This story appears in my soon-to-be-published collection The Moon-Haunted Heart. (1) My French is utterly atrocious, so if you note a mistake, please don't hesitate to contact me with a correction. (2) This is an attempt on my part to write from the POV of a visually impaired character--it simply "happens" that that character is also a young French-speaking woman. (Sometimes I like to create additional challenges for myself in order to sharpen my writing skills.) (3) In watching a documentary about the 2008 financial crisis, I was intrigued to note that the only two interviewees who attempted to bring any sort of moral perspective to the situation were former New York governor Eliot Spitzer and former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, both of whom were subsequently discredited and effectively silenced by high-profile sex scandals. I imagined a kind of exclusive escort service in which such movers and shakers might enjoy a very unique kind of discretion, and the idea of a beautiful blind courtesan immediately began to take shape in my mind. (While any intelligent blind person would have no trouble recognizing someone with whom they'd had such an encounter, the question of whether others would regard them as a credible witness unfortunately remains.)
I hope you enjoy this tale, and look forward to additional stories from the collection over the following months. Look for new book reviews here on EFTBB beginning (I hope) next week. (TAS)
My first impression. Vanille française. The burning incense of pipe tobacco fills the room with a luxurious sweetness, and my head with pleasant memories; the aroma of baking madeleines, gâteau de mille-feuilles, crème brûlée, the taste of chocolate merengue, and the tender recollection of my grandfather reading to me as I sat on his lap when I was still very small.
The faint hint of a man’s cologne reaches me through the smoke, a pleasing melange of myrrh and citrus insinuated delicately into the picture. Someone is sitting on the other side of the room, facing me as I am ushered through the heavy wooden door. I am standing on a thin carpet or a plush rug—I can feel my heels sinking down into it. The room is neither large nor small. The ceiling is fairly low. (I know by the sound of the ticking clock somewhere off to my right.) A comfortable place, I think, all varnished wood, shelves of old books, and aged leather, and I wonder if this man is terribly wealthy, though it is not my place to ask.
He is staring at me. I can tell because of the way my skin tingles beneath the sheer fabric of my dress. Or maybe I am only being silly. I do not know precisely what part of me he is interested in, only that guessing makes me very nervous.
And this is how he sounds. Like a lion or a tiger just waking up. He makes a purring noise, soft and fierce in the back of his throat, and, at first, I am not sure if he is angry with me or only teasing. His voice is deep, strong and gentle at the same time, the way I imagine his arms will feel around me in a few minutes.
“What’s your name, child?”
Flummoxed, I cannot recall. I stammer out a breathy string of meaningless syllables, playing for time.
“Don’t be afraid, honey.” His voice is beautiful, like a caress, and it calms me.
“I’m . . . I’m Dinah.
A pretty name for a pretty girl?
“Come closer, Dinah. Don’t worry. There’s nothing between here and there. Nothing for you to trip on. Just walk straight forward, towards the sound of my voice. Come, my dear, that’s it.”
I am still not used to walking in heels, and maybe I am too self-conscious about it. I try to remember what I have been taught, yet, even so, I catch myself once or twice nearly tripping over my own uncertain feet, and I must bite my tongue in order not to curse. I need to show this man that I can be graceful, and glamorous, and poised, and so I stand up straight and hold my head high, while trying my best not to come off as haughty or overly proud. There are so many things to remember.
“Getting warmer.” He encourages me with that enchanting wizard’s voice of his, and I am impatient to close the distance between us.
“That’s far enough, child,” he says—and my heart sinks. “Stand still now.”
“Let me look at you.”
“Do I need to—”
“No,” he says patiently, “Don’t move. Don’t do anything. Just stand there quietly until I tell you. Can you do that for me, darling girl?”
For a while the only sound I hear besides the beating of my own heart is the man distractedly pulling on his pipe, a rhythmic series of four rapid sucking sounds, a deep breath through his nose, and a brief pause. The smell of the burning tobacco becomes more intense. He hums thoughtfully to himself, and I sense that he, too, is nervous.
“Turn around in a circle,” he says, “slowly, all the way . . . that’s it.”
He hums again, but this time it is more like a low, hungry growl.
“You’re truly lovely, Dinah. Far lovelier than I ever could have hoped or imagined —”
“Thank you, sir—”
“That hair! Such a rich red!” He sets the pipe down on a wooden surface nearby. “Is it difficult to take care of—being so long?”
“Someone helps me brush it out, sir.”
“Do you ever trip over it?”
“Once in a while, if I’m not being careful.”
“I’d love to have you painted—"
“In the nude, I think. Yes! On your back, reposing on that swirling blanket of flaming copper like a captive mermaid. Would you like that, Dinah?”
“Whatever you like, sir.”
“Yes. Whatever I like.” He pats the seat beside him, five muffled taps on the soft leather, making sure that I can hear, “Come, child, sit here, next to me.”
The words I have been waiting for. He takes my hand cautiously as if it were something fragile and precious like an antique china doll. His fingers are warm and smooth and meticulously manicured. He is a man accustomed to privilege, a financier, or a diplomat, or, perhaps, a member of some royal family; the sort of man who can afford to pamper himself; the sort of man who does not get his hands dirty.
Gently, he guides me to the edge of the chair, which I now ascertain to be a cozy love seat.
“Sit down, my dear.” He pronounces the words carefully, with a sort of musical precision, the sharper edges of a foreign accent smoothed and polished with a fine education.
He offers me a glass of something. The ice clinks against the chilly crystal rim, and the smoky liquid burns my lips.
“Cognac,” he says, “Cask strength. Very old. Very rare.”
“An honor, sir.” I sip it reverently.
“Gorgeous,” he murmurs, “simply gorgeous. I could feast upon the sight of you forever si n’avions assez de temps et monde.”
“You’re very kind, sir,” I bow my head, receiving the compliment with appropriate humility, just as I have been trained to do.
“Does it make you self-conscious, my dear?”
“Hearing yourself described?”
“I’m not sure I understand—”
“Has anyone ever tried to describe you . . . to you, Dinah?”
“Oh! You mean, do I know what I look like?”
“Yes. I wonder if it’s possible to accept a compliment—sincerely, unquestioningly—if one has no means with which to verify the statement?”
“Are you a philosopher, sir?” I laugh—the cognac is helping me to relax, “I know that I like it when you tell me I am beautiful. Many people have told me so, and I’ve always taken what they said with a certain . . . polite skepticism, I suppose you’d say. But hearing it from you, here and now, feels different. I think you are not merely saying it to make small talk, or to flatter me. I think I can believe you—”
“—without letting it go to your head?”
“As swiftly as this liqueur? I’d hope not, sir.”
“I’m pleased to hear it, Dinah. I look forward to many engaging conversations with you in the future.”
“That would be my pleasure also, sir.”
“Good. As for now, can you describe yourself to me? How old are you, to begin with?”
“How old would you like me to be, sir?”
“In this instance, the truth will suffice,” he says, “How old, really, Dinah?”
“Very nice. Go on?”
“I’ve been told that I’m tall for a girl, and being slender only makes me look taller—”
“Especially given the way your hair hangs down around your ankles?”
“Unless I wear it in a braid, which is most of the time—”
“Pity. What color are your eyes?”
“I . . . I don’t know, sir.”
“Truly? No one has ever bothered to tell you?”
“Knowing did not seem important, sir.”
“Yet they are quite beautiful . . . green—ah! No! More of a glaucous, I’d say. There’s a graceful touch of gray there. It seems to lend you the guise of Wise Athena herself.”
“Now you are flattering me, sir.”
“Perhaps. Describe your breasts.”
“No, no! Not in those prosaic, clinical terms. Describe them for me, Dinah! Describe them as you yourself . . . see them.”
“They are well-matched . . . pleasingly symmetrical . . .” I outline them with my fingertips, seductively tracing their twin circumferences with mirrored spiral motions, beginning near the top, “Quite round . . . but also rather broad, as you can see . . . like . . . like bells . . .”
“Cloches du temple,” he murmurs, “Go on.”
“They are firm, and heavy, and I am sometimes aware of their weight, though not often—"
“Very good.” He slips a warm hand onto my knee.
I hold my head steady, unflinching, careful not to overreact, though his spindly fingers are like spiders’ legs, creeping stealthily upward. I am wearing a glassy see-through formal gown with black strapless brassiere and high-cut petite culotte visible beneath. My body is warming up, and I can no longer sense a difference between the parts of me that are artfully exposed and those tantalizingly hidden from this stranger’s view.
“Tell me, my dear,” (he touches one of my breasts as he leans in to kiss me on the neck) “have you always been blind?”
“Yes sir,” I loosen the stays on my bodice for him, “from birth."
“School?” His fingers find their way inside my gown, “University?”
“I’m afraid I’ve lived quite the sheltered life, sir.”
“Sheltered?” He draws his nose up along the column of my neck, and places a kiss on my earlobe.
“Ooooh, yes,” I make the appropriate moaning sound as he strokes my nipple, “Tutored at home mostly, and then Madame’s Academy, of course.”
“Of course. And am I . . . your first?”
“So perfectly coy. Madame has trained you up quite nicely, I see.”
“I owe her everything, sir.”
“I’m sure you do, Dinah.” He laughs again. “Why don’t you stand up now and take off your dress.”
“Would it please you to help me with that, sir?"
“It would. It would please me immensely.”
The man undresses me quickly. I am naked now, stripped of everything save heels and petite culotte. Seeing me this way seems to change him. He is no longer quite so gentle or patient. He does not ask me how I feel, or if I would like to do a thing before he does it to me. He stands behind me, dipping a pair of fingers into my knickers, roughly working them into my wetness. His steely cock burrows deep into the thick curtains of my hair, breaking through to press at the small of my back.
He yanks my head violently rearwards, drawing me by the hair, sinking his teeth into my shoulder. I yelp, surprised and frightened, as he squeezes one of my breasts, his sensitive fingers suddenly cruel and punishing.
“Ta gueule, pute!” He releases my breast, only to swat me hard across the derriére, “Enough of this silly pretense.”
“Je ne suis pas une pute!” I am on the brink of tears, “I am not a whore!”
“And how else would you . . . describe yourself? Did you think this was some sort of child’s game? Some romantic adolescent fantasy? Shut up and bend over, there’s a good little blind cunt—seen and not seeing.”
He tears down my culotte. A hot tingling sensation spreads along the line of my cleft as he drags the rigid bell-end of his cock from front to back. He pauses long enough to make that same hungry growl in the back of his throat. I hold my breath, though it does not help to ease the dry burst of pain that accompanies his vicious forward thrust. He impales me with a ripe, sucking noise, forcing himself into the sluggish, syrupy moistness of my core. I am filled and emptied and filled again. My opening burns with the rough friction of his assault, and the space within me reluctantly swells to accommodate his unblunted girth. The hulking weight of his upper body holds me in place, doubled over, my derriére pointing high into the air, my head nearly touching the floor.
I withdraw somewhere into myself, and let it happen . . .
“Voulez-vous entendre une conte, mon petite?”
“Oui! Tout à fait, pépé!”
“Et quelle historie aimeriez-vous entendre?”
“S’il vous plaît La Petite Fille aux Allumettes!”
“Ah! C’est triste!”
“Mais j'adore de toute façon.”
“Parce qu'il est triste, mon petite?”
“La petite fille voit sa chère mémé, et qu'elle est chaud à la fin, est-ce pas?”
“Ce sage, ma belle!”
“S'il vous plaît, pépé?”
“Très bien, mon ange! Préparez-vous à être triste.
Il était donc extrêmement froid. La neige tombait et l'obscurité était de recueillir, car c'était la dernière soirée de l'année, la veille du 31 Decembre. Une petite fille marchait dans le froid, la tête et les pieds nus. Sa mère lui avait bien donné des pantoufles mais elles étaient trop grandes pour elle. Elle les avait perdues en traversant la rue et un garçon était parti avec en courant . . . Ses pieds gelés lui faisaient mal et ses mains étaient rouges et toutes engourdies . . .
Later, the man takes me as I lie face down on the floor, my hair spread out across my back like a tapestry for his pleasure. He has reassumed his former gentlemanly guise, apologizing profusely for his rough treatment of me, saying that he does not know what came over him, and, of course, he would never have behaved like such a brute had he been in his right mind—had my beauty not inflamed him so. He makes love to me with dull consideration, politely if not graciously, whispering my nom du scène, “Dinah”, one final time as he kisses my shoulder, and withdraws.
He leaves, smugly self-satisfied no doubt, having enjoyed his round of rough play with a “helpless” blind girl whom—so he has been assured—can never identify him in a court of law, can never be called as a witness to testify credibly against him in a criminal investigation, or entangle him in some embarrassing civil affair; can never cause the sort of scandal that unseats the mighty, brings down governments, or sends tremors through the international markets. Who would ever believe a lowly blind prostituée in any case? The elite men and women who avail themselves of Madame’s unique services purchase, along with their pleasure, an extraordinary guarantee of confidentiality—the virtually priceless promise of complete anonymity.
This is my final impression as I am shown out. His musk—the scent of him still hanging in the air—like a gentleman; old money and impeccable taste, good manners and all the finer things; cloves and oak, and vanille française tabac, soft leather, and cognac, myrrh, and citrus, and sex, and very, very expensive discretion.
# # #
Vanille française tabac = French Vanilla tobacco
“si n’avions assez de temps et monde” = “Had we but world enough and time” (Andrew Marvel To His Coy Mistress)
cloches du temple = temple bells
petite culotte = panties or knickers
“Ta gueule, pute!” = “Shut up, whore!” (“shut up” with brutal emphasis)
“Je ne suis pas une pute!” = “I am not a whore!”
nom du scène = stage name
prostituée = prostitute
“Would you like to hear a tale, little one?”
“Yes! Very much, grandpa!”
“And what story would you like to hear?”
“The Little Match Girl, please!”
“Ah! Such a sad story!”
“But I love it anyway!”
“Because it is sad, little one?”
“The little girl gets to see her dear grandma, and she is warm at the end, is it not so?”
“So wise, my pretty one!”
“Very well, my angel, prepare to be sad!”
It was bitterly cold. The snow fell and the darkness gathered, for it was the last night of the year. The little match girl made her way , bare-headed and barefoot through the streets. She had been wearing slippers when she set out from home that morning, but they were her mother’s and far too big for such a little girl. In any case, she had lost one while crossing a street, trying to dodge a pair of carriages, careening wrecklessly along. The other was nowhere to be found, for it had been carried off by a dirty little boy, who made fun of her, and ran away, laughing. So the little girl walked about the streets on her naked feet, which were red and blue with the cold . . .