Jenny Holden




The Convalescent

“She takes down my hair and does it like her own … she has me sit as she does, and I feel the absorption of her personality as I sit.”    –  Jeanne Foster, model for Gwen John.

Only this, today – a letter, a nothing. You read it over while your tea goes cold – this is a kind of industry, a pretence at doing – but you’re aware (aren’t you?) that there was a cup, the pink a woman should be, or a child, the most striking thing, this pink, when you consider what it must contend with. Tan, oh, muted beige – that teapot – and the ultramarine or purple in the deepest silks of your dress. You are heavy with it – with the knowledge that there was tea, and you chose not to drink it – chose only to sit, and read. Are you really reading? To your cheeks, and about your eyes – there! A little pink again; shining not with health, but more like tears have been and gone. Wan girl – nothing of Boucher or Watteau about you – what have you been doing with yourself? Holed up in your rooms with the blinds down, denying the world. Paris itself! What’s that, my dear, really? A smirk? A shadow about your chin, the slightest humour. Wry, an air of resignation. What is in that letter? Don’t you know you should be doing? But – a woman falls into these two categories. Doing, the centre of life itself. The pink of a woman, and a child. Golden hair – yours is the brownest brown – and tea that is drunk and dispensed with. A healthy renewal, and continuation of all things. Tea plates put away and cakes eaten – the spirit in the flesh. In the Titian – see how Venus’s feet have that orange pink dusty health that you are lacking: that one foot is more alive than you! Oh, she has been flirting, or withholding, she has been doing all the things a woman must! But you – so: you take the other role. To sit, to be still – for thoughts to rest upon. In silence in your room, not even rustling the pages of that letter. Not even disturbing the colours which hang about you – peach and gold and grey. Some man has words he would have you heed. Oh, do try – for your flesh to be more generous. That is all! It is not for you to be so thoughtful, for you to worry at the letter and leave the tea stewed in the pot. Dear! Don’t you think I know? Every day at his studio I am not enough, or am too much. I beg to be allowed to be more to him. He can’t turn me into stone. I know what is in that letter – it is a prop. These are the words you must hear, and no man’s, as I paint you – in the afternoon lull, noises off – that city out there that wants you but which you must hold always at a distance, with that aloofness or a small smile… You are for me, in this room, with the blue of your dress, and the teapot full gold in the masked light – to do with what I will!



Jenny Holden’s stories have appeared in various places, including The Warwick Review, Mslexia, Brand, The Literateur and Fuselit. She was shortlisted for the 2013 Scott Prize for a debut collection of short stories. She has recently completed her first novel.

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