Mireille works at the brothel at the end of Rue d’Amboise. She doesn’t mind what she does; it keeps her in stockings and absinthe – and paint, which is a very expensive item for a very expensive hobby for a woman such as herself, Madame always tells her.
‘But why not have expensive tastes when you offer yourself as the expensive morsel for hungry men,’ Mireille always responds. This satisfies Madame.
Mireille also doesn’t mind Madame’s opinions about her painting. It is a luxury they both enjoy, even though Madame never whispers this to anyone but Mireille. To the others, she is a strict and demanding task master; to the men, she is a fierce protector of her little birds. But when the men have left for the night and the little birds are sleeping in each other’s arms, Madame is with Mireille and she softens and croons and strokes. They kiss and move deeply.
Just before sunrise, Mireille slips out of bed and goes to the easel waiting for her by the tall windows.While the others sleep, Mireille swings open the shutters and lets the rosy glow wash over the room. She prepares her pigments, considering the canvas of colour that outlines her lover’s resting body.
A clove cigarette on her lips, its incense blends into the smell of oil pigment and linseed. Brisk strokes create form, a sensuous curve of the hip, the light fuzz of a venus mound.
This part of town is slow to rouse itself. Mireille paints the street to life. Here there is a rooster’s crow; there the clatter of a cart over the cobbles below.
Mireille paints Madame ensconced in exotic silks printed with bold colours and lush flowers, her hair down and her hand gently caressing her breasts. This is what enchants Mireille. Madame lies on the bed, naked and kind and now gently watching her through sleepy eyes. Mireille smiles and paints on.
Now there are children’s voices shouting and women calling. Adelaï’s lilting voice floats into the room from down the hall as she prepares for her bath. It is a luxury Madame was gifted by a wealthy admirer of her fine art.
But Madame only has eyes for the fine art that is Mireille. And Mireille knows her own talents, both on canvas and sheet. The drunken painter dwarf that is smitten with her has seen her works and said as much. He has gifted her many pigments, a deep rose and a royal purple, one that mimics lapis and one that could be gold. She doesn’t want more from him. She’ll share his absinthe at night, pat his head, stroke his beard and take his money for her body, but this morning stillness is not a space that can be bought.
Mireille watches Madame from behind the canvas. Her lover stretches, cat-like, lazy. Mireille imagines the warmth of her skin and draws deeply on the clove cigarette. She breathes out and the smoke swirls like incense around her head. She will never leave here as long as she minds these moments.