‘The portrait appeared to be unfinished, but the power of the handling was striking.’
– N. Gogol, The Mysterious Portrait
Sometimes, he would take the portrait from the folder in which he kept his youthful poetry, and gaze at it for a long time. Doting over it, reminiscing. It was a portrait of his sexual organ. Life-size. The drawing was in the classical style, with each detail drawn to such a refined level of final lines, that the whole shone with the entrancing glow of perfect harmony. And the play of light and shadow had been done with such skill, that the black seemed to undergo an entire spectrum of shade shifting, all imaginary, of course, from an airy, pearly pink, to the slightly more intense pink of a ripening raspberry, then deeper still, until it took on the shade of a red, ripened cherry. Finally, it was the color of congealed blood – the color the head of any male member becomes on the verge of the final moments of ecstasy and ejaculation.
The style of the portrait leaned towards the German school of painting, of the Northern Renaissance – European, in the Albrecht Dürer vein. In other words, it touched upon the clean-cut shape, and the lines that form it, which so distinctly obey the artist’s willpower and firm hand, reflecting his every whim. And, after all, he was familiar with that hand. It was that hand that was the mirror of the soul, not the eyes. It was possible to speak of the cool asceticism of the dry palm, and the long, chiseled fingers. But with what amazing speed did they rush to fill, to the tips and the fingernails, with a passionate blaze and a warm quiver, as they took hold of his member, larger now, but yet to achieve its final rigidity.
That transitional state exercised a magical influence over the owner of the hand, and she was able to pluck, for an indefinite amount of time, like the strings of a harp, the sprawling member – the testicles as well. She bewitched. She cast spells. She pressed it to her cheek, or suddenly, with the sharp blade of her tongue, touched those little, oh-so-sensitive, fleshy parts. He shuddered… Sometimes, at the moment of climax, just when his member was filled with blood, the fire of his lover’s religious admiration suddenly dimmed, was even extinguished, in her eyes, and she measured him with an artist’s cold gaze.
In those moments he would cease to be a symbol and become an object of observation. But even then, even as she was thinking, comparing, analyzing for the umpteenth time, she was amazed at just how much his member transcended, in its artistic qualities, all the other objects she was familiar with – a tree, or even a face. That perfect construct (in the moments when it was erect, of course). That golden ratio of the dome, as defined in Ancient Greece; the virtuosic connection between the dome and the stem, all covered by the velvet of the foreskin (assuming the member is uncircumcised) as well as the countless variations of ornamental color formed by the inter-weaving of capillaries.
Unusual metamorphoses took place with the light. First, its intensity was swallowed into the member, and then, after being wrapped in it by the energy of life sent by God himself, it shone outside.
‘That is the reason,’ she thought to herself, ‘that a light emanates from the head, reminiscent of a halo.’
A desire to draw it had suddenly taken hold of her. In the first session, she sat, Indian style, in front of the erect member, which he held in his hand. She placed on her easel a piece of thick cardboard with coarse paper attached, and started sketching a portrait of the member with a black, Italian pencil. She worked with a kind of fervent passion, and treated the member as she would a living model whose image had to be copied onto the page. Meanwhile, the erectness of the member had inevitably relaxed somewhat, waned, and he frequently had to bolster its tumescence by putting out a foot, easing it under the cardboard to search between her legs with his toe, to feel her thick pubic hair, her vagina – which moistened – and then, with a little luck, her clitoris too, which he had to spend some time searching for.
Inflamed, washed through with waves of desire, she would hurl aside the cardboard holding the drawing, and lunge at him. They would roll on the bed over and over, then slide down to the floor…
There were many sessions. The first renderings were unsatisfactory to her. The direct interpretation of the model created a sort of general form which was almost lifeless. The virtuosic drawing, despite being well executed, came out somewhat dry, she thought, and aroused echoes of the dried-up academic school. Perhaps she had erred with something. Yes – yes! Her mistake was inherent in the idea itself. She, for some reason, had decided that the essence of the male member, its plethora of mysterious varieties, its elusive contours that were ceaselessly changing, could be communicated only by the use of an artistic technique, the focus being only on the forms, the lines and the way the light played on the surface of mass and volume.
But, when all was said and done, the member ought to be seen as a unique organ of desire. After all, it was that burning hot, pointed column of turgid flesh that penetrated her body. Marvelously intense, uninhibited, perhaps a little rough sometimes, causing a sweet pain that quickly passed. Yet at the same time, it could be gentle, caressing, willing to make self-sacrifices, and bearing, in itself, her happiness and greatest satisfaction. ‘What,’ she wondered, ‘has been the object of my dreams since my youth, when I secretly read daring books and my hand felt for those familiar places beneath my panties?’
When she thought like that about the male member, her imagination was pleasantly stimulated. And not just in a creative way. She was also overwhelmed by a powerfully erotic stimulus that was even more inflamed by her imagination. The portrait would be filled with life, and only then did the complex game of colors begin to manifest itself beneath the black pencil strokes, and the lines began to fill with real blood, throbbing like a vein pulsing in a temple.
The principle of composition she borrowed from the great painters of the past: Leonardo, Ingres and Delacroix. That principle was based on a sense of how the portrait should be finished, with the more important details of the drawing honed to maximum perfection, and then the contours of the supporting parts of the composition would weaken, the lines become a mere hint, melting in the encoded secret. Slowly, gradually, getting lost in the white mists of the paper’s silence.
The member, drawn without testicles, which made it appear rootless, hovered at the top of the page. If the eye slid over it from the bottom up, it gave the illusion of taking flight into eternity. And if one looked at it from top to bottom – it appeared to plunge into a prehistoric era that preceded life itself…
Occasionally, he would take the portrait out and look at it at length, with the eyes of a fastidious art expert. Like a constricted throat, the memories would then roll over him. Suddenly, from the black pit of the past, from the reddish glow of autumn, her vague figure would emerge. Then the image would evaporate – its place taken by a sensation familiar only to rich collectors who have gained possession of a stolen masterpiece painted by a genius artist. It was the sensation of taking pleasure in the secret ownership of an illicit masterpiece. Once sated, he would hide the portrait again, back in its folder.
Translated from the Hebrew by Yaron Regev