I never loved Gauguin.
True, we had some wild, absinthe-fueled nights together in Paris, but I was never overly impressed with him, either in his bed or in his studio. Toulouse-Lautrec was far more interesting, for all his aristocratic self-involvement. He also had a delicious man-servant; Claude d’Arcis, if I remember correctly. Such a shame he wasted so much paint on women and neglected the suburb architecture of Claude’s backside.
I turn toward the wall to hide my smile. After all this time, I’m becoming quite the dirty old man. To distract myself from my own deviant memories, I read the Art Institute of Chicago’s brief summary of Gauguin’s life. It’s not all lies, or at least it isn’t entirely lies. But it does make dear old Paul sound rather boring.
I shrug and enter the exhibit anyway.
History will turn all our stories into lies. Just look what they say about me.
The flashy retrospective exhibition disregards chronology. A wise choice, I believe. It opens with Gauguin’s most iconic images, the tropical, topless women with their mysterious smiles and provocative eyes. There’s even a scent in the air, something subtle and delicious that makes me think of new life, and the heat of springtime. The scent of fucking.
The insistent heat of arousal rises inside me with surprising intensity. Provocative, indeed.
With a shiver, I change my illusion, giving myself white hair, a hunched back, and wrinkled hands. If I’m going to be a dirty old man, I might as well look the part.
The second room of the exhibit is less impressive. There’s a passage about Gauguin’s unhappy sham of a marriage and his failures as a businessman. The Institute has included his first staggering attempts at artistic glory. I stop at Portrait of a Little Boy. There’s that scent again, and it’s even stronger this time. How in the Nine Realms did the Art Institute manage that? Suddenly I’m thinking of springtime and sweat, of a naked woman gasping in pleasure beneath me—
“Not his best work,” a soft voice mutters.
I turn toward the voice. There’s a woman standing next to me. Her long, dark hair is piled carelessly in a sloppy bun, and her baggy jeans and maroon sweatshirt do nothing to compliment her lean, athletic body. That provocative, intoxicating scent pours off her in waves. Springtime. Heat. Lust.
She catches my eye, and her face tints a delicate shade of pink. I suddenly want to know if her cheeks flush like that when she comes. If she screams her pleasure through those soft lips. Her dark eyes widen, and she stammers an apology.
I smile and open my mouth before remembering I’m wearing the illusion of a lecherous old man. Instead of speaking, I clear my throat and nod. She backs away, her cheeks darkening. I bite the inside of my cheek to keep from following her.
But I do turn to watch her leave the room. Damn. So she’s why I’ve been so… distractible. It’s been years since I’ve visited a city on Midgard, and I hadn’t remembered any of the mortals being this tempting. Clearly, I’d remembered incorrectly.
I shift illusions as I leave the room, following her scent. I flicker through several appearances, making myself invisible so no one will notice my rapid changes. In the end I settle on myself; at least, the way I used to look. The way I’d like to look. I frown as I glance around the exhibit at the enormous canvases of naked, painted women with wide, brown eyes. I’d better fit in if I’m not to scare her. I shorten my hair and give myself a casual suit.
By the time I’m finished, I’ve lost her again. I follow her scent through the Art Institute, finally finding her outside in the sculpture garden. She’s sitting on a bench, eating an apple. Reading a paperback. I hesitate in the doorway, watching. Her bun has come loose; several strands of dark hair rest against the long curve of her pale neck. She reaches for them absentmindedly, tucking them behind her ear as she turns the page of her book. I bite my lip and narrow my eyes, overwhelmed by the desire to run my lips along that neck. To taste that skin.
What is this? Why her, why now, after all this time? Perhaps I’ve abstained too long; perhaps I didn’t realize how much I’d held inside, pent up. How unlike me to be surprised. By anything.
I like surprises.
* * * *
Yes, that’s Caroline Capello at the Chicago Art Institute, with her nose in a book, completely oblivious to the Norse god lusting after her. And Gaugin, for the record, was a French post-impressionist whose naked lady paintings you’ve probably encountered at some point in your life. (Here’s the piece featured above)
Yes, after promising Janine Ashbless I’d write something without Loki for once in my life…. I wrote the first scene between Loki and Caroline from Loki’s perspective.
I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with this one. It will probably end up in The Loki Series box set I’m releasing in November.
Or maybe I’ll send it out to my lovely newsletter subscribers to thank them all for being a part of my strange and disturbingly Loki-centric world.
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