DARK GREEN WATERS by Unity Barry
Eugène Manet closed his book and gazed around his wife’s well appointed boudoir. The clock on the mantle struck eleven, a late hour for him. Outside the winter rain, lashed by northern winds, slammed against the tightly secured shutters. In front of them, next to the fireplace a cheval mirror reflected Berthe’s intimate sphere, the two of them languishing on a cream-colored sofa, bathed in the amber light from a crackling fire in the grate. Lace curtains filtered the Parisian light during the day. On nights like this one, though, they shielded her from the frigid black window glass. Rosy flowered wallpaper covered the walls. His wife’s lavender perfume momentarily tantalized him, but disappeared when the ashy aroma of burning logs settled in.
Berthe lay with her head in his lap, reading from the book of poetry Édouard had given her. She still had on the black satin evening dress she wore to his brother’s soirée, but her shoes with the rosettes sat drying near the hearth. Berthe’s feet, now clad only in almost transparent black stockings, rested seductively on the arm of the sofa. Eugene loved her fashionable sleeveless evening dress with its revealing neckline. A row of small jet buttons ran in a sparkling line down the front from the top of her bodice to her cinched waist. On her bed lay the lace-edged petticoat and bustle she had stepped out of as soon as their bedroom door closed. Next to it lay his casually tossed tuxedo jacket. Eugène preferred this room to his own bedroom and wished he could share his wife’s bed every night, but that would be too déclassé.
Looking at their reflected images in the mirror, he watched Berthe put her book down then tilt her head to watch him. Turning, he shifted his vision from the mirror to her face. Her eyes, very calm, presented an impenetrable green-black veil that shielded her inner self from him. Sometimes they sparkled like pinpricks of brilliant sunlight dancing across a breeze-caressed pond. Other times they could be chill and motionless as ice solidifying during a glacial night. On occasion fierce storms coated their surface like a hurricane. Most often, looking into her eyes reminded him of trying to see the bottom of a mountain lake—the surface of the water could only be penetrated a short distance before a dark world blocked further intrusion. But that night, he saw deeper than he ever had before.
“Thank you, Eugène,” she whispered.
“W-w-what f-f-for?” he asked, his stammer unleashed, a look of surprise crossing his face.
Berthe smiled, reaching up to stroke his eyelids. He reminded her so much of his brother that it was easy to forget sometimes. The golden firelight heightened the red of his hair and beard. In the evening darkness, his eyes deepened into the same gray-blue as Édouard’s. She thought about her afternoon in Édouard’s studio. His current painting revealed a lot about his own marital arrangement. In that portrait of a fashionable couple, he had parted a curtain that exposed the sad alienation and hollowness of his own loveless marriage. That painting jolted her. Remembering her wedding, she cringed at how defeated she had felt that day. She had mourned for remorse sealed by her father’s death, for her lost dreams, for her lost freedom and for how wrong she had been.
“I’ve never told you how grateful to you I am,” she said to Eugène. “I know I’m not the easiest person to live with, yet you still manage. You even lift me up when the terrible bête-noire of my melancholia, drags me down. You encourage me to keep going. I know sometimes I sound churlish when all you are doing is trying to help. And you support my work. I can’t tell you how important that is to me. I owe you a great deal.” In that moment, she meant it.
Eugène nodded. Berthe felt him push a loose tress of her hair back in its place then run his finger along her eyebrow and down her cheek. She looked up at his face and saw her husband, Eugène Manet, the awkward and self conscious man who gave her everything. She did not close her eyes to conjure the vision of another. She watched the gentle face marked by creases from the struggle to make stubborn words flow. A childlike, shy smile flitted tenuously across his lips and Berthe felt the luscious stirrings that only came when she was alone in her bed.
Eugène drew his fingers along the flesh that separated her smooth cheeks from the plumpness of her lips. The rosebud tip of her tongue spread a sweet wetness on his fingertip. The feeling was excruciating and he leaned in to kiss her, experiencing the incomparable dewiness of her mouth, reveling in its slipperiness. Sliding from that warm haven his tongue traced a moist trail down her neck to deep within the fold between her breasts, revealed by the daring neckline. Berthe gazed up at him as his hand moved into the cleavage exposed by her dress. The watery veil in her eyes parted even further as his hands found their way into her bodice. Eugène unfastened a few of the shiny buttons on her dress only as far as the top of her corset, revealing the lacy chemise underneath that covered her breasts.
Berthe began to unbutton the rest, but he gently pushed her hands away. Without a word, he slipped her shoulder straps down to free her arms. Her chemise and bodice fell over the top of her confining corset and released their contents.
Eugène breathlessly absorbed the image of Berthe, stretched out along the sofa, fully clothed except for her bosom—naked, perfect and glowing opalescent in the firelight.
Then Berthe smiled. It was a slow smile with mischief tweaking the corners of her mouth. She watched with eyes wide open, seeing only the face of her husband filling her private fantasies. It had always been the image of his brother Édouard who swam with her on a moonlit night in the silvery blackness of the Lac Inférieur. It was a dream she must now share with Eugène. She motioned for him to sit on a side chair pushed up against the wall. Upholstered in creamy silk, it was a Louis XV antique, a cherished inheritance. She would change her dreams, replace one brother with another and slide blissfully into the dark green waters of her fantasy.
Puzzled, Eugène sat where Berthe indicated then inhaled deeply in surprise as she gathered her skirts and sat straddling him, brushing her breasts tantalizingly close to his lips. As she squirmed against him, he relished—even through the fabric of his trousers—the delightful negative and positive construction of their forms. Her thighs tightened around his hips and he groaned at the delightful discomfort of his damnably tight tuxedo trousers. A soft sensation brushed his lips and the aroma of her lavender perfume blending with salty perspiration reminded him of making love to her on sticky summer nights with the bedroom windows letting in country-scented breezes. Opening his eyes, he saw Berthe, her head bent back, her pale white throat stretching and enticing. The silk fabric of her skirts rustled as she moved her body closer to his. With each thrust of tantalizing promise, her thighs squeezed harder and she nestled more firmly against him.
“Mon Dieu, B-b-berthe!” Eugène yelped hoarsely. “You’re k-k-killing me!” He stared at his own Olympia who gazed down on him and he beheld the cavernous depths of her eyes, unveiled fully for the first time, beckoning him in.
“Ssssh,” she murmered kissing him and silencing his stammer. Then, she stood up, allowing Eugène enough space to free himself from the confines of his tuxedo fly. Berthe hovered over him as he worked through the meters of her satin evening dress and lace trimmed petticoats.
“Aaah,” he sighed when he finished fumbling with his own clothes and felt for that delight of women’s pantaloons—the strategically located slit.
He thought of the prostitutes who pretended passion. They knew how to play with men’s desire and only acted as if he held the control. This was different. Now he really did have the power and for the first time he could please a woman in ways that had only been dreams. Shudders shook through her, joy filled him.
“Mon Dieu!” she breathed heavily. “Now you’re killing me!”
He drew her in deeper, pulling and caressing. Electricity seemed to flow through her and filled her with enthralling abandon.
Eugène watched Berthe bathed in amber firelight and passion. He smiled, closed his eyes and lost himself in her.
“Dear God!” they said in unison, then laughed and breathed deeply. Eugène kissed her and tasted the salty musk of her sweating skin. She moaned, but when he looked in her eyes, the dark green waters had returned and closed over her depths. Still she stayed for a long time on his lap, her arms around his neck.
Unity Barry escaped the brown smog of southern California to attend art school in the San Francisco Bay Area. After working for way too long in the corporate world she escaped to write about her favorite subjects, the Impressionist painters and Paris during the Gilded Age. She still lives in the Bay Area.