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this conflagration

‘He wants you.’

Brigit ran a finger over the curled end of her bookmark and didn’t look up.

‘I’m on a break.’

The words were short, sharp, and to anyone but Inneke, utterly ominous. She paused in the doorway and gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘Fine, I’ll take him then. You’re usually so territorial about this one but if that’s the way you want it…’

Brigit tried to look up slowly, and arched a lazy eyebrow. ‘Who is it?’

Inneke selected a coffee cup, pretending to peer into several of them before she turned to Brigit with a grin. ‘The Reader, of course. Who else would you try and act so casual about?’ She nodded her head in the direction of the waiting room. ‘Go for it woman, he’s waiting. Bet he’s got something scintillating to discuss with you today, I can feel it.’

Brigit gave a wry smile and slid her book onto the table, one hand already shaking her ponytail free. She glanced towards her bag for her lip gloss, but Inneke ‘s dark eyes kept staring her way.

Brigit stretched, hands unfurling with a long, low moan, and shook herself. She didn’t look at Inneke as she strode out.

She wondered if he’d be clean shaven today, or if he’d have the sleepy gaze of a man just tumbled out of bed. She liked his aftershave, notes of sandalwood and orange, and could smell it on her hands long afterward.

He smiled when he saw her, and quickly glanced down her body and back up. He was reading Kafka, and she grinned without meaning to, already working out how to tease him about it. The first time, months ago, she’d prowled into the waiting room with a curt ‘Who’s next?’ and found this man with his legs crossed under him, frowning at a leather bound tome through dark brows.

The voice that came out of her mouth had been gentler than the one she’d intended.

‘You like Goethe?’

And he’d shown a chipped tooth as he’d smiled back, and nodded.

She walked behind him to the room, her gaze on the tumble of curls that fell over his frayed collar. Once, when he’d climbed onto the table and was waiting, still and silent, she’d noticed a hole in the sole of his boot, the creamy swirls of the carpet visible through the leather. But if he were happy to spend his student income on the weight of new books and the solace of her fingertips, Brigit wasn’t about to argue.

He knew which door to turn into, and went straight to her bookcase. In the six months since she’d been one of The Girls, there’d been no visits from the authorities but she knew enough to set up her room as a study, to line the shelves with fat red notebooks and an army of black inked pens, soldiers to fend off any unwelcome enquiries. A novel, she’d say, with eyes downcast and no defiance on her pointed tongue, for once; I write here. And some days, it was even true.

He scanned for new spines as she watched, his hand landing on a moss green volume of Rilke, just as she hoped it would. She picked up the towel near the head of the massage table and shook it out, her eyes on his hands, then pinned one corner of the cloth under her chin and began refolding it.

He held the book up to the dim bulb. ‘Neue Gedichte’. He opened to the table of contents and slid a finger down it. ‘I love these poems. Does this have ‘Spanische Tänzerin’ in it?’

She murmured a low syllable. ‘Mmmm.’ She reached for the towel at the base of the table and shook its layers free.

He smiled at the page. ‘I love the way he plays with sound in this; the assonance and alliteration. He uses the letter S so many times you can almost imagine the snakes curling through the lines. God, it’s such an erotic poem.’

She swept a hand down the thick cotton and patted it, curled one corner into a point. ‘It’s a flamenco poem…it writhes and spits fire as you read it, especially in the original German.’

He turned towards her and took a breath. She heard the shyness of his first syllable, and had to look away.

’Mit ihrem Blick entzündet sie ihr Haar
Und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
Ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrust
…I mean, Feuersbrunst –

She crossed her arms in front of her belly and held each elbow in a palm. His German was inelegant and stumbling, and a rosy tinge was creeping through his whiskers. She started to speak; slowly, softly, her eyes on the book in his hands.

Her hair she kindles with her glance
And suddenly with daring art she turns
Her total dress into this conflagration
From out of which, like serpents which are frightened,
Her naked arms extend, awake and rattling
.’

He watched her from across the room.

She could smell the peppermint from her oil bottles. Down below the window, an argument from the alleyway drifted up to them, sharp tones of Vietnamese soaring through a wind chime. He swallowed, and she watched the movement travel down his throat.

He looked away first.

The book slid back onto the desk, and his hands moved towards his collar. She watched him undo the top button and turned her head towards the massage table. Her voice was a murmur when it finally came out.

‘You know what to do.’

She turned her back as he reached for his belt. Her hands still cupped around her elbows, she scanned the titles and wondered how long she’d have to search them for other worlds, other words, other ways.

For one moment there, one brief seductive second, she’d almost felt like a normal woman.

this conflagration

bellmusker

Melbourne, Australia

  • Artist
    Notes
  • Artwork Comments 33

Artist's Description

I’ve been studying German every day again. There’s a professional writing job coming up for me, and my degree in this most beautiful of languages has scored me an interview. Somehow, I don’t think listening to Nina Hagen lyrics and watching ‘Inspector Rex’ is quite enough anymore.

And because Brigit got tired of waiting.

Mit ihrem Blick entzündet sie ihr Haar
Und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
Ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen, die erschreken,
die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

Und dann: als würde ihr Feuer knapp
nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
sehr herrisch, mit hochmütiger Gebärde
und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
und flammt noch immer und ergibt sich nicht.
Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem süssen
grüssenden Lächeln hebt sie ihr Gesicht
und stampft es aus mit kleinen festen Füssen.

Spanische Tänzerin Rainer Maria Rilke

Her hair she kindles with her glance
and suddenly with daring art she turns
her total dress into this conflagration
from out of which, like serpents which are frightened,
her naked arms extend, awake and rattling
.’

And then: as if the fire grew too scant for her,
she gathers it completely, throws it off
very imperiously, with a haughty gesture
and looks: there it lies raging on the ground
as yet still flame and it does not surrender.
But she, triumphant, self-assured, and with a sweet
saluting smile lifts up her face
and stamps it out with feet both small and firm.

Spanish Dancer by Rainer Maria Rilke

Artwork Comments

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