Thursday, 21 February 2013

Alkahest - Friday Flash

The Countess clapped her hands together impatiently. Despite her small delicate hands, the percussive force of their imperative bounced around the bathroom's tiles. A gnarled handmaid shuffled into the chamber and took up station behind her mistress. The aristocrat extended her arms like wings and the crone gently pinched her fingers around the sleeves and gingerly slid the material off over her mistress' flesh without it touching the skin. Since this regimen was all about the skin.

Shucked of the robe like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, the Countess stepped elegantly into the bath. The old woman folded the robe as her social superior squatted down in a refined bevelling motion into the red tide that abutted her. The blood was too viscous to ripple or eddy. Instead it rose with the displacement, only slanting down where it met her skin. Paying her obeisance. She was long inured to the metallic tang of her bathing fluid. Nor did it feel glutinous against her flesh. The sole intoxication was the anticipation of the lustre of her skin cleansed in the keen blood of the young.

She scythed the flat of her hand through the sanguine sea and held it up for examination. The red plasma forged a trail across her palm and bulged and pooled at the heel. Under gravity the gore string distended downward, but its tensile strength saw it maintain its integrity. It looked like a red stalactite. She brought her hand to her face and draped the blood thread over her chin and tightly sealed lips. Her lady in waiting dipped a sponge into the red gore and squeezed its serum over the alabaster shoulders and back of her lady. She enjoyed her privileged position in the household. She knew her age insulated her from having her veins opened and the vital juices distilled into the bath.


He bathed his latest belle in the chemical developing tray. Fixing her features, mummifying any inkling of life, wrapping it up in servitude of the image. He gently swept some of the solution over the submerged paper. The eddies momentarily effaced her form, but as the fluid regathered its tranquillity, the composition of the woman coalesced upon his own retinas once again. His practised eye penetrated through the slight refraction of the chemical bath, lasering the precise dimensions of her outlines against the paper. He silently pronounced himself satisfied. She like all the others, was in thrall to the light binding her.

He gingerly pinched the edges of the paper and slid the paper out. He pegged it up on the PVC coated line hanging in his darkroom and stood back to take in his work once again. Another stellar timeless specimen rendered by his eye. His optic lens aligned with that of the camera, like a sniper with his telescopic sight. Splayed her in light, riddled her in shadow.

His lens was as that of a diamond cutter. An intense focussing of pointed light. Surgical lancet to make flesh flawless. Shrouding skin's fallibilities. He was less enraptured by skin and pulchritude. The dermis was just another surface playing host to light which was his real enticement. The universal constant of the universe so scientists claimed. He liked to shuffle and concertina it like a deck of cards. Its interplay over solid, brute matter, each informing and distorting the other. There was nothing constant about his light. How he wielded and wrangled it.

Taking the brute matter of their flesh and abstracting it to the ideal. Radiance and luminosity never emanating from the model, but from the pools of lambency bathing her. Pressing her back into the grain of the paper. Effacing her. He and his lenses decorticated each and every model and left her a coiled rind on the floor of the shoot like spooled camera film. Meta-studies, using light to illuminate and frame light. The woman was the raw marble, the light the sculpted shape emerging from within. The flesh was negative space in his mind.

As the paper dried and stiffened, another model's insolent defiance arrested and chopped off at the knees by the guillotine of his lens, stared bloodlessly back at him. He'd seemingly invested her with everything. A women reified, rendered eternal like a demigoddesses. Every man wants her. Every woman wants to be like her. Incidentals. Surface frivolities, for the only truth lay in the play of light's tones. Only the light could wholly possess her.


The beldam handmaiden didn't live to see her mistress brought to justice, when the blood baths took their toll of the local young female population beyond the threshold of deferential denial. Her punishment was to be immured in her own castle. Never again to feel the warmth of the sun against her flesh. Her once marble skin, now chalky and scored in granular scratches. As if the irritation had been pricked by the unrequited avidity for blood's caress.


Even into his late seventies, he still trained a camera at beautiful young women. Though now he was less able to bend and fold his own body at the angles required to sequester the light to his bidding. And each evening when he retired alone to his house, staring at the reflecting lens of his bathroom mirror, there was no denying the long march of wrinkles, pouches of fat, greying hairs and liver spots advancing upon him. The unimpeachable time lapse trail of his own dissolution. That which he customarily denied in his models, as he tossed them aside the moment their skin thickened enough to blunt the light passing through them. The light that now revealed to him his own withering, was no longer liberating. His mania had become so opaque, that he was now fully transparent. Time may have betrayed him, but it was light's capriciousness which revealed it.


Helen said...

Ah the eternal search for that one ingredient - he made a blood bath of it didn't he!

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

How marvellously bloody. And as visual as a, er, skin flick!

This bit: "The dermis was just another surface playing host to light which was his real enticement. " reminded me of a snippet about Monet. He was so obsessed with light and colour, that when his wife died he allmost forgot his grief in his fascination with her changing skin colour

Nick MB said...

Well, that was disturbing. In a good way. Beautifully written, too.

Tony Noland said...

The old, feeding off the young. Nothing ever changes, does it?

Larry Kollar said...

I think Tony nailed it - the old preying on the young. Age was once something to aspire to, now it is to be hidden away. Sic sic transit gloria manana, as PDQ Bach once said.

I liked the parallel here, the bloody-minded countess and the sterile-minded photographer. (And it appears we were reading each other's flash at the same time!)

Katherine Hajer said...

Beautiful... well, mirroring. There are so many double standards illustrated here it's like a set of rooms by Escher -- the logic is exact, but the angles are still breathtaking.

Carrie Clevenger said...

Interesting juxtaposition between the lady and the man, seeing they both had the same creep of age come upon them and others sacrificed for their progress. Well done!

ganymeder said...

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the two scenes. Nicely done.

Icy Sedgwick said...

I always loved the Erzsebet Bathory legend and I love the parallels you've drawn with photography. The maidens who give their blood are frozen in time the same way the photos freeze the young women in time.

Cindy Vaskova said...

Loved it! Two parallels in time, yet people not much different in their mania. Glad to see Elizabeth Báthory so delicately visualized.