When teenager Katya Spivak meets Marcus Kidder on the sidewalk one day, she sees him as nothing more than a sweet old man. His curiosity towards her feels genuine but, more importantly, it makes her feel wanted. He’s elegant, a children's book author and illustrator, and he's passionate about art and classical music. In other words, he's completely harmless. Right?
Katya's opinion starts to change when Kidder asks her to pose for a painting. It'll be an experiment for him, he says, and he'll even pay her for her time. Though initially hesitant, Katya agrees—she needs the cash to support her gambling, alcoholic mother. But as Katya falls deeper into Kidder's artistic world, his requests become more and more unsettling, and she's left questioning what exactly he wants from her.
With Fair Maiden, award-winning author Joyce Carol Oates weaves a suspenseful tale of a danger and seduction, where the relationship between an artist and his much younger muse takes an unexpectedly dark turn...
Read on for an excerpt from Joyce Carol Oates’ Fair Maiden, and then download the book.
When she returned to the studio, Mr. Kidder was busying himself at his easel and seemed to take no notice of her. Blushing fiercely, Katya arranged herself on the sofa, stiffly, trying not to glance down at her body in the scanty camisole and panties, which exposed so much of her small fleshy breasts, her belly, and her thighs. If she kept her knees pressed tightly together, she could hide from the artist’s sharp eye the smudged little black spade tattoo on the inside of her left thigh, which Roy Mraz joked was his claim; she couldn’t bear for Mr. Kidder to see it and to make a fuss over it, as he was sure to do.
“Beautiful Katya! Don’t be self-conscious, dear. Beauty isn’t a possession exclusively of the subject, but exists objectively in the world.”
Katya muttered, “Bullshit.”
But if she’d hoped to shock Marcus Kidder, she was disappointed: the artist just laughed.
A memory came to her, then. Her mother wore lingerie like this. Of course! Katya had forgotten.
Red silk, black silk, flesh-colored see-through bras, half-slips, camisoles and panties, wispy thongs, discovered one afternoon by Katya and her sister Lisle when Katya was eleven and Lisle was fifteen, in their mother’s bedroom bureau drawer. Momma’s boyfriend Artie gave her this, Lisle said, holding a shortie black lace nightgown against her front, preening and smirking in the bureau mirror. She’d be mad as hell if she knew we found it.
Katya had examined a wispy black thong with a look of perplexed disgust. Was this some sort of panty? Who’d want to wear something so silly?
Lisle snatched the thong from Katya and tossed it back into the drawer. Sagely Lisle said, You don’t wear stuff like this. It’s for some guy to see on you, and get turned on by it, and take it off you, and then he . . . you know—gets off on it. On you.
Gets off on it. On you. Katya smiled at her sister’s crude words, which were so succinct. Even if a guy loved you, or claimed he did, this was the transaction, essentially.
“You can make believe I’m a dead body lying here,” Katya said suddenly, “like something in the morgue.” These words came out without her knowing what she meant to say, nor what she meant by saying it; but she liked it that Marcus Kidder paused as he was repositioning a floor lamp with a blindingly strong bulb and said, frowning, “Katya, really! That’s a morbid, childish thing to say. It’s beauty that is our goal.”
Beauty! Katya wanted to mutter Bullshit again but did not dare.
Strange to Katya now, posing for Marcus Kidder on the sexy black velvet cloth, in her sexy red silk lingerie that so resembled the lingerie her mother had hidden in her bureau drawer, that as minutes passed, she began to feel almost relaxed, hypnotized. Like being a dead body on a slab in the morgue. For Mr. Kidder behaved as if what he was doing was the most natural thing in the world. Katya smelled the pungent odor of acrylic paints, which was a sharp but pleasurable odor, and was soothed by the scratching sound of the artist’s brush against the canvas. Only when Mr. Kidder abruptly laid down his brush and came to the sofa to smooth out the velvet cloth, or to reposition Katya’s limbs, or to fan out Katya’s hair across the back of the sofa behind her head, did Katya become tense, thinking, Now he will touch me! He will lay his hands on me, but in fact Mr. Kidder was matter-of-fact and professional, adjusting even Katya’s head as if she were a mannequin. He did not even speak to her except to murmur, “Like this! Yes.”
There was something peaceful about this. There was something mesmerizing about this. Though Katya still resented Marcus Kidder for coercing her into doing something she didn’t want to do, yet how comforting it felt to give in. How comforting, to be able to please a man of such authority as Marcus Kidder—and how easy. You only have to give in.
“Mr. Kidder? Remember you said you had a mission for me? Is this it now, modeling, or is it something else?”
Clumsily Katya spoke, at the wrong time. Should’ve known that Mr. Kidder didn’t want to be interrupted while he was painting her. He said, frowning, “It’s premature to speak of that now, Katya. Right now we are embarked upon our quest for the perfect likeness. On a large canvas. Katya Spivak is too new in my life and too young for us to be speaking of such matters just now.”
Katya was chastened. Katya was intrigued. Too young? Did this mean that Marcus Kidder expected to continue to see her beyond the summer? After she left Bayhead Harbor and returned to Vineland? She would return home on the day following Labor Day, and she would begin school at Vineland High the day following that. And Mr. Kidder was scheduled to return to New York City, as far as Katya knew from remarks he’d made.
There, Marcus Kidder lived on the fifteenth floor of an “old, antiquated, and very expensive” apartment building on Fifth Avenue, overlooking Central Park. He’d told Katya that she must come to visit him someday.
And how would I visit you, so far away in New York City? Katya was doubtful.
Juan will bring you, of course. Any time I bid him to do so. Any time Katya Spivak agrees.
Katya had laughed, uneasy. And yet excited, too. The wild thought came to her, He wants to marry me! Or maybe to adopt me.
Now Mr. Kidder was saying, in a gentle voice, “All in good time, Katya. This mission is not so easily accomplished. ‘Happily ever after’ is not so easily accomplished. For people like us, born at the wrong times.”
Katya thought of her father suddenly. Promise I’ll be back, honey. For your birthday. Yes, Daddy will! Daddy promises. Katya felt her throat constrict; she was in danger of crying. Wiping at her eyes, hoping that Mr. Kidder would not notice. (Of course Mr. Kidder noticed. Mr. Kidder noticed everything.) For the first time it occurred to Katya that her father, Jude Spivak, had not returned to Vineland as he’d promised because something had prevented him from returning, not because he’d forgotten his little daughter, or his family. Maybe he’d joined the army and gone away to fight in what newspapers called the Persian Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, whatever that was, or had been. (Several of Katya’s young male relatives had fought there. And older boys she’d known, graduates of Vineland High.) But sometime soon Jude Spivak might be able to return to Vineland, and Katya would see him again. Katya, what has happened to you? Where is my daughter Katya? All growed up . . .
The black velvet cloth was chafing Katya’s skin. Suddenly she became restless, uneasy. “Mr. Kidder? How much longer? I—I don’t feel well.”
Annoyed, Mr. Kidder told her it would be a few minutes longer, please would she resume her position, stop squirming, and would she please lift her head, yes like that, “Eyes here, Katya,” and would she smile, and Katya said weakly, “I—I want to leave, I guess. I don’t want to be here,” and Mr. Kidder said, frowning, “Katya, you know you will be paid. You must model professionally to be paid,” and Katya said, sitting up, crossing her arms over her breasts, which were so shamefully exposed in the lacy top, and keeping her legs tightly crossed to hide the ugly little black spade tattoo, “I—I don’t w-want money! I want to take off this fucking lingerie—I hate it! I hate this! I don’t want your damned money, Mr. Kidder!” for suddenly it seemed to Katya that this was so. All along, this had been so!
“If you insist, Katya. But you are being very childish.”
Mr. Kidder laid down his paintbrushes, unsmiling. Katya took little notice of him, hurried into the bathroom, where quickly she removed the red silk lingerie and changed back into her own familiar clothes: white cotton bra and cheap nylon undies, tank top just perceptibly discolored by sweat at the neckline, white shorts. She kicked her feet into her sandals. For some reason Katya’s heart had begun to beat rapidly. She felt such fury for Marcus Kidder, seeing her shamefaced reflection in the mirror above the sink, that she could not bring herself to peer into her own eyes. What a slut you are! Like your mother, Essie—look at you. The hateful lingerie she’d have liked to tear into pieces but could not, so instead she wadded it into a ball and kicked it into a corner of the whitely gleaming, resplendent bathroom—hardly a bathroom but something like a powder room—where like a wounded creature it seemed to huddle. In a vase on a shelf was a bouquet of bizarrely colored fossil flowers, positioned to reflect in a floor-to-ceiling mirror with a dazzling effect. Katya saw her hand reach out, the hand of a bratty child, to snap the stem of an exquisite large crimson rose, which fell to the white tile floor, shattering.
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