September 1889 – Le Opéra Garnier, Paris
“How will they stay in business if they give tickets away!” the boy said in a way meant to be overheard. He was leaning against the ionic column in the Pavilion des Abόnnes dressed in a black coat, grey trousers, a regal silk hat, steel tipped cane and patent leather shoes. Although was maturely dressed, the sparkle in his eyes and the sauntering smile revealed his age; he was hardly a day past twenty-one.
“And then Madame Joyeux wrote me several notes in her own hand inviting me to her private boudoir before the performance,” the same boy boasted.
In plain view, the boy waved his program to Samson et Dalila, where his ticket brazenly protruded from its pages. The notoriously elusive Madame Joyeux seldom bestowed such favors on anyone. Even a candidate to the throne of England would find it hard to court her, eight million francs worth of Cartier diamonds or no.
“You must be wary, Monsieur,” the Persian gentleman said while passing by in his dark brown sardari, turned back collar and tight purple turban. “Woman like Madame Joyeux can be very complicating.”
The boy laughed. “You speak of poor Madame Joyeux as though she were dangerous.”
The Persian gave him a bemused grin and continued into the theatre.
“I met the most peculiar man on my way here today,” the boy said, standing across from the fair soprano seated at her vanity table in her dressing room.
She had a sinister way of glancing at him, as though she had plans for him that he was not aware of.
He cleared his throat. “A bearded foreigner with a crooked wooden cane, wearing a turban. I wondered if he were really on his way to attend the performance or if he were loitering.”
“Oh really?” Madame Joyeux replied with a smile on her thick, rouge-drowned lips. With her face covered with pearly powder and her hair hidden under a large curly wig, she still retained a subtle charming beauty - not classic, not eloquent, not even handsome, but somehow enticing.
“Yes, and he had some unkind words to say about you, Madame.”
“What did he say?”
“He said you can be very complicating.”
Madame Joyeux laughed. “If that is all, then I am very flattered.”
“Why is that, kind lady?” the precocious boy asked.
“Why, dear boy, because he was once the darogha of Persia,” Madame Joyeux stated as she coughed on her throat spray. “He is looking for something, something that he shan’t ever find, even if he searches till the end of his days.”
“And what is that, Madame?”
“Nothing you need trouble yourself with.”
Madame Joyeux inserted one last pin into her hair before she stood up and invited the boy to sit on one of the skirted armchairs. She poured him some tea in a little gourd shaped blood-red cup, veined with gold.
“These estekaan tea cups, of which I am a collector, come from Isfahan,” Madame Joyeux said as she presented the exotic brew to him.
He shook his head politely.
“Are you sure? One must be knowledgeable about such things if one is to be a writer.”
“I have only written a few short stories,” the boy blushed, “I do not have the stamina to write anything longer.”
“Perhaps you only lack the inspiration.”
“Madame Joyeux, you would inspire hundreds of stories from my pen if only I were that type of writer.” The boy looked down. “But I am not a romance writer. I write unhappy stories, dark stories.”
“Not all stories end happily.” Madame Joyeux stood up. “I must go, the curtains will rise soon.” Madame Joyeux smiled fondly at the young man. “I do not often sing these days but tonight I shall, like I used to.”
“I will be watching,” the young man said as he presented his ticket freshly withdrawn from the program.
The door closed behind her and the boy picked up his steel tipped cane, sneaked away one of her rouge stained handkerchiefs to keep as a souvenir, fitted his top hat snuggly around his head and enjoyed one last look at the perfumed room. It was then, out of the corner of his eye, that he noticed something was most peculiar. The mirror to Madame Joyeux’s room was tilted. Nervous, he took a closer look. It was not tilted, but slightly open.
The boy touched the edge of the mirror with his gloved fingers, sure that it was a trick of his eyes. At the slightest pressure, the mirror revolved open. As the light of the boudoir filled the stone corridor, he noticed there was a lump on the ground.
As he eased to the right to prevent his shadow from obscuring the curious mound, he noticed a watery puddle, like the white of an egg on a skillet. He squinted for a closer look and saw a round marble sized thing floating in it, yellow like a yolk. He realized it for what it was: the smell of death; coming to him from deep within the darkness. It was an eye, a crushed yellow eye. No, more yellow than any jaundiced tissue, it had a pure yellow iris.
He fell backwards but could not escape the horror; the darkness of that cave seemed to reach into the room, suffocating him. With one foot he struggled to kick the mirror closed but lost his balance and succeeded only in falling into a shelf. A scrap of linen fell into his lap, a lady’s mask with sequins and glitter that stylishly covered only one half of the face. To him, that black hole was the hollow socket of a snarling Cyclops, Polyphemus having lost his single eye.
The boy fled from the room, leaving his ticket behind.