A Date with Monsieur Baudelaire
by Alex S. Johnson
“Well, this is awkward,” said Giselle Duras (in French, of course, as that was her native language). She had shown up promptly to the small artist’s cafe in Montparnasse and now anticipated trekking the Walk of Shame known to other artist’s models who had been stood up by the distinguished and infamous author of Les Fleurs Du Mal.
Mlle. Duras was just about to collect her parasol and beat a quick exit through the kitchen when a thunderous voice called from just behind her. She started, blushed and brought her lace-gloved fingers to her mouth.
“Monsieur!” she said. “You scared me!”
“Sit,” he said imperiously.
She did as he instructed.
“I hope you weren’t planning to beat a hasty escape through that squalid kitchen. At best, you would smear your dainty boots with offal; at worst…” he shuddered and a grave look settled on his oddly handsome, square-jawed face.
Charles Baudelaire sat his tall black velvet hat on a seat beside him and, like a conjurer, produced a large package from beneath his cloak.
“Your beauty merits more than the baubles a handful of francs can summon,” he said with a grandiloquent sweep of his arms.
Mlle. Duras pushed her veil aside, revealing her pale skin and dark blue eyes, her delicate features and thin nose. She examined the box. It was covered in black crepe with an oxblood ribbon. She thought for a moment there must be some error. It looked more like a consolatory gift given a widow than a romantic gesture. But as Monsieur was well known for his eccentricities in art as well as life, she suppressed the desire to call the gendarmes strolling the dank alleyway behind the kitchen. She mustn’t let her nervous fears overwhelm her.
“You are like a fair and fragrant rose, ma cherie,” Baudelaire added. Now he was laying it on a bit thick. But he was, after all, the celebrated author of forbidden works, and she was more than a bit curious what mysteries the box held within it.
He tapped the package with a long, cadaverous finger. “You reject my present?”
“Pour moi?” she asked, her eyelashes fluttering. His lips pursed to a thin white line uncomfortably close to a scar.
“You reject my present, you reject me!” he announced to the cafe in general. Two painters who were guzzling their lunch turned around and, upon seeing the great poet in their midst, turned green and left the cafe on their knees, bowing and kissing the floor where his boots had left muddy tracks spackled with clumps of snow.
“No, no, please,” said Mlle. Duras. “I am flattered and honored you would think to bestow such kindness on a mere model, especially on a first date.” She hoped he wasn’t like the other great poets she had met under similar circumstances, who expected, nay, demanded favors she was ill-equipped to bestow. She was saving herself for a nobleman, although she thought perhaps once that grim ritual had been executed, she might keep a poet on the side for sport.
Duras had been raised in a convent until released at the age of 18 into a world she didn’t quite understand, and soon learned that her knowledge of the scriptures, prayer and fasting was inadequate to the challenge of life in Paris in the late 19th Century.
Her fingers trembling, she plucked the bow from the package and proceeded to carefully unwrap it.
“Close your eyes,” said Baudelaire once the box lay bare.
She complied, terrified now.
She heard rustling and fluttering as he pushed the wrapping paper down flat on the flowered tablecloth and popped the box open.
“Et voila!” he said. “You may look now.”
Shortly after her date with Monsieur Baudelaire, Giselle Duras returned to the convent a nervous wreck, her mind shattered beyond any hope of recovery. The other artist’s models didn’t miss her, were glad, in fact, that “the neurotic bitch went home to Jesus.”
To her dying day, she would never forget the cloud of flies that swarmed up from the rotting head, one eyeball still intact, shreds of flesh clinging to the bones, the sickly-sweetish odor, and, worst of all, Baudelaire’s smile, accompanied by tender words, at the revelation: “One day you will be like that, my love, my indolent, catlike goddess. Your skin will shrink on your frame, your sockets will inhale your vision, and you will exhale the vilest stink that to my nostrils glorifies the odor of the grave over any perfume. Worms will crawl along your clavicles and tree roots will impale your soft tissue. Then you will bloat like a pregnant cow…”
She had barely been carried out the cafe door when another model plumped herself down in Baudelaire’s lap and, caressing him slowly, kissed him on the neck. “I’d be delighted to get a gift like that from such a fine gentleman as yourself,” she said, her nostrils flaring like a pig. She shifted her heavy buttocks against him.
“You too will be like this,” he said, after the stormy look of disappointment had passed. “My love, my goddess, my angel of the gutters.”
“Aw, you poets and your fancy talk.”
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