Corner of the Sky
“The girl isn’t bad, but I need something better,” Duret told him straight.
“Too much art, not enough sex?” Feuilly asked, certain of the answer.
“Exactly. I need cunts, not this fancy shit.”
At least Duret deemed it fancy. “So if her legs were spread, you’d take it?”
“Here’s what I want, if you get the girl back. Or a similar girl. Too bad you won’t give me the Jewess, but I’ve had men bring me plenty worse than this little wench. Bed, sofa, I don’t care what you’ve got in the way of furniture. Keep the composition tight to reflect that. Lying on her side like this is good, keeps her breasts pert. Let one leg dangle off the edge and keep the other one up so we get a full on view of her cunt. Open and detailed, I don’t care if the view is wholly accurate or not as long as it feels possible. Understand?”
“I want to get them printed by Mardi Gras.”
“Yes, monsieur. I’ll see what I can do.”
Twenty francs. Twenty francs was a lot of money. Even if he had to spend three or four on a model, that still meant a mattress and perhaps some profit if he were lucky. But Mardi Gras was in two weeks - less if one counted the time to get a plate made and the prints run. The only chance at that twenty francs was to find Lydie.
Thus he found himself in the passage des Petites-Ecuries, trying to remember in which of the cramped houses he could find Lydie’s flat. It had been in the middle of the row, and he could not recall what sort of shop had filled the ground floor. In embarrassment, propelled forward only by the prospect of twenty francs, he began knocking on doors, asking after Lydie Vincent, to absolutely no result. Maybe he was in the wrong leg, he decided, after four houses could tell him nothing, when he caught sight of a girl who looked familiar, possibly the seamstress to whom he had not been introduced the one time he had visited Lydie’s flat. “Excuse me, mademoiselle!” he called after her. “Yes, you, mademoiselle!”
She stopped, confused that any stranger would hail her. Feuilly had to push his way through the passage to approach her closely enough that she could see that he had been the one to hail her. “So you come back after a year.”
The prospect of twenty francs was a strong enough prod for him to ignore her combative attitude. He knew he deserved for this to be a failed errand. “I’m looking for Lydie.”
“I figured as much, to see you back here. If you want to break her heart all over again, I won’t be party to it.”
“As if she has a heart to break.”
“Just because she earns her living in a particular manner doesn’t mean she isn’t a woman! How could you possibly treat her the way you did and think anyone would let you see her?”
“How could anyone see the contempt with which she treated me and expect me to come back around here?”
“Contempt? She practically worshiped at your feet.”
“Maybe to you lot. To my face, no ambition was good enough. A forger would have been better than a lawyer’s clerk to her. Just because she’s no good at earning an honest living doesn’t mean she should treat me like dirt for the attempt.”
“Can you get it through your thick skull that that was the whole problem? Everyone knew that if you went straight, you’d leave her behind. And then you did. How has that worked out for you?”
“If you think I’m crawling back, you’re sadly mistaken. I’ve got a job for Lydie if she’s willing. How much is she making these days? I can give three francs for an afternoon that doesn’t involve sex. Only reason I’m here. Just a job.”
“Well, she’s not in, I don’t think.”
“Will she be back anytime this afternoon?”
“Tell her I’ll wait at our old cabaret until 5 o’clock if she’s interested. Please,” he begged. “I may not have seen her in a year, but I know she could use the money.”
Feuilly knew he owed Viv money, even if she insisted otherwise, but so long as he left before sunset, he was certain he could avoid any of the rest of his former acquaintance. It was a risk that could end in one hell of a fight, but where else could he so easily direct Lydie? The old memories might be in his favour, and if not, then it could hardly go worse than a meeting in a more neutral location.
Viv was surprised to see him, as of course word must have gotten around immediately of his latest defection. “I didn’t think I’d see you again.”
“They won’t do anything to me here.”
“My father wouldn’t permit it. But that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t do anything to you at all.”
“I can look after myself,” he told her with a smile. He knew all Babet’s weak points, and Gueulemer and Demi-Liard wouldn’t bother with him. No profit in it, so no point in exerting the effort. “How have you been?”
“The same. It’s always the same. Do you want dinner?”
“No, just a glass. I worked yesterday.”
“That’s good to hear. At what?”
“Painting one of the new houses in the rue de Crussol.”
“The shop needs a sign?”
“If only. I was assisting the housepainter. He’s started teaching me about false finishes, which may help in future. Today was just painting the façade. But work is work, and it keeps me fed.”
“I’ll see that you’re kept watered, then.”
When she returned with a pot of wine, he warned her, “I should tell you that I’m waiting here for Lydie.”
A warning indeed, for she looked devastated. “Why?”
“I have work for her if she is interested. It’s just work, that’s all. If she’ll even speak to me, and I have my doubts as to that.”
“I’m surprised you’ll speak to her, after everything.”
“I need her for this one job. That’s all it is, work.”
“Do you think she’ll come?”
“If she could use three francs, and if she either absolutely despises me or doesn’t care anymore,” he lied. The only reason she would come, and endure this sort of favour to him, was if she thought she could get more than a bit of cash from it.
“Because she’ll scratch my eyes out?”
“She didn’t bother trying to scratch mine out after you dropped her. But I know better than to trust her.”
“So do I. But I need her for this job.”
She did come, after Feuilly had read through two days worth of month-old newspapers. The Charter claimed to guarantee freedom of religious thought, and here the new king was pushing through his law on sacrilege. In a way, it was a relief to see Lydie so he might row over something that had nothing to do with politics. He had only recognised one of the men who spent their days drinking in the tavern, and any of the strangers could belong to the police.
She stood in front of him, arms crossed. “Martine said you wanted to see me.”
“Sit. Do you want a drink?”
“Can you afford to buy me one?”
He put a couple coins down on the table. “Tell Viv what you want.”
She came back from the counter with a pot of wine. “I heard you weren’t doing so well for yourself.” She had gotten harder in his absence, more harsh and flippant. Good, he thought. She wasn’t going to last much longer if she kept finding men to cling to. When he left, it had been time for them both to grow up.
“Babet did me a favour, and I paid him back. That’s all it was. Over before Christmas.”
“Some favour, getting you out of jail.”
“He didn’t get me out of jail. The police finally realised they had no case to bring to a judge, so they let us go. Babet just loaned me some money to get me through, and you can imagine he prefers to be paid back in trade rather than cash.”
“So you’ve got three francs to spare and think you can spend an afternoon fucking me?”
“As if I’d take you back to bed. This isn’t you and me getting back together. I’m only here on business.”
“You know what my business is.”
“Remember I did some drawings of you a couple years ago?”
“You’re still on about those stupid dreams?”
“A printer liked one of them, but he wants it more overt. I’ll give you three francs if you’ll spend an afternoon posing for me again.”
“Three francs?” she asked, trying to hide her eagerness. The prospect of real money seemed to have settled her hash. Who could be cynical about three francs for a couple hours’ very light work?
“But it has to be you. He was clear on that. He’ll only pay me if it’s the same girl I showed him. You. And it has to be in the next couple of days.”
“You can really sell a drawing of me?”
“Only if the buyers can see your cunt, apparently, but yes.”
“So it’s one of those pictures.”
“Is that better or worse than your beloved line of forgery?”
“It’ll be my face and everything?”
“That’s the deal.”
“You’re a whore!”
“I’m not registered!”
“Your part in this is legal, while streetwalking isn’t. Think of it as advertising the goods.”
She paused to drink down a large portion of her wine. Was she gathering courage, delaying the inevitable, or completely failing in her woman-about-town display, Feuilly wondered? Finally, she set down the pot with a bit of a bang. “No.”
“No?” he asked incredulously.
“No. Three francs isn’t really enough.”
“It’s worth three clients and I won’t even touch you.”
“I want five.”
“No way in hell.”
“Then you don’t get paid either, so it’s all the same to me.”
“I can find another girl who’ll take the three francs.”
“Fine.” He stood to go. What had been the point? He was almost to the counter, intending to pay a couple sous to Viv, when Lydie called him back. “You’ll take the three?”
She looked down at her pot of wine, but she answered, “I’ll take the three.”
Which was all well and good, he realised, but he had nowhere to put her. He was not about to give her his address. She was still living in the overcrowded flat, so he could not go there, not unless he were to pay the other girls to vacate. At least a franc each, which would mean another three. He hated to do it, but Viv had rented a room before for even less. “How much for one of the rooms for an afternoon?”
“You don’t mean it,” she insisted sadly.
“It’s just work. A couple hours, tops. You’ll have the room again for the night, just change the sheet. Please. It’s just a drawing, I promise, but I have nowhere else to take her.”
“I’ll do it for a franc,” she relented, though the expression on her face made Feuilly feel a complete heel.
“Thank you. Really, thank you.” He placed a couple of coins on the counter to pay for the wine they had drunk. “Tomorrow? The day after?”
“Just get it over with.”
“Tomorrow around eleven.” She waved him away. “Tomorrow, eleven o’clock, here,” he told Lydie.
“Cash in hand before I take a thing off.”
Where was he going to get four francs by tomorrow? He could pay it back once the drawing was sold, but he hadn’t two francs left to his name. Still, Lydie was being remarkably good about the whole thing, and once it was all over, there would be a decent mattress and he could even pay Viv what he owed her from those weeks of dinners.
Part 41 ~ Fiction ~ Part 43 ~ Home