Corner of the Sky
The group of three had returned to the tavern after staking out a job that was not quite ripe. The night had progressed to the point that few patrons still resembled anything sober. Babet was telling how he had been one of the few men in Desnoyer’s who was not arrested by the great Vidocq, which annoyed Feuilly to no end. There were not enough stories to tell, and being about eight years old at the time of that particular raid, Feuilly had heard about it the day after and in every lull since.
“Would you just shut the fuck up?” he asked wearily. “We all know the only reason you weren’t arrested in that raid was because you’d pissed everyone off a couple weeks before, and since you weren’t on speaking terms with anyone, the ‘great’ Vidocq, who is not clairvoyant, didn’t have anything on you at the moment. Goddammit!” He slammed his glass down. “Why did the place have to be a biscuit?”
“It’s not a biscuit. What’s up your ass all of a sudden? He finally speaks his own language, must be something wrong.”
“A biscuit’s a biscuit. Don’t know what else to call it. As for trouble, I’m short on money, that’s all. That’s what it always is, and what it will be until the end of time.”
“You can’t seriously be that hard up.”
“Have you seen me working as much as you want me to? No. I have other things to do with my time. And unfortunately, rent comes due in three days, and I can’t pay it.”
“You’ve never been late with it before. Model tenant,” Babet mocked.
“Someone’s in a mood tonight,” Babet informed someone over Feuilly’s shoulder.
He turned around. “Mireille. That look on your face isn’t good.”
“Someone wants to see you, honey. She’s too afraid to come in.”
“Lydie?” he asked softly. Mireille nodded. “What’s the matter?”
“She just wants to see you.”
“What is this? His china doll wants to see him? That’s a twist now, ain’t it? You’re supposed to play with the nice toy mummy gave you, not leave her to wander around looking for you.”
“Shut up. She’s not a china doll or a plaything,” Feuilly replied defensively. “I’m going to see what the matter is, and there better be something going on soon.”
Lydie saw him before he saw her. “Feuilly?” she asked softly from the shadows.
“Lydie! What’s the matter?”
“Can I come home with you? Just - just to sleep?” “Yes. Of course. But what’s wrong?”
She moved out of the shadows enough so he could see the bruises darkening the left side of her face. “I can’t take being hit. You know I can’t take being hit.”
Feuilly very gently touched her injured cheek. “Of course you can come home with me.”
He tried to offer her his arm, but she slipped her hand into his instead, squeezing tightly like a lost child. They walked the distance to his building in silence. Only as they started up the stairs did Lydie say anything. “I’m not making trouble for you, am I?”
“I promise you’re not. How could you make trouble for me?”
Inside, he pulled one of his blankets off the bed and started arranging it on the floor. “Feuilly.” He looked up. “No. Stay with me, please.”
“I didn’t mean . . .”
“I know. You’re just trying to do what I want, but I can’t explain what I want. Just stay with me tonight, please. I can’t bear to be alone, but I can’t bring myself to work, either.”
“I’ll do whatever you ask me to.”
“Can you start by unhooking my dress?” She turned around so he could see the hooks and eyes this time.
He did as she asked, then turned to remake his bed. “This is the most privacy I can give you. I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to be sorry,” she told him as she quickly undressed. “I never get privacy anyway. Never did.” Feuilly didn’t answer, occupying himself with fixing up the poor bed as best he could. She laid a tiny hand on his shoulder, and he turned around. Her white face seemed to glow in the ray of moonlight that came through the window. “Thank you.” She tried to force a smile, but it obviously pained her.
Feuilly helped her into bed, then undressed himself down to just his shirt before climbing in after her, pulling her into his arms. She lay facing the wall so as not to put pressure on her bruised face. Curling tightly against him, she grabbed one of his hands as if it were a doll, falling asleep with it pressed to her face. Feuilly could feel her crying silently, and it was long after she had stopped that he dozed off himself.
When Lydie woke around noon, she discovered that she was in bed alone. Feuilly was sitting in the window, mostly dressed, with his back to her, a book in his lap. She got up and looked over his shoulder. “What are you reading?”
He turned around. “How did you sleep?”
“Better than I expected.“ She kissed him on the cheek and brushed his hair out of his face. “What are you reading?”
She wrinkled her nose. “Are those shapes supposed to be words, too?”
“No.” He smiled. “I’m teaching myself geometry.”
“Why?” She rested her chin on his shoulder.
“Because it’s part of getting an education. You can’t get a good job unless you’re educated. So I’m doing it myself.”
“Mireille said you wanted to be a lawyer.”
“What does this have to do with being a lawyer?“
“Everything and nothing. I’ve heard that if you work as a law clerk in Paris for a few years, you can pick up enough law to move out to a smaller town in the provinces and practise there. I think that’s what I’d like. Comfortable, respectable existence. A little house, with an apple tree in the garden in back. My children in school and able to marry decently.” He turned to look at her. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing. You’d miss Paris, though.”
Feuilly shrugged. “I don’t miss wherever it is I’m from, so it must pass.”
She looked at him in surprise. “You’re not from Paris?”
“Don’t think so. I think I’m from somewhere in the south. I was pretty young, so I don’t really remember coming here.”
“No wonder you’re so sweet to me.”
Feuilly blushed and looked away. “What upsets you so much about being knocked around a little? I mean, it’s not exactly a great amusement, but what’s so bad about something that happens so often?”
“It doesn’t happen so often to me,” she snapped. Sighing, she sat down on the bed. “I don’t feel like talking about it. I don’t like remembering home. So just - just -” She broke down in tears.
He moved to the bed and put his arms around her. “Cry all you need to. I’ll always be here, I promise.” Feuilly held her close and smoothed her hair until her own embarrassment and pride drove her out of his arms and into her clothes, sticking her hair pins into her sleeve, but at the door she faltered.
“I shouldn’t bother you with my problems. You’ve got dreams of getting out of here, and somehow, you’re going to do it, and you’ll go places I never could.”
“Lydie, I’m never going to be too good for you. You don’t want to talk, but do you need to?”
She shrugged but would not look at him. “I’ve been a whore since I was born. There’s plenty of ways you’re already too good for me.”
“I’ve been a thief and a liar since I don’t know when, maybe the same amount of time. It’s no different.”
“But it is! You weren’t born to it. Babet taught you, but me,” her voice faltered again, “I was born to it.”
He gently lifted her chin to make her look at him. “You weren’t born to it.”
“Yes, I was! Why would my father want me like that if I wasn’t born a whore? My mother always said I was, didn’t know why she fed me, hit me every time she caught him with me. It’s not a question of what I like, or what I want, just what I am.”
“So you don’t like being hit.”
“I don’t like being hit because then I can’t pretend it’s my own choice anymore,” she sobbed, muffled by Feuilly’s shoulder. “I chose to come to Paris, but all I can do is be a whore and get beat.”
He carefully extracted himself from her grip. “It isn’t all you can do. It can’t be.”
“I can’t cook, I can barely sew, I’m no good with a fire, even, and the only way paying my way here was by paying favours. My parents threw me out for getting pregnant, and I can’t even stay pregnant, either! Only good thing that ever happened was losing the baby.”
“Who was the father?” he asked carefully.
Lydie had withdrawn, hugging herself tightly and slightly rocking back and forth. “My father. Who else would it have been?”
“Lydie, look at me.” She shook her head, continuing to stare at the floor. Feuilly knelt in front of her. “I’m here to protect you now, I promise. And you and me, we’re going to dream bigger than anyone thought we could.” He gently wiped her tears, but she pushed him away and stood up. “Lydie?”
“I have to go. I’m sorry, Feuilly.” She ran out with her shoes in her hand, slamming the door behind her.
“People are trying to sleep, here!” cried the rough but female voice of his neighbour.
Feuilly banged on the wall. “And we’re done, so stay the fuck out of our business!” he shouted back before collapsing on the bed. It had felt good to hit the wall. It would feel better to hit M. Vincent, Feuilly thought. He bashed his fist into the mattress a few times before he forced himself to calm down, sit at the table, and grab a pencil. Drawing had always soothed him. Except today, his fingers seemed capable of forming only Lydie’s bruised face. He violently ripped the page from the book and flung his knife into it, sticking it to the already battered tabletop. At that point, he gave up, grabbed his coat, and went for a walk, hatless, desperate to think of anything but the story he had just learned.
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