The first thing she did was remove her red shawl. Then she draped her coat on a hanger next to the podium where she would be posing. She slid off her dress; its fabric was colorful. And there she stood, with all her limbs exposed, wearing only a slip. Without even stooping she flung the tiny shoes from her feet and all at once even her lower legs were bare. In one more sure and rapid movement the last little piece of clothing was up and gone, and nothing was left covering her lustrous nakedness.
The sculptor followed every movement of his mannequin, but he did so with indifferent eyes. He gave her some instructions on how to pose—pose in such a way as to give expression to all the sensuality of a young woman.
Then he started mixing the clay with his fingers, started making shapes. And the model in front of him began to turn white. First her entire body took on a spectral shade of pale. After that he noticed every movement of her limbs, and even of her muscles, taper off. He was amazed, but only at how a dead body could remain on its feet in such an impossible position, with its arms thrown back behind its head and its chest thrust upward. He saw that she had stopped blinking and was staring vaguely out into space with the eyes of a corpse. Before those eyes he lowered his gaze; his trembling hands created forms in the wet clay and made casts of plaster. At that point she stopped breathing. The gleam went out of her eyes all at once, her pupils disappeared somewhere up and under her lids, and her lashes dried out like pine needles. The sculptor paused and just stood there; he looked panic-stricken. Then he picked up a mirror and took it over to her half-open lips, barren and cold. The mirror did not fog over. Then he touched her, with his palm, beneath her upraised left breast. She was as cool and firm as chiseled white marble, and his hand failed to detect any hint of life. Her heart was not beating.
Now perspiration ran down over his face. He thought he’d try to find a pulse on her left arm and so he quickly grabbed her by the wrist. He noticed at once that the arm simply fell; it was dead, snapped off above the elbow. But no blood came gushing out of the rupture. He let her arm drop and it struck the ground with a thud. There it lay, unmoving. Cautiously he felt for a pulse on her right arm. His touch must have been barely perceptible. But the arm came loose immediately and fell as if from a skeleton. He wanted to close her eyelids, because the whites of her eyes were bulging horribly. But her head began to rock to and fro and then it tumbled to the floor as though it were a mere skull.
What he had before him was a torso. The plaster on the swells of her raised breasts had grown white and now it shone with heightened sensualness.
It was only when he beheld her adjusting her garters, when he saw the delicate little bumps on the skin of her breasts, when clothing covered her thighs and waist—it was only then that he realized that what he had before him was a woman. It was a woman with a body, a woman of flesh and blood. And when he paid her the honorarium for posing, she took the money from his hands and left behind the warm touch of her fingers.
He heard her high heels resounding in the hallway. He could see, through her sheer stockings, the graceful curve of her legs. Then all at once, as soon as she was lost from view, he felt his arm burning where she had touched him; he knew his head was spinning now from the warmth of her breath. It was her eyes that had set his heart to racing.
Exhaling, he felt intoxicated: it was the scent of a woman’s body that hovered now in the air of his studio like a misty veil of white.
By arrangement with Editions Fayard. Translation copyright 2008 by John K. Cox. All rights reserved.