To the audience who watched us upon the stage we must have appeared carefree, smiles of red wax plastered to our faces, legs high in can-can kicks. We moved in synchronicity like mechanical scissors while the orchestra led a bombastic dance. The men clapped and cheered, often losing their oculars as we stretched our thighs. exposing loins beneath fish netted garters. Our breasts jiggled like soft melons. The Moulin Rouge was a playground. But not for me. Oh no! I was no better than a trained pony, a paid concubine who did all but the prurient deed itself in my tiered skirt and high heels.
Monsieur Toulouse attended the cabaret nightly, perched at his table side stage, top hat askew. He was, apparently, a very important person for he received not only the best seat in the house, but the best of service. It was later that I found out he had been commissioned to design a series of posters. He sketched constantly, ever bent over his charcoals and parchment, stopping only to sip his absinthe which was brought to him in jar sized glasses with regular replenishing. Monsieur Toulouse carried a cane and — strange as this may sound — he sipped from the cane as well. Later I was to discover he had hollowed out the middle and filled it with absinthe also, so as to never be without the beverage.
Monsieur Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec ingested liquor as if it were the very air he breathed. Yet for some inexplicable reason he never appeared intoxicated.
As for his commissioned posters, he took no interest in them. It was portraiture that he considered his true art. And so it was one rainy evening that Monsieur Toulouse approached me on Montmartre and asked if I would consider posing for him. I did not like the idea. Toulouse was a spooky, peculiar little character. It disturbed me to even speak to him. I refused but he persisted, approaching me every night until finally out of sheer exhaustion I agreed.
I followed him to his chambers which served as an art studio. Large water color drawings and half finished canvases filled the room, which reeked of oil and turpentine.
Toulouse asked me to disrobe. This was not offensive to me as I knew he often painted nudes. Can-can dancing had made me free with my body and I had no qualms nor embarrassment as I removed my garments.
Toulouse, however insisted that I must have something to calm me and offered his liquor. This was ridiculous and I told him so. “Brigitte! Mon cher! I insist,” he said, handing me a flute of green absinthe. It looked so pretty, shining with an odd, preternatural glow. I became quite mesmerized with the sight of it and I could not refuse. Upon the first sip it was so delicious that I quickly finished it off.
After drinking the liquor I immediately felt lightheaded and dizzy. Silently I cursed myself for accepting this peculiar man’s peculiar hospitality. I knew well the dealings of his sort! He was known to frequent the street girls , dirty and syphilis ridden. I was much better than that, certainly! If he planned on procuring any service from me, he’d pay for it, and he’d pay handsomely,whether he drugged me or not.
It was then that the dizziness subsided and there appeared in the room an entity. She was female with green skin that glittered like the dewdrops at dawn and chartreuse hair that sprouted from her head in tendrils. “Coletta!” Toulouse greeted her, as if this were the most ordinary of circumstances.
I’d have thought this was a hallucination, but I pinched myself to make sure I was awake, then realized if I’d had the wherewithal to pinch myself, how inebriated could I be? The woman he called Coletta pulled a vile from her pocket. She shook it, unscrewed the top and poured to her hand what appeared to be glittering grains of sand. She sprinkled them upon me. My eyes and head burned in fever. The room appeared blurry but I saw Toulouse throw away his cane. He commenced to dance with the green woman, both of them waltzing around the room as some orchestra played through the open windows. They then tumbled to the bed, pawing one another and laughing the laugh of the insane. The ringing of their voices was the last thing I heard. The two immersed in bed sheets like white waves of an ocean was the last thing I remembered seeing.
When I awoke I was on the stage of the Moulin Rouge. I snapped myself alert, for I was now dancing the can-can in line with the others! My skirts were green. I kicked my legs higher than I remembered ever kicking them. I looked for Monsieur Toulouse but he was not seated at his usual table.
During my break I asked the manager what had become of Toulouse. “Monsieur Henri?” He arched his eyebrow as though I had uttered some obscenity. “Why, he passed away last week! You stood graveside at his very funeral! Brigitte, are you quite well?” He looked at me, narrowing his eyes as though I were some strange creature. “You do not look like yourself.” He advised I take the rest of the night off. That, of course, was ridiculous! I had never felt better in my life and I told him so!
Later that night, my body craved absinthe and I ordered a carafe from the Maitre d’. Upon drinking it I felt my legs go weak and rubbery. The skin on my hand turned a shade of dark emerald, the exact color of the liquid. My hair sprouted in tendrils that fell down my back. It was then I heard the voice of Coletta. “My duties here at Moulin Rouge are done Brigitte,” she said. “You will now carry on and you will be quite good at it.”
I was confused. “But what are my duties?” I asked. Coletta smiled. “Only to assist our good clientele in the tripping of the green fairy,” she answered. “You are adaptable. You shall soon master this talent.” She curtsied and then vanished into a stream of green glitter.
Coletta was right. I adapted well to my new duties which sometimes involved life and sometimes involved death. I never danced the can-can again. I never felt more carefree.
This post was inspired by the Daily Prompt Carefree