Authors: Siobhan Daiko
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Erotica, #Historical, #Victorian
First Edition 2015
The English used in this publication follows the spelling and idiomatic conventions of the United Kingdom.
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by the copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher at the email address below.
This is a work of fiction. The locations are a mixture of real and imagined. All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Siobhan Daiko
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The wooden pew is rough against my fingers. I breathe in the heady fragrance of incense mixed with the perfume of the courtesans sitting at the back of the church. I squirm, the bodice of my pink damask dress so rigid it pinches, and the neckpiece at my throat will surely choke me. I fan myself, but to no avail: the dark-blonde curls that escape from under my veil stick to my damp brow.
My husband, Paolo Panizza, is on my left, his head bowed in prayer, greasy grey hair hanging limply around his wrinkled face. Wed last year at the age of seventeen to a widower of fifty summers or more, my future has been sealed before I’ve even begun to live it, and my heart feels wretched this warm Venetian morning in the year of our Lord 1563. I had dreamed of a true love such as Petrarch described in his sonnets, those verses I have tried to emulate in my own writing.
Movement in the pew opposite, and a tall stranger catches my eye. Dark brown hair flows to his shoulders. His features are handsome: full lips, firm cheeks and a well-trimmed beard. How tightly his doublet covers broad shoulders tapering to a narrow waist. He beams at me and I lower my gaze, a flush creeping up my already hot neck.
After mass, the courtesans pick their way across the campo on their high platform shoes, chopines, which make them seem like troublesome galleys, their full skirts billowing like sails, their hands held by their maids so they do not overbalance. I’ve heard they sometimes wear men’s hose and breeches under their skirts, but no one has told me why they would do such a thing. One woman towers over the rest; her chopines must be vertiginous, three or four hand-breadths high, and she’s smiling and pouting at potential customers, reeling them in like fish to her net. What is it like to lie with a man? And to do it for money, no less? I often wonder…
My skirt, below a V-shaped waist, soft and gathered into folds, is not as full as those the courtesans wear but it does allow some air to circulate around my nether parts. Paolo steers a path through the throng. ‘Come, Veronica! We mustn’t be late for lunch.’ Then I catch him muttering, ‘Filthy whore,’ under his breath.
Holding my veil in place, I trot along behind him like a puppy following its master. Head down, I struggle to keep up, for Paolo’s stride is greater than mine. A tap on my shoulder, and I turn around. ’Tis the man I saw in church. He bows and I dip a curtsey. ‘Jacomo di Babolli,’ he says.
‘Veronica,’ my husband calls over his shoulder. ‘Hurry!’
‘My husband,’ I tell the man.
He raises an eyebrow. ‘I thought he was your father.’
‘I must go.’ Then, why not? ‘I shall see you at mass next Sunday.’
I sit through the interminable lunch at home with Paolo, where we are waited upon by his servants. How can he lack spare flesh? I have to watch him devour course after course at every meal like a pig at its trough. I think about Jacomo and long to find out more about him. ’Tis the lack of dialogue, the age difference and my husband’s treatment of me that allow thoughts of another to creep into my mind. But thoughts are not actions, are they?
Paolo pushes back his chair and belches. ‘Wait for me in your room, Veronica.’
Our routine. Every day, without fail, since he wed me. No one sees the marks, for they’re hidden ‘neath my skirts.
Paolo strides through the door. He bends me over face-down at the side of the bed, my feet on the floor, and lifts my skirts. Thwack! The thin cane stings as it cuts into my flesh. I yelp and wince. His aim is good, and he finds a spot to beat that has healed from a previous session. ‘You’re a filthy whore, aren’t you? Repeat after me, and then I’ll stop.
I’m a filthy whore.
‘I’m a filthy whore.’ I don’t resist him. I learnt early on it was futile.
‘I shall sleep the siesta now. Take care to not disturb me!’
I no longer cry; I have no tears left, and my heart has hardened to Paolo’s cruelty. Jacomo di Babolli was right in thinking of him as my father, for he’s one of Papa’s contemporaries. Papa never whipped me, however. He won a drinking game with Paolo and was able to pass me on with the bare minimum settlement.
For young women of my background, at a time when dowries have become so inflated that only the wealthiest find husbands, the options are limited. And I held out longer than most; marriage at fourteen is normal for those of us lucky enough to get an offer. I had the choice of marrying Paolo, going into a convent or following in my mother’s footsteps.
To be honest, I was persuaded by him being a doctor and, if not wealthy, at least he has a comfortable house not far from St Mark’s. I thought I could put up with the difference in our years. I had no idea what else I’d have to endure.
There’s just the one godsend to my existence, though. Paolo Panizza possesses an amazing library and I have free rein to read as much as I wish. The room is just off the
at the back of the
, not large, but stacked from floor to ceiling with leather volumes. Venice is at the centre of the printing industry, and Paolo has taken full advantage. There’s a wonderful smell in here, musty and enticing.
I pick up the book where I left it yesterday, the one containing the story of Danaë, a tale which strikes a chord with me for she was a woman cast adrift by her father. I lift the volume to my nose and breathe in the scent of paper and ink before devouring the words. Soon I have reached the end, for I only had a few pages left from yesterday. I get up from my chair and stretch, letting out a yawn. On Paolo’s desk is a dusty tome. I pick it up and flick through, my eyes widening with every turn of the page. There are drawings of men and women. Naked. Their bodies contorted in what can only be described as fornication. (I’ve not seen it, but I’ve heard about it from my brothers.)
There are lewd verses, too, that speak of “fucking”. Heat rises from between my thighs. I hurriedly replace the book and go to my room, where I practise scales on my lute, determined to banish the pictures from my mind. I sing a sonnet of Petrarch’s set to music.
‘Without eyes I still gaze, and even without a tongue I cry out;
I wish I could die, but at the same time plead for help;
I despise myself, but love another.
I’m nourished by grief, yet crying, laugh;
loss and life alike disgust me;
and to this condition I have come, my lady, because of you.’
All the songs and poems I know have been written about unattainable women. I would rather sing about a handsome man like the one I met this morn. I dip a quill into ink. There’s a piece of parchment on the desk, and after writing and re-writing I’m happy with what I’ve written:
I will show you my love if you will leave,
everything you now hide from me,
and my joy will be to delight you;
you'll find me more delicious than Venus.
My heart sinks. When shall I ever get the chance to emulate Venus, the goddess of love, and please a man? And how will I ever become more delectable than her when the pleasures of the bedroom are denied to me?
’Tis night, and I lie alone in bed; I can’t help thinking about those drawings. My body burns and my imagination, always a fertile part of me, starts to soar. Cupping my breasts I rub my thumbs around the areola. My nipples harden against my palms, sending a sharp shiver of pleasure down to my
What to do? Those engorged phalluses in that book were huge. I have never explored down there before. How big is it? Big enough for a prick?
I spread my thighs and reach under my nightdress, caressing the soft downy thatch. There’s a wetness that makes it easy for me to push a finger inside. As I brush against a tiny mound that feels like a large pearl, a raw tremor jolts through me. My hips tilting upwards, I suck in a breath and delve further into my fleshy folds.
Hotness spreads to my core. There’s space now for more than one finger, and my
is crying out to be filled. A glass vial from Murano stands on my bedside table, empty of the herbal mixture it contained, the remedy for a recent cough. Round in diameter, wider and longer than my fingers. What will it feel like? The bottle is cold and I place it in my mouth to warm it. Sucking on it sends further quivers through me, my tongue becomes alive with sensation, and I let out a soft moan.
I lower the glass, and slide it against my swollen flesh, brushing it against my nub. A ripple of desire. I buck myself against the bottle, pushing it into me. A sharp pain, only momentary.
I’ve deflowered myself, which is more than what Paolo managed on our wedding night. His prick remained flaccid so he beat me instead, and said I was just like my whore mother.
I thrust the bottle deep into me, in and out, in and out, again and again and again. It feels wonderful. Then something happens, something so unexpected it makes me gasp. It’s as if a wall of pent-up pleasure has broken and the joy it releases cascades through my body like waves against the shore. My fingers are covered with my juices. I lift them to my nose, inhaling the musky odour; I touch my tongue to my fingertips. The flavour is sweet like the apple I ate after supper, and there is also the taste of blood. I wish it were not a sin to have enjoyed fucking myself. I shall have to confess to the priest for committing an impure act…
The weeks pass, Signor Jacomo and I exchange surreptitious glances at mass (my husband keeps me close) and, by night, I pleasure myself so much I am fair worn out by my exertions. That book is no longer on Paolo’s desk. I’m tempted to look for it, but tell myself ’tis probably something he leers over in the secrecy of his chamber – and I want nothing to do with that. Truthfully, my husband disgusts me. I don’t fear him; I pity him. Surely there must be some way out of this bind?
Finally I send Domisilla, my maid, with a note to my mother, pleading for a visit. She is back within the hour. ‘Madonna Franco will come tomorrow.’
Paolo has been called to see a patient this morning. I sit by the window overlooking the
Dust motes pirouette in the sunshine and gold glimmers on the water below. There’s a reek of effluent from the content of myriad chamber pots dumped into the canal; I pick up a sprig of rosemary from the table to hold against my nose. The creak of an oar as a gondola passes, curtains drawn around the covered midsection. I’ve heard that sometimes courtesans entertain their clients on the water. I think about the choice given to me a year ago when Papa said I had to marry Paolo: become a nun (my dowry would have gone to the convent), or take up the only other profession open to me. At that time I balked at what I thought would be my ruination, little realising that the alternative has turned out to be even worse.