Songs of Seduction – Silk and Skin


Editor’s note: this submission contains scenes of incest or incest content.


Songs of Seduction: Silk and Skin


“She was there again this afternoon,” Sebastian said. “That’s five times since the opening.”

“Who is she?” Jude asked, offering her brother a glass of wine.

“I don’t know. But the collection must be important to her. She stands in front of each cabinet, as still as a mannequin, gazing at each display.” Sebastian took a sip from the glass. “Then moves to the next one. Stands and looks; for ten minutes, sometimes. It’s uncanny, the way she stands so still. Then gone, as silently as she arrives. There’s a big car, I think. And a driver who waits outside.”

“Wealthy, then?”

“I guess.”

“You should find out who she is. You’re the curator. You can ask.” Jude curled up beside her brother. “You should. She might be important, an old movie star or something. Connections.”

Jude was curious – she’d never seen the woman. She hadn’t seen the exhibition either, despite her brother’s central involvement and her own input to its presentation. Open space terrified her and people, even the idea of people: no, she couldn’t imagine it, couldn’t bear it.

So every night Jude asked Sebastian to describe what he saw and she saw the world through his eyes. She’d curl beside him, head on his shoulder; and later, he’d help her to bed. Sometimes he would curl around her like he’d done in the womb. She’d sleep, soothed by the beat of his heart, his hands holding hers.

* * * *

Sebastian was standing at the guides’ station when he saw the woman enter the exhibition space, again.

She came in slowly, removing a pair of dark glasses and unwrapping a dark grey scarf from around her neck. She was slender, impeccably dressed in a tight fitting light grey skirt, knee length; and an ever so slightly off-white blouse. With silvery blonde hair and pale skin, she would have made a perfect tonal black and white photograph, softened and spectral when done in an albumin print. Even her eyes appeared grey, from Sebastian’s distance.

Her lips, though, were a dark rose red, the colour of fresh blood.

Sebastian thought she might be twice his age, even more; a graceful woman, timeless and elegant. He watched her move through the first gallery and he became conscious of his continuing gaze. She walked oblivious and something faint began to stir, uncoiling deep in his gut. A butterfly might land on a flower and be heavier.

After a moment he followed her, and he too walked slowly. Turning a corner he admired her slim figure, the way she held herself. He moved towards her. Perhaps she felt his presence, or caught his shadow, for she turned her head towards him, closing her eyes as if not to see the blur of a movement. After she turned towards him, she opened her eyes and held Sebastian’s gaze. It seemed a deliberate wait. She nodded slightly to acknowledge his presence, and didn’t turn away.

“I… I’ve seen you. You’ve been several times. I… um… I’m wondering, do you know the designer, these clothes?” Sebastian stopped talking and gathered himself together. He remembered Jude’s admonishment, ‘You can ask.’ He felt a little nervous, the butterflies in his stomach suddenly lifting. “I… I mean, my sister, she said…”

“Your sister? Is she here?” Her voice was low. Sebastian leaned forward to catch her words, for she spoke softly. He smelled her perfume, something smoky and dark. He thought of velvet. Her voice calmed him, and he started again.

“I’m sorry. I’m rushing, tripping over my toes.” Her rising smile encouraged him, the wisdom of age in her eyes. He saw that her skin was smooth on her cheeks, the vanity of a knife untouched on the looser chords on her throat. The dark scarf was draped over her shoulder, echoing a dark blaze in her hair, black against the silver-grey. Sebastian thought she was beautiful.

“I’ve plenty of time,” she replied. She touched his arm to silently welcome him in. A woman’s touch, like a mother or a lover, he couldn’t be sure. “Your sister, you mentioned your sister. Is she here?” She repeated the question.

“No, she’s….” Sebastian momentarily wondered why he was talking about Jude, when he was there to talk to the woman. ‘You should ask, Seb.’ He heard his sister’s voice.

“She’s not here. She’s fragile, she doesn’t go out much. Hardly at all.”

“That’s a shame,” the woman replied. “Surely though, she’s seen this exhibition, your sister?” She linked her arm through his as if it was a perfectly natural thing to do, as a mother would, with her children. Or a lover, with her man. She studied the display.

“If you’ve seen me, you’ve been here too. To have seen me.” She turned to Sebastian, looking up to his face. They were so close, he could see the strands of hair as they thinned to her temple. Her hair was thick, pulled back in a wave, and Sebastian thought her cutter would tease it back through his fingers, ‘There, Madame, perfect, don’t you think?’ A little bit shorter, she might reply, it tangles in the Ümraniye Grup Escort wind.

Sebastian came back to his sister. “No, she’s not seen it.”

“Perhaps you could bring her here one night, when it’s closed? You have something to do with it, I think? If you’ve seen me.” She steered him gently through the two conversations, Sebastian’s presence and his sister’s absence.

“God, I’m so silly. I’m Sebastian Price. I’m the curator. This exhibition. It’s mine.” He finally caught up with the relevant things and placed his pride before her, his work.

“The curator? Goodness, that’s wonderful. To meet you.” Her eyes were alive, and Sebastian felt a soft squeeze on his arm as if she was taking possession. “Your exhibition? That means you’ve held these clothes in your hands? Such a lucky man.”

She turned to look at the display in front of them.

“But this one, why is it here?”

* * * *


The bodice of the dress was ivory, a lightly textured brocade that would complement any colour of skin. Below the breast-piece the maker had cut slits in the brocade and sewn in inserts of blood-red silk to fill the gaps. The first inserts were no longer than a thumb, no wider than a knife blade’s thickness. Down the body of the dress they grew longer, wider, and somewhere around the waist the red slashes spilled out far enough to meet one another and merge.

The crimson streaked ivory bodice became an ivory patched crimson skirt, one pattern merging into the other until midway down the leg the last of the white was lost. Below that, the crimson gave way to a deep maroon creeping out from deep in the pleats of the skirt, and at the hem only the darkest colour remained. The same effect flowed down the sleeves of the dress. Lady Macbeth could have worn it, the colour of murder, the bright blood of death.

“It’s not by Bonnard,” the woman said. “It’s beautiful, but it’s not his.”

“No, it’s not his. I couldn’t locate his Red Dress,” Sebastian replied, “but I needed red, for the exhibition.”

“Ah yes, of course, for the exhibition.” She touched his arm, to acknowledge his purpose. “He only made the one red dress, but you won’t find it. You didn’t come looking for me.” She said it simply, but Sebastian could find no meaning in her words. ‘Come looking for me?’

Then, in the slow way that revelation can sometimes reveal itself, peeling away veils one by one, Sebastian understood. “You’re Francesca Ward.”

“Yes. I’m Francesca Ward.”

Sebastian turned to her, astonishment on his face. “I thought -“

“I was dead? People do think that. It suits me, there’s no fuss. I can walk by myself and nobody knows who I am. Not any more.”

“But there are no photographs of you, not in these clothes.”

“No, there aren’t, not these dresses. Bonnard wanted this collection to be complete in itself, to speak on its own. He wanted women to say, ‘I want to wear those clothes,’ not, ‘I want to look like that woman.’ It was his way, you see, to recognise the beauty in every woman, not just the one.

“But I’ve worn every dress, every one fitted me perfectly. I was his mannequin, the body he cut them on. ‘Hold perfectly still, Francesca, or I’ll prick you,’ he’d say, as he sewed me in with his needle and thread.”

She remembered, and Sebastian stood beside her, remembering every word she said, to tell Jude.

“The dresses, Sebastian, they fitted me like skin. Especially the red one. My blood is on every seam because he sewed me in so tight, and the threads are still cut where he freed me from it. I only wore it the once, because Bonnard couldn’t bear to bleed me twice. I begged him to, but he refused to do it.”

Sebastian stood beside her, his heart racing. His prick was hardening in his pants, constrained but thick with her words. The image of her naked body being sheathed and sewn into the dresses seared itself into his mind. He’d not seen her naked, but now he’d never forget.

Francesca turned to him, brushing a hand lightly against his thickness. “Is it me who you want, or my clothes?” She said it tenderly, holding his desire for another occasion. “Maybe you can have both.

“But wait, whose is this red dress?” She quickly changed the subject, leaning forward to read the label on the cabinet. “Anjali Kapadia.” She tapped the glass with her fingernails, and they too were red. “I wonder who you trapped in your dress, Ms Kapadia? And did she ever get out?”

Francesca shook herself from the momentary reverie. “Walk with me, Sebastian, show me your exhibition.” She looped her arm within Sebastian’s and led him to the next cabinet. He was still speechless.

* * * *

“What did you say, Sebastian?”

Jude despaired for her brother sometimes, for he missed the most obvious things. But she forgave him instantly, as he was the one who made his way into the frightening world while she stayed at home, safe and dreaming.

“Stupid things. She indulged me, while I got myself together.” He remembered. “She was kind with it though, didn’t Ümraniye Manken Escort find me silly. Her eyes. They were soft, like she was smiling inside: me being a clumsy young man, but not wasting her time.”

“Oh, Seb! You goose. You’re adorable.” Jude loved the way her brother, so sophisticated most of the time, could trip over his own feet and admit it. She tussled his hair and grinned. “Did you make arrangements for another time?”

“No, but she’ll be back,” said Sebastian, who knew that for a fact, for he’d been there beside her. He remembered the way the woman had looped her arm through his with no introduction, her gentle coaxing when he stumbled on his words. And her intoxicating scent and unseen naked skin, he remembered those most of all.

“Her perfume, Jude, when I breathed her in. It was the scent of darkness. Can you imagine, smelling purple with touches of gold?”

Jude, whose world was touch and taste and the dream of colours, closed her eyes to imagine it. She placed her fingers on Sebastian’s lips. “Tell me again what she wore.”

Sebastian described what the woman wore, every detail. Jude prompted him, and between his memory and her imagination, the woman became conjured in a spell between them. Jude could picture her. “She’s grey, Sebastian, every shade of grey. Where are her colours?”

“You’ve forgotten her lips, Jude. Her blood red lips.”

Jude touched her brother’s lips, feeling their smooth softness. “Would you kiss her, Sebastian, and bring her taste home to me?” She stroked his cheek. “I’d love to taste ruby red. I’ve never tasted that before.”

“But how could I do that? Kiss her, I mean. You can’t do that, go up to someone and ask for a kiss, just because your sister wants to know what their lips taste like.”

“You’ll have to steal it then. A kiss.”

“God, Sis, you’ve got a practical solution for everything, don’t you?” He laughed, hugging her close. “Come on, let’s get something to eat.”

Later that night, Sebastian lay in bed and wondered what the woman’s lips would taste of, what she’d feel like in his arms. He hoped she would visit the gallery again, so he could stand next to her and maybe find out.

In her room Jude replayed the vision of the woman’s clothes in her mind and quietly came, pulling up her nipples into hard points. She tugged her white nightdress down, for she’d bunched it up to her waist to stroke herself and touch the taste of her juice. She slid under the covers and drifted down into sleep. Sometimes she needed Sebastian to calm her, sometimes she could do it on her own.

* * * *


Francesca climbed the steep narrow stairs, a piece of paper in her hand with an address and telephone number written neatly on it. She’d seen it on the noticeboard at the art institute, mimeographed, so perhaps she wasn’t the only one. She’d telephoned ahead and a pleasant voice with a touch of a lilt had given her a time, and suggestions for a number of bus routes. “Or you could walk from the tube, it’s ten minutes.”

It was early summer and the tube would be dirty and hot, even in the afternoon before the rush. So Francesca had caught a bus, moving to the front of the top deck where there was room for her portfolio on the floor. The conductor punched her a ticket, saying as he handed it to her, “You look like one of those lovely French girls in the cinema, all in your black and white.”

“Thank you,” she smiled up at him. “That’s very sweet of you to say.” It was easy to flirt with a tired man who liked to see a pretty girl ride on his bus. She touched the back of his hand, so he wouldn’t forget her. She might see him on the way back.

At the top of the stairs, Francesca checked the number of the apartment from her piece of paper. She smoothed back her honey blonde hair, checked her top buttons, then knocked on the door. She took a step back.

“Just a moment.” She heard the voice of the man on the telephone, followed by footsteps, the sound of something clattering on a wooden floor. “Damn, pick them up later,” spoken closer; then the latch of the lock on the door.

The door opened inwards and Francesca saw the dishevelled hair of a young man, perhaps five or so years older than she was. He was wearing pin-striped trousers, as if he’d stolen his father’s suit, and a matching waistcoat; and was that a fob chain in the small pocket?

“Miss Ward, is it Miss Ward? Is it that time, have I lost it already? Come in, come in. It’s a whirlwind, I’m everywhere all at once.”

Francesca liked him immediately, this man who was out of his time. “Yes, I’m Francesca, you must call me Francesca.” She spotted a box of fallen pencils on the floor. “Can I pick these up for you?” She bent down to rake the pencils together, placing them back in their box. If I’m to get this job, she thought, it’s my calm side will get it.

“You mustn’t,” he replied, but she already had. Francesca placed the box on a shelf where she could see a space. She’d tidy it later, on her way out.

He introduced himself. Ümraniye Masöz Escort “Augustin Bonnard, but let’s drop the Augustin, shall we? Bonnard will do.”

He went ahead of her into a room that was an explosion of colour and cloth, as if an Arabian tent had landed within it and turned itself inside out. In front of a long window Francesca saw a tailor’s dummy draped with the cut of a wide flowing skirt, sharply striped with white and orange pleats. It was silk, and shone in the streaming sunlight. She gasped, a quick intake of breath. Somehow, even though it hung still, the skirt was turning on its toes already.

“My goodness,” she said, “it’s so alive.” She looked at Bonnard with astonished eyes. “Is this what you do? It’s exquisite.”

“Thank you, thank you, yes. I’m trying. But I can’t get it right, something’s missing. The cut, it’s not right. That’s why I thought -“

“Your advertisement.” Francesca interrupted. “I thought it meant paintings or drawings, that’s why I came. As a model. For drawings and paint. And my own work.” She put her portfolio down. “I didn’t think….”

“I didn’t know what else to put. I’m not even sure myself, what I’m after.” He was looking at her closely and Francesca thought he was seeing her with different eyes, measuring her already. “Bonnard, you fool, you’re doing it again,” he muttered, “not explaining.”

“No, it’s all right,” said Francesca, remembering his flustered greeting. “Make me some tea, then you can show me. That’s best.”

Francesca didn’t quite know how she did it, but once again she found within herself a quiet place and a vibrant young man to fill it. Even though she was younger than Bonnard by half a decade or so, she felt older. She was only twenty herself, but her father had said, “Francesca, you’re the wisest young woman I know. Where did you get your old head from? It’s certainly not from me.”

It was, because he gave her a father’s love and let her be the daughter she wanted to be.

Bonnard appeared grateful to be instructed and disappeared further into the apartment. Francesca heard the clatter of water in banging pipes and the whoosh as the gas ignited. She heard cupboards open and close, and the clink of cups. While she waited, she walked slowly around the studio, running her hands through the skeins of cloth, feeling their different textures. She stopped by the window and studied the cut of the skirt.

The stripes of silk caught the sun, streaming in bright through the huge window. The cloth shone. It was a glorious skirt for summer, audacious with its choice of colour. She imagined herself wearing it, running swiftly through a field of buttercups, or sitting languorously in the back of a boat, trailing her hand in the water. A simple blouse, clinging tight across the curve of her breasts, would go perfectly. And a hat, with a matching orange ribbon; and large dark glasses.

And in that brief moment Francesca wanted to be Bonnard’s muse. Every artist needs a muse and she wanted to be his. She imagined herself wearing his dresses, even though she had no idea of his terms of engagement, nor if she was the right kind of woman. But if he made this dress for summer, imagine what he would do for a mid-winter ball! Francesca imagined snow and white horses, a hundred beautiful dresses, and the turn of a fantastic waltz.

She heard the whistle of the kettle, then a pouring. She looked around, and the only empty seat was a small couch under the second window. She found a small table and put it nearby. Bonnard returned from the kitchen with a tray in his hands. Upon it, quite surprisingly, was a perfectly matching teapot, cups, a milk jug and a sugar bowl.

“It’s an affectation of mine, quite the ritual, but tea… tea must be done properly, or it’s not worth doing at all.”

“I quite agree,” replied Francesca. “Some things are worth doing…”

“…and others, not worth doing at all.”

Bonnard clapped his hands, delighted that they both agreed. He gestured to Francesca to sit, then completed the small tea ceremony. She suppressed a giggle when she saw his little finger held away from the cup. But of course, she thought, any man who wears a fob watch will have furbelows to go with his manners.

“Now, Bonnard, please, tell me what you are looking for, in your model.”

He proceeded to tell Francesca his aspirations, his approach to dress design, and what he was looking for in a model. Once he got down to it, his thoughts were concise and his words clear; and Francesca saw that his extravagance was partly an act, a cover for his insecurity.

“Can you be still, Francesca, while I drape cloth all about you? My dummy, it has curves, but they’re dead, not alive. It’s so stiff, so very precise. It won’t do.” He gazed at her. “Could you stand up, let me see you?”

She stood, standing in a simple pose before him. Bonnard got to his feet and circled her, looking at her from all angles. He crouched in front of her, and looked up from that perspective.

“Are you comfortable naked, no clothes?” he asked. “Or your underwear, I suppose… no, no, that won’t work. My clothes, they must embrace you like a lover, like a caress, like your darling’s hands. The cloth, it must feel your body’s heat, breathe when you breathe, cry out when you cry. How can a dress live, if it’s not your own skin next to it?”

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