Ruth McKee flash fiction: Bocca Baciata

The story of Fanny Cornforth and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with a timely theme of art and exploitation

A detail from Bocca Baciata by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

A detail from Bocca Baciata by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

 

Let in a slit of light to your mouth, pout.

He angled my face, his hands on my back, my breasts; he wanted them cold, but my lips incarnadine.

Mystery in the face, aroused but unknowing.

I held a wand of willow, or the neck of a lyre.

Put your fingers around it, like it palpitates.

Sometimes I had to bend, as if plucking flowers.

Sumptuous amid near blooded roses, as Venus Verticordia: what girl could resist?

He had plucked me too, from my father’s smithy, the church bells of metal, wildness of horse-smell. He had the name of an angel but changed mine to suit himself.

He had me as I posed, legs apart, knees aching, the smell of turpentine and his sweat. He painted me then, in voluptuous heat. After, he put his fingers inside me til I groaned, then he’d touch up the canvas and retire.

Venus Verticordia by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Venus Verticordia by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Later, when my flesh was heavy and belly full with the sin of it, I saw the finished painting, recognized all the glory of my thighs, my breasts, my shoulder.

But it was not my face. It was the new girl, a fresh palette of tastes, whose lips were a near replica of mine, but her dusky upper lip a deeper bow.

When I got pheasant fat, my face soured, he made me keep house. I cleaned the steps as the fresh model traipsed up, her hair aflame, his fingers poised. He didn’t want a slit in my mouth any more.

You never keep it shut.

I took a man then, and was found, sprawled, saline mouthed and eager. Libidinous, unruly, irrational.

Once it was carmine, canary, and silks. Now I wear a black dress with a white crooked collar.

It’s what they wear here, at the asylum.
This flash fiction by Ruth McKee first appeared in the anthology A Box of Stars Beneath the Bed (2016). Ruth McKee is editor of Spontaneity magazine

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