The sun was reﬂecting off the water as I crossed the bridge and returned to the safety of my Irish Pub. That’s so ME… if it ain’t broke why ﬁx it. I was feeling good, almost approaching happiness! My reﬂection in the shop windows was reassuring me. That delicious session in my room had lifted me higher than I had expected. It was still early and the bar was practically empty. No fedora hat. The girl behind the bar recognised me and placed a wine glass in front of me and ﬁlled it to the brim.
“Courtesy of Miss Janssen.” She said.
I shook my head. “Miss Janssen?”
“The fedora hat? That's Jenneke Janssen.” She said.
“Wow, I wonder why she would do that?” I replied.
The girl turned away for a moment and placed an envelope on the bar next to my wine glass and said. “And she left this for you too.”
I examined the envelope. In bold lettering it said. ‘To the girl with the big brown eyes.’ Inside was a printed invitation to a 'Private View' at the Museum for Photography and the card was signed. 'Jenneke' The exhibition was called. 'The female nude… reimagined.'
I showed the card to the girl.
"Why me?" I said. "We barely had eye contact.. "
"Obviously that was enough." The girl said.
And, after a pause. "Perhaps she wants you to model for her."
"Yes YOU..." and then she said. "You are very beautiful!"
"Would you, if she asked?" I said.
The girl laughed.
"Been there… Done that… Took off the T-shirt." She took her phone out of the hip pocket of her jeans. Then she held out her hand and introduced herself.
"Justyna." She said. I shook her hand very formally and we both laughed.
"Suzy." I said, then added. "With a zed!"
Our eyes met again, and then we both knew. And it was so wonderful that we both knew and nothing more needed to be said. Then she concentrated on her phone for a moment, then smiled and showed me the picture. I caught my breath, it was so beautiful… SHE was so beautiful! Black and white, Justyna was standing in a doorway half in shadow. The curve of her hip, just the outline of her body. Nothing more. I handed back the phone and I knew I was blushing.
Our eyes met again and Justyna simply smiled and said. “There are lots more but I think we should get to know each other better ﬁrst.” Then she reﬁlled my glass.
“On the house.” She said and her smile hit the spot. Now we had both established our emotional base-camp and there was no need for us to climb further at this moment, but we both knew we would. So I said goodbye, clumsily, and Justyna came out from behind the bar and we kissed in proper Dutch style, three kisses on the cheek and she either cupped a boob or she didn’t and I merely imagined it. Red of face and more than a little moist, I headed off to ﬁnd the Museum for Photography.
Across three canal bridges and they were all lit up now and I was all lit up too. Across Singel, then Herengracht and on to Keizersgracht. Each bridge takes you to a higher social class. Amsterdam’s history is complicated but there’s a freedom and sense of tolerance here and it’s just a delight to be here and not in my uptight little home town. There are bad things too of course but not tonight, not for me tonight. I thought again about Justyna. The way it happened. So spontaneous and so straight-forward. I assumed she was Polish but later learned that she was from the Czech Republic and I also learned much from her way of making love. Another bridge and I was almost there. I checked my phone. Yes, there was the big red banner outside a very impressive building, once the home of a very wealthy merchant. I'm not very good at history and I tend to forget beautiful places without wondering how they came to be. Right now all I can think of is that image of Justyna's naked body in the shadows of some ancient doorway.
So… up the steps. Music playing, the buzz of conversation, then that horrible feeling that everybody but you, knows each other. No-one is ‘on the door’. Back home there would have been a couple of bouncers. So, head held high, shoulders back (and lowered), tummy in, chest out and let my hip-bones take the lead. I was in... and a glass of Prosecco later I took in my surroundings. There was quite a crowd. A beautiful room. The fedora hat was some distance away, busy working the room. So this was Jenneke Janssen herself. She saw me and smiled. She turned to someone at her side and whispered something.
The ‘someone’ came towards me. If there’s one thing that the Dutch excel at, it’s being tall. ‘Someone’ was wearing a classic Little Black Dress, well above the knee. Now, I am not badly served in the leg department but THIS girl had legs that just wouldn’t quit! A proffered hand. A smoky voice, a dazzling smile.
“Hello. You must be Suzy. I’m Zoe.”
A pause, then she said. “It’s okay, Justyna told me to look out for you!”
“Ooookay….. “ I said to myself as my brain scrambled to make sense of all this. I’m a suspicious Brit and my ﬁrst reaction was to assume this was some kind of setup. Zoe obviously sensed I was puzzled and not in a good way. She smiled her smile and said. “Don’t worry Suzy, you haven’t been kidnapped… Amsterdam is a small town!”
“How do you know Justyna?” I was still uncertain.
“She modelled for Jenneke and plans to do so again soon, so we keep in touch.” This all made sense, I had seen Justyna’s picture on her phone and was about to ask more questions when someone took my hand… Jenneke herself.
“My brown eyed girl! Sorry not to have greeted you sooner. I was dealing with dealers!”
Then Jenneke took off her hat and shook loose her hair and once again and just for a moment her eyes probed my soul.
“Has Zoe shown you round?”
“Not yet.” I said.
“Then all let’s go together!” Jenneke opened a door into a beautiful room. On the wall in front of us was a row of six small pictures. I walked closer. Women’s faces. Looking directly into the camera lens which seemed to be above them. Their faces were contorted. Then it hit me, the photographs were all taken at the moment of orgasm. That moment when the magniﬁcent rush ﬁrst hits. Below the photos were smaller ones of the same women in their aftermath, when it’s impossible to pose or pretend. When one’s true self is revealed in all it’s shyness and joy.
I was aware both Jenneke and Zoe were watching my face, judging my reactions. I wasn’t sure what to think. As I looked at each face I felt as if I was intruding but also as if I was taking part too. As a lover, as a tormentor? I stepped back. My face of course was burning. This girl is rather easy to read when she becomes aroused! It starts with my face and then comes the blotches on my neck and the top of my chest… I have very white skin, courtesy of a Scottish mother. I put my hands to my face.
“This display is called Beautiful Agony.” Said Jenneke.
I could have stayed there all evening.
“The exhibition continues in the next room.” She added. I followed closely.
Again the six pictures, again the contorted expressions. ‘More of the same?’ I thought. As I moved closer I realised that the women were actually in acute pain. And the smaller pictures beneath showed the same women, again the aftermath, but in tears. Some covering their faces. I was shocked. No, REALLY shocked. I looked at my two companions and I actually shivered. My hands were clammy, my heart pounding. I looked at my watch.
“God is that the time?” And I ran!
I fucking RAN out of the building and on to the street. Trying to compose myself, I crossed the bridges, watched the canal boats full of tourists as I stumbled along the tow paths. The centre was busy, it was a lovely warm evening. I looked at my reﬂection in a shop window… normal or thereabouts, it was nearly dark and that would help protect me. In the distance was the Guinness sign outside Reilly’s Irish Bar and I headed straight for it.
“It’s okay.” Justyna said. “I ﬁnish at 10:00… we’ll ﬁnd somewhere to talk.”
The bar was relatively quiet. I only had ﬁfteen minutes to wait and so I sipped my wine and tried to make sense of what had just happened. Then Justyna was there and we walked out of the bar and down the street. She took my hand and it was such a lovely and neutral thing to do. We headed down Paleisstraat. The birds were all asleep so no more twittering in the acacia trees until morning. Then we were in my favorite cafe. The daffodils I brought this morning were arranged in a pint glass on the bar. I slid on to a bench in a dark corner. It was quiet. A man sitting at the bar drinking beer. No music. The Molentje is what’s called here a ‘brown bar’ smoking is banned now but the nicotine stained walls make it all seem cozy There are candles on the tables.
“Zo… '' Justyna said as she placed the wine bottle on the table. “Tell me everything.”
It’s unusual, certainly for me, to ﬁnd someone who actually LISTENS to what you say. As I poured out my story she nodded from time to time, gave the occasional “Hm-hm '' but that was all. As you will have realised by now, I need to talk about my feelings. But tonight was different. What was it that had distrubed me so much?
“I felt exactly the same when I ﬁrst saw those pictures, Suzy.” Said Justyna as she reached across the table for my hand.
“But afterwards I couldn't stop thinking about them and it was then that Zoe approached me.” I squeezed her hand.
“My God Justyna, did you do it? Have your picture taken like that?”
She didn’t answer but reached into her pocket for her phone and slid it across the table to me. Then she went back to the counter to buy another bottle and stood chatting to the owner.
Justyna's pictures were… (whatever words I write next won’t be suﬃcient to describe what I saw.)
The beauty of agony. Justyna’s face, devoid of make up, stunningly lit. The pain, the ecstasy… my eyes ﬁlled with tears at about the same rate as my heart ﬁlled with love. When she returned Justyna slid in beside my so that we were both facing the bar. Almost empty now. And so it happened. The pouring of the drinks, the silence and then the kiss. No one was watching and no-one really cared. She put her arm around my shoulders and placed a hand upon my thigh and we were no longer at base camp! We were way higher than that.
We giggled our way down the hotel corridor and stumbled through my door and then… and then…
Oh… such beautiful agony.
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