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Painted Lady

By M S Clements


Painted Lady

A butterfly lands on my arm, and with fragile limbs, it tickles this skin. There is no gooseflesh, and fine hairs do not dance to the movement of the butterfly. Once, in a time now long forgotten, receptors lying deep within the cutis sent those very same hairs into frenzied ecstasy with the barest of touches from an artist’s brush. And like those amber wings drying beneath the midday sun, I too, unfurled before you.


Money Man points to a side office, ‘Change there. Cash in hand, right?’

I nod and he hurries away, pointing to a side-door with chestnut gloss flaking away to tell the story of institutional fashion. ‘Through that door, OK?’

I nod, he doesn’t see. The office is dirty, all coffee stains and screwed up paper. A collage of post-it notes cover a pin board, and a calendar is criss-crossed with plastic ribbons; cadmium red deep, Winsor emerald, chrome yellow hue and cerulean blue. I perch on the chair and unzip my boots to roll off yesterday’s socks, pressing them to my nose, I breath in absent smell. Jeans slip off my hips and lift off the tee-shirt in practised chorography. Bra unhooked and pants pushed down, flicked aside by prehensile toes. And there I stand, free of the life soaked clothes. I am clean, scrubbed to the very bone.

‘I love the hollow of your hips. They are like handles to catch you, hold you, position you.’

On the windowsill, in last years’ mincemeat jar, stand your precious hogs hair brushes. Eager to be the chosen one. From tall ones to short, and from fine to broad, each will play their part, each primed to take on the task. I comply with your demands, unmoving and statuesque, while a flat brush drags along my skin, rising, falling, disappearing into the darkness where a soul should live.

I slip into the gown, titanium white, and barefoot steps take me to the tableau. Anonymous heads duck behind easels to arrange their kit, charcoal and chalk, black and white, darkness and light. I lose the gown and am arranged upon a motheaten chair. A gasp of past lives rises to catch the back of my throat. I cough. Money Man looks, darting eyes tracing every inch of flesh, but says nothing. He manoeuvres this leg here, that arm there. He twists my head, placing it in a shaft of light that filters through the grimy glass. And I am cold.

‘I like it when you are cold, your lips take on a blue so fine, ultramarine with a touch of mauve.’

Stiff hair pulls across my mouth finding cracks of purple madder. A shiver ripples down my spine bouncing off the vertebrae. That extra-long filbert cleans away the imperfections you hate so much. A birthmark, those childhood scars, the evidence of a well-nourished past that offends your sensitive eye. You paint me into perfection.

Their fingers blacken, rubbing and scraping me into shades of grey. I am inanimate. This life breathes, still. I am lines of darkness. I am of pools light. I am a discussion over a beer, the clavicle, the mons pubis, the left patella that wasn’t quite right. And I am nothing more.

‘You are my muse; you are my ticket to fame and fortune.’

Your palate knife edges along my cheek bones, high where the quinacridone magenta fades to nothing. The starving artist must feed his imagination, the quotidian cannot sustain inspiration. So the calls are answered, and deals are made, and your muse lies naked and starved for the gluttony of art. Tomorrow I will stack shelves in polyester bismuth yellow and cobalt blue deep.

‘You should put some fat on those bones,’ says Money Man handing me five Winsor violet notes. I roll them, tight like cigarette paper. You’ll burn through these just like your roll-ups.

I nod and I dress. Nakedness is the price tag for the satisfaction achieved with each new oil squeezed out, and the virgin canvas despoiled by obsession. To feed this flesh is to betray the image, the ideal, the perfection that lives inside your head.

‘I didn’t catch your name; your agent didn’t say.’


I am the artist’s model, shaped and contorted into place. I am the bones of your creativity, the calcium of your chalk line.

‘I love the very bones of you,’

You grind me and you pound me with your heavy cold marble pestle until I am the dust that lines the crevices of your mortar.

I stand in the dark, transparent white reflected in the droplets of rain; penetrating, chilling. Who searches for the forgotten, not you? I am past tense now that I have exhausted the tears.

‘I love it when you cry, it gives life and energy to your Prussian green eyes.’

The finest of round brushes draws circles, ever decreasing, vanishing into the hole where life no longer exists.

Did you ever see the butterfly that walked upon my arm? Its iridescence radiating in that brief moment of sunshine. All life becomes is a painter’s palate to amuse the wandering eye of the lascivious artist. A Vanessa Cardui, sups at the nectar from a multitude of swaying flowers. Its fleeting existence to serve one purpose; pollination, fertilisation and multiplication. It will live but a moment then fall to the earth and rot among the autumn leaves.  Like that butterfly I was created, fed by your lies, cocooned inside your jealousy and crystallised with oil and chalk. I became your perfected glory. You achieved immortality and I became your forgotten muse.


Decomposing flesh in six feet of rich, dark feeds the blooms, tempting the painted ladies above. And all that will remain are the bones. These formally loved bones, these lost bones, these crumbling bones. Once made real in chalk dust and charcoal, and to that dust I have returned. Perfection is fleeting. And beauty will be coloured by the eyes and minds of others.

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  1. Mike Ellison Mike Ellison

    This is an incredible, dazzling piece of writing. The writer brings it vividly to life with sensory detail, rich colours and juxtaposed scenes. This an emerging writer of impressive talent.

    • admin admin

      oh wow, thank you so much.

  2. Julie Hutchinson Julie Hutchinson

    A beautifully written and compelling piece!

    • admin admin

      Thank you so much Julie.

  3. Beverley Jandziol Beverley Jandziol

    Wow M! This is beautiful. Stunning imagery and so easy to lose yourself in. It took me to another place. Loved it! Bev

    • admin admin

      I am thrilled by the response. You are so kind.

  4. PD Flynn PD Flynn

    Akin to reading Patrick Süskind’s Perfume. Evocative and such delicious language. Each sentence swishes across the eye with an artist’s passion. Despite its dense, exotic phrasing, it was so fluid to read and enjoy. Really took me into a world I know little of, but appreciate so much more. A triumph bristling with imagination.

    • admin admin

      I am truly stunned by your response, thank you.

  5. Orson Orson

    Superb writing of the highest quality. The story has depth, texture and colour; a fine stylistic tribute to the subject matter.

    • admin admin

      Thank you so much.

  6. Rose Rae Rose Rae

    This is so very beautiful. The language plays to all the senses which I love, but I also love the way you evoke character in so few words. I really enjoyed reading it.

    • admin admin

      Thank you so much Rose. Much appreciated.

  7. So very beautiful. Made me stop and focus. And pause and look around. Lovely.

    • admin admin

      Thank you Fiona.

  8. Pushpinder Kaur Pushpinder Kaur

    Brilliant writing, M! Love the play with senses and inventive style. I’m right there with her feeling her pain. Just beautiful.

  9. julia kelly julia kelly

    This is a wonderful story, M. The language is lush. I love the way you’ve used the colours and pigments of paints – very clever.

    • admin admin

      Thank you. I did pick up some info while accompanying my eldest to her art lessons.

  10. Fí Scarlett Fí Scarlett

    Absolutely stunning piece, so vivid and beautifully written by an incredibly talented writer.

    • admin admin

      Thank you, Fí, so glad you like it.

  11. Monica Balt Monica Balt

    Magnificent! Vivid, sensual, stunning in its imagery!

    • admin admin

      Thank you, Monica

  12. Brilliant, and beautifully written. I loved it.

  13. Jenny Ireland Jenny Ireland

    Such beautiful writing, so vivid. Gorgeous

  14. Rebecc Kelly Rebecc Kelly

    Beautiful story. I love some of the rich and colourful descriptions

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