Authors: M. J. Lawless
Fragile Crystal: Rubies and Rivalries
M. J. Lawless
© M. J. Lawless 2012
The right of M. J. Lawless to be identified as the author of this book has been asserted in accordance the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Copying of this manuscript, in whole or in part, without the written permission of the author and her publisher is strictly prohibited.
All sexually active characters in this work are 18 years of age or older.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Published by Black Orion Press, 2012.
Cover design by Arkangel Media.
All rights reserved.
To the memory of John, who first taught me storytelling.
‘In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell,
Which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel!
Thou knowest to-night, and wilt know to-morrow,
This mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow;
But vainly thou warrest,
For this is alone in
Thy power to declare,
That in the dim forest
Thou heard'st a low moaning,
And found'st a bright lady, surpassingly fair:
And didst bring her home with thee, in love and in charity,
To shield her and shelter her from the damp air.’
S. T. Coleridge,
Through the window she could see the wide, open water of the river and beyond it the darker line of the distant shore. Although it was autumn, the sky was blue—a deeper, richer shade than she was likely to have seen had she remained in London. Occasionally there were clouds in the sky, and on such days the humidity could make it unbearable to be clothed, but here, in her own place, she felt no need to be burdened in such a trivial way.
Indeed, thought Kris as she watched the sunlight shining across the water, she felt unburdened in so many ways. Only a few months before she had been weighed down, her life a mess not so much because of disasters but rather because it was going nowhere. And now so much had changed. Everything really.
She turned back to the canvas fixed in place on its easel. Thoughts buzzed around the edges of her mind, but this fixed board, nearly a metre wide and half as high, it was what mattered now, just for the moment. Simply looking at her work would bring back a thousand thoughts but all that was irrelevant. Instead, as she lifted up her brush and smelt the familiar, warm scent of the oils with which she mixed her pigments, what she wanted to do was lose herself for a few hours.
Yet she could not forget everything, not just yet. She was dressed in a loose T-shirt and shorts, her slender arms and limbs much darker than they had been months before, a delicious nutty brown. Her Avelar blood was coming through in the pigments of her skin, just as the creativity of her father showed itself in the canvas before her.
Her father. For so long she had hated him. No, not hated. She had never hated him. Resented him, despised him even, but not hated. A sculptor who had drunk himself to death long before his time, the sadness now inside her was that he was no longer here to see her. He would have liked it that she was living in Lisbon: he had brought her to the city plenty of times, as well as to the countryside just north where her relatives lived. More than that, however, he would have taken pleasure in the fact that, after so many years, she was painting again.
Not that she was entirely happy with the work itself, but then she never was. You didn’t overcome years of neglect in a couple of months, but she was working and that was what was important. There were so many things that conspired to stop her, not least her own self-doubts or the perfectionism that presented itself as a harsh censor but which, she knew, was merely another guise for those very doubts. What you had to do, she told herself as she paused, chewing the end of the brush, was to put those doubts to one side and continue.
Her face was marked with streaks of burnt Sienna and raw umber, here a flash of Naples yellow on the cheek beneath her blue eyes (Pthalho rather than Prussian, she decided, though flecked with green and yellow), and her pale pink lips twitched as she chewed on the brush. Her hair was tied back so that at least it wouldn’t get too messy, but her shirt was smeared with fingerprints and brush marks.
Messy. Something else that had changed. So recently she had feared anything out of place—but look at this room! Other canvases were stacked against the walls, while discarded palettes were a riot of bubbling colours. The walls themselves, spotless and whitewashed when she had moved in, now had charcoal and pencil drawings tacked up to them, as well as photos, odds and ends, bits and pieces—anything that had taken her fancy in the Feira da Ladra or the shops of the old city.
That insistence on pristine purity had been another part of her armour she now realised. No mess. Nothing out of place. Everything pure. Everything sterile. It had been no wonder that she could not create.
More than this, not only had she not been able to create, she had been unable to experience the simplest joys in life—the simplest ones that were also the most complex. By denying her own chaos, her own complexity—her own
—she had been withering and dying inside for so many years. The insistence on pristine purity had been a defence against the same darkness that had claimed her father, the chaos of his mind that had led him to drink and drink and drink until he could drink no more. She had been tempted by that abyss, and against it she had withdrawn into a cold, clean cell, a prison for her mind.
Chaos under discipline, that was what she needed instead: complexity that knew when to pause and relent, to allow order to smooth over her. And that was what she had here in her own rooms, her own apartment. This room, where she had such a perfect view over the Tagus, where the sun shone through the south-facing windows almost every hour of the day, this was her chaos, her brilliant, soul-shuddering explosion of colour and disorder. Elsewhere, the quiet order that Kris Avelar needed to rest, to keep on living in peace so that she could create again and again, was maintained in each tidy room.
She observed the painting critically now. Large wings stretched across most of the canvas, dark shades of browns, greys and blacks in the shadows of its almost prehensile feathers. But the body was more anthropomorphic, lighter, with a scarred face and hands that reached down to the naked woman, strong fingers grasping her flesh. A raptor.
She could not resist a smirk as she looked at it. This was no swan, certainly—if you had to name the bird, and there was no reason why anyone would have to identify this avian beast of prey, then it was more like some giant condor, an ominous-looking eagle or perhaps even a vulture. And yet in its way this was Leda with her swan, all sudden blows and feathered glories pushing at thighs. Fragments of Yeats came back to her. Her Agamemnon was not dead. His pillar of the world was still strong and vigorous.
She had no desire to shove that feathered glory to one side—her own thighs were always parted eagerly for him. He was the source of so many of her images: dark, foreboding, loving. Daniel.
Daniel Stone. That was what she was to call him now (if she ever referred to his full name), but there was part of him that was always Daniel Logan, the stranger she had met when summer had only just begun. Was it really that recently? It felt to her as though years had passed, and yet in truth it was little more than five months. Autumn was now upon them, though here in Lisbon it felt more like spring or even a mild summer than the rainy, dreary season leading up to winter that she had experienced all her life.
Five months. For some reason, an old song sprang into her subconscious. We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot, we’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got. At first, the lines appeared more ominous to her than the brooding canvas before her, until she realised where the unconscious tracks of her mind were leading her. David Bowie and his strange, asymmetrical eyes, just like those of Daniel Stone.
Smiling now, any dark thoughts as distant as the far-off streak of brown shoreline across the river, she dipped her brush into paint and began to work it along the canvas, building up the thick texture of the wings, so tangible, so real. Daniel had once chided her for using “real life” as an excuse not to create, a shield to run and hide behind. Desire was real life, he had told her, as well as necessity. Chaos and order, love and discipline.
Discipline. She could not suppress a tremble as that word entered her mind, and for a second the brush flickered across the birdman’s wings. How funny that the thought of discipline should bring with it a loss of control, however momentary. The truth was she had not been disciplined enough recently. Daniel was away, in New York on business. He had asked her to go with him, but she wanted to stay and finish her painting. There would be other times, she told herself—and, she knew, there was something else.
She was crazy about him. He knew it. She knew it. He was in his own way crazy about her, but the discipline was easier for him—a lifetime of control was more than a match for a couple of months, and she had to learn to take herself in hand. She wanted not to be reliant on him so completely.
A hand on her, grasping her, squeezing her, moving down between her thighs. Hard on her buttocks—some pain, but oh so much more pleasure. Fuck. She was wet now at the memory of his touch, her crotch getting hot and damp and sticky. Fuck fuck fuck! Her brush strokes became more erratic. He would be back tomorrow and she hadn’t finished the painting (just as, jokingly, he had told her she wouldn’t be finished when they spoke the day before). Fuck it! She needed another kind of messiness now.
As she left the room she flung her T-shirt down. Her breasts were already swelling, the skin tightening as she made her way through to the bathroom and let the water flow into the white curves of the bath. At least when she did make a complete mess this afternoon she would be able to clean herself more or less immediately.
It was early evening by the time she left her apartment and the bright afternoon sun was slowly turning to a delicious dusk. There was a spring in her step as she locked the front door and took the steps down to the street below. Her neighbours were nowhere to be seen, a fact which gladdened her today. Kris was by no means as misanthropic as Daniel could be when the mood was on him, but she had no particular desire to speak to anyone else at the moment. He was coming tomorrow, and the thought of that alone had been enough to rouse up a burning passion between her thighs. She wanted to be wrapped up in her own thoughts and emotions.