When I bathed myself that evening I dreamed of being Ranuccio's wife. Respectability.
I felt like laughing. Would he really marry me? Why else the lessons? Why else the attention. He wasn't treating me like a whore. I worked for him, yes, but he never touched me. But would he really marry me? I had nothing to give him. The only thing I could give him was love. Was that it? Did he love me? He had said he wanted the money that came from my legs and what was between them. But what use could he have for a whore who could dance and know the proper way of speaking to a gentleman?
Ranuccio must love me.
I washed my hair, combing the dirty blonde hair out. When I went to bed that night, I remember feeling almost happy.
Anna woke me up at six in the morning.
"Please Fillide. You have to get up. Please?"
"What?" I murmered.
"Please, he says he's going to burn it. I don't want to go back alone. Come on" she was moving around the room, gathering my clothes.
"Anna... What?" The sun wasn't up yet but the sky was lighter.
"Please" she said, shoving my shift in my hands. I pulled it over my head, still not sure what was happening.
"Please" she said again, pulling on my hand. "Dress."
I started to object, to tell her to fuck off, but I shut my mouth again. I got up and put my dress on.
We left the appartement. I had no intention of waking my mother. It was only in the street that I saw that she was shaking. Grabbing her shoulders, I asked her "What? What is it? Christ, Anna, you've got me scared."
She shook her head again, not anwsering. She took my hand. We walked for about twenty minutes, avoiding watchmen, Anna refusing to talk the entire time. We were in a better part of Rome. We stopped before the back entrance of a large townhouse. Again, without saying a word, she entered it. We were standing in a dark corridor.
I turned to her, but before I could say something she said "He's very drunk. And he swears he'll destroy the painting. Don't let him destroy it, Fillide."
She had tears in her eyes.
"Please" she begged. "I need that image."
I still did not understand, but I nodded and she pushed me through a large door.
I was standing inside a large room, a studio. Several works were mounted around. Despite the high windows there still was very little light in the room. I ventured inside the the room more.
The hurdled bottle missed me by inches. I stood very still in the middle of the room. Oh Anna, what had you done now?
"What the Fuck are you doing here." a deep voice said behind me.
I turned around. And suddenly the face I had seen before, in the taverns, on the street, the face that had been an unnoticed jigsaw piece in my makeshift world of painters, whores, pimps and clients became something so much more. He looked wild. He had bushy eyebrow and brown eyes. His hair was dishevelled, like he had been running his hands trough it again and again. His clothes were black and threadbare. And he looked so profoundly lonely.
I arched my eyebrow at him. "Is that a way to greet visitors?" I asked.
He didn't reply, just staring at me. He seemed as shaken by seeing me as I was. He let his gaze wander, from the crown of my head to the my feet. I wished I had had the time to dress my hair.
"I'm a friend of Anna." I said. "Nice place this. Is it yours?"
I took a few steps in his direction and noticed he had a knife in his hand. I nodded towards it. "Are you going to cut me, painter?"
He seemed confused. He was drunk, but the worst had passed. I could tell from his tired, bloodrimmed eyes.
"How do you know I'm a painter?" he asked me.
I smiled and reached out for the hand he had the knife in. I wasn't scared. He wasn't going to hurt me. I turned his hand up, the knife still in it. I could feel his confusion. 'Paint.' I said, indicating his pigment stained hand.
He let the knife fall.
"What were you going to cut?" I asked him, his hand still in mine.
He looked to his left and I saw Anna.
But it wasn't Anna.
It was the Magdalena.
And I understood. He had painted Anna as she wanted to be. She wanted to be penintent. She wanted to be forgiven. She wanted to sit on the floor with her head bowed. This painter had painted what she would never have in life. Forgiveness if only she repents and never sinned again. Anna would never be respectable.
So this was what she had been doing, all this time.
"Why destroy it?" I asked.
He was frowning, looking down on our entwined hands. He didn't anwser. I pulled my hand back and he looked up, obviously confused.
"It's my painting" he said. "I want it back."
"And they wouldn't give it back?" I asked.
He nodded again.
"I see" I said, not really understanding at all.
"I don't think I've seen you before" he said.
"Offcourse you have" I put my hands on my hips. He was confused, drunk and in need of sleep.
"Come on" I said. I took his hand again, and meekly he followed me to the corridor. Anna was waiting outside. When I came out with the painter, in the early morning night, I could tell Anna had been crying. She looked stricken when we came out, holding hands. She averted her eyes.
"Where does he live?" I asked her.
"I'll show you." Anna said. Her face was tearstreaked.
I nodded and gently pulled on the painters hand. He still wasn't strugling, but I felt his interest in me as I led him along. He didn't seem to look at his surrounding. He only had eyes for me.
No one spoke on the way to his very shabby house. When we stopped at his house I urged him inside. The sun was on the rise. Anna and I needed to get home. He looked at me again with those unfocused, confused eyes. I let go of his hand and he raised it up to my hair and pulled a string of it between his fingers. He was near me, and I could smell his breath. Sour wine. I put my hand on his chest and gently pushed him away.
"Go to bed, painter." I said, not unkindly. He dumbly nodded and opened the door.
"Michelangelo..." Anna's voice was choking up.
I turned around. He didn't aknowledge her but went inside.
"Anna..." I said.
"I didn't want to share him" she whispered.
She had a bruise on her cheek. I reached out and touched her.
"Did he do this?"
"You'll never understand." She cried again. "You won't."
I shook my head. There was very little I understood about tonight. We needed to get home.
I put my arm around her waist and together we went back to our appartement.
Five hours later, I was standing in front of the church of Saint Catherine. My face was scrubbed, my hair braided, my new dress on. I even had veil on. I could pass for respectable.
He met me at the church of Saint Catherine. I was tired, yet excited.
Ranuccio was so handsome. He was polished. He never had a hair out of place. He took my arm and smiled. I smiled back, but I wasn't as confident as I had been before.
We didn't go in the church. We went to a place at the skirts of the bad part of Rome. It was a small appartement. There was a smal seating area, but the place was dominated by the big bed.
I didn't understand.
I was looking at the big bed. He came up behind me. Something was wrong. I felt like weeping.
Oh please, I thought. Don't touch me. Don't touch me.
But he did. He removed my veil and started loosening my braids. I lost all the fight in me. I couldn't explain why I felt like weeping and laughing at the same time. I started to understand. I was the bride without ceromony.
His hands slid down from my hair to my neck, and he bend his fair head to kiss my neck. His kiss was featherlight, his stubble scraping my skin in contradictory sensations. I closed my eyes and the unshed tears fall down. I feel him smiling wolfishly in my hair.
His hand was loosening my clothes. Why bother with the fine things if I was going to end up naked anyway?
His hand slipped the shift from my shoulders and bared my breasts. His hands came to my front, cupping them, feeling them. His lips were still carressing me.
He turned me around in his arms, kissed my forehead, my cheeks, my lips. He tasted my tears but didn't seem to mind them.
Slowly, he nudged me to the bed. I lost the rest of my clothes. Standing before him, naked, he whispered in my ear. "Come on" he ordered. "Show me what you got."
I bit back a sob. I kissed the skin under his ear. My hands started to undress him.
Don't think, I told myself. And I backed him unto the bed. I kissed him, from his ugly feet to his cold eyes. I sat between his legs and used my mouth. I let him fondle me. And in the end I climbed on top of him, took him between my legs and thought about absolutely nothing as I rode him hard.
I felt him spasm underneath me. And when he came, I fell forward and let him hold me.
"You need to do this with every man I bring here" he said. "Pretend they are me. Pretend you love them like you love me."
I squeezed my eyes shut, and he hugged me close.
Love him? No.
But that was what is was all about, the attention, the gifts. He wanted to make me love him.
I'd been upgraded from whore to courtisan. He was making an investment in me. I was still a whore.
And two days later he married someone else.