Monday, July 6, 2015

Glamour: A True Story from the Seventies

By Lisabet Sarai

I wonder, sometimes, if I imagined it all. But then there's the evidence: the photographs, bound in a loose leaf notebook with my name in gold ink on the cover. Each print is lovingly mounted on heavy paper of a color that compliments its hues. There are no captions; these pictures speak for themselves.

My heart quickens when I leaf through the album. The woman in these photos is glamorous, sophisticated, utterly desirable. She gazes at the camera from beneath half-lowered eyelids. Her scarlet-painted lips are parted. Her expressions are languid, sensual, mysterious. She does not smile. She is dressed as though for a nightclub: patent-leather high heels, a red satin jumpsuit that highlights her curves, a black silk blouse dusted with sequins, a stretchy jersey showing off her cleavage.

In the images further on, she is nude. She reclines on burgundy velvet, the curve from hip to shoulder simple and perfect. She kneels on a window seat, illumined by winter sun, hands clasped behind her head, face turned away from the camera. The arch of her back, the swell of her elevated breasts, the graceful line of her neck flowing downward from her upswept hair: I cannot look for long at this particular image without tears gathering.

The photos remind me of who I was: young, experimental, hungry and open. At the same time, I have to smile, recalling that in those days I never wore make-up, and was more likely to be shod in sandals than stiletto heels. The woman in the album is an artistic creation, a work of imagination and passion. These photos grew out of an intimate collaboration between my younger self and a man with remarkable vision.

His name was Ron. We were introduced by my lover, Pavel, who always enjoyed tempting me and egging me on to outrageous adventures. Pavel told me that Ron enjoyed photographing women in sexy clothes. Apparently, Ron had suffered a heart attack a few years earlier, and had to live a quiet life. Pavel implied that Ron's hobby was a surrogate for sexual activity made impossible by his health.

I was intrigued, as Pavel knew I would be. Motivated equally by perverse curiosity and sympathy, I agreed to a photo session with his friend. At ten A.M on a February Saturday, I showed up at Ron's apartment, nervous and excited.

I guess I was expecting someone frail and infirm. Ron was a small, trim man with graying hair and a mustache, who seemed perfectly healthy to me. His quiet manner and obvious intelligence won me over immediately.

"Let's start with make-up," he said with a quirky smile. From his bedroom, he retrieved a cosmetic kit worthy of a movie star. It didn't strike me as odd, at the time. Already I was caught in a kind of sensual trance, accepting whatever happened.

He tied a sheet over my blouse and jeans and set to work. His fingers were deft and gentle. It felt perfectly natural to have him touching me. For half an hour he labored over me with lipstick and eyeliner, blush and mascara, implements and products that I couldn't even name. He hummed to himself as he worked. I tried to remain still, a canvas for his art. It started then, my delicious transformation into a passive object of desire. I did not understand at the time why I found his attentions so arousing. My nipples were taut under my clothes, and my sex ached. Yet I felt no urgency.

I surrendered myself to him, gave him my face and my body to fashion into his image of beauty. I basked in the light of his focused attention. I wanted only to be worthy of his efforts.

I know now that this need for surrender is something fundamental to my nature. I require mastery, crave discipline, find my deepest satisfaction in submission. Then, I was innocent. And Ron was no master, not in the sense that I now understand. Nevertheless, I reacted instinctively, eager to bend myself to his will.

At last he put down his pencils and brushes and brought me a mirror. "What do you think?," he asked, clearly pleased himself.

A shock ran through me as I gazed at the face reflected back at me. My face, my features, and yet strangely altered and enhanced. My brows arched elegantly over dark-fringed eyes that seemed emerald rather than their usual dull hazel. My lips were fuller, my cheekbones higher. My whole countenance had a sculpted quality that made me think of dusky marble.

I was speechless. Ron just grinned. "Costumes, now," he said. I had brought a few things of my own, but he had an entire closet of slinky, suggestive garments." They belonged to my old girlfriend," he told me then, and I believed him. I wonder, now, whether this was the whole story. But what does it matter?

He had jewelry, too, heavy gold-colored chains, long strands of faux pearls, hoop earrings and bangles. I felt paralyzed, incapable of choice. "Try on the red jumpsuit," he suggested, "while I get the camera and lights set up."

The jumpsuit fit perfectly, just tight enough. All of the costumes fit. I was not surprised by this; I accepted it all, moving serenely through the day in total trust.

Back in living room, Ron posed me. Hand on my hip, my face in profile. Curled in an armchair with my ankles crossed. Back to camera, spine arched, looking over my shoulder. Sometimes he would give verbal directions. Often he would come over, adjust my limbs, raise my chin a bit to catch the light. The shutter clicked and the film whirred, again and again.

His face was flushed and his breathing was ragged; clearly he was excited. However, he never deviated from his calm, professional manner. His fingers never brushed the nipples that poked eagerly through the spandex top. Unbuttoning the silk blouse so that it could fall open slightly, he may have glanced into the shadows that opening revealed, but that was all.

I found his manner simultaneously frustrating and comforting. I wanted more. He progressed to increasingly provocative poses. I opened myself to his lens.

When he asked me whether I would model naked, it was simply the next logical step. I felt no embarrassment as I stripped in front of him, only exultation. I saw my desirability mirrored in his eyes.

Morning flowed into afternoon. The session took on an endless, dream-like quality. Our interactions seemed a stately kind of dance. The time between successive poses lengthened. He would position me and require me to be still. Then he would gaze at me for long minutes before finally triggering the shutter. My muscles cramped and goosebumps peppered my bare skin, but I didn't mind. We were lost together in a convergence of fantasy.

Finally, I noticed how tired he looked. His complexion was ashen, and his breathing was shallow. "Let's stop, Ron," I invited him. "You need a rest."

I donned the silk kimono he handed me. We sat at his kitchen table, drinking Portuguese rosé and talking as though we had known each other for years. But the spell was still on us; in the midst of conversation he would suddenly fall silent, staring at me. I would blush and then straighten my back proudly, allowing the robe to fall open. After a few minutes, we'd smile sheepishly and go back to our discussion.

Of course we made love. It was a natural extension of intimacy we had already shared. Yet in a sense, it was an anti-climax. I was preoccupied, worried silly that he might collapse in my arms. And Ron - Ron was grateful in a way that made me understand how great a gift he had given me. A gift much finer than the seething orgasm he wrung from me with his gentle fingers and nimble tongue.

I kissed Ron goodbye in the early winter dusk and headed home. I never saw him again. About a week later, Pavel dropped by my place and handed me a package. Inside I found the album.

"Did you look at them?" I asked my lover. He grinned in that mischievous way of his and nodded. Then he took me in his arms and wrestled me to the carpet. He was a wild one, Pavel was.

I don't show these photographs to many people. When I do, reactions vary. My husband simply shrugged. "Nice," he said, "but they don't look at all like you." My fundamentalist mother claimed that they were the work of the Devil. My feminist brother was concerned about my being a sex object.

Occasionally, though, someone will leaf through the pages and see the truth. They'll see my parted lips, my lowered gaze, and understand that I was enchanted that day, held still and willing as a stranger molded me into his ideal of beauty. Totally open, free of fear, surrendered to the moment with a purity that I've been seeking ever since.


21 comments:

  1. Strong in both atmosphere and content, Lisabet. With a few simple adaptations, it could be a good fit for the ERWA Storytime theme this month: 'Patience'.

    Sounds like you had fun in the 70's. Me too. ;>)

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    1. I really didn't know where to start with this topic. So much happened to me between 1970 and 1979...really the most eventful decade in my life.

      This story is a favorite, though.

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  2. I absolutely loved this--and would love to see the album, although you did a fine job of evoking the images! Also fascinating to ponder the story behind the story with Ron's makeup and costumes. In a way, the questions of our more cynical age ruin the play, pleasure and innocence, so maybe it best not to probe too much?

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    1. I would have loved to post one of the nude photos, but my husband would have had my head. Not because of the exposure, but because of the risk of recognition. Though as noted in the story, the photos don't look much like the everyday me at all (and didn't even then). That's why I feel comfortable using the shot above as my head shot..

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    2. And yes, I didn't realize until decades later how strange it was that he had all that paraphernalia.

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  3. Love the portrait Lisabet. Ron really knew what he was doing!

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    1. He did indeed.

      The final photos were heavily airbrushed, too. I was thinking about that yesterday--photos pre-PhotoShop!

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  4. Fascinating story, Lisabet. I knew your signature headshot was from a glamour shoot of you in your twenties, but I hadn't known the whole story before. One uncanny thing I've noticed about photography is that some of the photographer's perception of the subject always seems to influence the resulting image, even when it's a snapshot. I have photos of myself that some of my Significant Others have said they didn't recognize as me, even at the time. Re Politically Correct objections to your willingness to pose for an album of fantasy images, this seems parallel to Politically Correct objections to erotic art in general!

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    1. You're right, Jean. I don't understand exactly how it happens, but photographers somehow do impose their vision upon their creations. Mostly I am incredibly unphotogenic. However, the few pictures my Master took of me are almost all brilliant.

      Re political correctness, I'm happy (and proud) to say that I never even considered the question.

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  5. I thought this was one of the most intimate and erotic things you've written here. Except for the voice it reminded of Anais Nin while I was reading. One thing you said a couple of times which I would draw men's attention to is your love of Rons attention. What magic there is for a woman when a msn really sees her and pays attention to her like there is no one else in all the world.

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    1. Thanks, Garce. Indeed it was a most intimate experience.

      I still have dreams about men desiring me. I find it intoxicating. Only occasionally do I remember how far I am from the nubile creature of memory.

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  6. Tell your feminist brother that being a feminist means you have the right to say "yes" as well as the right to say "no." So if you want to get, as my dad would say, "tarted up," and have some pictures shot, it's your business. And it doesn't make you any the less of a feminist because you owned that moment.

    I was hoping that you two made love, since it would be a nice way of thanking him for allowing you to see the "you" that he envisioned. We so seldom get to "see ourselves as others see us," to quote Robbie Burns. Obviously to him you were a canvas onto which he could paint the culmination of his desires. And I'm sure Pavel knew you would have sex...that's probably why he attacked you so quickly: to remind you of the great sex you had with him.

    I have many stories from the 70s also. My 40th high school reunion will be this year, and I graduated from college in '79. Good times, though often when I remember some incident, I shake my head in disbelief that it was me...but it was. Not the me I am now, but certainly the me I was then. I used to say that I never wanted to be the old woman crying in the old folk's home, about what she never did. I want to be the crone rocking and laughing on the porch, telling some funny, dirty stories about what I actually did.

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    1. He didn't bother me. He can't read my books without being uncomfortable either. He's a very creative guy (singer/songwriter) but definitely a lot more hung up than I am.

      You should write your memoirs, Fiona. I think they'd be a huge hit.

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  7. My family would never forgive me! I've told some of my better stories to my husband and he always laughs first, then shakes his head because after all, I'm his wife. Of course, as I remind him, that was years before I met him, so I wasn't anyone's wife back then. I've shared a few stories with a couple of my kids, and their reactions range from shaking their head smiling ruefully (a son) to laughing and saying, "Mom, you were such a ho-bag!" (daughter.)

    I've shared some stories with a few friends, over cocktails. We both laugh, and depending on how well they know me, I always wonder if they believe me or not. I put a few of my funnier incidents into a book, which is out of print now, but will be re-published soon, (I hope) since I already have the contract. I have that heroine telling the hero that she wants to reward him for saving her life (she was choking in the bar and he did the Heimlich), but she has no real skills to share other than she loves to screw...in fact, she's trying to get the college to let her get her minor in fucking. That was a line I actually used a few times.

    But to keep my family from cringing with embarrassment, even though I do use a pen name, I think I'd best keep that memoir idea on hold...at least for now.. In later years they can always claim "dementia" made me write such bold fiction...even though we'll all know it's non-fiction.

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    1. You know, I've never read *any* of your books. What would you recommend?

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    2. I did a different "take" on vampires in "Prophecy of the Undead." But contemporaries are my favorite. "For the Love of His Life" is the start of my current series, and the sequel, "Only One Man Will Do" is my most sex-drenched (pun intended) book. You might like one of them to start with. If you want a free read, visit my website for a link to my free novel on Smashwords, the 4th book in my first series.

      Coffeetime Romance usually has a % off on my publisher's books. But if you go directly to www.eternalpress.biz, and use the code 61NF17DV2LEX, you'll get 50% off any size order.

      I'd be extremely flattered if you read any of them, since I've enjoyed your books.

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    3. Got a copy of Only One Man Will Do. Looking forward to reading it! (I do have a really tall TBR pile, though.) Thanks for the discount coupon. Maybe other folks will take advantage of that too!

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  8. What a strange and lovely experience! When I look at photos of myself from the 70s--which mostly happens when I'm sorting through the many boxes of pictures my mother amassed (and my father wants to know which to keep)--I 'm both impressed and depressed at the realization that I wasn't as bad-looking back then as I thought I was at the time. Or maybe I just remember it that way. My life was actually fine.

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  9. Hi, Sacchi,

    Looking back is always a bit odd, isn't it? I felt unattractive for the first two decades or so of my life. Then something happened and I realized it wasn't quite strictly true. I was no classical beauty, but I still had the power to attract.

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  10. This is a lovely story, and it's awesome to hear the context of that gorgeous photo you use. I've talked a bit here about my experiences posing for my artist friend. It's always so hard for me to describe that erotic thickness to the air, and you've done that so well here. I could hardly breathe reading this...

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    1. Hi, Annabeth,

      It's always difficult to recreate the feeling of an experience way back in the past. I think I remember this as being arousing but somehow NOT tense. I was remarkably relaxed, really in some sort of trance, or so it seems looking back.

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