domingo, 25 de febrero de 2018


Opening Night

It would have been an impressive bouquet, by ordinary standards; but far lovelier, grander ones had already been ignored, dismissed to the chorus' dressing room, and Henri was losing patience.
'Alas, monsieur, it is impossible to disturb her. She will see nobody before a performance. The artistic temperament, you know.' And even if it were possible, it would call for rather more than what had been pressed into his hand. A reputation as a reliable doorkeeper must be sold more dearly than that.
'Then will you at least see that these are brought to her dressing room?' The man thrust the flowers at him.
Henri examined the bouquet carefully. Not lilies, which made the great lady sneeze, and not freesias, which gave Mlle Louise a headache. And there was something clinking gently in the man's hand. He relented. 'I'll see what I can do, monsieur. Georges,' he called, 'would you mind watching the door?'

There was, as it happened, not much to be done. The door to the prima donna's dressing room was locked, or, at least, her dresser swore it was. Victorine had a chair backed up against it, and she was knitting. 'Madame is warming up.'
'Is that really so?' Henri liked Victorine. He thought Victorine might like him, and he didn't want to push his luck. Still, he had taken the man's money and he felt vaguely that he should earn it.
Victorine scowled and cocked her head at the closed door. 'Don't you hear her?' And indeed the tinkle of a piano was audible, and the closed-lipped drone that was Madame exploring her lower notes.
'What should I do with this?' he asked.
Victorine looked down at the three other bouquets at her feet. 'Leave it, if you must. Or I dare say the ballet would appreciate it.'
Somewhat against his better judgement, Henri left it. Victorine returned to her knitting.

The acoustic in here was flattering. Louise thought this an accident, but Eugénie affected to believe that one of her predecessors had had it made so deliberately. She prided herself on the lack of any similar impulse. If anything, she had told Louise, it irritated her; she felt impelled to compensate. Out on the stage there would be no such comfort, and she needed no flattery now.
'Play me the entry in the second act,' Eugénie commanded Louise, authoritative even in her chemise and corset. 'From Margaux's lead – and then hold the C major chord.'
The score lay closed on the stand. Louise did not need to open it; she had played this section often enough over the past weeks.
Eugénie sang the entry; then, as Louise depressed the pedal, she hung on the top G, coaxing it from piano to forte and back again, then introducing a little shake, and smoothing it out again.
She nodded, and Louise let go of the chord. Eugénie ran up and down the scale one last time, two octaves. Louise, free now to listen, thought it good. The low notes were secure, the top notes placed beautifully, the whole tone rich and open.
Eugénie smiled, cautiously satisfied. 'Now,' she said.
Louise's breath caught in her throat. She tipped her head back to look at Eugénie, who came behind her, and, putting one bare arm either side of her, gently closed the lid of the piano over the keys. Then, taking Louise's waist between her two hands, she pulled her up to stand. Louise twisted around to face her, leaning one knee on the piano stool. Eugénie tightened her embrace and kissed Louise fiercely.
'Are you certain...?' Louise murmured, knowing the answer. This was how it always began, every opening night: the notes once being in place, Eugénie's abrupt change of interest, her own token demurral, and then -
'Yes.' Eugénie pulled her closer, dragging her upwards so that she knelt on the piano stool. 'Come...' One arm around Louise's back, the other behind her knees. Louise, knowing what was coming, looped her arms around Eugénie's neck and let her carry her to the chaise-longue at the other end of the dressing room. She gazed up into dark, intent eyes, and shivered with anticipation.
Eugénie could be gentle when she chose. She was gentle now, laying Louise down and arranging a cushion under her head, drawing her skirts up and kissing along her thighs, further, further -
Always it was like this, had been ever since Eugénie had attained the right to a dressing room of her own: the bustle of the opera house locked outside the door, Louise stretched on the chaise-longue as if she herself were the prima donna whose every whim must be indulged, and Eugénie's dark head among her skirts.
Once or twice she had tried to reciprocate, but every time Eugénie had caught her wrists and pinned them down, making it clear that in this moment they must not confuse artist and audience. Eugénie needed nothing but Louise's undivided attention. And Louise, contented, captive, did not scruple to give it her, then or now.
The combination of past memory and present sensation brought her to the edge, and past it, and she cried out. Flushed, triumphant, Eugénie straightened up, then dropped to her knees to kiss Louise. 'Well?' she murmured.
'I'm yours. You know it.' Louise's breath was quick, her heart racing.
'Dearest Louise,' Eugénie murmured, with uncharacteristic tenderness. 'You're so patient with me.'
Louise let herself smile up at her for a second – two seconds – leant up impulsively and kissed her – then stood up and smoothed her skirts down. 'Shall I call Victorine?'
Eugénie nodded. 'Thank you,' she said.
Louise crossed the room quietly and turned the door handle. Victorine had already wound her knitting around the needles. Now she was gathering up the collection of flowers from the floor.
Louise did not speak, contenting herself with a conspiratorial smile at Victorine and a glance backwards at Eugénie. Already she seemed taller and more remote, her being concentrated in that glorious voice. Every time, Louise thought, as she slipped through the door that led to the auditorium, every time I lose her. No. She lost nothing, nothing that she would not be repaid with interest when the curtain came up, and – Louise smiled – again when it came down. Every time I give her... give her what? I give her to them. I give her to herself.
Her breath still coming a little quickly, she settled herself in the red velvet seat and waited for the curtain to rise.

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