Dutch Masters

She stood, trying to be reverent before the pale, ascetic face. Brown eyes, whiskey coloured hair, a vague almost saintly stare. Several centuries had rendered him sacred and worthy of worship in this dim, secular church.

All of the men looked like Charles II, staring off to some better place. Dutch, protestant burgers, who, as a mark of success, commissioned artists to render them immortal. They’d succeeded. A slow stream of people filing past them in Melbourne four hundred or so years later, gazed at them adoringly, hushed and respectful.

Lisa stared at Abel Tasman and his family, his wife round, smug and gleeful. She looked pleased he was about to sail off and discover Tasmania and New Zealand.

No wonder she looked happy. A long sea voyage would be a break from seventeenth century sex and childbirth. Although how anyone could be happy in those long, full gowns with their stiff, white neck ruffs was something Lisa tried to understand.

“They made women’s necks highly desirable.”

She turned to the voice behind her and saw a man staring intently at the portrait, a sneer on his face. It was hard to see in the dim light, but ignoring the modern clothes, he could have stepped from one of the portraits.

“The eye was immediately drawn to the neck. One couldn’t help but wonder whether the hidden skin was pale and smooth, the neck swanlike and graceful. Although in her case, the viewer was disappointed. Insufferably superior isn’t she? And virtuous. After marrying Tasman she thought she’d achieved all she’d ever wanted. Silly cow.”

“You sound like you know her,” Lisa said.

He flicked a stark, grey gaze over her. “Women like that are eternal. They yoke themselves to men and suck the life out of them all the time maintaining an air of martyrdom.”

Lisa turned back to the painting, dismissing him. Misogynist men she could live without. She had enough of them in her life, even if she thought he was probably right about Mrs Tasman.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “That sounds terrible doesn’t it? I’m not usually so judgemental about women’s venality. Most of the time it’s perfectly understandable and nowhere near a bad as men. But occasionally it irritates me.”

He had a slight, indefinable accent. German maybe, or Scandinavian.

“She treated that child terribly as well,” he said, indicating the girl in the corner of the painting. She was a carbon copy of her step-mother and held her hand up to accept the fruit in her step-mother’s hand.

“How do you know?” Lisa asked.

He shrugged, moving to the next painting. “I read it somewhere. What do you think of this one?” he asked, tipping his head toward a family portrait of Pieter Cnoll, his wife Cornelia and their daughters Catharina and Hester. “She’s half Japanese. Not uncommon. Her father was an official in the Dutch East India company and her mother his Japanese concubine.” He stood completely still staring at the family in the painting. “They were devoted to each other,” he murmured, a sadness in his voice.

“You know a great deal about these people,” she said, drawn into conversation despite her wariness.

“My ancestors,” he said. “The Dutch take their heritage seriously.”

He turned from the painting and Lisa felt his gaze fix onto her with startling intensity. She stepped back, not sure she wanted his regard. A slow, liquid burn slid up her spine and radiated out around her breasts. To her mortification, her nipples sharpened and pressed with irritating sensitivity against her bra. He was handsome, certainly, but his eyes held a predatory glint that Lisa didn’t like. Her stomach churned with anxiety. No, she told herself, he’s just flirting. This is normal. I don’t have to feel panicked.

She looked away, back to the painting and was momentarily blinded by a vision of hands on her breasts. Long fingers pinched her nipples hard and she felt a brief feather-light kiss on her neck. She blinked then saw only the painting in front of her. But her nipples hurt with the need for sucking and soothing.

She glanced at the Dutchman and saw him watching her with wry amusement. She had a terrible feeling he knew exactly what she was feeling. When his gaze dropped to her breasts, she knew he did.

Smug bastard. She moved away, across the room to peer at some interesting and strangely modern looking glass work from the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Soon she was again engrossed in the exhibition and forgot about the Dutchman and long, skilful fingers.

Paul didn’t have skilful fingers. The thought came from nowhere but lodged in her mind, along with the realisation he was a lousy lover and an indifferent partner. She was with him because she didn’t know what else to do. Her therapist was trying to get her to make a decision about her unsatisfactory relationship, but Lisa was resisting. Why, she wasn’t sure. It had something to do with stepping into the void, the great unknown. Although if she was truthful, that’s exactly what she wanted. She just didn’t know how to make the first step.

Maybe that first unknown step was what the woman in front of her was contemplating. Vermeer’s “The Love Letter.” The woman was holding a lute and the letter, looking up at her maid apprehensively. The maid was grinning down at her as if daring her to open the letter. Daring her to take a risk. She had a lot more to lose than me, Lisa thought. I just lose being a couple. Not much really.

She shivered suddenly, aware of a strange, insidious tingle against her skin, this time at the top of her thighs. Someone stood close behind her. When she looked down, hands were lifting her skirt. Hands with the same long fingers that pinched her nipples, were now inching across her skin and under her knickers right into her wet centre. She should stop them, scream, do something but couldn’t move. Didn’t really want to.

The fingers slid in and out of her, while an arm circled her waist and pulled her against a hard body, forcing her to open her legs wider for balance. When the fingers started thrumming her clit, she closed her eyes, not wanting to see everyone stare at her. Or did she? As she bucked and moaned, the thought of some Toorak matron staring at her made her want to impale herself deeply on those long fingers.

Then her orgasm came, sharp and sudden, releasing her from her passivity. She spun around ready to scream and hit, but staggered into empty air. Not entirely empty. The other patrons in the gallery frowned at her, as if her sudden movement had disturbed their virtuous worship. Then they went back to their adoration, the moment over.

Lisa stared wildly around her and saw the Dutchman on the other side of the room peering at a bowl. Anger ripped through her even though she knew he couldn’t have lifted her skirt. No one could have. She’d had some strange hallucination brought on by what? She wasn’t stressed, life was a little dull certainly, but not so bad as to drive her mad. She made her way over to him not sure what she wanted to say, but somehow knowing he must be responsible. As she almost reached him, he moved away and disappeared into another room full of more paintings. She rushed after him but lost sight of him.

She moved through the exhibition quickly, almost running through the overheated rooms, searching for him to no avail. She finally stood, feeling defeated and hot, and glanced at the painting in front of her. Gerard Pietersz Hulft, Director of the East India Company. Painted in 1654. It was him. She backed away into a group of patrons who murmured with indignation. Turning, she stared at their frowning faces and fled.

* * *

A week later she returned after a session with her therapist and a better understanding of why she’d deluded herself. It all had to do with transgressing the rules of her strict Catholic upbringing. A prosaic and conventional explanation Lisa thought, but at this stage one she latched on to with relief. Any other explanation was impossible. Armed with this new understanding, she wanted to go back to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and have another look at the exhibition.

The gallery was crowded and still overheated but her pussy moistened and stretched when she entered the dim rooms. A longing for touch burned across her skin. She walk slowly around, forcing herself to look at the paintings and not at the people around her. The low, accented voice at her ear made her jump.

“You like these paintings don’t you?”

“What do you want?” she whispered to him.

“Want? I want to see some ghosts from the past. Recall a life long since dead.” He turned to her with the same wry amusement in his eyes. “What do you want?”

“To be left alone.”

He smiled. “To be sure,” he said, bowing slightly then disappeared into another room.

Lisa breathed in deeply and turned back to the painting, trying to control her shaking. He’s just another patron, no need to get worried. She moved to the long, wide bench in the centre of the room, now crowded with exhausted art patrons. One rose to continue his worship and she sank down, determined to get herself together.

She closed her eyes and felt the hands again, this time pushing her down onto the bench. Her eyes flew open and she saw the Dutchman, naked, climbing onto the bench, onto her.

“You don’t really want to be alone do you?” he murmured, as he pressed down onto her now naked body. His erection was hard and hot against her belly.

“What are you doing?” she gasped, raising her hands to push him away, but instead pulling him closer. She opened her legs and tipped up her hips, wanting him inside her.

“Giving you what you want.”

He slid down her body, his long auburn hair brushing her belly and the tops of her thighs and opened her legs wider. She was stretched naked across the whole bench, which a few seconds ago had been full of sitting Melbournians, with her cunt on view to the world.

The Dutchman stared at her now wet and aching slit then, kneeling on the floor at the end of the bench, bent his head and took her clit in his mouth. He sucked it gently at first as if wanting to work out what she liked. Then he flicked his tongue quickly over the tip and she jerked.

“No, not like that. Suck it. Suck it hard,” she said.

He smiled up her at her then concentrated on his task. Lisa propped herself on her elbows and stared down at him as he used his lips and tongue to draw out her pleasure. She threw back her head and moaned as he sucked hard, just the way she liked it. Her orgasm was loud and long and she screamed when he pulled himself up and thrust into her. Bending her legs back, he pounded into her.

She turned her head to watch the patrons in the gallery continue to move past them, oblivious to their coupling.

“You’re a ghost aren’t you?” Lisa whispered to him, her body jerking with each of his thrusts.

“Not exactly,” he said, through gritted teeth. She was bent double now, her legs resting on his shoulders as he continued to pump her hard. “I’m what you want.”

“And what is that?”

“Sex with no responsibility. Sex that’s not what you usually do. You would agree, would you not, that fucking a seventeenth century Dutch merchant in the middle of an art gallery is not your usual sexual preference?”

She couldn’t answer as a wave of release hit her. Her cunt contracted around the Dutchman who continued to thrust into her spasms until he too, shouted out his release.

Lisa closed her eyes, savouring the feel of his warm semen at the mouth of her cunt, then opened them when she felt a hand on her arm.

“Are you all right?” She looked sideways into the face of an elderly woman. “You seem upset. Here, have a tissue.” The woman held out the tissue and Lisa took it gratefully.

“I’m okay. I just have a bit of a cold.” The woman nodded sympathetically, no doubt thinking she was in the midst of some major life catastrophe.

She’s right in a way. I’m going mad.

She wiped her face with the tissue and smiled with what she hoped was the appropriate amount of teary sadness and got up to go into another room. The Dutchman was in front of a portrait of Nicholas Hasselaer. He didn’t looked at her.

She stood beside him feeling the wetness of his semen between her legs. “I don’t understand,” she murmured. He shrugged his shoulders and turned to her.

“Neither do I. All I know is I travel with my painting and over the centuries make love with women who want something else. Something they don’t get in their usual lives. Danger maybe or anonymity. I don’t know.”

“Are you cursed or something?”

“Cursed? My dear woman, I’m in Heaven. I fuck, something for a variety of reasons, I don’t do a lot of in my time. God has blessed me.”

She was curious despite the absurd madness of the situation.

“You do this all the time?”

“No, that’s the beauty of it. This only happens when my painting is loaned out by the Rijksmuseum. The rest of the time I live my normal life travelling around the East Indies, making money and enjoying my country house with my books and my garden. Every few years I go on a holiday to another gallery and each time a woman such as yourself is my partner for the life of the exhibition. It’s an ideal way to live.”

“Don’t they miss you back in your time?”

He laughed. “A minute back there is worth several months in another time. I’m not missed. And even though I can’t move beyond the gallery, I’m certainly not bored. Particularly when I have partners such as yourself. Your cunt is exquisite. So exquisite that I need it again now.”

He pushed her to face against the wall between Nicholas Hasselaer and Sara Wolphaerts van Dieman, Nicholas’s second wife, and hiked up her skirt. She heard him unzip then felt his knees between her legs pushing them apart. She tipped her arse up to let him thrust home. Her cheek lay flat against the smooth plaster and she dreamily watched Nick. He seemed to be laughing as the Dutchman fucked her.

After that, she came back every day in her lunch hour. They made love all over the gallery and he told her some more about the people in the paintings including himself.

“Why don’t you marry and have children?” she asked one day as she was again sprawled out on a bench with the Dutchman across her, toying with her breasts. His teeth pulled and bit her nipples making her rotate her hips, craving him inside her.

“I’m always off sailing, looking for goods to sell, never at home. And to be honest, there’s something about the women of my time I don’t like. They’re so dependant. I feel stifled.”

She snorted. “Hard to be anything else when women in your class can’t own property, vote or work. What were their choices?”

“You are absolutely right, my dear. But I still don’t want to yoke myself to someone who can’t look after herself.”

Men hadn’t changed, Lisa thought. Still making excuses.

“What happens now?” she asked, as he again slid into her and started a slow stroke.

“I bring you to another satisfying release while all these worthy art patrons continue to wander around us.”

“No, I mean the exhibition ends tomorrow. What then?”

“Ah. That, my dear, is when our liaison comes to an end. I get packed up and sent back to Amsterdam. Will you miss me?”

Lisa wasn’t sure. She’d certainly miss the sex, but she wasn’t entirely sure she liked the Dutchman. He was so self satisfied and sure of himself. Travelling across four hundred and fifty years semi regularly could do that to a person she guessed.

“I see not,” he said. Concentrating on his task, he bought her to a quick, hard release, then stood and bowed. “I think this must be God’s way of ensuring no unhappiness on either side. You don’t like me much and I start to want the sea wind in my hair. So it all works out. This is where we say goodbye.” He bowed again and moved into another room.

Lisa blinked and found herself in front of Gerard Pietersz Hulft again. She smiled and turned to leave.

* * *

The wind was strong enough to almost push her along busy St Kilda Road. It was cold and a light drizzle had started. Lisa pulled her scarf closer round her throat and glanced over to the arts centre. She hadn’t been there since the Dutch Masters Exhibition closed.

The whole experience occupied a strange place in her mind. She’d ended her therapy sessions not long after her last encounter with the Dutchman, knowing she’d never be able to talk about what had happened. Not that she wanted to. Somehow her secret warmed her, made her feel special and chosen.

The Dutchman had been right about how she’d wanted something different in her life. Five years of therapy hadn’t solved that. But a few months of fucking a visitor from the seventeenth century had. She’d ended her relationship with Paul and felt free and unencumbered.

The wind picked up and the drizzle turned into rain. She made a dash into the foyer of the arts centre and saw a new exhibition had started called Goddess: Divine Energy.

After peeling off all her out layers and leaving them all with the cloak room attendant, an experience most Melbournians were used to, she made her way to the exhibition. Sacred images of Kali, Lakshmi, and Tara, all in bright exotic colours and poses delighted her. She walked slowly around the exhibition and stopped in front of a terracotta stature of Kali, who looked ferocious and wild. A string of heads circled her neck and she danced on a corpse. Lisa could smell sandalwood in the air.

“She’s such a show off, don’t you think?”

Lisa turned to the woman beside her and smiled. “In what way?”

“All those arms. She always went for the overdone message. And she was such a bully.”

The woman turned to Lisa and gazed at her with dark, shimmering eyes. The smell of sandalwood intensified. Lisa felt her skin prickle with anticipation. “I wouldn’t know,” she said.

Lisa turned back to the figure, closed her eyes and waited.

© 2006 Keziah Hill. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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