In Paris Lucian and I again socialize with other glamorous and creative people, and most mornings he paints while I write, imagining myself a female Fitzgerald thirty years after Scott brought exotic but doomed Zelda to this marvelous city. Several Parisiennes tell me Lucian and I might be an even more dazzling couple. Within a week Picasso hears we’ve returned and invites us to his studio.
“You go, dear, I’ll be busy with my own work,” Lucian says.
“Don’t let him intimidate you this time. Bring a few of your paintings.”
“I’m hardly in awe of Picasso.”
“You’re not yourself in his presence.”
“He’s arrogant and a bore.”
Of course Lucian comes.
Barechested and wearing shorts and slippers, Picasso opens the door, glances at Lucian, and embraces me and kisses each cheek, saying in French, in Spanish, language doesn’t matter, “Lady Christine Blackwood, you’re so exquisite you really must sit for me.”
“I’d love to, but I’ve many times posed for my husband, and he makes me sit forever.”
“He’ll overcome slowness once he’s more experienced. With me, you’ll be finished in a couple of hours. Maybe someday you’ll be able to paint with alacrity, Lucian.”
My husband tightens his lips and he and Picasso watch as I stroll around a vast, high-ceilinged studio alight with paintings on the floor, on walls, easels, and propped on tables, and after a time, during which Lucian and Picasso don’t speak, I turn to say, “They’re wonderful, but you’re often not very kind to women on canvas.”
“I only tell the truth about wives and lovers. Friends I render most delicately.”
“Tell me when.”
“Now, my dear.”
“But Lucian’s here.”
“Don’t worry, darling,” my husband says. “You and the maestro go to work.”
He nods at each of us, trying to smile, and leaves the studio.
“Please, step onto my balcony. There’s no view of Paris so magnificent.”
“You have Paris and Picasso and an opportunity for artistic immortality. There’s a robe in the other room when you undress.”
“Is that necessary?”
“If you’re more comfortable without the robe, that’s fine.”
I return in the robe and Picasso says, “Please sit in this chair.”
“And take off the robe.”
I’m still wearing my bra and panties.
“I’ve never posed like that except for Lucian.”
He shakes his head, and I comply and hand all my garments to Picasso, who though short and bald looks masculine and strong for a man a half century older than I. A generation closer, and perhaps I could have loved him. He places me on a sofa and asks me to look at him and then requests I gaze right and left and move my legs into various positions. He talks about wives and women and difficult children and countless fans and collectors and unscrupulous dealers as he brushes on paint. What a charming man. What masterful strokes he applies to the large canvas. Each feels like silk on my skin.
“You’re a wonderful subject and inspire me to paint even better and faster than usual. This work, after perhaps two or three more sittings, will be ready for any museum or gallery I choose.”
“May I have a look?”
“But of course.”
“Please hand me my robe.”
“We mustn’t cover such femininity.”
I arise and walk toward the canvas but before I arrive Picasso puts down his brush, steps forth, and bear hugs me around my lower back as he begins sucking my neck, my ears, my shoulders, biting my lips, one hand rubbing my legs, before he kicks off his slippers and drops his shorts and lowers me to the floor where we clinch until we relax, and Lucian walks in.
“You filthy whore.”
“Lucian, I’m less unfaithful than you.”
“Get dressed before I throttle you.”
I arise and run to get my clothes.
“We’re all bohemians,” Picasso says. “This is how we live.”
My husband charges.
“He’s an old man,” I shout.
Lucian, who brawls a good deal albeit with modest success against larger men his age, punches Picasso in the jaw, using his left hand, the one that wields his brush. Picasso staggers back and tries to deter his opponent with formidable eyes larger than mine, but my husband rushes in and hits to land another left and, after the maestro falls, twice kicks him in the ribs.
“Lucian, stop or I’ll leave you.”
“When we get back to the hotel you’re to take a bath at once.”