The audience was still applauding the flawless performance, but Eloise was too tired to give it much attention. It was her sixth day, and each was more gruelling than the one before. All she wanted was to take off her shoes, go home, and sleep. It wasn’t to be. Soon, the abonnés would be here, and they wanted her attention.
Eloise sat down in front of the mirror, looked at her youthful face. She would be fifteen in a few weeks. She shouldn’t complain. Being allowed to perform at the Palais Garnier, the Grand Opera House in Paris, was a privilege most never got to experience. This daughter of a working man had no right to take all this for granted. Her parents also told her as much. When the abonnés entered the foyer de la danse, she should smile and look the prettiest she could. And charm came easily to Eloise. She was petite, short and skilly, child-like, but with the features of a woman. Quiet and well mannered, but intelligent and could follow their conversations if appropriate. She was everything they wanted.
Eloise wiped the sweat from her face, applied a little powder, and made sure she looked her best. Soon, the abonnés would be here. They were now slowly getting out of their seats, getting a glass of champagne, talking to others, showing off their wealth, their social status, being seen.
The doors to foyer de la danse opened, and the men entered. Remy was there. He always was. Close to fifty, she estimated, balding and slightly overweight, but the good life did that to you. Remy smiled at her while someone handed him a glass of champagne. Approaching Eloise, he eyed her from top to toe, commented on her performance, comparing her to a butterfly and the rays of the sun after the rain. She did well today. Flawless, like a butterfly flying from one part of the stage to another. In 1880, you will be the prima ballerina, he commented, before running his finger down her petite body. He may have mentioned a butterfly again. She wasn’t listening.
Remy finished his champagne and smiled, took her hand. Led her to the back of the foyer de la danse, opened a door he’d so often opened before, led her into a small room. He stroked her face, loosened her hair, and kissed her. Ran his hand down her back and squeezed her firmly. Untied her dress, pulled it down, kissed her smooth skin.
It was business. He would get what he wanted, she would get her money, her family would go another day without starving, and Eloise would be closer to her goal of becoming the best ballerina in Paris.
She would have preferred a handsome prince, like they had in fairy tales, but life wasn’t a fairy tale and you had to do what was necessary to survive.
Six days of work. Tomorrow would be her day off. Remy put his trousers back on and left the money beside her. She would go home, sleep in the bed he had bought her, in the apartment he provided. Tomorrow she would have a day off and he would come for a visit.
One day, Eloise would become a proper ballerina, the best among equals. One day, she would not need to please old men.
One day, she would be free.
This story is the nineteenth installment in the Moments series