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“I want to paint you”

  He is a short, distinguished-looking man, obviously from afar, with a top hat, carefully tended beard, and an elegant suit with a fob chain in his vest pocket.  They have seen him before, watching the women unpack the vegetables at market, perched on one of the benches where the businessmen in town chat, the bankers and the contractors and the lawyers, as their wives buy what they need for the week.  On the third week he makes so bold as to approach Nudische, who not seeing his approach bends over, helping Inge and Eva put ears of corn onto the table for display.

 

  “Madame, how are you?” He bows, offering a little card.  “I am Monsieur LaValle, an artist.”

 

  Nudische, nonplussed, awkwardly stands up, an ear in one hand, and bows to him.  “Guten tag.”  Nudische is a tall woman and as she straightens up after her bow, her breasts almost hit the short man in the face.  They are large and stand well away from her body.  Her nipples, browned by the sun and enlarged and toughened by being sucked on and chewed on by all those children, not only her own but others for whom she still sometimes serves as a wet nurse, thrust out further and almost touch his beard.

 

  M. LaValle clears his suddenly dry throat and again presents his card to her.  “I would like to paint you.”

 

  She has a vision of him slapping whitewash over her like when men fix up houses.  Why would anyone want to do that?  She politely refuses the card and points the man to Friedrich, who is sweeping bits of hay out of the wagon.  She calls Friedrich over who takes the card.  Monsieur repeats his request.  “She will of course be well compensated.”  Friedrich is only slightly less puzzled than Nudische.  “I am a graduate of the Sorbonne.”  Another awkward silence.  “I have studied with Courbet.”  More silence.  He has attracted the curious approaches of Eva and Inge and young Hans.  “Tell me,” he says, turning to Nudische again, “are you always naked?”  They seem to think this is a strange question.

 

  Finally the artist says, “I beg you to consider it.  I will be here again next week.”  And with another bow he retreats.

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