There was to be no performance tonight, not enough people had purchased tickets so the performance was cancelled. I was excited about the evening, the Moulin Rouge was a national icon but I did not know what it was about all I heard was rumors from the tavern, when I arrived. About how it was a nightclub and dancehall for the powerful, and how you need money to be eligible.
I spent the evening preparing myself, putting on the theatre makeup I could not afford my own, the type of makeup that flakes after a few hours, nevertheless it was suitable for the evening, and the rouge lipstick matched the dress. As I walked out of my room Monsieur Artoir was talking with Claudia at the foot of the stairs, when they noticed me "And where are you going dressed up like a prostitute?" he said looking at me with disgraceful eyes at my torn red dress, "I am going out for the evening". As I walked on Claudia called out to me "If you see Marcus, tell him the stage needs cleaning. He will need to clean it after his night out." all the women were standing along the stairs and doorways, drinking wine, gin and any other spirits they could lay their hands on. I was relieved to walk out of those doors, to breath fresh air instead of smoky air.
I met Marcus outside the theatre, it was the middle of December and snowing, the only light visible was the light from Marcus' cigarette. "I'm ready, where's everyone else?" "They are already there. But you didn't know where you were going, so I decided to wait for you." "Thank you". We walked together side by side with little conversation, it was a long cold walk, longer than I thought, and all of a sudden I shivered, "You cold Here drink this." he handed me a bottle of brandy; I drank it to please him. There were only two more corners to turn and there it was the Moulin Rouge.
The entrance was nothing I had seen before, the red electric lights, gave the grey streets a healthy radiance, even the rats could not resist the temptation. We walked in and the band music made my eardrums burst. However, one thing that shocked me beyond believes were the women, the erotic flirting of the prostitutes, this is when I realized the Moulin Rouge was more that what meets the eye.
Prostitutes were well known to me, I hear their voices every night as I sleep and the trade was my first source of income before I joined the theatre, but this was far different. These were beautiful women, unfortunate creatures of the underworld, a dazzling array of blue, yellow and pink dresses with black linings, lifting their skirts to reveal laddered black tights and red suspenders, kicking their legs in the air in unison to the music. Men holding and waving hundreds of francs in the air hoping to hire one of the beautiful creatures, many women had already claimed their clients for the evening, within their passionate embraces, skirts above their knees and the men not knowing where to put their hands or money.
Marcus' face lit up at the sensuous pleasure that stood before him, I stood in shock confused as to how such a trade can be almost theatrical in its nature. He noticed his acquaintances across the hall, he grabbed my hand and dragged me across the dance floor, constantly he had women approaching him, flirting in such away that even he could not resist, throwing away what little he earned. We finally reached the small table in the corner; the filled glasses of absinthe were for us. I was the only girl in the group, I felt small and timid, I could feel their eyes burning into, my bodes; "This is Mary, the new actress at the theatre," said Marcus, taking of his coat and smiling a devious smile. "Have a drink." said one of them in an intimidating tone, he was a tall, well built man with dark blonde hair and bright red lips tinted with pink from where he had been repeatedly kissed. The other men had medium builds, and incredibly strong arms they all had the robust looks of workmen with the clothes to match. When I was offered the drink, each of them glared at me in anticipation awaiting my reaction on tasting the liquor.
I picked up the shot glass with the green liquor my hand shaking, unsure of what to do I did not want to try the drink but I would appear more ridiculous in the eyes and thoughts of these men if I did not show confidence in trying local drink. I knocked it back in one, the burning taste of aniseed in my throat caused me to cough and splutter, so much so that I thrown back into my seat. They laughed at me in a mocking way, "Ha can't handle your drink? Obviously Marcus hasn't been looking after you properly." I stopped sputtering, I heard the comment but I did not see who made it. Marcus brought me some water to sooth the burning sensation in my throat as looked at my shaking fingers in shame; my first glass of absinthe was like nicotine; once it had been sipped the tips of your tongue lusts for more and will not stop desiring the taste until you give in to it.
The night went quickly along with our drunkenness. I had grown attached to absinthe after a few glasses the burning decreases but the spirits still go to straight to the head. I began to get dizzy, the constant dancing with Marcus and his acquaintances alongside the courtesans; the world began to spin then turn to orange. I must have collapsed for a brief moment onto Marcus, the next thing I remember was being outside the fresh air filling my lungs and clearing my head. "You alright. Someone must have put something in your drink, cocaine is popular around here." I stood up straight, feeling as if I was about to vomit, "I won't go back in, but I'm not leaving without you." Marcus nodded and went back in.
I stood outside for about 5 minutes allowing the cold night air to flutter through my hair, I could feel my cheeks going cold wanting to go back in but I could not trust the men we were with. Suddenly I heard footsteps from behind me, I quickly turn to see who it was; it was one of Marcus' acquaintances the one who mocked me when I choked on the absinthe. At this point, I found out that his name was Pierre from Marcus constantly telling him that he had, had enough to drink. He walk was scattered, he continued walking into obstacles in the street, and ironically, it was always a prostitute he ‘stumbled into'. I did not speak to him I merely watched, he staggered up to me and talked to me in his drunken state, "Aren't you cumin' back in?" I shook my head and turned my back on him; he walked behind me and put his arm over my shoulder a whispered in my ear "Marcus is missing you. But you...don't deserve him," I could feel the strength of his arm against my throat gasping for breath when he spoke again "No he's far to good for the likes of a slut like you!" he pushed me up against the wall, I tried to scream but he covered my mouth. "You're not going to say a word" while saying this with his spare hand I could feel his fingers ripping my dress. I bit his fingers and screamed. He punched me in the face as I fell to the floor he repeatedly kicked me in the stomach. I tried to scream again but the blows cut of my breathing, I thought I was dead. Until I heard him wail, and through the tears in my eyes I saw Marcus beating Pierre to the ground, beating him unconscious. He picked me up and I fell into his embracing arms. I knew I was safe. He whispered gently in my ear "It's all right. It's all right. Its over". He put his coat around my shoulders, and took me back to the theatre with one arm wrapped around me. I kept collapsing as we walked up the hills eventually he picked me up and carried like a child in her father's arms through the cold streets and dark ally ways back to the theatre.
I was still shaking when he took me into my dressing room. He left me on the bed and went to get some iodine, he returned about 5 minutes later with the iodine, fresh sheets and cold water, "This is going to sting but try not to think about it." I cried out when I felt the chemical burning my skin, but Marcus was gentle, its hard to imagine that a boy who spends his entire day hand scrubbing the stage would have such soft fingers and a gentle touch. He tended my wounds in silence and wrapped them up tight with coarse bandages. "I want a drink Marcus," I whispered softly it sounded as if I was dying and this was to be the final wish of a condemned woman. Out his coat pocket he brought of another bottle of cognac, another small bottle fell out, but he quickly concealed it, however through my tired eyes I read the blurred letters in smudged black ink on the label in ‘OPI...' I drank the liquor in one coughing when I finished. Afterwards I lied back on my bed and fell straight asleep. Marcus pulled a blanket over me and left as quiet as a mouse.
During the night, I was awoken by the sound of running footsteps outside my dressing room. I went outside to see what all the commotion was. "Marcus! What's happening?" "Celeste has been taken ill again, last night she was vomiting and its happening again.". From the education I received I knew that constant vomiting was due to admission of arsenic into the blood stream. A frightful shiver ran down my spine and I nearly collapsed, as I heard the sounds of her vomiting in the distance I felt myself going white and light headed as I leaned against the door panels with everyone rushing past me. I didn't say anything in fear of what will happen to me but I found it ironic that last night Celeste was poisoned by arsenic on the stage and now she was showing all the symptoms of someone who was poisoned for real.
The chaos soon calmed and Marcus returned out of breath sweat pouring of him his hair flying in all directions that he fell in exhaustion against the wooden walls. He walked towards me "She'll be alright now. Her stomachs calmed down now, probably something she ate. Are you ok?" I smiled "Yes I'm ok now, what about you?" before he was able to answer one of the maids came running across the platform, "Mademoiselle Mary, a gentleman is here to see you. An English man, he will stay the night. He's in Monsieur Artoir's room, who wants to see you now." I quickly put on a dressing gown and ran to Monsieur Artoir's room. A sudden shock struck me deeply, an inner voice was telling me that I knew whom it was, but these were mere feelings. Who pays attention to them? But still I could not ignore them, as I walked ever closer to the door I heard voices, I instantly recognized the English accent but still I refused to believe it, I mean how would he have found me? How did he know, I was here, at this theatre in this place?
I knocked nervously on the door, not only was I worried about who was here to see me but also about what Monsieur Artoir will say about my bruised eye. "Entr" called Monsieur Artoir, I entered and saw him standing, looking over his rustic leather chair "Ah Mary, this gentleman has traveled from England to see you; I hope you will treat him with good courtesy. I will leave the two of you now."He left the room, the leather pivot chair swiveled around, and my suspicions were confirmed. Sitting in that chair was my educator and legal guardian "Hello Mary" said the man who I tried to escape. My Uncle. My uncle was a small man, but he made up for his height deficiency through his loud and deep voice. He was large and well fed, however his clothes fitted him perfectly, only the best tailors in Bond Street were good enough for him. The rich dark emerald green cravats and navy blue blazers completed his dominant presence. However deep inside the fine tailor made suits and leather wallets he was still the evil man who beat me as a child, I despised his black eyes and malice smile. Now he was here sitting in front of me prepared once again to shatter my dreams and hopes.