[This post belongs to Janire Cascajar]
The painting by Vermeer Woman Weighing Pearls (1662-1664), also known as Woman Holding a Balance, is one of the most famous paintings of the artist.
As I heard the steps outside the room I began to stretch myself rolling over my rickety bed. When I opened my eyes in the darkness the chant of the rooster sounded. It was time to get up and as soon as I opened the window the first rays of the sun filled the little room with bright colours. The day was beautiful and after putting on my clothes quickly, I went to the kitchen where there was a lot of work to do. Although I was not the only maid of the house, the lady was always asking me to do the hardest works. She was so rude with me. Maybe she knew everything.
When I was in the corridor I stopped by the studio. That room was not like the other rooms of the house. Nobody, neither the lady, was allowed to enter that room. In fact, I was the only maid who had been there. I was the maid in charge of the cleaning of the room when the dust was invading the place. ‘What was he painting now? What was happening there?’, I could not stop my feelings and slowly I opened the door enough to peer into the forbidden room. There was him. He had his back to me and he was making small, delicate brushstrokes on the canvas. At the bottom, the Lady was posing for him. She was standing by a table full of jewellery. Her jewellery. She, with a calm look on her face, was looking down while holding a balance with her right hand. He looked her, scrutinizing everything, absorbing all the details, running his eyes over her figure, memorizing her features. I felt jealous of her.
That image reflected part of the reality. Many mornings as I was cleaning the furniture or mopping the floor on my knees near her bedroom, I could hear the clinking of the pearls. She used to sit down and weigh those tiny pearly spheres in her little balance. It was amazing how they shined. They were like little and perfect drops of water which absorbed and reflected the light, splashing of shine the rough dressing table. My Lord always liked to paint domestic scenes, capturing the everyday life. I still remembered when he told Lucy that he wanted to paint her pouring the milk to a pitcher as she used to do early in the morning. ‘I’ll call it The Milkmaid’ he said firmly. I closed the door of the studio and went to the kitchen.
My main task in the house was the kitchen and while I was handling the cooking utensils and preparing the food I could not stop thinking about what had happened two days before. My body was there but my mind flew towards that meeting. That day, following the Lady’s instructions, I went to the studio to clean. I was praying that he not come. We had met just a couple of times in secrecy and, in spite of the deep love I felt for him since the first time I saw him, I decided that I could not keep that situation. It was dangerous for me. However, as I was cleaning carefully not to move anything from its place, he burst into the room, closing the door behind him. He knew that nobody would come in.
He looked at me with his pretty, brown eyes. His look was sincere and intense as if he wanted to look inside me. I did not want to face him so I looked down. Just feeling his eyes on me was enough to remember his soft kisses on my skin. I felt naked. He knew all about me, my body, my feeling, and my inner self. ‘You are my star’, he told me, ‘my sweet pearl’. Then, he began to approach me and I did not move. But I raised my eyes staring at him. He stopped in front of me, so close that I could smell his skin, a deep fragrance of linseed oil filling my sense. ‘You will sparkle in my heavens forever’, he whispered as he caressed my face with both hands. ‘This cannot be’, I told him crying, ‘please, don’t touch me, don’t love me even. It’s not right, please!’. Although I was dying inside I knew that I was not born to be a lover. I moved around going away from him, from his captivating presence that made me tremble. Suddenly, he crossed the room towards me. I could see in his eyes that he was mad with love. I did not recognize him. That was a stranger’s look. Maybe he was out of his mind. I never believed that I could be afraid of him, but I was mistaken. Then, he pounced towards me. I stifled an anguished scream and ran to the door. When I went out almost running from the studio I bumped into the Lady who was standing outside by the door. She looked my pale face; she was shocked. I just averted my eyes from her and went to the kitchen.
Two days had passed since and the situation had worsened. The Lady had been talking about me with the Lord. I knew it because Lucy told me that she had heard the argument and the continuous shouts and crying of the Lady. Since we bumped into each other at the corridor she had been looking at me with hatred. She tried to make me feel inferior, ordering me the worst tasks of the house. I picked up the peelings of the potatoes, threw them to the rubbish bin and began to cut the onions. She was his wife. No matter how hard we wanted to be together. She was his wife. Everyday, when I came into their room and I removed the sheets they were still warm from their bodies, mingled in love. Suddenly, I heard bangs, loud shouts and slams. Lucy came into the kitchen almost running. ‘Take this’, she told me giving me a couple of pounds she had in her apron’s pocket, ‘go to the market right now, they are arguing!’. I was astounded and she rushed me again, ‘if she comes and you are here…’. I reacted, I put off my apron and taking the money I left the house without looking back. They were arguing, she wanted me out of the house. I knew inside me that he did not have the courage to defend me openly. He was more an artist than a man. ‘My sweet pearl’, he had told me. That was what he saw in me. My beauty. The reflection of the light on my pale and pearly skin. The art in my image and in my features. His eyes of artist were the eyes that looked at me with such a sincere and pure love that he invaded my soul. But, why didn’t he paint me? He had painted Lucy, why didn’t he choose me?
I was at the market, wandering aimlessly, surrounded by people but feeling alone and engrossed in my thoughts. By accident, I brushed past a stall of fruit knocking some apples over. And I realised that everybody was looking at me. As I continued walking, I could hear the people gossiping about me. ‘They were together in the studio’, I heard somebody whispering, ‘yes, they are lovers’, I heard again. I felt so ashamed that I hastened to the following street. There I saw the church. I thought that there I could wait until the market stalls were empty.
What time was it? It should be late. I could not hear the noise of the market, so maybe I could come back home safe from the whispering of the crow. It was time to come back home. Home? Was that house my home? No. My home was far away from here. But it was not important for me, not right now. After the death of my parents, two years ago, my aunts thought that the best would be to send me to the city. One of them knew about a house where I could work as a maid. For them it was an honour that the well-known painter Johannes Vermeer took in their orphan niece providing her a work, food and a cold rickety bed to sleep. Mr. Vermeer. My Lord. Who could imagine that I would fall in love with him? And that this love would be requited?
But now, I am alone again. I went out of the church and made my way to the house. I did not know what I was going to find there. Before I had run away. I had run away from her. When I opened the kitchen door at the rear of the house, Lucy who was still tidying up the kitchen told me that the Lady was waiting for me. My heart began to beat strongly. I walked towards the dining-room. There was the Lady. I could barely conceal my nerves. She looked at me with hatred, coolly, keeping the silence. Then, she smiled with malice. ‘Did you think that he would protect you?’, she asked spitting out the words. I was stunned. ‘I want you out of my house right now, out!’, she shouted beside herself. I went out of the dining-room feeling the loser in the war of love.
After packing my belongings I looked around my bedroom. There was a question there, in my mind, taking possession of everything. I got to know it. Why? Why? I took my little suitcase and I went out to the corridor. Why? I stopped in the middle and leaving the suitcase on the floor I turned to the left looking to the studio’s door. It was closed. He was there. And I could not stop repeating that question in my mind. Why? I opened the door and I saw him looking through the window. ‘Why?’, I asked him. He stared at me in silence, with the cowardice on his face. ‘Why didn’t you paint me?’, I told him almost crying. Then, he, one of the best painters of the time, answered: ‘how could I?’.
I walked away from the house, carrying my suitcase, and with my heart broken. I knew he was staring at the window. As I was walking I felt his eyes on me, scrutinizing everything, absorbing all the details, running his eyes over my figure, memorizing my features. ‘After all, maybe, someday, he would paint me’, I thought sadly.
- This is my story for ESP class, already handed in to Claire.