Viva la Vida

"Do I not matter?" I screamed, dust settling in my furious lungs. "You could have fought for me too, Enjolras! There is more to life than this damn revolution."
"People cannot love without the revolution!" He argued. "No, you're mistaken. Only you cannot love without revolution." I took a sharp breath. "Vive la France, my sweet angel. Viva la vida." My back became the attention of his stare, and I wished he wouldn't have to become the inevitable martyr he would become for Patria, and only Patria. It was his intention all along.

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4. Red; the colour of desire.

I awoke in the morning to a bundle of fine-pressed clothes to my right and a dried piece of bread and water to my left. A little light crept from the window at the top of the room and cast a glow over the objects, warming the skin across my cheekbones and lighting the room to morning. My bones ached with the thought of leaving comfort. The muscles stretched and cramped all at once for days on end had finally melted into a warm haven, and despite my wriggling conscience there were some levels of exhaustion that silenced any quarrels. But now I was awake, and entirely alone with only the memories of last night.

I had a guest in my most private of moments, the closest to ecstasy I had reached since abandoning holiness, and in staring me down the mysterious man had ripped me of my single joy. My muscles were livewires, waiting to flinch the covers over me in case he would burst through the door of the cellar. Only then did I feel a chill wrap around me, turning my exterior to stone.

No, Thérèse.  I warned myself, slapping my thigh in an attempt to awake myself from my childish ideals. If you must live in Paris you must live like Paris… Ruthlessly, unafraid, desired.

The last word stung with something violent. Never before could I have considered myself to be anything near the slippery, towering, elitist selection of seven letters. Desired, desired… It was a fantasy a Potrien girl could have never dreamed of. Had my mother ever been desired by my father? Hanzel’s expression from years past seemed to strike me just then, as he had begun to tell a tale of my parents we had never learnt. She had looked kind, beautiful even, but not in the way that stirred lust from a man’s loins. Her blonde hair had started to wither with the sheer pressure of living, and her eyes light and cerulean were lined with numerous wrinkles. Nathalie had never been desired before, or never to my knowledge, so I could have never believed any of the sort would ever occur in my life. Yet I’d seen it in that man’s eyes. It was not a look you would easily forget.

The look was red. There was no other colour. His irises were dipped with the dye of a blush or red dress, and his lips were bitten with crimson and rouge. I had tasted the scent on her own tongue, and had found something close to evil. Maybe that’s why I was so conflicted, because through my blind fear of what I didn’t know, there was something delicious, too.

I shook off the idea and dressed myself. The bread filtered away all too quickly, as well as the water that seemed to create a even greater thirst in my throat as I found the courage to leave my surroundings. Already there was something homely about the cellar; as though I could hide forever. But in the rooms above me there was a roar and rustle of tables and chairs beginning that I could no longer ignore. The dress was a faded, dull red; something of Aurore’s I thought as it nipped a little too tight on my waist. My bust was too generous and height too short, but vanity was of little concern to me with the joy of having a half-full stomach. I pulled my hair from my face and behind so that the curls clustered and were pinned from annoyance and used the reflections off fair bottles to examine myself. Days of hardship had changed me.

Starvation had caused a greater deal of my high cheekbones, although my cheeks themselves remained comfortably soft. Under my eyes was a great deal less purple from a good night’s sleep but still pallid, and my lips had moistened with water. I splashed the last morsel of liquid across my face for cleanliness, and headed on the heavy wooden steps. There was a drained accordion sound from a passed out musician almost celebrating my arrival, and it took an uncomfortable minute as I reached the top of the stairs to grab the attention of the crowd while my eyes shifted everywhere.

“Ah yes! The girl.” Aurore finally caught the stares I sent in her direction and her frown was apparent, as though she instantly regretted the idea of her. The people around her, orbiting around her many orders spun around as satellites to study me with intense gawps.

“You warned us of no such girl, mother.” A cold voice began a flood of the rest. It came from the tallest of the group, feet above his mother, with a pale complexion and steely eyes, fluid in colour.

“It is not my fault you stumbled in at god knows what hour, and therefore do not understand the goings’ on of the business, dear Gabriel. Though I must admit I was just as clueless when I surprised the poor Cherie last night. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Monsieur Alfonso Demigual.” His French was flawless, but there was something unorthodox about it now I heard it in girth as though it was a infusion of something else. He assured for me to extend my hand but as I did I refused to meet his eyes. Just from looking at the smudginess of him I knew it was the man I’d met yesterday.

Gabriel was his father’s son, of course. Their hair and builds were too similar to be coincidental. But as I discovered with a heavy heart, there was no doubt Gabriel’s mother was Aurore, not only from her eyes but with the sheer love she oozed in his proximity. Alfonso was a married father, and yet he’d choose to look at the street rat that had wondered into his home. In that moment I’d never craved so much to freeze time all together, and run all the length to Nathalie to cry in her arms and to be offered a solution. There was no solution, only a fake smile to cast.

The son greeted me with little enthusiasm, and as Alfonso muttered on all I could notice was the red racing through his eyes, and with the carelessness he admired my frame. “I remember that dress as you wore it, sweet Aurore.” My chest heaved with the vulgarity of his words. “Are you sure you are as desperate and poor as Aurore claims?” He eyed me. “You are much too generous to be starved.”

“I swear on my sister’s dear life, Monsieur.”

“Well, if that is all, I shall leave you to my wife’s mercy.” He flashed a smirk and gestured Gabriel away out the door and onto the streets of Paris. Seeing the back of the pair exit instantly brought a lighter atmosphere to the room, but Aurore’s face only crinkled with the weight of her chores.

“He is so charming at times, my husband. Do not be made a fool of him as he has made others.” She paused to pick up a half-dirty napkin, and brushed it against her dress. “You are not the first doe-eyed creature we have plucked from the streets and if you follow their path paved by him you will not be our last.”

And then she was off; muttering orders here and there with little to no breaks. Soon the bar filled with all sorts of men and women, though mostly men, who swung ale around and sloshed it on floor and gulped like fish out of water until their light hints became aggressive chants for girls and more beer, flipping coins at us with an ungentlemanly urgency. Within hours, I had grasped what she needed from me. A half done job at a quarter of the speed. These customers wanted urgency and not perfection.

"Thérèse, these men won’t drink themselves senseless without you.” Aurore muttered a little drier in her humour than usual, sighing at me for taking two minutes too long at wiping down a table. The wood was cracked and stiffed with stale beers and dry food, with only brief candlelight to reveal the midden areas.

“Of course, Madame.” I replied out of my daze, as I retaliated defeated from the stains and swiftly made my way through more crowded tables ready to greet the orders of the sweaty men already seeing the stars without the need to stare at the night sky.

Amongst the beige and wrinkled guests, there was a single group that stood out in dramatic flourishes and the way each round was dedicated to their cause. Les Amis de l’ABC – or at least, that what I presumed, considering I’d never actually managed to speak with them and even if Aurore gave me a second to do so I doubted I would have anything interesting to say – they stood like peacocks, thrusting their views and propositions for the customers of the bar like they were politicians. Most were caught up in the moment with them, egged on by intoxication, but as the night progressed and the men returned home to their angry wives no doubt the dream died for another evening. Tonight they’d left early, for them anyway, and left behind the debris of thirty empty glasses and a single man tossing around his papers on his lonesome.

I kept myself busy; unable to meet the eyes of my boss for the evening. It was as if Aurore knew it herself… was there anyway I might have given it away? Did the slight tug on one of my hips unravel her secret? Or had he already spilled his dirty guts upon the table, and Aurore held her own knowledge in the way I thought I was holding mine? I would be out within the week back on the streets I was only preparing to forget about. The crimson dress was nipping on all the corners of the tables and it flushed against my pale skin almost making the alabaster translucence desirable.

“Go on!” Aurore snuck behind me, pinching the skin of my arm to grab my full attention. She’d caught me staring at the alone man, and the way his papers soon became more clumsy and his arms more heavy with the weight of each beer. His friends were gone, much like the army of drunks flung out. Morning would soon follow; giving me only a few hours sleep on something uncomfortable and then face the day again. Maybe Alfonso would come looking for me; maybe he’d be so ashamed I would never see him again. I hoped with every prayer for the latter; but four little ghosts had kept me on her toes the whole day. He had four sons, not only Gabriel,  I had now heard from the small talks of the day, a loving wife… and now me.

 With the forcefulness of Aurore I found myself pushed in the direction of the figure I had candidly observed, taking a little nip of the cerise dress’s material in my nervous hand. My hair fell from its bun untidily – the sign of a busy night – and bags were slightly faded but there beneath my light eyes. A sight for sore eyes? Not exactly. I could hardly be both the vixen and the angel  Aurore expected me to be. But who knew? Drunken eyes might have settled gentler on my features.

“Pardon moi, Monsieur.  We’ll be closing the bar shortly…” I gulped half way in the process of turning away in silent defeat when the jabbering gestures of Aurore from across the room pushed her forward. “Time for one last drink, won’t you have another?” A smile snuck from both corners of my lips, one corner forced and the other genuine with my eye contact jaunting to any object but his own eyes. I was scared to not find what would be so clearly in mine. Had I spent too much time with the drunkards and the lovesick today? The nuns had seemed to have influenced me so little if already I could succumb to emotions so devilish and meddlesome. I avoided his stare because I supposed if he would even glance he’d see it; red. The colour of desire. It spread like wildfire across Paris that night, more stupid and dangerous than any inflamed disease and just as much any, too. Finally, it had wrapped its hold around me for the unnamed man sitting in front, letting his answer take excruciatingly long as I searched for the sweet young girl I had once been and found instead a precautious young woman painted rubicund.

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