Excerpt of Breath and Bones by Susann Cokal
(Page 7 of 8)
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For all their dissatisfactions, each of Alberts works was dense with
that sort of detail and keen observation, labored over inch by inch.
It was that labor that made their eventual destruction so heartbreaking
to Famke. She once suggested that
he sketch a rough outline first, to get an impression of the scene, but he
reacted with horror:"Impressions
are dangerous to a true artist," he said.
"You speak like a Frenchwomanyou know, over there a man fills five
or six canvases a day with impressions. The Brotherhood know that only in precise details is there
truth. It is the difference between
a tramp and a good workmanimpressions are a passing pleasure; patience and
industry make art. "
And yet, thought Famke, Albert was remarkably impatient.
Just now he was wearing that gray heel of bread down to his fingers, and
crumbs were flying everywhere. The
page before him was a smear of pale blue. It
was time for her to do or say something, lest he succumb to self-criticism and
She covered the chamberpot and put it back in its place.
Still naked, thinking how best to distract him, she climbed into bed and
buried herself up to the eyelids in blankets, then looked to the window.
The sunlight was already waning, but it showed the roofs had grown dirty,
the days warmth turning the castle ruins from a palace of snow back into mere
"Do you think Christiansborg burns to a purpose?" she asked.
"Do you think it is destroyed because it is not perfect?"
Albert glanced out the window, too, and what he saw there seemed to calm
him. "No. "He
picked up his brush again. "The
Danes do not behave that way. Not
since the Vikings, at any rate. "
Famke thought that despite all his claims to record the details of real
things as he saw them, Albert ignored the imperfect world-as-it-was, the one
where even saints and goddesses were subject to violence and had much in common
with the sailors and Ludere in the street. Up
here, in the room Albert so loved (though Famke suspected he could afford one
much nicer), he blinked and scratched his way toward a better world in which the
ice was clean and whole, the women powerful despite their vulnerability.
The sheets now felt as warm and soft as bathwater; Famke slid down them
like a happy eel and tried to imagine a world she might create if invited to do
so. She had only the dreamiest
sense of what it might be:warm,
yes, but with jigsaw-puzzle blocks of ice and flowers and pickled herring and
definitely Albert. The thick smell
of linseed oil and the bite of turpentine, rainbows of paint under nails and
across unexpected stretches of skin. There
would be no farmwork, no housework, no church services; only art.
She would never cough. Instead
she would stand in the middle of this world, or lie in it, perpetually still,
with her clothes off and her eyes lost in Alberts.
It would be this life.
"New pots for old!" sang a tinker passing down the street below.
Famke looked up and suddenly the light was gone; even the keenest eye
couldnt stretch it any further. Albert
sighed and put brush and palette down on the rough board table, where Famke
would clean them later. Wiping his
hands on what he must have thought was a raga camisole shed left to dry
over the back of a chairhe looked from the easel to the bed, from pencil
drawing to paint sketch to the real, living girl watching him and trying not to
"I think it is going to be . . . . "
He paused, searching for the right word:
It was an ordinary word after all, but nonetheless exotic to her, for he
said it in English. Famke felt a
rush of hot feelingnot the ordinary fever of her disease but a new kind that
Albert had passed on to her, a kind that felt hotter and stronger each time it
came over her. She threw the covers
off and held out her arms to him, unconsciously splaying her hands in much the
same way as Nimue did.
Excerpted from Breath and Bones© Susann Cokal. Published by Unbridled Books. All rights reserved