Nathalie chooses her most modest dress; her only perfume is the soapy smell of her bath. Don’t provoke, don’t be sorry- as the saying goes. She binds her hair into a ponytail, puts on her plainest flats. She hesitates before opening with her own key, and then rings the bell. The door is answered by Elijah who ushers her into the living room resounding with cheers and applause of Alex’s homecoming party; the guests clink their glasses to life, “normal” being just a word behind the corner.
Seeing her Alex’s eyes light up. He lifts himself up clutching at the edge of the table and they embrace. What remains alive of his body is good and capable of giving her pleasure. Their lips part contented; in some strange way his handicap brought them nearer. Can it be that making love was blowing them apart? Did they fear that in some strange way they would be engulfed one in other instead of flying high? This is a valid question. It just doesn’t have an answer, at least not a satisfying one. Are they really looking for an answer? Shouldn’t they be mesmerized by their enigma rather than being repelled by it?
“To us, Nathalie!” Alex offers her a flute. His voice resounds with the disarming helplessness of a man at the gun point. The touch of his hand makes her shudder. Can she be attracted to him and shrinking from him at the same time? She drinks the champagne up and the pleasurable feeling on her tongue feel like the caress of butterfly wings.
“This is what I feel when kissing you, Nathalie. It’s like making love but still more intimate. I hope I will still satisfy you in many ways, like enjoying together this superb Roederer’s Cristal.” His whisper sounds more like a plea than a promise
“Sorry to butt into your domestic harmony, turtledoves, but I want to take the occasion of introducing Katia to Nathalie.”
Vince, his arm around the frail shoulders of a strikingly beautiful girl-child, is smiling the smile of a proud owner of a new play thing.
“Say “Hallo” to Nathalie, Katia!”
Vince pushes her forward with the impertinence of an owner showing off his house-broken pet.
“Hi, Katia, nice to meet you!” Nathalie reaches out her hand and Katia, doing her best to appear calm but given away by the panic in her eyes, grips it with the desperation of a lost child reaching for her mother.
The touch of Katia’s skin feels like the petals of magnolia blossoms. Nathalie shoots Alex a surreptitious glance trying to decipher the connections between him and this child begging for the least crumb of affection, ready to sell for it her body and soul. Did he share her with Vince when testing their new recruit?
“He didn’t!” Alex answers with an amused smile. And she could kill herself for her see-through jealousy that her mind-reader so openly enjoys.
“You see? Haven’t I told you, Alex? These two girls are fated to become great friends and do an excellent job for us. Can’t be a better mix; Nathalie for the brainy prey, Katia for the sugar-daddies and Magda for the debauchees.”
“Are you talking about me, Vince?”
Dressed to kill Magda, looking daggers at the scandalmonger, joins the party.
“Sorry to be a bit late. You are lucky I could make it at all. Glad to see you, guys…and girls! So glad you pulled through, Alex. So sorry for your handicap, how obnoxious for both of you! Though I’m sure Nathalie will know how to sort it out. By the way, I have some news for you, a happy one for the change. I am officially engaged with a big shot! Have a look, isn’t it a fine piece of jewelry?” She proffers her plump hand. Her short chubby fingers with blood-red sharp nails recall the claws of Bali dancers.
“A diamond big as the Ritz, that’s how much Frank loves me!” She boasts fidgeting the ring in front of Vince’s eyes.
“It must have cost him a fortune!” She prompts an adequate response from the unresponsive lover giving him the kind of smile covering up for tears.
“At last Nathalie is meeting my charming room-mate!” Magda acknowledges Katia’s presence shooting her a toothy grin before turning all her attention back to Vincent.
“It seems like I’d be free for the weekend, Vince. What about Cannes? My treat! It would do a lot of good for your inspiration, not to talk about other thrills. The weather forecast is excellent even if for us the sun will be just an extra. Were it under a hailing storm we still would have fun!’ She grabs his hand and crushes it against her bosom looking like a girl that believing to be on firm ground, suddenly discovers that she is being swallowed by the marshes.
“Sorry, Magda, it can’t be done. I promised Katia to show her Paris, some other time, maybe.” He rebukes Magda with the cruelty of a child who having a brand-new Barbie has no more use for his battered doll.
“I see!” Magda hisses through her clenched teeth; only the sparkle of suppressed tears reveals the pain of a woman who fell in love with the wrong man.
“What about a drop of champagne, Magda?” Elijah bolsters her up with an encouraging smile and hands her a flute of champagne. Doesn’t he know only too well there is no cure for a broken heart? Love is great. The problem is not to die when it goes away.
“Cheerio, gorgeous!” He replenishes her glass and encircles her shoulders. Heartache is oblivious of elegance; heartache is one of those things that make you into a wreck.
“I have an invitation for the fashion-week and I am looking for a beautiful woman to accompany me. It’s Lacroix show, Magda!”
She turns to him like a sunflower to the sun. Her gown stretches on her body. And if heartache doesn’t ask for elegance, new hope does.
“Thanks, Eli! I’d love it!” She kisses him passionately, her old flamboyant self again, saving her chagrin d’amour for off stage. If Vince is lusting after an ingénue, let him take her to bed! Katia won’t outlive their first night of love! Then she will take him generously back and show him what sex is, leaving vengeance to God and other underachievers!
“Bye, everybody, we’ll call it a day!”
Hooked on Elijah’s arm Magda, her eyes cloudy with unshed tears and radiant with a promise that she intends to keep makes her exit. A lady doesn’t cry when losing a man she never had! And this is what she decides to be: a lady down to the ground!