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Ruby Solitaire 
Bradford Gyori

A boy of fourteen she was, a mere stripling, not that this troubled her parents in the least for they were too filled with righteous indignation, too convinced of their own piety. Écarlate was discovered posing before the cheval glass in the front parlor in some of his sister’s frilly frippery. For this crime she was whipped, beaten, cursed, and driven from her home and indeed from the whole backwards village she had grown up in as overnight all its inhabitants turned against her. Emigrating away from the slack-jawed rustics of Auvergne required an instantaneous immersion into the pitiless world of street hustlers, pickpockets, and other petty criminals, but ah bien, my darlings, such is life. Écarlate was thereafter forced to find a new home and new relations along with some means of survival. This was how she had found herself living and working in the Bois de Boulogne.

As Écarlate glides onto the stage, the audience is breathless. The gown she is wearing was designed by the Marquis himself and tailored especially for her. It is comprised of a thousand snow white butterfly wings sprinkled with actual diamond-dust and sewn to a silken shift with thread so fine it is imperceptible to the naked eye and so strong it is like spun iron. Hence like Écarlate this costume is at once elegant and indestructible.


As our heroine strides into the spotlight commanding the devotion of the habitues of the Revues á Grand Spectacle she can feel those tiny insect wings begin to flit against her supple skin, and in that moment, she feels as if she is about to take flight. As she awaits the orchestra’s cue, she thrills to the sound of the spectators gayly chanting, ‘ÉCARLATE! ÉCARLATE! ÉCARLATE!’


Chief among Écarlate’s interests these days are long walks through the Jardin du Luxembourg, the lovely urban park two blocks from her apartment near the border of the Latin Quarter and Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It is spring and the park is perfumed with fresh mown grass and a profusion of hydrangea blossoms in barefaced bloom.


In the years since retiring her theatrical aspirations this has become Madame Écarlate’s chief mode of divertissement, a pastime supported by a modest inheritance bequeathed by the Marquis when he finally succumbed to his excesses decades earlier, whereupon his estate was divided between forty-seven contentious heirs, a few of them shockingly legitimate! Fortunately, however, the dear man kindly set aside a small stipend to support his favorite mistress throughout her declining years.


For three years, Écarlate has been dwelling amongst the notorious ‘Ladies of the Woods.’ The work has been easy enough to come by with eager customers frequenting the park in droves. Mere survival, on the other hand, has proven an increasingly daunting prospect for in the last nine months alone she has been beaten, robbed, and even stabbed. Nonetheless, she is still alive and, as of late, she has devised some clever stratagems for remaining so.  


For instance, once satisfaction is confirmed and decorum is restored, the customer is given a moment to comport himself, to pay his fee and then hastily depart. Écarlate is then alone. The paths snaking through these woods are several, each cloaked in shadow and resonant with sounds of sex, or violence, or both. Tonight, she elects to venture down a long narrow trail leading through a thicket of bramble berries.

Now a blare of horns. Now the stomping feet. Now the thunder of the timpani. Which catwalk will she mount? She glances to the right, then to the left, but ultimately she selects the middle way as it will provide the best vantage for the most onlookers. It would be cruel to deny anyone a chance to feast upon the spectacle she has so lovingly prepared.


She steps onto the cut-class ramp suspended high above her adoring public. At her side, an albino lynx sports an emerald studded collar attached to a platinum leash clutched by one of her silk-gloved hands. Trailing her is a thirty-foot cape of white satin, trimmed with ermine tails accented with silver appliqué and festooned with three thousand white Damask roses. Following behind this is a retinue of forty-six scantily clad odalisques bearing incense burners redolent with myrrh. Can you picture it? Are you in love yet?


Which path shall Écarlate take through the park? This is the most vexing dilemma concerning her on this sunny Saturday. Should she hew close to the Grand Basin or explore the outer perimeter? Presently, she elects to wander the wooded region between Porte Guynemer and Port Croquet as it conjures a certain nostalgie de la boue reminding her as it does of her years fighting for survival and a few centimes in the Bois de Boulogne. As peculiar as this may sound there are some aspects of fin de siècle Parisienne she remembers rather fondly for in those bygone years even the most squalid decadence evoked a sort of epic majesté. Alas, alack, such grandeur is no more. Écarlate has scant affection for this new century with its ghoulish machine-war and its vulgar Modernist aesthetic as these so-called innovations have pulverized all mystery and nuance reducing them to little more than the punchline of some cynical joke.


Écarlate advances with utmost care, keeping her hand pressed against the pearl handle of the dagger protruding from the leather sheath strapped to the garter on her right thigh. Such precautions are de rigueur as there is no heart in the heart of Bois de Boulogne, the two-thousand-acre park outside Paris is famed for its natural splendor but notorious for its depravity. Witness the refuse scattered amongst the verdure, little tubes of soggy sheep’s bladders discarded by the score hanging from branches all around, the detritus of desire. Écarlate has been forced to contend with these ‘ornaments’ from the first. Then there is the small matter of murder.


It is no mean feat staying above ground in this wilderness. Recently, for instance, her dearest friend, Isabelle, was slain by some vicious fiend. Écarlate discovered the ravaged body amid a copse of conifers appearing so peaceful at first, frozen dewdrops lending an especial luster to the alabaster complexion but as she stepped closer the

manner of the poor girl’s demise became hideously apparent as her favorite lace stockings had been torn and her dressed had been

slashed to reveal the bloody wound where her body had been mutilated, its offending organ severed and tossed into the high grass where it lay amid some foraging bullfinches like the discarded detonator of some defused bomb.

Écarlate’s lean abdomen is shaved and oiled with perfumed unguents from the orient. This is what the audience has paid for, a glimpse of their adored femme deshabille as nature intended, though not entirely.

You see, our darling diva is a vision in white save one bright red accessory, the ruby navel ring. This bright bauble is a well-placed distraction meant to keep all eyes focused on an area above a more problematic bauble hid within the forbidding folds tucked between her muscular legs.


Unlike the old men in the Bois de Boulogne, the audience of the Revue wants

Écarlate to remain what she appears to be, the most gorgeous woman they have e’er beheld. She is happy to maintain this façade though sadly, it is now under threat.


The culprit is a single egret feather dangling from a fluffy plume extending from the close-fitting pearl-helmet crowning her luscious ensemble. It would all be so perfect if not for this damnable little whisp dangling in her face making her nose twitch and her eyes water.


As Écarlate approaches the end of the long ramp, she gasps and winces feeling her elaborate costume shudder, threatening to topple over as finally she emits a loud sneeze causing her satin thong to break and exposing her darkest secret for all to see.


Écarlate has seen this gang of hooligans before. They are the same urchins who threw rocks at her during another recent amble through the park. She has taken great pains to conceal the damage inflected by that attack, carefully applying thick maquillage over her black eye and the carelines bordering it.


As the taunting starts, she turns and heads in the opposite direction denying these rogues her beauty or even the slightest mote of her attention. Unfortunately, her tormentors are not the brightest bunch. Incapable of plumbing the depths of her indifference, they see only a target to pursue. Soon they are following close behind, snatching up handfuls of gravel, shouting hateful names in hateful voices, ‘Anormal!’ ‘Molesteur!’


Overcome with fear, Écarlate begins to run as fast as her aged legs will carry her. As she quits the wooded portion of the park and races toward the Palais du Luxembourg, she spots another familiar face, the same park warden who watched the boys attack her before and made no attempt to protect her. He is standing at the steps of the Palais arms folded, an utterly impassive expression on his gaunt face making it quite clear he cares not whether an old freak such as she should live or die. Our heroine has stronger opinions on the matter. Moreover, she is contriving a plan, a way to slyly insnare the concern of this inept functionary.


Witnessing such savagery has convinced Écarlate of two things. First, she must put such ugliness behind her and become a High Priestess of the Exquisite, worshiping at the altar of beauty, celebrating all things glamorous and rare. Secondly, she has resolved to leave the Bois de Boulogne as soon as possible, but how? This is the question she is pondering during her midnight amble, navigating the lush but perilous thickets, as her mind surveys a landscape of inner desolation.


Money can easily be acquired in the Bois de Boulogne, and she has come to cherish the comradeship of her fellow putes. She has even learned to tolerate the slavering attentions of the old Messieurs who patronize the park indulging their predilection for the extraordinary. Nonetheless, something vitally important alludes her still: serenity.

Through the years Écarlate has considers cutting off the offending organ, disfiguring herself in the manner of poor Isabelle. But always she has reconsidered for what would be the point of such a neutered existence?


The Marquis lowers his lorgnette and sighs. The orchestra stops playing. The lynx growls. There are gasps from the gallery and a woman appears to faint. Letting everyone behold the spectacle she has become, Écarlate revels in the awe-struck silence. A heart-quickening vision she is even at the age of 47 rendering the young girls of the company silly little lumps in comparison. For she alone possesses the strength to bear the weight of all this glamor, the eight-foot plume strapped to her sturdy shoulders jetting toward the ceiling rafters, a burden she is all too proud to bear for what ordinary woman could possibly manage?


Écarlate rushes over to a cluster of snow-white hydrangeas sprouting from a planter a few feet from the park warden. Her arthritic legs ache as she crouches and her arms tremble as she struggles to pull the plant loose from its container. For a moment, the boys stop chasing her and gawk at the strange spectacle. The warden is utterly aghast as well. Appalled by this transgression, he begins to blow a little silver whistle hanging by a chain around his neck.


Once the hydrangeas have been liberated, Écarlate holds them high above her in the manner of the elegant, plumed headdress she wore in the Revues and begins calmly striding straight toward the warden making him gape in wonder as the whistle falls from his impotent lips. The boys are laughing now amused as they’ve become of this queer spectacle.


As she emerges from the deep woods and assumes her usual station along the main promenade, she observes the arrival of a strange vehicle. Never has she seen such a gorgeous landau enter the park. It is pulled by two coal black horses and the main carriage is fitted with glittering brass and ornamented with an elaborate family crest featuring a pineapple skewered by two swords. The window framed by the carriage door is draped from the inside with a black velvet curtain.


The landau rolls to a stop right in front of her. The curtain draws back and suddenly Écarlate is seized by an odd presentiment, torn between poles of hope and trepidation. She peers into the carriage, seeking to make some sense of the shadows therein as she offers the requite pose, cocking her hip to one side, cupping a false breast, squeezing it suggestively and licking the air between herself and whomever.


Then the door is opening, and a pale trembling hand is emerging, unfolding like a withered flower struggling to bloom revealing a single bright red jewel at its center. This is the bait luring her into a new adventure and a new life, the world of her soon-to-be savior, tormentor, lover, patron, and bête noir: the Marquis.

Never mind the sapphire pendants, the silver broaches, the ivory hair combs, the opal toe rings. Heed not the sparkling gemstones drizzling her luscious frame. All that matters now is the one infamous accessory, the cause of her dismissal.


Feigning shock and offense, the producers dispatch her on the spot. No longer are her services required. Never again shall they permit her to grace their stage with her peculiar brand of dazzlement. It is their loss of course for Écarlate’s act has been the simplest and thus the purest of them all. No dancer or singer she. This singular talent is known for but one thing, gliding into view and allowing the audience to marvel at her incomparable beauty and until this moment, she has been the Revue’s star attraction, so why all the fuss now? In an earlier era, women were barred from the stage, so male actors were required to disguise their gender via the type of subterfuge Écarlate has until this annoying instant successful employed. In those days performers like her were commonplace, hardly the freakish oddity she suddenly appears to be, donning her silk robe, pushing past the loitering cast members, racing through the backstage warrens, and finally locating the swiftest means of escape from yet another life no longer meriting her presence.


Marching over to the red-faced warden Écarlate lowers the hydrangeas and places them in his open hands. She then takes a step back, wipes the dirt from her palms and blows him a small kiss.


Seeing this, the boys cheer. Then they start throwing fists full of gravel, not at Écarlate this time, but at the warden, who drops the hydrangeas and gives chase.


The boys scatter, pausing only to scoop up larger rocks, throwing these at the warden as well as they shout, ‘Crétin!’ ‘Imbécile!’


Fatigued from this exertion, Écarlate finds a bench beneath a shady bower, the perfect vantage from which to watch the little farce she has help to precipitate unfold. The warden has pulled a baton from his belt and is waving it around as he chases after the boys who continue pelting him with larger and larger stones. It is all rather amusing. Though after a time, Écarlate tires of the trite spectacle and finds her mind wandering. She notices how the ruby solitaire dangling from a bracelet worn around her boney wrist catches the light then she breathes a sigh of relief continuing to recover herself as she closes her eyes and inhales deeply, savoring various aromas. Now fresh mown grass. Now hydrangea blossoms. Now her fading cologne. Now nothing at all.

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