Only one was strong enough to incorporate La Lune's spirit and not be broken, and that was my mother, Sandrine Salome Duplessi. After the merging, she even took on her ancestor's name and became the first woman to attend L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the most prestigious art school in France—if not the world—and became one of the finest artists of her generation.
By the time I left Paris for New York in 1920, my mother's paintings in the gallery on the famed rue Botie were selling for twenty thousand francs. Just one rung below those of the world-famous Pablo Picasso.
Of all her children, I was the only one to inherit my mother's ability or desire to spend life inhaling turpentine and smearing dabs of oil-infused pigment on a canvas. My professional ambitions, as I considered them back then, were even greater than hers, because in addition to her art, she had a life that she cherished. She married the man she fell in love with and had four children. She was capable of casting spells and saving people's lives, changing their luck, curing their sadness, or punishing them for their misdeeds. My mother was satisfied to be one of the best at what she did, but I wanted to be 'the 'best, because it was all I would ever have.
Like my ancestor and all the daughters of La Lune who came after her, we are cursed to have only one chance at love in our lives. When I met Mathieu, I knew immediately he was that chance. And then I lost him only four months later. All because of my hubris in believing I was powerful enough to chase away his demons.
For the rest of my life, I would have to live with the knowledge that I'd never bear his children. Never grow old with him. Never feel passion for anyone else. I would live out my days haunted by Mathieu's shadow portrait and the memories of our affair that ended too soon.
My sitter's high-pitched voice interrupted my reverie. "You've stopped drawing. Does that mean you're done, Delphine? My neck is aching, and I need more champagne!"
The moment when I sense I've finished a portrait doesn't arrive like the closing notes of a symphony, with a crescendo and fanfare. There's no ceremony. Rather, it's a stillness. My right hand simply stops moving.
As I became aware of holding the pencil once again, the jarring sounds of the party and the comingled scents of sweat and perfume, champagne and cheese assaulted me. Reluctantly, I returned to the present from that alternative plane where there was nothing but me and my interpretation of a dream.
I took off my blindfold and inspected my work.
"Can I see?" Clara asked pathetically, in the same high whine she'd used to entreat me to get started, then stop.
When I finally looked at it, what I had drawn always came as a shock to me. Technically, I had seen the images in my mind, on one level was aware of them but not in a visceral way. If you'd stopped me in the midst of the exercise and asked what I was putting down on the paper, I would be able to tell you, because it existed behind my eyes in a kind of cinematic tableau. As if I had stumbled on a movie set in Nice at the Victorine studios, where my mother occasionally painted elaborate sets. And yet the finished product always shocked me. Splashed my sensibilities like the first dip in the icy Mediterranean in early May.
Had I done this? Dragged this scene out of the ether and put it down on paper? Clara rose, ran over, and stood behind me. For a few seconds, she was silent.
"Oh, no, Delphine. Oh, no. You have to hide it." Her voice was past whining now, edged with real fear. The color of the air around her was turning icy blue.
As part of the second sight that I'd developed during the year when I was blind, I occasionally saw the air around someone turn color when they were in a highly emotional state.
To me, it looked like a halo glow, a shimmer of phosphorescent shine. Certain shades denoted different states. Blue the color of robin's egg shells was a deep calm. A gray sea blue was depression. Anger was a sunset orange. Love was dawn's rose. Denial was the purple gray of a storm cloud. Pale, pale icy blue, the color of the air around Clara, was panic.
I didn't understand. What had I done? I inspected my surrealistic illustration of Clara's secret. The drawing was a step away from reality but rendered with utter clarity. Nothing impressionistic. I was a draftsman first, having taken years of drawing lessons before going to L'Ecole in Paris in 1919 to study painting.
The man in this drawing was on his knees. Well, his body was that of a man. His head was a stag's but with a very human expression nothing short of idolatry. This half-man, half-beast was worshipping—naked and quite erect—at a shrine. The shrine was the equally naked body of Mrs. Clara Schiff. She sat upon a velvet cushion on an elaborate throne that would not have been out of place in the court of Louis XV.