by: Rick Johnson
PO Box 40451
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I was on the back porch, sipping a glass of Chianti and perusing a book on Italian Renaissance Painters when the woman from the past arrived in her time machine.
My first indication was when the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck began to stand up as if I were exposed to static electricity. Then a local wind sprang up to cause the leaves that I had neglected to rake to swirl in a miniature whirlwind. Within this, a cloud materialized and lightening bolts crawled about the cloud which grew until the cloud faded away to be replaced by the Time Machine. It resembled nothing more than the one Rod Taylor had built in the 1960 classic film, The Time Machine.
As the breeze faded, the woman opened her purse to brush her hair which had become a bit disheveled by the wind and static and only after examining herself in a small mirror, did she look around, her gaze fastening upon me.
I admit that I sat there, a glass of wine in my hand, the open book before me for the woman was strikingly beautiful. Strawberry-blonde hair framed an oval face that required and bore little make-up save a bit of mascara and lipstick to accent already perfect eyes and lips. Her gown was Renaissance Florentine save for one detail, where the former would flatten a woman’s bosom and exaggerate her hips, this gown did the opposite. It hugged her figure in a way that was both natural and pleasingly sensual. Her disdain for pancake cosmetics appeared to extend to exaggerating her body for the fashion of the time required that hips be padded and breasts flattened. This woman seemed to be comfortable with her own body.
The woman glanced away long enough to loosen a cord and drop a small ladder and, rising, extended her hand to me, obviously requesting my assistance to cross over the bars that contained the device.
I hurriedly set my glass down and rushed to her aid, saying “excuse my manners’, in Italian for the book I had been reading was in that language and with her gown, I hadn’t made the transition back to English.
“Of course,” she responded in that same language but an archaic form that I supposed to have been spoken some centuries ago. Holding her hem with her left hand, she stepped over the bar and down the step-ladder as a large animals I took to be a marmoset exited the machine and ran to the house. “Iris, please behave, we are guests here!” she admonished the creature which stopped and looked back. It chittered to her and she laughed, “All in good time my love.” As all of this was in old Italian, I deduced that she was from that place and time and as I had learned the modern form of the language while in Rome during my post-graduate work, felt that we could communicate with little effort.
Then turning to me she continued, “I apologize for my companion, she is, at times, a bit rambunctious. Might I trouble you for some water and a bit of salt? Time travel is quite draining.”
“Of course, how inconsiderate of me,” I stammered back and led her to my porch where I held a chair for her to sit. She did so in a manner that showed breeding and would put to shame any of our modern women and their lack of refinements. I fell in love instantly.
I rushed into the house and returned with a glass of bottled water and a salt shaker, the latter she proceeded to place into the former. She didn’t pour so much as allowed the salt to flow until she felt the amount was proper, then she placed the shaker on the table and reached into the cleavage between her breasts which, I might say, were larger than normal without being seen as gross, and pulled a small bodice dagger with which she stirred the water to dissolve the salt. She then dried the dagger with her kerchief, replaced it ( I so envied that blade) and drank most of the salty-water without a break.
When finished, she placed the glass on the table and the marmoset, Iris, took the glass, tipped it and began to lap at the remaining water. It was only then that I realized that the animal was anything but for it wore bracelets and a necklace and leather straps across her chest and back and waist that held a couple pouches and a dagger.
Then, dabbing at her mouth with her kerchief to dry any residual salt-water, extended her hand and began, “I am the Duchess Janice Obrien and this is my traveling companion, Iris. Thank you for your hospitality.”
She obviously expected me to kiss her hand which I did gladly. But when I turned to Iris, the creature simple chittered and burped. “Iris,” the Duchess explained, “has different ways but is equally grateful for the salt and water.”
I smiled back, totally at a loss for words and sat and we stared at each other for a moment until she glanced down at my book and asked, “You are interested in the arts?”
Recovering some of my will, I tried to converse, “Yes, I am working on my Doctorate in Renaissance Italian Art though that seems so far away. What can you discover that hasn’t been studied by a thousand others before?”
She opened the book at random, glancing at David by Michaelangelo and, smiling, “One can always find a different view to a statue that appears hidden if you give up staring and simply admire.”
“Yes, I imagine so,” I replied though to be honest, had she stated that the moon was made of green cheese, I would have agreed. Then, “Excuse me, Lady O’Brien, but you seem, somehow familiar. Have we met before?”
She looked back, smiled and replied, “I doubt it. I have an excellent memory for faces and I have never been here (she motioned to the city) before. Coming here was a lark. Iris showed me this marvelous device and I had to try it out.”
That smile! Frantically I leafed through the book.. Rafael? No! Da Vinci? Of course! “You are The Irish Lady!” I exclaimed, opening the book to her portrait. The painting, of her holding her gown before her, her shoulders bare as if she were naked behind the dress, was in the National Museum in Naples. She glanced at the photo and that same smile! The gown was different but the face and smile the same!
“Ah, Leonardo. He was such an insecure man. A great mind but having so little self-confidence. The slightest set-back would throw him into a state of depression and so many pieces remain unfinished because his illness caused him to abandon them at the slightest criticism.”
“You knew the man?” then I stammered, “Of course you did, he painted you. Please forgive such a stupid question.”
“Think nothing of it” she smiled back.
“If I may be so bold, your portrait may not be as famous as his Mona Lisa but your smile has generated so many questions. What was it that gave you such an enigmatic smile?”
She laughed, “If you would hear the story, then you must ply me with wine and snacks.”
“Of course, Please, I’ll be right back!” And I rushed to find the best bottles I had, crackers, cheese, meats… what else, fruits! I filled a tray with these and rushed back outside to find my guest smelling the roses that needed pruning.
“I do so love roses,” she commented. I had the urge to cut them all and bury her in petals. Instead, I said something stupid like “You make them beautiful.”
“What a sweet thing to say.” As she returned to her chair, smoothing her dress as she sat. So few women know how to do that these days. She waited for me to pour her a glass which she held, expecting…? Then! Of course! I poured myself a glass and, standing, said, “I give toast to the Duchess O’Brien, whose art has influenced many a generation of striving art appreciators such as myself.”
She nodded, smiled and sipped the wine. Commenting, “Iris prefers beer or ale but I find that such a drink goes to my hips and were I to imbibe too much I would be as fat as Sandro painted me to be.”
I took the hint and ran into the house to fetch some bottles of beer, one of which I opened for Iris who leaned back, holding the bottle in all four paws and drank. Sandro? Botticelli? I turned to his chapter and .. there she was, nude and… “I cannot imagine you as anything less than perfect. So unless you gained weight between The Irish Lady and Botticelli’s Lady and Maidens, he … well Botticelli is known for his ample subjects. We believe that this was his ideal of beauty and he must have painted you as he wished you were. As if anyone could improve on perfection.”
She touched the image commenting, “Ruth so hated that painting and refused to attend the sessions. But I am NOT fat! I work hard to avoid that term!” She obviously had some concern for her image despite her modification of her gown.
“Ruth?” I asked.
She flipped through the book to The Jewess by Da Vinci. “My adopted daughter. I was hired to escort her from Ottoman Bulgaria back to Romania because they feared her so. When I left, she followed and, … she saw in me a mother, I saw in her a daughter.”
The painting of Ruth had been in a private collection for centuries until it was reported stolen. Then, suddenly, the owner changed his tune and claimed that he had sold it, though when questioned afterwards, he confessed that he sold it for five Euros to a ‘terrifying woman’ who threatened to remove his manhood and make earrings of his testicles if he complained. “I commissioned Leonardo to paint this for me. I wish things had been different and we could have remained together but she married and children must leave the nest.”
“Who were the other women in this painting?” I returned to Botticelli’s chapter.
“Lovers of mine.” She skimmed the chapter, “I am so glad his sketches of us are not here. They are, somewhat personal but the Inquisition hated me so and would have burned Sandro and them had he released them.” There were rumors of those sketches. A book of Botticelli’s drawings of the four women at ‘play’ that he made but only rumors. Now I had proof and would dedicate my life to finding that book of erotic art.
“The Inquisition? I’m glad you avoided their grasp.” I said to cover my excitement.
“It is easy to do once their leading cardinal falls into a Venetian canal with stones tied to his feet and his aids are eaten by rats.” She laughed at that. Was this the ‘Terrifying woman’ who took the painting of Ruth?
“I recall that in the early 1500s, Rome sent a particularly nasty Inquisitor to Venice to root out heresy and to ‘question’ one Noble Lady who was said to be, shall we say, a hotbed of illicit desires?” I asked the leading question.
“Do you ask if Pope Alexander sent Cardinal Giovanni to Venice to burn me at the stake? He did. Alexander wished me to bear his spawn for a papal dynasty and hated the fact that his daughter Lucretia, desired my bed over his. And he hated that I desired him not at all. So, being a lesbian and a Witch and a foreigner, he felt safe at his revenge and desirous of my wealth that he would have were I convicted. He was wrong for we Irish do not go to the pyre so easily.”
Not knowing what to say, my hopes dashed by her confession, I could only ask, “Lucretia Borgia? Daughter of Pope Alexander VI? He wanted his own daughter sexually?”
“The man was a pervert and had his daughter’s virginity raped from her as he watched during one of his Papal Orgies. I was abducted and forced to watch her lay with both her father and brother at the same time.” Drinking the last of her wine, and holding her glass for more, continued, “Lucretia may have been a pawn in her father’s political mechanisms, but she soon learned to enjoy the power and glory in her role. She never desired me in that manner, but being my lover angered her father and that she enjoyed.” She sipped some more, “The woman was as hairy as a man, despite her beauty and blonde tresses.
“But you asked about Leonardo?”
“Your smile,” I prompted.
“I met Leonardo through Michaelangelo. The two were so different. Yet so similar. Michaelangelo was young and beautiful and desired boys. Leonardo was old and wrinkled and desired no one. Yet both were equally talented. I originally commissioned Michaelangelo to paint Ruth for me but there was this argument over a block of marble that both wished. I sought to soothe their tempers but Michaelangelo felt that my association with Leonardo was an insult to him and refused my commission. He won the marble which became David and I became friends with Leonardo. Michaelangelo never forgave my friendship with Leonardo and Leonardo never forgave loosing that rock.
“So I asked Leonardo to paint Ruth which he did under condition that I pose for him afterwards.”
“I notice that The Jewess isn’t as well done as is The Irish Lady,“ I commented.
“Really?” she asked. “Leonardo did rush through the project but then, I see the painting as a mother and not a critic.”
I noted that she wasn’t upset by the painting’s being sold or stolen. I made a mental note to ask about that later. I also noticed that Iris had finished the first beer and was happily eating everything on the plate that the Lady Janice missed. Then I had to open the second beer for the marmoset had drawn her knife and was prying at the cap. Another mental note was about the time machine and about Iris. Was Iris the owner of the machine? No, the machine was built for human beings and looked almost exactly like the one in the movie. Another mystery but the Lady, with typical Irish diversions, was talking about everything but the story of the smile. I recalled a visiting Irish professor I had who would follow every minor thread during a lecture and rarely reach the end of the point he had intended to make. Mysteries upon mysteries and this one Irish Lady from Renaissance Italy, self-confessed Lesbian, Witch and murderer, could answer so many questions.
She plucked a grape and commented, “If you ever have a chance to visit your desired time, I would caution you to take plenty of salt and fruit for time-travel robs the body of salt and causes the bowls to close up.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Leonardo,” I prompted.
She drank more and as I refilled, continued. “Leonardo was a genius in so many ways. Yet he cared for me only as a model and a patron. My thoughts and ideas and opinions concerned him not at all. I admired his work which he saw as his rightful due but he refused any suggestions as simple woman’s pratter.
“But I posed, and posed, and posed for though he had no trouble getting the painting done, he simply could not add the soul! The painting was lifeless.
“But he had one quirk that caused him to BE inspired and once I met that quirk, he was able to finish the painting which you now see. But the day is late and we must be on our way. Come Iris.”
She expected me to assist her across the lawn and enter her machine, which I did. Then as she adjusted the controls, I insisted, “The inspiration! The smile! You promised.”
“Yes I did. Well, Leonardo found inspiration by wearing ladies’ undergarments. And so, what you see as an enigmatic smile is simply me trying to not laugh at the sight of the world’s greatest genius painting me while wearing nothing but my corset, pantaloons and stockings.”
And with those words, she pulled at the levers in the time machine and vanished in her cloud of sparks and wind.
David, by Michaelangelo. The world’s most famous sculpture. Presumed to be the image of Michaelangelo’s lover or perhaps his ideal dream lover.
The Irish Lady, Janice’s portrait by Leonardo da Vinci. Known mainly for her smile and pose which implies that she is naked and holding her gown to hide her body. Now in the National Museum in Naples
Lady and Maidens, by Sandro Botticelli A nude painting of Janice and her female lovers. Now in the National Museum in Paris. Botticelli also made a number of erotic sketches of the group at ‘play’. There have been rumors that he bound those erotic sketches into a book but no one admits to owning that book. Pope Alexander VI is said to have searched for that book as did the Inquisition, but for different reasons.
The Jewess, by Da Vinci. Ruth’s portrait commissioned by Janice. Lost for years, she offered to buy the painting at any price but was refused. After the painting was stolen, she offered the former owner five Euros for the painting with the threat that if he refused, she’d have his testicles for earrings. The previous owner is said to complain often, “I should have taken the millions of Euros she originally offered.
The Time Machine. A 1960 movie starring Rod Taylor. The time machine in the movie resembles almost to the retail the one Janice appears in. There is a story behind this.