The Lovely Gaze Where Every Eye Doth Dwell
The boy called himself Gigi. Feuilly had spent all spring watching the boys, occasionally sketching them, always enthralled by their clothes and manners, and one day, Gigi sat down in the grass next to him and introduced himself. “You always come and you never talk, and you ain’t police, so the girls wanted to know why. And I said they could mind their own business because you were mine.”
Nervously, Feuilly looked down at the sketchbook he was suddenly clutching like a lifeline. Gigi on paper was a very different sort of ideal than Gigi in person; Gigi in person was a theatrical creature. Well, how could he not be, a boy dressed as a girl, prostituting himself very publicly? Prostitutes were always playing to what they thought a man’s ideal should be; that was the real reason actresses were conflated with them.
“I didn’t mean to scare you, dear,” Gigi apologised. “Oh, bloody hell.” Feuilly looked up in time to see the policeman headed in their direction. “Can’t the bleeding coppers leave me be for five minutes?” He hopped to his feet and smoothed his yellow-flowered skirt, knocking a bit of grass out of the second row of whitework inset above the hem. “I shall see you again, shan’t I, dear?”
“Yes,” Feuilly answered unthinkingly. Gigi swanned off, demonstrating that he had patently not picked up any custom and deliberately not looking at the policeman so as not to be provoked into anything that might result in being taken in for a fine or a couple of days in jail. Feuilly buried himself in his sketchbook, hoping the policeman would not ask him anything. Once the policeman had passed on, Feuilly escaped the gardens entirely. He had been too obvious and must not return. Particularly if the police were going to examine him carefully and notice that he had been keeping his eyebrows carefully plucked. Only the sissy boys cared that much about their appearance in that way, much to Feuilly’s embarrassment. Had he not proved to Fanny, several times now, that he was not a sissy boy?
Yet he did return the following Sunday, and ended up sketching a bit, until Gigi came up to him again. “I didn’t scare you off, then. Good. You know, some of the girls are jealous as anything of you.”
That got enough of Feuilly’s attention that he at last looked straight into Gigi’s face. “You can’t be serious.”
“If you ain’t one of us, then you’ve got a job and a boss, and how on earth does he let you get away with such utterly divine hair?”
Feuilly did not entirely know the answer. Had his hair been a problem, he would not have been hired in the first place, so how could it become a problem? He shrugged. “Artistic work. I keep it tied back. If anyone’s ever cared, they haven’t said anything.”
“You are too, too lucky.” Gigi took a lock of Feuilly’s hair and twisted it around his finger. Gigi’s own hair was curled around his powdered and painted face, under the blue lining of his wide-brimmed bonnet. “Why aren’t you one of us, dear?” he asked seductively.
Feuilly did not pull away even though he knew he ought. “I don’t trick for a living.”
“That’s not what I mean. I never saw you before, and I’d remember you. You are like us. We’re not all whores,” he added, a little bitterly.
“But the police -”
“A whore takes money. The police assume we all do.”
“So you’re not a whore.”
“I’m no better than I ought to be, and isn’t that all any girl can really say?”
“Then why do you tramp the same paths as the prostitutes?”
“Why do you come here looking at us?” Gigi asked rhetorically. “It’s a fine day to be outside.”
“I’ve seen you in the rain.”
“Not me, dear.”
“No, not you in particular,” Feuilly corrected in embarrassment. “The - girls.” It felt odd to call them girls, but he couldn’t say “he-she” to one, could he?
“We all have to make a living somehow.” Gigi rolled his eyes. “Some of them would queue up for a pass if the government started licensing anything with a cock, the little sluts.”
“Happen to be particular. And you ain’t my type, so don’t worry I’m trying to seduce you, dear. I don’t often go for girls, with or without cocks.” It was not the most reassuring statement, to in essence be called a girl by a boy wearing a dress and still playing with his hair, but Feuilly hadn’t the time to be offended. Gigi had suddenly let him go and grabbed up his sketchbook instead. “Oh my, you are drawing us for real! Do I look this much a treat?”
Feuilly tried to grab it back, but Gigi was too quick. “It is an accurate likeness, I think.”
He started flipping pages. “Oh, that slut. Nana looks a treat. How did you make Lène look so sad?”
Feuilly managed to grab his book back. “I just draw what I see.” He started flipping pages to see that everything was intact, though Gigi had been careful as anything.
Gigi grabbed his hand as he caught sight of another drawing. “Hello. That’s you, ain’t it?”
Feuilly blushed a deep crimson. He had, a few weeks earlier, attempted to sketch what he thought he must have looked like in Fanny’s evening dress. The shading was all wrong, he had only the memory of the dress to go by, he had never even been granted the opportunity to examine well the beautiful job she had done in painting his face, but it had seemed a way of extending the memory.
“I would die, simply die for a dress like that,” Gigi sighed.
“Lavender satin. A full foot of trim around the skirt.” Feuilly rather sighed at the memory.
“You must let me see you in it.”
“Can’t,” he admitted. “It ain’t mine.”
“If you’ve only been playing pretend through drawing, and you want to do more, I can help you.”
“Why would you do that?” he asked warily.
Gigi smiled. “I can be as catty as anyone if I must, but dear, sometimes being selfish as anything means helping someone else at the same time. You see, I’m simply dying to see you in drag, and you’re simply dying to let it out, so why shouldn’t you make me happy by making yourself happy?”
“I have a job. I can’t afford to get sacked.”
“So do I, dear. But slumming with the whores here isn’t the only time and place to get dressed. We meet Wednesdays at Janvier’s place off the rue de la Harpe. It’s in an alley above the rue des Medicis.”
Feuilly took a moment to think about it. There was nothing illegal in dressing up - he was not being pulled into any sort of police plot by a cleverly costumed informant. Gigi’s exaggerated mannerisms were somehow both annoying and intoxicating; his manner of performing an idea of the female was not in the least passable yet was still true. The possibility of there being others was interesting. “Janvier’s place?”
“Awful café, if I’m honest, but he lets us have the back room, and a room upstairs as a changing room.”
“I haven’t got any dress at all,” Feuilly admitted.
Gigi patted his cheek. “We’ll set you up proper, no need to fear.” He stood to go. “These damned cops are going to be all over me because I’ve touched you. What’s your name, dear? The bastards never let me ask.”
“Feuilly.” “Not your birth name. Think of one before Wednesday. Eight o’clock. How can I introduce you around properly if you have no name?” He blew Feuilly a kiss and walked on.
Feuilly told himself that the whole thing was wrong, utterly wrong, no matter how tempting the offer was. Urges have to be repressed, otherwise what was the point in ever trying to be honest or good? If everyone gave vent to his urges, even those that seemed to hurt no one, that would be license, not freedom, and license would give way to anarchy. There had to be standards. And standards meant that men who were not prostitutes did not make fools of themselves dressing up in the back room of an awful café.
He went anyway. The image would be tawdry and disgusting and cure him of any desire to repeat the experiment. Gigi was right; Janvier’s was an awful café. The windows looked as if they would fall out of their rotting panes before the year was out, the front room yellow with old smoke yet not smoky with new as there were too few patrons smoking. There were a few women, but they were women, prostitutes, their real breasts threatening to burst out of their bodices as they drank quickly before heading back out to the streets. The patrons seemed not to be considered custom. Feuilly felt horribly out of place, even in his cap and smock, as he suspected he was rather better paid than anyone else in sight. But a high pitched, almost screaming laugh punctured the murmur of voices, and he noticed the table in the dark corner. Here were men in tall hats and long coats, as out of place as Feuilly but for a different reason. A man pushed past him and joined the back table, setting off a flurry of kisses in greeting. Feuilly knew he was staring, but he could not quite seem to move forward to see if they were who he sought or backward to leave the whole awful mess behind him.
Someone grabbed him around the waist and kissed his cheek. “I’m so glad you came, dear.” Gigi, dressed not as Feuilly had always seen him, but in a dark coat and dark cravat and tall hat, his only concession to flamboyance two brightly patterned waistcoats. “I look horrid, I know. I warned you one has to work for a living.” He had a canvas bag slung over his shoulder. “Come meet the girls. How should I introduce you?”
“I - I don’t know.”
“Zora, you slut, he’s not for you!” Gigi shouted to a young man of his own sort who was giving Feuilly a careful examination. “Come along, dear. Zora won’t bite unless you want her to.”
There were six or seven of them in the corner, all young, all dressed as if they must be clerks or shop boys in daily life, clean shaven with carefully trimmed eyebrows and some with rather long hair. They all had girls’ names, and they all acted more girlish than any real girl Feuilly had ever met. Gigi called him a “pupil”, and Feuilly felt awful as they clamoured around him. They were clerks and shop boys, and he had come straight from work in cap and smock, proving that he was not like them in the least. If he had known, he would have gone home and arrived late in his Sunday clothes, but there was no help for that now. “Show off a little,” Gigi insisted, stealing his cap. It was for the labourer to do what the clerk asked, so Feuilly complied, letting down his hair with the distinct feeling that he was permitting himself to be ill used. Even as the company nearly sighed as one and started talking over each other in high pitched excitement and jealousy.
A rather big man in cap and short jacket soon joined them, kissing Gigi on the cheek. “Who’s the new girl?”
“A new pupil, that’s all.”
Feuilly was rather glad there was someone else who was less “girl” and more “man” and distinctly the sort who must work with his hands.
“Where’s the princess?”
“Am I her keeper?” Gigi was distinctly annoyed by the question.
A middle aged man in an apron finally interrupted. “Furniture’s moved. All of you in the back,” he ordered.
The back room was rather large, with the furniture having been pushed along the walls. In the corner, a door stood open, showing a stairwell lit with a single candle. One table already had a row of wine bottles and glasses on it so that the patrons of the back room would not have to be disturbed in their revels - or so the management would not have to look on them to serve them.
A few more men dropped in, all of them in caps and some in smocks, which did explain why no one had yet treated Feuilly ill for his attire. Nearly everyone had a bag with him, and several bolted straight up the stairs.
“Just give them a minute, dear,” Gigi told Feuilly. “Anyone that eager must be given her own way.”
Another of the “girls”, this one already in full drag, burst into the back room. “I thought I would never make it! Oh, hello, it’s the boy from the gardens.”
“Business going well?” Gigi asked rather tartly.
“You may suck it, my dear. I have had quite a good day, and if it were not that I loved you all too much, I might still be out there.”
“She’s run from the cops,” Gigi explained to Feuilly.
“Suck it. Hello, darling, I’m called Nana.”
Nana was apparently an actual prostitute, but the big man pulled him away into conversation on the other side of the room. Feuilly breathed a sigh of relief. He was starting to come around to Gigi, but all the attention was a bit much. He had never been in such company before and had not predicted that they played the women even when they were not dressed like women. It was an aspect of Paris that was entirely new to him, and he was uncertain if he hated it or if he could learn to accept it. He did not quite like it.
The boys who had been so eager to dress themselves returned at last, their finery proving quite varied. An evening gown that must be thirty years old stood next to a day dress of last year’s fashion. Three of the four men wore bonnets or caps over their short hair, but the one in the ancient evening dress had combed his hair forward and wrapped a scarf around his head the way some women in the old paintings had done. The masquerade was more or less effective, but none of the boys seemed to care. They all had fans and some had reticules and it seemed the done thing to make a parade through the room before posing in a chair rather than merely sitting down.
“Come, dear, let’s see what we can get you into.”
Feuilly followed Gigi, the large man, and another boy up the narrow staircase. The room at the top was small and already filled with piles of male clothing, most treated roughly but an occasional bright waistcoat was carefully laid on top of an otherwise abandoned pile. Four or five candles in wall sconces lit the small space, and there was a mirror on one wall.
“You didn’t forget it, did you?” the man asked the other boy.
“Do I look like an idiot?” He pushed a canvas bag into the man’s hands. “I’m not taking it home again, though.”
“I’ll take it, dear,” Gigi volunteered.
The others quickly stripped naked and shook out the contents of their bags. Feuilly could not imagine that the man would look anything other than mannish in the printed cotton gown he had, but the boy had a certain prettiness to him that might be well emphasised by the delicate pink of the dress from which he was shaking out the wrinkles.
“Let’s have a look at you so we can see what from my bag of treasures might work. At least take your shirt off.”
Feuilly was not entirely certain about Gigi’s demands, but there was the promise of a bag of treasures. He carefully removed his smock and shirt and was rewarded by the boy grabbing him from behind. “A pretty one indeed.”
“Minette!” Gigi snapped, scandalised. “He is not for you.”
“Sorry to have gotten my hands on your property.”
“He’s not mine, either. He can belong to whomever he wants. Or no one, like Sylvanie.”
“Sylvanie belongs to his wife.”
“Yes, I do,” the man answered. “Except for these nights. Don’t let them annoy you,” he told Feuilly, his masculine voice in very queer contrast to the dress he was fastening. “They’ll calm down soon enough. You’ll relax once you’re dressed, I’m sure.” He gave Feuilly a friendly pat on the shoulder and went downstairs, leaving Feuilly utterly alone with the effeminate boys.
“Do you know what would be utterly divine?” Minette asked Gigi. Without waiting for a response, he continued, “Thin muslin. 90s. Marcie could do it up quickly, too.”
Gigi shot down the notion with a sniff. “It would be cheap.”
“It would be gorgeous.”
“He has very good arms and shoulders, it’s true. But something later and with colour. You want all the new girls to play the virgin.”
“Only the pretty ones.”
It was strange to be talked of as if he were a painting or a statue, as if he could not make his own decisions as to what would be best on his own person. Yet Feuilly had not the experience to decide what would look best, so they had to choose for him. But the manner of the discussion rubbed him the wrong way even as he was thoroughly cowed by their obvious expertise.
Gigi finally returned to addressing Feuilly. “Well, for the moment, dear, you’ll borrow from me, and I can’t offer you much choice tonight.” The choices were a blue striped day dress he had seen Gigi wearing in the park or a pale yellow evening gown with appliqué flowers down the bust, neither entirely to Feuilly’s taste the way Fanny’s lavender dress had miraculously been, but both serviceable. He chose the evening gown.
Minette finally seemed to realise he was the only naked man in the room and put on his own costume, a pink evening dress with a Greek key pattern all along the hem. He then monopolised the mirror in arranging his hair and making up his face. Feuilly turned his back on the boy and permitted Gigi to help him on with a set of petticoats and to fasten the gown.
“I haven’t got an extra pair of shoes, I’m afraid. It does spoil the look, of course, but then, Sylvanie does without. I hate to encourage anyone to do anything improperly.” Indeed, the dress had been outfitted with padding where there ought to be breasts, giving it the correct shape without worrying if a hastily stuffed pair of stockings might come loose.
Gigi did everything properly. He was wearing a chemise and stays under his shirt and jewel-toned waistcoats, and when he put on the blue-striped dress, one really might have taken him for a girl from the back, despite his short hair. He had the bearing of one, either naturally or through years of habit. He also had, Feuilly soon discovered, a false chignon that Minette helped him attach with hairpins. Minette settled for the same solution as one of the men downstairs, the scarf and short natural curls of what must have been his favourite period.
“A bit of paint, dear?” Gigi asked Feuilly, and without waiting for an actual answer, began to swipe rouge across his cheeks and dab tinted salve upon his lips. A bit of powder and he was considered done.
Minette and Gigi squabbled a bit over Minette’s dominance of the mirror, but at last Gigi was permitted to make himself up and to show Feuilly what his art might work. He had not been so painstaking as Fanny, but the lip salve had been a very nice touch, and he had not made Feuilly look nearly as whorish as it seemed Minette favoured.
“What’s to be done with her hair?” Minette finally asked.
“I really think for a night like this, it ought to be admired as is. You are a lucky, lucky thing,” Gigi murmured in Feuilly’s ear, “and you must show off as much as ever you can. It is not a formal occasion.”
Terribly nervous, Feuilly permitted Gigi and Minette, who had at last stopped attempting to flirt with him, to lead him down the stairs and parade him through the room. Gigi was taller than he and the skirt was a bit too long, so he had to hold it off the floor, terrified that he would end up stepping on the hem and ripping the skirt to shreds. The nervousness vanished almost instantly, however, as he was greeted with applause and shrieks of pleasure and even presented to a dumpy middle aged man who was apparently the late-arriving “princess”. The princess was the eldest of the group, and when he reappeared later, dressed in an exquisite red and gold 1780s gown complete with panniers and high wig, it was evident that he was indeed royalty of a sort.
Not everyone was as girlish as Gigi and Minette or as theatrical as the princess. Sylvanie, in his flowered dress and heavy boots, was joined by the mustachioed Philippine and the decidedly plain Irène. Gigi, Minette, Nana, and Zora were more girls than they were boys - it was simply more natural to interact with them in the way Feuilly had been pulled to interact with Sylvie and Fanny and Anne-Marie. Indeed, the whole evening was easier, and more comfortable, once he had a glass of wine in his free hand and was being pulled back and forth between competing cliques all wanting to pet and adore him.
At one point, he ended up at Sylvanie’s side in a brief moment of quiet amidst the shrieking laughter and playful taunts. “You’re married?”
“Ten years. My wife would kill me if she knew about any of this, but I’d go insane if I didn’t have it. Do be careful,” he warned, though in a rather fatherly manner. “You can go full in, like Nana, or just dip a toe once a week, like me, but if you make the wrong choice early, you’ll end up like the princess, in hock for her jewels and living off whatever she can because she’s too old to sell herself and too ruined to be honest.”
“Is it a fast slide down?” Feuilly worried.
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve got a wife and a business, and I’ll do what I must to keep both. Keep an eye on Zora - she’s the one I worry for most.”
“It is nice that you worry for them. And that you’re not like them. They don’t like girls, do they?”
“I wouldn’t presume to know.”
“I’m not like that,” Feuilly insisted. “A girl loaned me a dress once, and all I wanted was to bed her.”
“The best sex I have with my wife is after I come home from one of these nights. Look, you’re pretty as anything, and they will try to make a pet of you. If they invite you for a ball, you need to know that real men come to those because they’re after the girls. I’m not saying don’t go, just go in with your eyes open.”
Feuilly thanked him, but they were interrupted by Hélène, another of the girls from the Tuileries, come to see what had been made of the boy who had come to watch for so long.
“You are a dear, you are such a dear, oh, I would die for your hair, I always thought so. Gigi, you are too brilliant for having brought her!” Hélène kissed him on the cheek, and Feuilly no longer minded the familiarity and was growing accustomed to the feminine pronouns constantly in use. “We have got to set you up properly, dear. That yellow is not so flattering.” He called out to the girls in general. “Does anyone know what Marcie is up to?”
“I’m seeing her tomorrow, love.”
“Tell her there’s a new customer.”
“Who is Marcie?”
“Our very sympathetic seamstress. You don’t think I just happened to find this at an old clothes dealer’s, did you?” Indeed, Hélène was quite tall but impeccably dressed in a pink silk gown that could hardly have been made for a woman of his height.
“Not everyone has the money, dear,” Gigi broke in. “However, you must have something that fits properly, and Marcie knows just how to fit a man.”
“She’ll do errands, too.”
“She has a brilliant eye for picking through the secondhand shops, and she can remake anything. This,” Gigi theatrically indicated the gown he was wearing, “was initially made for a short fat girl. The hem is a complete addition. Marcie is an absolute genius, even if she is a short fat girl herself.”
“You’ll only need her to set you up with some proper clothes, but she’ll go to a wigmaker, too, if needed.” Hélène must have been wearing a very good wig, as well, since neither scarf nor cap obscured the loose topknot at the crown of his head - when he had turned to ask the company about Marcie, Feuilly had seen there was a natural smoothness to the fair hair that Gigi’s efforts completely lacked. “She set Gigi up very well indeed.”
“Which is why I can’t afford a new dress. The hair was a fortune, but it was necessary, don’t you agree?”
“You look more real than I ever could,” Feuilly admitted.
“You just need some lessons and some time, dear.”
The evening was a rather fascinating whirlwind, soaked in wine and perfume. There was laughter and gossip in which Feuilly could not share, but he was petted and adored and given lashings of advice which all boiled down to a need to visit their seamstress. Not everyone played the girl to the hilt the way the most theatrical did, but there was a shared desire to play at various roles, even if the gentleman in the corner working at a bit of embroidery was laughed at for it by no less than the princess himself. Even Zora and Minette, who Gigi only ever called sluts, were perfectly kind to Feuilly and delighted in teaching him how to pose - the twist of the wrist and turn of the head being of utmost importance.
A reticule was passed around for collections, everyone expected to put something in towards the cost of the evening’s entertainment. The cost was small compared to what Feuilly often spent for an evening out, and he realised he had only taken two glasses of wine all night - the company was drunk on each other, not on the spirits lined up on the table. He somehow ended the night sitting at the princess’ feet, listening to her tell stories of the balls of the past generation, when no one was certain if the soldiers would come in uniform or in drag.
“Things just aren’t as brilliant as they used to be.”
“I take exception to that!” Philippine cried.
“Then bring us some lancers next time, love. We can’t have you all alone.”
“It’s always about the bloody lancers,” he muttered, pouring himself another drink rather than defending his service too loudly. If anything, he looked more ridiculous than Sylvanie, with his reddish moustache a terrible contrast to his high-necked purple dress, but the laughter seemed to be more about the lancers than about his poor sense of style.
Gigi at last pulled Feuilly away. “It’s late as anything, and you don’t want to get sacked.” It was rather a letdown to give back the dress, to wash his face and put on his trousers. “Have we shocked you too badly, dear?”
Gigi laughed and kissed him on the cheek. “Oh, I knew I was right to bring you along. Come to the gardens on Sunday. We’ll get you set up to meet Marcie and she’ll get you up proper.”
Sylvanie pushed into the room to dress hurriedly, then thrust the bag with his dress at Gigi. “Next week?”
“Next week, dear.”
“Find yourself a girl when you go,” Sylvanie murmured in Feuilly’s ear. “You’ll feel a hell of a lot better than if you end up jacking off in a doorway.”
Indeed, Feuilly did manage to find a girl just as he thought he would not be able to take another step. She used the same perfume as Minette, but she was short and buxom and in all other ways the opposite of the men with whom he had spent the evening. As he took her up against the damp wall of a closed shop, pushing out between her damp thighs all the energy that had built over the evening, he knew he would be at the Tuileries on Sunday. Sylvanie was right: now that he had begun, he could not imagine continuing to repress what must have always been inside him. And he certainly had to give in if it meant the sex would always be this intense.
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