The Memorial Service

beyond the clouds 2My father died and left me his mistress. Two sizes smaller than his widow but with an intellect to match, she had at least the grit to smile through her misery at his choice of farewell music.

He had always loved Pink Floyd. As the last verse of “Wish You Were Here” wisped through the church I passed my mother another tissue and stole another sideways glance at Karina. This time she noticed and shook her head in empty sadness. Then she pulled a linen napkin from her pocket and blew her nose. I watched snot spread over the crest of the Savoy hotel and looked back at the coffin, wondering if she had stolen the napkin ring as well.

It was December. It was Monaco. Despite the snow, Karina was economically dressed in a black jacket that reached the hem of her skirt, through no fault of the jacket, and leather boots with heels that would clench rivets. She stood upright, gloved hands together, head up to catch the lyrics, fine blonde hair loose about her face. Her handbag, the size of a Rolex and probably no cheaper, swung to the rhythm and, as I watched her hips, I understood quite clearly why Father had made love to her that day.

And why he now wished me to have her.

His wishes had been veiled, but unmistakable. “I bequeath to my son, Thaddeus, my medium-format camera and all its accessories, on the sole condition that he services them all at the appropriate intervals”. The repetition of the word “all” had not, I thought, been accidental.

He had always said that the camera was just one element of the process and that equal credit should be given, in the creation of a study, to the lighting, the background and the photographic model.

The camera, an old fashioned Hasselblad, was complicated, with more parts than a Swiss watch, all reached by the extraction of many tiny screws. Only then could the outer shell, with its covering of black leatherette, be slid aside to reveal the intricate mechanism. Father had relished the process, but to me his beloved camera was just an antique and I was content to trust it to the repair shop.

But his model was another matter. I would be delighted, I decided, to remove the leather covers from the mistress who had sat for him so often. Father had been obsessed by the balance of tone and had preferred monochrome for nudes. I admired the purity of his art but had often wondered, when faced with a large print of Karina’s elegant form, just what shades of pink had been reproduced. Now, with my father’s blessing, my curiosity was about to be satisfied.

It would be, I thought, a true memorial service.

 –0–

 He never knew his power.

Gabriel, who had made no advance, who had been propriety itself, who had provided screens behind which I could disrobe and who had always ensured that his beloved wife Martina was in the house before I writhed naked beneath his lens.

Poor Martina. Brave Martina. Weeping openly now for the man she had loved so much.

While her gauche and foppish son looked, as usual, at my legs and my breasts. When finally his lurid gaze met my face, I shook my head in despair, pulled out my handkerchief and dabbed my eyes. Gabriel had asked once if I would use it to conceal a portion of my body, while still glimpsing the crest, but I had declined: such emblems are not to be exploited. We are a very old family and the symbol is often confused with that of a rather pretentious hotel.

The decision to sit for Gabriel that first time had, not therefore, been made lightly. One has one’s position to maintain. But I had known even then how I wished to spend my professional life and so had encouraged him to teach me. I had learnt to stand, to sit, to smile and eventually to lie.

And then to disrobe.

While falling, in slow and silent stages, in love with him.

Until one delicious afternoon when, nearing the end of a particularly exhilarating sitting, I had without warning reached the dizzy height of sexual release, triggered by no more than the fleeting touch of his hand on my powdered skin. Unaware, he had stepped back to press the shutter and had trapped the moment forever in celluloid.

Now I would never know how was it for him. Had I sparked in him any desire beyond that to create the perfect image, the unattainable play of contrast and shadow? Or was that alone sufficient? Did the meld of my shape with the soft, hard light that shone forever in his studio, satiate truly the creator in him?

As he that day had satiated me.

–0–

I am not yet in the ground but my horizon is expanding.
I see now that Martina truly loved me and of that I am glad.
And I understand finally the photograph which has haunted me.
It has a quality.
Whenever I printed the negative, it shone, iridescent, blacker than black.
And whiter than white, it glowed.
Dear, dear Karina, if only I had known.
I am so sorry.
But, if I have failed to understand, then there must it end.
My powers are stirring and I am learning to control them.
There is a long, slow awakening and I must focus.

 “Lay one finger on her, my boy, and I will haunt you forever.”