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An Afterthought

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Christian’s Story ‖ An Afterthought

 

After he published their story – first, short bits and pieces in the daily papers, later in the form of an actual, unabridged, linen bound book – he was able to live off his scarce earnings, for a little while. He kept his poky, cramped place right underneath the roof of the hotel L’Amour fou, poorly furnished and cold and breezy in the merciless Parisian winters.

If it was for the near-starvation, or his approaching sense of deprival towards the end of the second winter, he couldn’t tell. But when Zidler came knocking on his unhinged door one clammy February evening, Christian did not slam it back into the old man’s face.

By then, the Moulin Rouge, with its once grandiose plans to become a real, a serious playhouse, had almost been run down into being a more or less exalted brothel once again. That one fateful night, even before the last spectator had left the first and only performance of Spectacular, Spectacular, the patron of the Moulin Rouge had been well on his way to the Netherlands, set on putting as many miles as possible between himself and Paris, the place of his undoing. The beginning of the promising future had dissolved into chaos, and sealed the very end of ambition.

By fits and starts, Christian found his way back to his typewriter, and soon after fanciful pantomimes once again rattled the stage, purging the dining halls and men’s studies, bringing the sublime academics, the studious entrepreneurs, the careerists and the aimless flaneurs in with the tide.

The songs and the little plays again rung with their author’s colorful imagination, but were strangely deprived of his former emotion, detached and distant. It was just as well. The spectators did not care about emotion in the quickening pace of the age, and the players were more interested in the fascinating tingle of the occasional extra Sou in their pockets than in the quickening of a heart moved to tears.

Not seldom was Christian himself part of the shenanigans up on stage, singing and dancing, sometimes improvising or providing new tunes to old scenes. The Moulin Rouge made good money on those nights, with Christian and the Dogs encouraging their guests to drink, to smoke – and to share some expensive hours in illustrious company.

Harold Zidler presided over it all, turning a blind eye at Christian’s antics in the early hours of the mornings, when he took strange figures back with him behind the coulisses, making a silent Sou of his own while affording Zidler five percent of his earnings in those shadowy premises.

Other, arguably luckier guests were invited back into his drafty hotel room, in for a few more hours, sometimes in for the night. Sometimes it was quite enjoyable. Primarily, it was lucrative.

Christian was not particularly picky. He’d take the snotty blonde gentlewoman, and would even invite her vinous husband, if he was up for it. Proprietors, ministers, housewives, accountants, judges, shopkeepers, gentlefolk and plebs polished the doorknob to his little room. In more generous moods he would collect the occasional stray along with the more solvent clientele, taking pity to a pleading eye. He made them wash up beforehand, indiscriminately.

He liked it when they came, paid, and left. Some would try to converse. He sent them away. Others would arrogantly dismiss him as soon as they had no more use for him. It was just as well.

Some would cling to him, racked by silent sobs that dampened the back of his neck. He did not enjoy it, but held them until they let go. Some would get violent. He had a knife for that.

Time and time again, someone would offer him a way out. He would decline, every time.

There seemed to be one solid rule to Christian’s range of choice, and one only. Not once did he give his hand, or his body, to someone whose hair bore any shade of the morning sun. Harold Zidler himself justified his own repeated rejection with the vibrant color of his hair. He bemoaned his cruel fate in silence, diligently overlooking that his once brick-colored mane had long turned snowy white.

Meanwhile, Christian stayed well clear from the Diamond Dogs, too, refusing to even talk to them at all save from their rehearsals or during a play. Some would try and break him in like a young horse, but even the most persistent would give up, eventually. None would ever set foot in his room.

Le Chocolat, of course, was an exception. He would come, and was allowed to, unannounced. He’d press up against Christian, smother him against a wall and take just as he gave, plunder and possess him. Christian did not care, he invited it. He would wince with every powerful thrust against his slight frame, and he would not push the taller man back.

Le Chocolat was gifted, yes. He was also broke. Yet he was just as ready to share whatever he had, which was both time, and warmth. Le Chocolat knew to pay back. He held Christian as he cried into sleep, hugged him to himself as if to save him from drowning. They made a habit out of it, sharing a cigarette, sharing some broth and stale coffee, sharing a bed. This was when Christian was most happy, resembled his own self, his past self, the closest. He would smile at Le Chocolat, sometimes, and Le Chocolat would revel in the sight, always.

As his range of customers grew, so did the range of feelings he received back from the void where he’d immolated them for so long.

First, there was Irritation. Someone let him wait outside in the rain. The rain was cold and his shirt clung to his body. Irritation. He tasted it on his tongue and felt it run down the back of his neck.

Then, there was Surprise. When a young lady dismissed his advances after having met him in the dark corners of the coulisses for a merry while, he stared in disbelief.

There was Frustration. Disgust. Worry. Discomfort.

Anger.

Anticipation.

Le Chocolat’s eyes were a honeyed black. His hands large enough to cup Christian’s shoulder blades. His tongue played at the back of Christian’s ear.

There was Curiosity.

Interest.

Le Chocolat’s strides were long like a giant’s. His voice was a low and gentle hum. Beautiful.

It guided Christian back into Contentment, Pleasure. In it he found Ambition, and Zeal.

He found Hope.

When one day he came home, new ink ribbons and paper stuffed in his worn out briefcase, Le Chocolat rejoiced to see it in Christian’s eyes. He took his bag from him and put it in a corner. He took his face into his hands, pulling him closer. He laughed out at the sight. This was the day when Le Chocolat could look into Christian’s soul and finally bask in the warm and welcoming depths of Happiness.