Friday, February 28, 2014

How dare she say "that skyscraper of yours?"

But now, Bathsheba… She is different. My God, she is a woman! Which is why she seems untouchable to me, and not only because she is married. 
All of a sudden she stirs. Has the water cooled down?
“Go away,” she says, with her back to me. 
It seems that shame is not in her nature. She moves the big sponge around her neck, into one armpit, then another, knowing full well I cannot take my eyes off her. I cannot help but notice the bubbles of soap sliding slowly down, all the way down, then around her slippery curves. She may be the one in the tub—but contrary to my expectations, I am the one trapped.
“Go back to your place, sir, to that skyscraper thing of yours.” She points carelessly in the direction of the window at the top of my tower. 
What she should be saying is your majesty or my lord rather than sir, but at this turn of events I hardly wish to correct her.
So she goes on to say, “And sir—”
“Yes?” I say, eagerly.
“No need to hide behind that curtain, up there,” says Bathsheba. “What, you think I haven’t noticed? You think I care?”
“I know you don’t,” I say, gloomily.
Feeling uninvited should not come as a surprise to me—but somehow it does. Hell, what was I thinking? That she will accept me with open arms, like every other girl I know? 
I kneel down by her side, which forces me to adjust the crown, because it is now tilting on my head. 
In profile, her lashes hang over her cheek, and the shadow flutters. Bathsheba brings her hand to her lips and ever so gently, blows off a bubble. It comes off the palm of her hand, then swirls around in the evening breeze, becoming more iridescent until its glassy membrane thins out, and then—pop! Nothing is left but thin air. 
“Leave me be,” she says, stretching her arms lazily, as if to prepare for a yawn. “You may watch me from up there all day long, if that’s the kind of thing you like.”
“You sure put on a good show. I never imagined a woman could pose so many different ways in a small tub.”
“Well, if you must know, it’s quite a ritual. Takes a lot to purify the mind.”
“And the body, too.” 
“Yes,” says Bathsheba. “A lot of hard work.”
“Apparently so,” say I. “A lot of time, too.”
“Oh, go away already!” She waves a hand at me, still without as much as a glance in my direction. To make matters worse, she turns away. “I can feel your eyes in my back. Just, stop it. Stop watching me.”
“I am grateful to you,” I say, “for every moment of it.”
To which she utters a sigh, barely containing her boredom. 
Then, on a whim, she plunges underwater nearly all the way, so all that remains above the foamy surface is the little embroidered towel wrapped around her head. 
After several evenings of watching her from afar I still have no idea if her hair is curled or straight, red or brown. I have painted her in my mind several different ways already, each time more beautiful than the other. By now it matters little to me. She is so sexy, she might as well be bald. 
When she comes back up, “What,” she says. “You still here?”
“What’s the point of going up there,” I say, hearing a slight tone of complaint in my voice. I hope she does not think me childish. That would be devastating. 
With a hint of a smile, she asks, “What does that mean, What’s the point?”
So I say, “You would seem too small from above.”
“Really,” says Bathsheba. “I thought I spotted you standing by your window, with your sword aimed at me.”
To which I explain, “I could not see a thing through the glass. It became cloudy, or something. At this time of day, even though it is only the beginning of summer, it’s much too steamy in the office.”
She rolls her eyes. “I’ve had it with men.”
I can find nothing to say, and perhaps there is no need to. She can tell, can’t she, how desperately I ache for her.
“My life is scandal-free at the moment,” she says. “It feels nice for a change.”
Lucas Cranach the Elder. 'David and Bathsheba.' 1526

Pablo Picasso, after Lucas Cranach the Edler. 'David and Bathsheba,' 1947

This passage, selected with tender loving care by my narrator David George, is what you will hear when you play the voice sample for the audiobook edition. If the use of modern language surprises you, if you have expected a language that dates to biblical times--or, failing that, at least good old Shakespeare English, and if you find yourself shocked by Bathsheba mentioning a skyscraper--please consider this:

The view of the story has undergone amazing transformation over the ages. Take a look, for example, at the Painting 'David and Bathsheba' painted by Lucas Cranach the elder in 1526. He treated his subjects with awe and reverence, and the only naked skin visible is Bathsheba's little foot, bathed by an adoring maid. David is presented as a psalmist, rather than a leering, dirty old man peeping on an unsuspecting, naked woman. There is no sin here! 

Now compare the way Picasso transformed this very painting. The composition is exactly the same (only mirrored left to right) but the brush stroke is modern, it is spontaneous and fresh, bringing a sizzle to the entire scene. He enlarged the proportions of all the figures, especially David, so it is easier to spot the king here, because he is the only one fleshed out among the men at the top. His musical instrument is barely sketched, because the important activity is not playing heavenly music but rather gazing at the women, gazing at all the women, with keen, sexual interest. The water dripping from Bathsheba's foot is clearly emphasized, with its juicy suggestion of a symbol of lust.

There is no right and wrong way to interpret the story. As an artist and writer, I believe that my mission is to let the characters speak to you through my pen. The king is flesh and blood in my mind, and so is Bathsheba. 

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