The Portrait of Isabella Simmons Excerpt
Francesco Romano’s Journal Entry 3
17th October 1954
Following my first encounter with the Governor, clear instructions were set out, something which contrasted greatly with how things were done in Italy. The English I found to be very structured and pedantic when it came to timings and schedules. I was already given in advance the number of sittings I would have with Ms. Simmons and a further two were allocated should I require them. The timings between sittings were spread, allowing me to complete other works for three noble families from the city of Mdina. I disagreed with such structure, as if creativity could be captured in organised moments, but I would later find out that I had more freedom than I had first realised.
I had no word of English, but the palace servants were local Maltese who were fluent in Italian and understood English. I also discovered that Ms. Simmons was fluent in Italian, so I did not require any translator. Following quick introductions with the Governor, who was a very astute man with a commanding presence which made up for his low height, I was led to a room on the upper floor of the palace where Ms. Simmons was waiting for me. At first, I did not take much notice of the young lady whose beauty could not be overlooked. I conversed briefly on how I worked and what I would expect from her. She listened politely, smiling periodically with a bashful look of her round blue eyes, a striking contrast to her raven dark hair that hung loosely around her shoulders. Her dress was chosen in addition to her posture. She left to get changed for the first sitting as I continued by setting up my materials and checking on the light of the room, watching for shadows and reflective surfaces.
Ms. Simmons returned a different woman, her hair expertly crafted to form an elaborate pompadour and wearing a regal blue satin dress, highlighting her thin waist and petite build. I enquired to the name of the beautiful piece of jewellery complementing her neck line. It was a Lavalier necklace, she had told me, a link necklace ending with a single large pendant with tassels dangling from it, adding richness to her porcelain skin. She struck her pose like an angel waiting on instruction from God himself.
During my first sitting, little was passed between us. I will admit, she was an excellent model, an extremely disciplined lady, and never losing her pose from the moment we started each sitting. It was on the second sitting that she awoke my attention other than being my subject for the painting. Her eyes were fixed on me. Round and blue. Soft with unimaginable strength. They were magnetic, drawing me into their core. Her eye lids dropped and her lips revealed a bashful smile. She had caught me locked in her gaze. She enjoyed it. Pulling my attention to the canvas before me, I resumed my work, but each time, my eyes would travel to hers. It was like she was talking to me through her attentive eyes, not needing to say a word, but she struck a curiosity within me.
My eyes dropped on her delicate shoulders moving with the rhythm of her breathing, her chest responding in unison, revealing the top of her breasts. My eyes continued to roam downwards to her thin waist line. I cannot explain it, nor the sexual power she had subdued me with, but from our third sitting, it always ended with us succumbing to our carnal desires, our naked bodies intertwined, moving in rhythm to our gentle love making. She craved my body, her fingers caressing and sensitive to the touch. Perhaps I had been her first, the thought never occurred to me at the time. We spent lazy afternoons stretched on her bed on the upper floor of the palace. I would travel to Mdina in the mornings and conduct my sittings and spend the afternoons with Isabella. I never gave much thought of what was happening. I was enjoying the moment in her company. We would debate, and she offered suggestions on how her portrait should look like. She told me of her time since arriving in Malta and her family in northern England, where she longed to return, unable to abide the long humid summers of island life.
Nearing the completion of her portrait, it was when reality struck its head into my carefree thoughts. I was due to leave and I had no intention of settling in Malta. My life in Italy was calling to me and my desire to be with Antonio and my friends again. On reflecting now as I write, I question had I misled Isabella into believing we had created something between us. Did she believe in me? She had suggested moving to England where we could begin a life together, and this was the first indication that I had to get out. I had gone too far. I could never tell her my real intentions and wants. On finishing my works on the island, I departed from Verdala Palace early on a Friday morning and made my way to the port of Valletta, taking the first ship that was setting sail for the city of Barcelona on the North Eastern coast of Spain. The idea of not returning to Italy was exhilarating to begin a new adventure in a new city and country. New language, culture, tastes, experiences, sights and sounds awaited me, and as I set sail out of Valletta’s Grand Harbour, I did not look back but forward, leaving Isabella without a word of goodbye.
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