It’s in the nature of her business, and Chantal is clued-in to the coolest things. There are lots of cool things going on in Paris, but Chantal knows about the coolest of the cool things. One of them is this Saturday night, and she’s closing for the night, which she almost never does, and she’s invited me to go with her.
I brushed off chef again after class today with some lame excuse since the marks on my body, while mostly faded, still had not disappeared. I just didn’t feel like answering his questions, as much as I could have used a little walk-in loving today after the morning Charlotte Russe lesson. That will have to wait, and I just hope he doesn’t lose interest in me meanwhile. Not likely, that’s my assessment. This special dessert’s in the oven, as far as chef is concerned, even if he has to wait a couple days to stick his skewer in her.
It was Chantal that I was really worried about, and as it turned out the bruises and welts had not faded enough, the light in her salon not subdued nearly enough, to hide from her what Sid did to me. God, that woman is sharp. She doesn’t miss a thing. You’d think I was a victim of the Spanish Inquisition or something, to hear her tell it.
I didn’t answer since we both already knew the answer. I’m getting pretty good at not answering questions when we both know what the answer is. I had barely slipped out of my dress and taken my place at the piano when she was all over me about this.
Chantal had me stand up as she guided her hand over my butt, down my thighs, feeling the raised marks that remained. It’s the first time she’s ever touched me like that. I was waiting for her to touch my breasts, too, but she stopped short of that, just looking at them, her eyes wide as they seldom are. As embarrassed as I was, her touch gave me a thrill like I haven’t felt in a very long time. I’m sure she could see the effect her touch, her look, had on me, how they made my nipples stand up. She’s way too observant not to have noticed that.
“Rosie, you don’t have to put up with this. Sid goes too far when he beats you like this.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I let Sid do it, how it’s part of the glue that holds us together. I avoided both her statement and her eyes, but Chantal could see through my ruse. And it wasn’t the Charlotte Russe.
“You think that’s what it takes to hold on to a man, but it’s not, mon petit oiseau.”
Now I felt I had to respond to her assertion.
“Not a man, Chantal. Sid. It’s just who he is. And it’s who I am, too, Chantal. I’m not just a happy little bird like you think I am. It’s more complicated than that.”
Chantal shook her head. She made it impossible to avoid her gaze and her eyes were now fixed on mine. It was like she exercised a magnetic attraction over them, a kind of tractor ray.
Two of the other girls came into the salon and Chantal shushed them away, back to the bedrooms, without taking her eyes from mine. This was between her and me.
“D’accord. Look, I’m not your mother and I’m not going to tell you what to do. You’re a big girl and can make your own decisions. Just think about this one, Rosie. And as I told you, you are always welcome here. You won’t be out on the street.”
Well, maybe that settled that part of the argument. Or maybe not. “I’m not your mother,” she said. But then she looks after me like she is. So maybe her words don’t tell the whole story.
“Thank you, Chantal. I know I am welcome here, and I appreciate that more than I can tell you. But I’ve been with Sid four years now, and if this were the worst of it, it wouldn’t be so bad. But I’ve made my choice, consider it a kind of investment, and I’m not ready to write it off. Not yet, anyway.”
Chantal shook her head again, a look somewhere between sadness and exasperation spread across her face.
“Besides, you know if I were to leave Sid he’d track me down. And then who knows what he’d do.”
“No, not a prisoner. Well, maybe a prisoner of love.”
“Une prisonnière d’amour? Mon petit oiseau, tu es vraiment jeune et stupide. You have much to learn. I hope you do before it’s too late.”
Chantal’s words had an ominous feel to them. They reminded me too much of my Aunt Carol’s words, what she would tell me, has told me. They gave rise to goose bumps – chicken skin, as the French would call them – that were all too visible to Chantal’s X-ray vision as it flicked over my body.
“Chérie, I’ve said what I have to. The first customer will be here soon so please get ready. I hope there are not too many questions about these marks on you.”
“Not everyone is as observant as you, Chantal. Especially not men.”
She let out a little snort.
“C’est vrai. Que peut-on dire?”
She allowed a smile, as sad as it was, to cross her lips, those lips made to give pleasure, not to lecture what she sees as a misguided 16-year-old.
“Rosie, there is something else. Something I want to invite you to. Maybe it will get Sid off your mind for a little while.”
“Invite me to? You want to invite me to something, Chantal?”
“Yes, it is most unusual, and you are not to breathe a word of this to anyone. It’s quite secret and only those who are invited know about it.”
Now she really had my attention, the marks and beatings pushed out of my mind.
“I would like to invite you to see a film with me Saturday evening. Will you accompany me, as my guest?”
A film? This hardly sounded very secret.
“Of course, Chantal. I’d love to. But what kind of film is such a big secret?”
My devious little mind was thinking that it must be a snuff film, or some kind of revolutionary thing. Who could know?
“It’s not the film that is secret. It’s the — how do you say, le lieu? the venue? – for the film. The place where it is to be held. That is the secret.”
I looked at her, now really puzzled. It’s not like Chantal to speak in riddles.
“The place? What is so secret about that?”
I almost forgot that I was standing naked before a dressed Chantal. It just seemed to be a conversation between us, not unlike the others we have had, never mind that I was nude and she wasn’t. And my nipples were still erect. I could feel their tightness, so tight they distracted me. She had to notice them.
“Ah, mon petit oiseau, you will see. Best I not tell you more so there is nothing you can divulge, even by accident.”
“And what about Sid? What can I tell him?”
How I wish everything was as simple for me as it is for Chantal, where Sid is concerned.
As it turned out, Sid didn’t care. He already had plans to see some of his Paris associates – another of those neutral words – and didn’t feel the need to take me along.
“Cool. Have a good time. I’ll be out late, so do what you want. Give Chantal my best.”
I couldn’t imagine how any of Sid’s best could be good enough for Chantal, not after what she saw on me that afternoon. But I assured him I would. The little bird was being released from her cage, if even for just one evening. I decided to push the question now that he was in such an agreeable mood.
“Sid, what if I stay over at Chantal’s Saturday night? It sounds like it’s going to be late and the Metro will be closed. She suggested I stay at her place.”
“Are you fucking Chantal now?”
“Why do you always have to think that way? No, Sid, I’m not fucking Chantal. It’s just a question.”
And a lie. Well, sort of a lie. Not really. Chantal did say I was always welcome there, didn’t she? I knew she wouldn’t object. In truth, though, it was Sid’s question that I hoped to get an answer to by staying over with Chantal. I’m the kind of person that, when I see an opening, I go for it. This was my chance to – pardon the expression – kill two birds with one stone. See a film in a super-secret location, and find out if Chantal is my lover, will be my lover, as well as be my mother and my friend. Opportunities like this don’t appear every day.
Being in one of his “I-don’t-care” moods, Sid agreed to letting me stay with Chantal Saturday night. And, not being a fraction as observant of these things as Chantal, Sid didn’t notice, but by the time he gave me the go-ahead my nipples were really hard, pushing out against my top and rubbing frustratingly against the fabric. Finally, maybe, an answer to my biggest question. Which, until now, I hadn’t even realized was such a big question for me. But I guess it had become one. Hard nipples hardly ever lie.
So Saturday night rolls around, and I accompany Chantal in a taxi to some place in the 16th Arrondissement. This is a très chic part of town, and we’re both dressed like we’re going clubbing. Only thing is, Chantal has told me to wear flat shoes. Shoes I won’t mind getting dirty. I’ll be happy I did when we get to where we’re going, she tells me. She has the taxi let us out near the Palais de Chaillot, this huge ornate palace, and then we need to walk a couple blocks to where we’re going to see this film. Even the taxi driver can’t know where it is.
Well, Chantal wasn’t kidding. Not about the shoes. Not about the secrecy. When we finally get to our destination, this secret venue, we join a small queue of people descending through a hole in the street to an underground cavern. It’s not like the entrance to any movie theater I’ve ever been to, that’s for sure.
When it’s our turn, we go down a ladder, Chantal leading the way, me right behind her on the steps, and at the bottom we find ourselves in an enormous hollowed out space, a huge man-made cave of concrete and stone and earth. I look around, again the little bright-eyed girl, awe clearly written on my face. Here the lighting is really subdued and I strain to take in all the details, all the parts of the space. Sure enough, there is a movie screen, and some sort of seats cut in terraces out of the rock, climbing up the wall on one side, but those are the only things that give away that this is a movie theater.
Some of the walls are made of rough-faced blocks, others look to be raw stone and dirt. The ceiling is as crude as the walls, looking like it was just carved out of the earth. As my eyes adjust to the light, I see swastikas painted on the ceiling. But also some kind of crosses, and stars of David. What kind of weird cult is this, I wonder? There is a musty smell to the air. An old, damp smell. I’ve never been in a place, any place, like this before, and I’m all questions for Chantal.
“What is this place, Chantal?”
“Ah, chérie, you are now one of the privileged few. Bienvenue à La Mexicaine de la Perforation.”
“La Mexicaine de la Perforation. The Mexican of the Perforation. Perforation, like on films. This is the ultimate underground film festival, chérie.”
“Wow, Chantal. This sure is underground. Literally. I’ve never seen anything like it. But why all the secrecy? Is this some kind of cult? Look at what’s on the ceiling. Swatikas and weird crosses and Jewish stars and stuff.”
I’m thinking cults, secret societies. Maybe the Illuminati. And I’m thinking Mexicans, like the kind Sid deals with. I can see keeping secrets from them, not of them.
“This is part of the urban underground, chérie. It is not a cult, définitivement pas, but it is not, shall we say, officially sanctioned by the authorities. Quite the opposite, en effet. The authorities know nothing of this, and we all must keep its existence secret from them or they will close it down in a heartbeat.”
“But why, Chantal? This seems really cool. Weird, but cool.”
“To you and to me and to the others here, this is really cool. But the authorities are not so cool, and they would not see it that way, je t’assure. It is clandestin, what the urban underground does, and must stay that way.”
“Why Mexican? Are they Mexicans, the people who do this?”
“No, that is just a name. I don’t know everything about this urban underground or why they use that name, probably just for the effect, but the ones I know are français, bien sûr. They transform hidden spaces, like this one, into secret cultural venues, just for awhile. And then they move on to the next one.”
“Kind of a moving target, huh?”
“Oui, chérie. Exactement.”
“And what is this place, Chantal? Where are we?”
“Underneath Paris there are many kilometers of tunnels. Some are catacombs where beaucoup dead are buried, millions of bones from the Eighteenth Century. Others are old quarries, like here. No longer used, except by the Perforation Mexicans. And of course there are the sewers, and the Metro.”
“Wow, this is amazing.”
“You maybe have heard of the catacombs being used by swingers, sex cults, for sex parties and orgies, oui?”
“Well, I heard something about that. Is it true? And is this going to be an orgy?”
“Oui, c’est vrai. I have been to some of these parties, these orgies, set amid the ancient bones. Very sensual. But, non, this will not be one of those. We’re just here to see a film, and then to have some refreshment in the cafe. Are you disappointed, chérie? Were you expecting an orgy?”
“Disappointed? Never. And no, I was not expecting an orgy. I’m just amazed. And what cafe?”
Chantal points to an adjoining chamber.
“There, chérie. One cannot see a film and then not have an after-film repast and perhaps un digestif, non? The Perforation Mexicans know this and of course provide a place where we can eat and drink.”
Ah, yes, the French can’t do anything without making allowance to eat and drink. By now, I do know this.
“Wow, Chantal. I’m speechless. Do you know what film we’re going to see tonight?”
“Oui. Tonight they are showing Rumble Fish, a film by the American director Coppola. Francis Ford Coppola. Do you know this film?”
I knew Coppola made the Godfather films, but had never heard of this movie.
“No, I don’t. Do you?”
“No, I don’t either. We’ll have a new experience together, won’t we, chérie?”
“We’re already having a new experience together, Chantal. At least I am. Have you been to one of these places before? These Perforation Mexican places?”
“Oh, yes. This is my third. One of my customers is part of this group, the urban underground. He invited me the first time and now tells me of new events, like this one, and invites me.”
“Do I know him?”
“You know him, chérie, but I will not tell you who he is. It is not for you to know, mon petit oiseau. D’accord?”
I’m racking my brain, trying to figure out which of Chantal’s customers this might be. I’m trying to think of the most bohemian-looking of her johns, since anyone in a group like the urban underground has to be a bohemian, but a few men come to mind, there being quite a few bohemians left in Paris.
“Rosie, don’t even try. I won’t tell you, and you mustn’t mention this to anyone. Not even Sid. Especially not Sid. Tu comprends?”
“I understand, Chantal. I’m just curious, is all.”
“Well, we know what curiosity held in store pour le chat, n’est-ce pas?”
Chantal has such a way with words, in whatever language, that enables her to get her message across. And besides, all the guests have arrived and it’s time for the Perforation Mexicans to introduce the film and for the showing to get under way.
We take our places on the rock bleachers, which thankfully have cushions placed on them to spare our butts from sitting on hard stone, and prepare to watch Rumble Fish and find out, maybe, what is so special about this film for the Perforation Mexicans to feature it in their secret film festival. I can’t be more aware than I am of Chantal’s presence beside me on the stone, her sweet scent rising above even the dank smell of the cavern, wondering what the evening will hold, my question very much on my mind, even as distracted as I am by all I see around me. As the lights dim, I reach out my hand and take hers into it, and she allows it to stay, giving my hand a gentle squeeze that tells me she is there, there for me in this secret place.