Saturday, 20 February 2010

This Was Going to Be about a Hermaphrodite Prostitute in 1950s Paris, but as It Turns out I Don't Know Anything about That

Simone withdrew her head from the American’s lap and spat his semen into the grimy tumbler she’d appropriated for the purpose, half-submerging the cigarette butt lying at the bottom of the glass. The butt lay like a dismembered tree trunk in a pool of sour milk; she stared at it for a moment, imagining perhaps that it was part of some surrealist nature scene—the centrepiece in a forest of upright cigarettes, all burned down to different heights, particles of ash swarming in the air like a colony of bats gone suddenly deaf—then turned her head towards me and smiled.

“You want to see?” she asked, proffering her newfound objet d’art.

I shook my head. “I can see it already.”

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Oh yes, and original, too. I don’t know where you get your ideas.”

She laughed and turned back to the American. “You make art with your whole body.”

He had a fresh cigarette in his mouth and was on the point of lighting it, but he paused and made a show of taking a close look, carefully adjusting the angle of his thick-rimmed spectacles. “You know what? You might just have something there,” he said, affecting a professorial tone. “And to think I’ve been wasting my time with poetry.” His mouth stretched in a nervous smile, which so delighted Simone that she decided to dart forward and kiss it, nearly knocking him off his chair. “Honey,” he said, “you ought to be more careful.”

“I am careful,” she protested, rising to her feet and setting the glass down on the bedside table. “I didn’t hurt you; I never hurt anyone.” With that she plucked the unlit cigarette from his mouth and slipped it into her own, turned, covered in one theatrical step the space between herself and the bed on which I was sitting, and leaned over me. For a moment I was aware of nothing but the presence of two large, impassive eyes—yellow-green irises ringed with deep blue, one pupil fractionally larger than the other—and the faint scent of sweat. “Une allumette, monsieur,” she mumbled through the corner of her mouth. Her breath was sweet.

I reached inside my jacket and pulled out a book of matches, snapped one off and lit it; when I held it up to her face she straightened, moving out of reach. “Do you want a light or what?” I demanded, trying to sound indignant.

“I said I want a match.”

“Well, here it is.” I waved the offending object in the air for emphasis, immediately extinguishing it. Simone laughed and the cigarette fell to the floor.

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