The Fox and The Pussycat
Maggy smelled death as soon as she opened the door. When she was nine years old, a rat had died in the crawlspace under her parent's house in Bordeaux. The stench of its decay had stayed in her nostrils for weeks after her father had removed the corpse. The same sickly-sweet odor enveloped her now like a noxious cloud.
Maggy wanted to run. She imagined herself tearing down the six steep flights to the courtyard, past the Concierge's lodge, into the street. Instead, she pushed the door open and forced herself to step into the room.
It was tiny and dim. The only light filtered in through a grimy dormer window. There had been a pathetic attempt at decor, with travel posters of exotic resorts, mostly white beaches and azure seas, and a few bright throw-rugs on the dirt-colored linoleum. A shiny new console TV looked out of place, incongruous among the thrift shop table and chairs.
A bamboo screen made a pretense of dividing the place into living and sleeping areas. Behind it was a sink, a portable bidet, and a bed with an Indian print cover. A glossy photograph of Marie-Claude, naked except for a feather boa, hung on the wall, and Marie-Claude herself lay spread-eagled on the bed, staring glassily at the ceiling. Her red satin kimono hung open, exposing her perfect body. The porcelain skin seemed to glow with its own inner light.
Maggy stared dumbly at the discolored face in its frame of golden hair. The patch of curly hair between the girl's thighs was golden too. Only something was wrong. The gold was bisected by a stripe of dark red that snaked down the bedspread to a puddle on the floor.
The room began to tilt and, knowing she was about to faint, Maggy knelt on the floor with her head between her knees.
The concierge was ironing, her eyes fixed on the screen of a small, black-and-white TV. She turned a mechanical smile on Maggy before noticing her strained, ashen face.
"What's the matter, Madame? You look sick!"
"We must call the police!" Maggy gasped. "Marie-Claude is dead!"
The commissariat was only three blocks away, on the Rue de la Tour d'Auvergne, but it seemed hours before the Police came. While they waited, the concierge, a woman in her forties with a shelf-like bosom, plied Maggy with rough red wine, " to put the blood back in your face ". After the first few swallows, the image of what she had seen upstairs began fading, like a nightmare in the morning light.
At last, a handsome young man appeared, trendily dressed in denim suit with dark shirt and gaudy tie, introduced himself as Detective Leblanc. By that time, Maggy felt drowsy and vague. She could not stop yawning as he questioned her.
"So," he asked, "Mademoiselle Perrin worked with you?"
"At the .... ' Pussycat'?"
"As a.....striptease artiste?"
"Striptease artiste. Yes." She fought down the giggle bubbling up in her throat.
"You , too?"
"Me , too, what?"
"You are also a....?"
Maggy's face was hot. "No. I'm the M.C. Mistress of Ceremonies. And I sing."
A wave of sadness swept over her. Monsieur Grey, who owned the Pussycat and several other Paris clubs, had hired her with the promise of a good spot in the show. Instead, most of her time was spent filling in with patter between acts, or singing, anonymously, with the band. Her own act, four songs she'd worked hard to prepare, often got stuck in to fill an empty slot, or cut altogether, if the show was long.
"I see. And you came here today because...."
"Mario asked me to. The manager."
"Well, Marie-Claude hadn't been in for a couple of days. And I only live a few blocks from here. He asked me to stop by and see if she was sick. "
Excerpted from The Fox and the Pussycat by Barbara Sohmers. Copyright © 1998. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved .
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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