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I am revising my novel Pictures and decided to post this YouTube video of the chapter that was inspired by a photo that I found of Tina Modotti and Frida Kahlo.

Very shortly after I finished the first draft of my novel Pictures a year or so ago,  I heard from David Acosta (formerly known as Juan David Acosta) who invited me to be one of the readers at his new series at Casa de Duende. The piece that I read was a chapter set in Mexico which features the characters Frida and Tina.  The YouTube video, below, includes David’s wonderful introduction. If I were to rate this YouTube piece, it is definitely PG-plus.  It’s called “Ecstasy” and is influenced by lesbian sex, philosophy and LOVE.

You can view my reading on the YouTube video or read the piece below that.

 

 

Pictures, a novel by Janet Mason

(Chapter Nine)

January, 1927

 

“Oops,” laughed Tina, as she sat in the dinghy. She threw the rope again. Leaning over the side, she tied the rowboat onto some of the island’s thick vegetation.

Tina scrambled out of the boat and stumbled onto the small, square island.

“It’s okay,” said Frida. She had climbed out of the boat first a few moments ago and now sat cross-legged on the island. “The island is naturally spongy. Let yourself descend into it.”

As if to demonstrate, Frida started to sink.

She leaned back and stretched out. Lying on top of the vegetation, face up, she sunk slowly until she was barely visible.

Tina stretched out. She looked up at the juniper trees on the other side of the canal. The trees reached straight up into a sky blazing yellow and blue. The junipers looked like tall bottle brushes. Frida had steered their rowboat into a side canal where there were no other boats.

Tina kept sinking in the vegetation until she felt solidness under her. It felt like the island was built on a block of earth under the vegetation.

“Here I am,” said Frida.

Tina realized that Frida was lying alongside of her.

There was a rustling. Tina saw a hand and then a face. Tina pushed aside the vegetation between them.

The roughness of Tina’s dungarees rubbed against the light fabric of Frida’s dress.

“Don’t worry about touching me,” said Frida huskily.

“It doesn’t look like I have a choice,” replied Tina. “Not that I mind,” she added playfully.

They were in Xochimilco, a borough on the outskirts of Mexico City. Edward had told Tina that the islands were once floating rafts where the Indians raised vegetables and flowers. He also said the Indians had put soil on the rafts to plant seeds and that the roots had migrated from the rafts to the soft loam at the canal bottom.

Xochimilco was located of the southern shore of Lake Xochimilco. The canals were part of the far-reaching system of waterways that connected the districts that made up what was known as the Valley of Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest in the early fifteen-hundreds.

When Tina was here with Edward, they had just drifted by on a canvass covered boat and admired the islands. Edward had wanted to come back with his camera, but he never did.  Probably he had been afraid of dropping it in the water. Tina had wanted to stay, but Edward insisted they leave. Xochimilco reminded her of the canals in Venice. She had gone there with her father when she was a child, when they still lived in Italy.

“Don’t worry about getting wet — at least not from the canal,” teased Frida. “Some people say that they are floating islands. But a woman whose family was here for generations told me that the islands are man-made extensions built up from the bottom of the canal bed. They were originally made with wire fencing used to contain the soil. The vegetation will hold us. You may have noticed that the vegetation starts above the water-line so we don’t have to worry about the water crashing down on us either. Since the vegetation is thick, no one can see us — even if a boat goes by.”

Tina looked up and saw a veil of lacey green. Yellow sun dappled through it. She was lying next to Frida on squashed vegetation, but it felt stable. Frida wrapped her arms around her. Tina felt secure.

“How do you know that no one can see us?” asked Tina.

“I’ve been here before,” said Frida.

Tina decided that Frida was more adventurous than Edward.

“I heard that some of the juniper trees are bare at the top, because the mistletoe is taking over,” stated Frida.

“Mistletoe?  Like the mistletoe that we had at Christmas in Italy?” asked Tina.

“That’s right,” replied Frida. “Like me, Mistletoe is from Mexico.”

“Then I guess I have to kiss you,” teased Tina.

“You don’t have to. But you can if you want. My guess is that you do.”

Coming out in a growl, Frida’s voice sent a thrill through Tina. She did want to kiss Frida — and more.

“How did you know?” asked Tina.

“I see you looking at me. Besides, you’re always wearing dungarees. You know what they say about women who wear trousers.”

“Mmmmm,” murmured Tina. “Maybe you’re right, but what about Diego?”

“What about him?”

“You told me that you’re in love with him.”

“Mmmm…” Frida closed her eyes and ignored Tina’s question.

Tina didn’t know why she was worrying about Diego. She had modeled for him and they had been lovers. It was around the time that Edward left for good. Edward had thought the world of Diego. After Tina had secretly become involved with Diego, Edward seemed to start losing respect for him. One time she overheard Edward referring to Diego as “the elephant.” It was what people — including his so-called friends — called Diego behind his back. Tina wondered if Edward suspected she and Diego of having an affair. She didn’t feel guilty. Her body was hers to make love to whomever she desired. Besides, she knew for a fact that Edward had other lovers.  Diego wasn’t her type. She preferred men who were slender and slightly effeminate. But Diego was a great artist. And she could tell that he wanted her. That was always part of the allure.

She met Diego when she was photographing Mexican murals. Then she had befriended his wife Lupe. Lupe was pregnant and suspected Tina and Diego of having an affair. Diego said his marriage was coming to an end anyway. Tina felt bad about Lupe. But at least her affair with Diego had helped Lupe end a bad marriage. Tina lost interest in Diego about the same time that Lupe left. Maybe it was because she didn’t want him getting any ideas about settling down with her. She didn’t believe in marriage. It was just legalized ownership of a woman by a man.  Besides, even just being the lover of a great artist was overrated.

Tina met Frida through a friend who wanted Tina to see Frida’s paintings. Tina remembered being particularly struck with Still Life With A Parrot. Everything was perfect: the golden citrus fruits in the foreground, the slice of pink watermelon, the green parrot behind it perched on a purple guava fruit; the azure wall behind everything. Frida started coming to the small parties that Tina threw at her apartment. Frida had met Diego a few months after Tina had ended it with him. Tina could see sparks fly between them. Frida was beautiful and intense. Her dark eyes smoldered. Tina’s eyes followed Frida. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her? Tina was surprised when she realized that she wanted Frida. It wasn’t the first time she desired a woman, but it was rare.

She thought her feelings would pass. Frida was young. She could still be anything. But Tina could tell she was going to be a great artist. She was petite — especially compared with the mammoth Diego. But she was strong. She had muscles like steel. She looked like she could endure anything.

 

On the small island with the plants growing over them, Frida lay next to Tina. Tina parted the leaves that had sprung up between them. Even with her eyes closed, Frida looked like magic. Tina moved her face closer. Frida parted her lips.

It would be easy to kiss Frida — too easy.  Tina decided that first she would repeat her question.  She wanted to make Frida wait.

“What about Diego?”

Tina inhaled a scent that was green: like lush foliage and the loam that it sprang from. The musky scent smelled like Frida.

Frida’s almond shaped eyes flew open. Her shiny dark hair was parted in the middle and pulled straight back. Under her high, pale forehead, lush eyebrows looked like the top arches on the wings of a black swallowtail butterfly.

Frida raised and lowered her eyebrows in one movement.

“So, I love him. That doesn’t mean I can’t seek pleasure with others. You are here now. I am Mexican and I am an artist. I believe in free love. I am not a member of the bourgeoisie.  Besides, Diego doesn’t have to know.”

“But what if he figures it out?” answered Tina.

“He won’t, believe me. He’s too preoccupied with his work. He is like most men. He thinks all women are for him. We have some pleasure for ourselves. I have no need to confess. I had enough of that – having been raised in the church. The priests want to hear your sexual sins — so you commit them twice. Once in the doing – once in the telling. The church knows this. They count on the fact that the telling is often better. When you suppress something and feel shame about it, it’s bound to pick up more energy. Confession becomes an addiction.” Frida’s lips moved closer to Tina’s.

Tina inhaled Frida’s hot, sweet breath.

“Hmm, what you are saying makes perfect sense,” murmured Tina. “I always used to exaggerate my sins when I went to confession — to make them more interesting. I always thought the priests must be bored in those small boxes, just sitting in there and listening to people. Once I heard a priest snoring. I decided that I would give him a reason to stay awake. When I was a girl of twelve in Italy, before we moved to San Francisco, I made up a story for the priest about how I had to masturbate in order to go to sleep.”

“Did the priest tell you to drink a glass of hot milk instead?”  Frida snuggled closer.

“No, he didn’t,” replied Tina. “He didn’t say a word. I thought he had fallen asleep on me again. I kept talking. I gave him a very detailed description of how I rolled over and put the pillow between my legs and ground circles on it until I was lost in ecstasy. I think the priest liked hearing that from a young girl. But the funny thing was that I hadn’t done any of that. I had just heard my older sister moving around in her bed.”

Frida laughed and shifted closer. Tina’s denim clad thigh lodged between Frida’s legs.

Frida pulled her dress up and moaned.

“I’m getting wet,” she said. “But not from the canal.”

“But I am not done my story,” said Tina. “You will have to wait.”

She lifted her leg back so there was a small space between them. She thrust her hand into that small space and felt the wetness coming from the cotton crotch of Frida’s panties. She ran her hand up the front, feeling the outline of Frida. When she came to the elastic waist band, she slid her fingers underneath.

“Wait a minute,” Tina murmured. “I didn’t finish my story. I heard the priest breathing heavily. When he started breathing normally again, he told me that I wasn’t doing anything that other young girls didn’t do. But he said I mustn’t do it again. Then he told me to do twelve Hail Marys. I waited that night until just before I went to bed. I knelt beside the bed. I remember it like it was yesterday. A full moon was coming in the window. I did my penance — twelve Hail Marys — in my nightshirt. Then I climbed into bed and did exactly what I had told the priest. I ran my fingers over my sex. I pulled the pillow between my legs. Then I rolled over and made circles on it.  I must have been correct in my thinking about the mechanics of bringing myself to ecstasy.  The priest already gave me penance, so I did not feel ashamed as I made circle after circle with my hips.”

Tina petted Frida’s lush pubic hair. Frida was silky and wild. She writhed under Tina’s hand. Tina dropped her fingers down and put her middle finger into the wetness that was waiting for her.

“One more thing,” said Tina. She withdrew her finger.

“Please,” gasped Frida. “I want you inside of me.”

“Not so fast,” replied Tina. “I want to ask you one more question.”

“Anything,” moaned Frida.

“Anything?” asked Tina. “Let me think. Ah, I remember. If we don’t confess to anyone, then will it be our secret? When we look at each other, will we feel a current run down our bodies because only the two of us know this secret — only we know the pleasure that we bring to each other?”

“That’s right,” said Frida. “It will be our secret. Knowing that we share that secret makes it that much more pleasurable. The secret will always be there — when we speak to each other, when we look at each other, even when we are with our other lovers — maybe especially then.”

“Hmmm,” murmured Tina. “Especially then?”

“Yes,” said Frida. “That is part of why you want to kiss me. You are so beautiful that you are always surrounded by men. I was watching you with them and realized that you must get bored with men. You can have your pick of them, any day of the week, so what is the big deal?”

“Hmmm…,” said Tina, “so smart, so strong, so right.”

Her face shifted, just slightly. Her lips found Frida’s lips. Their lips parted. Tina started to put her tongue in Frida’s mouth. Frida was faster. Tina sucked on Frida’s tongue. Then she put her tongue in Frida’s mouth. Their tongues intertwined. Frida’s legs parted. Tina inserted two more fingers. Frida pushed her deep inside. Tina felt the lushness of Frida’s pubic hair on the palm of her hand. She slid her fingers back out. Then she felt the opening flower of Frida’s engorged clitoris and massaged it in circles. She felt the wetness that was Frida rain down. She plunged her fingers back in. The inside of Frida felt slippery and spongy. The vegetation pressed in on them. The wetness came not from the canal, but from their bodies, from the mystery of desire. Their faces parted.

Tina felt guitar strings vibrating under her nimble fingers as they moved to an ancient rhythm. Drums beat in the blood that rushed through her veins. Tina and Frida writhed. They panted. Their bodies moved as one. They danced a primal tango.

Frida threw back her head, opened her mouth and moaned with an intensity that felt like the world cracking open.

 

To read more excerpts — including published excerpts and to view another YouTube video of excerpts from pictures, click here.

 

Tina and Frida

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(Note: the following is my fiction excerpt titled “The Artists” that was just published in Adelaide Magazine.  The piece of short fiction is excerpted from my recently completed novel Pictures. Following is several paragraphs of “The Artists” followed by a link to the full story at Adelaide Magazine. Below that is an excerpt from Pictures on You Tube that I read at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia. And below that is a link to some other published excerpts of Pictures.)

 

THE ARTISTS
By Janet Mason

(October, 1926)

After dinner,  Nan and George refilled their wine glasses with a deep red Bordeaux and went to the sitting room where they waited for their spouses to join them.  George put a record on his new Victor Victrola.  It sat in the corner on its own end table. Its sound horn with its fluted edges resembled a large silver lily. The opening was turned toward the wall.

Nan stared at the fluted horn.

“I turned it to the wall so that the sound would echo through the apartment,” said George.

“The music sounds turbulent,” said Nan.

“That’s the point,” replied George.  “Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring portrays the violence of the Russian pagan rites. A maiden dances herself to death in the sacrificial dance.  Stravinsky uses Russian folk music in the score.  He was sketched by Picasso, and Picasso undoubtedly influenced him.  They both discovered artistic primitivism at the same time — Picasso in his cubist painting and Stravinsky in his experimental music.”

Nan  cocked her head and listened to the strains of music amplified by the phonograph.   She imagined violin bows slicing air. She heard cubism in the music. The bass of kettle drums sounded.  She cocked her head so that one ear was turned to the sound horn as she listened intently to the high tones of the piccolo and flutes.

Despite what George had said, Nan didn’t care for the music.  She didn’t say so though — out of politeness to her teacher and friend.

Emma came in and joined them, sitting down on the burnt umber leather sofa next to her husband. Wilna was still missing.

She must be in the powder room, thought Nan.

“I hear that the piece started a riot in Paris when it debuted,” continued George.  “But that was because of the bad ballet dancing under the direction of Nijinsky.”

….read more here in Adelaide Magazine.

Pictures was, in part, inspired by my discovering and reading about Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason by Joseph P. Eckhardt (WoodstockArts).  I went to see the show in Woodstock at the Historical Society and here is one of the photos (Nan is on the left; Wilna is on the right:

 

 

Click here to see more photos Woodstock Hist. Society -- portrait of Nan Mason & Wilna Herveyfrom the show about Nan and Wilna at the Woodstock Historical Society.

 

 

Read other published excerpts of Pictures (and see other YouTube segments) by clicking here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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