by Susan Hodgetts
Setting: Le Chabanais, a notorious house of ill repute in Paris.
Character: Adelaide Snape (working name VIVIANA), of English origin, now the Madame of Le Chabanais.
The dying strains of a faded French song. VIVIANA, a woman of around 45 years of age, appears to be waltzing with someone, but is alone. She has not been treated gallantly by time. The music stops.
She speaks in an English accent, a jumbled mixture of East End and affected.
(burps) Oh, excuse me. I’ve just had a very big dinner at a charming little restaurant along the Champs Elysees with a wealthy Member of State and his very rich foreign guest. True, it’s a far cry from jellied eels. But I’ve lived here in Paris for decades and now oysters are more my type of cuisine. You see, I’ve dined with Kings.
(She removes what looks like a real pearl necklace, irritated by it clamouring at her neck. Distracted, she drapes it on a stool.)
But my Alain is buried here. Somewhere.
And this sumptuous abode, well I’ve risen to a Madame of my very own…I came here to escape the workhouse, fled like a canary bird from a coal mine. I knew that looks were my fortune. And my talents. I have many of those.
(She removes a bracelet, clamouring at her wrist. Drapes it on a mirror.)
All this jewelry, so heavy. It quite wears one down. I used to do the can-can for the King of England and I still wore all of this ammunition. Bertie, I mean. Although you’ve probably heard of him as Edward the Caresser. Lord knows, he spent enough time here. When he came to pave the way for the Entente Cordiale, I begged him. We were in the Japanese room, the most celebrated of all the rooms here at Le Chabanais (it’s the most luxurious with the right mixture of decadence and intimacy to put our guests a tease.) I said, Your Majesty, I fear for the future of England, and I got down on one knee, and he said, that’s a new position, I haven’t tried that one before.
My heart is buried here. Somewhere.
It’s not just Kings; politicians have always been officially welcomed here on state visits. Helps them get their policies straight, apparently. They marketed me as le fleur anglais but most of the customers have never minded. Especially when they see what they sense to be my little Frenchstamp of quality (exposes large mole high up on right breast). Sends them crazy, that. They laugh and they say, “Viviana, tu es la reine des folies!”
And I long to yell out “I’m Adelaide Snape of the Mile End Road!” But no-one would believe me if I did. Actresses, you see.
I can still act. They used to call me Mademoiselle Cabernet du Chabanais for my marvellous manipulation of corks. And I used to hope back in those days for a travelling variety show or a magician’s assistant or even another stage show…
And I begged him, I said, please put me on the stage, Your Majesty, I’m born for the stage. But he wasn’t interested in my Ophelia, he just wanted to hide me behind the arras whilst we played at nunneries.
I should have done more. For my Alain. Had I known it then. That he would perish in the Great Tumult of Pointlessness. Bertie had seen it coming, but of course he was dead by then. One man’s hatred for another, one man’s mistrust for another. Why can’t they all sort it out between them in a dark room where they can all strike each other dead and claim it for World Peace? Why drench the bloody soil so, that it will never rain clear over Verdun again?
My soul is buried here. Somewhere.
They took the only man I ever loved away from me, the man who said he would save me from all of this. The father of my child. Kings, Kaisers, they’re no Princes.
And now I can never leave France.
copyright © 2010 Susan Hodgetts. All rights reserved. _________________________________________________
Susan Hodgetts graduated with a master’s degree from Goldsmiths College, London, in writing for performance. Her play for teenagers, Slash, was performed at RADA and her adaptation of The Ages of Mankind from Ovid’s Metamorphoses was featured as part of the Brixton Project, staged at Brixton Market. She is currently writing the play Family Ties for the Network Theatre in Waterloo.