Excerpt of Breath and Bones by Susann Cokal
(Page 3 of 8)
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She refused to look any closer. She
heard the workmen approaching and felt a wave of relief that her duty here would
soon be done. They came in stepping carefully, holding the immense
canvas-wrapped picture removed from its crate.
The tall man gestured. "Against
that wall. "
"And be gentle," added the blind one.
The workmen propped it up, that artistic behemoth that had vexed her
since the day her husband had bought it and proved that although he was willing
to raise her to the state of matrimony, he could not shake off the hold of past
Travel had loosened the canvas wrapping until it now billowed like a
sail. The workmen pulled it away to
reveal the flat image of a woman, skin startlingly white, hair brilliantly red:
an echo of the figure in the tube. Again
the widow shuddered, and she looked away for what she thought would be the last
But what she saw was hardly more reassuring.
The motion of so many feet and limbs had carried over into the cylinder,
and the corpse inside was moving:the
arms thrashing bonelessly, the hair storming around the eyeless face, and the
lips parting as if to tell a story.
She casts her best, she flings herself.
How often flings for nought, and yokes
Her heart to an icicle or whim . . .
- Coventry Patmore, The Angel in
This was our
first glimpse of Denmark. Very flat
it looked, just out of water, and no more . . .
- Helen Hunt Jackson, Glimpses of Three Coasts
move," he said.
So Famke stifled her cough. She
held her breath and tried to stay very, very still while the two frog-green eyes
took her in. Up, down, and up again, a pencil tapped out her measure on
the page, with a faint sound of scratching as he made refinements here or there.
Famke also had to repress the shivers, for it was cold in the room.
She was wearing only the thinnest of summer chemises and was aware that
Albert could see everything beneath, right down to the triangle of red below her
belly, which was as bright as the hair on her head.
She felt exposed, proud and nervous in the way of a girl showing herself
naked to a lover for the first time. But
this was not the first time, and her companion was not pleased.
"Darling, do try to look alive," he murmured.
"And gracefulor do you think nymphs are often hired for work on
farms?It is more than positioning
the bones, its in the spirit, in the hands . . . like this"he
demonstrated "see, darling, the energy and beauty flowing from my fingertips?
You are a good mimic; now mimic me. "
Famke tried to follow these latest instructions without, as he had
previously enjoined, actually moving. She
knew Albert didnt mean what hed said, or not the unkind part of it; he
always got grumpy just after starting work.
In any event, he had found her
on a farm, and she agreed that he had been a rescuer of sorts.
So her arms remained in the air, fingers splayed in the sorcerous pose
shed kept this past hour, as the slow winter light changed from blue to gray
and the bells of Our Saviors Church let the housewives know it was safe to
step out to the shops.
Or perhaps she couldnt help moving just a little.
Her arms ached and her lungs tickled, and she had to breathe, after all. All morning shed been posing with hardly a word or a
pause. A little sound broke from
"The devil!"Albert swore. In a better mood, he might have tossed in another
"darling," but for now he knocked his sketchpad to the floor and strode off
to stare moodily out the window.
Excerpted from Breath and Bones© Susann Cokal. Published by Unbridled Books. All rights reserved