’s hard to draw nudes at first. Quite distracting.”
I nod, thinking the book isn’t big enough to ease me at all. Sweat tickles behind my knee as I consider unruly hairs, swollen mosquito bites and excess flab.
I haven’t even started, but already I’m looking forward to the afternoon – cleaning rooms, fully clothed.
“Let’s start this mornng by laying on your side.” Polly said. “The longer lines will be less intimidating than seated poses.” I nod and move to the box. Laying down the book, I take off my robe.
“Oh and take off your glasses OK?” I do and put them on the mantle.
No fear, I think as I sit down, carefully swinging my legs up onto the box. Leaning on my forearm, I lie facing the artists with one knee slightly in front of the other. I adjust and put my head down on my arm and the book. Mousey brown hair falls across my neck and jaw. Everything is a blur. With no glasses, I can see them looking at me but I can’t see them seeing me.
My stomach growls loudly. Lenny is making bread that will be followed with cookies or brownies or some sort of fragrant baking. One cup of coffee does not constitute breakfast. My stomach rumbles again. I close my eyes, swallow and lick dry lips.
It is easy enough to just lie here but I quickly learn how strenuous holding still can be. How difficult to scratch an itch and then return to precisely the position you left. It takes intense concentration and body awareness. At first anxiously aware of my body, as the minutes and hours of near silence continue I find myself relaxing. Wishing I could see their faces. Or rather, the reflection of myself in their faces as they read the lines of my hip and ankle, shoulder, breast and cheekbone. I would discover myself beautiful in their eyes. I would see their gratitude for my fearlessness.
A familiar foghorn sounds down on the water. The ferry passing along the thoroughfare in the pea soup fog.
Polly has been observing, padding silently amongst us.
“Lets take a break.” She said.
Swinging around I stand up.
“I need something to eat.” I said and left the room, my robe still on the floor.