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
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.
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.