[I often write characters down I *adore* such as this one, based on a female Scott Thompson. I wish I had a story to put her in, but alas. No. Maybe someday. This mock interview didn’t even finish.]

As I approached Madam Kanstandoplois, there was no mistaking her presence. She had set up a small white painted metal table in a circle of perfect manicured green. There were only two chairs, one for me, and a subtly larger one for her. Not that she needed the space, no, she was all of five and a half feet and barely over seven stones in weight. She was wearing a wide brimmed hat which seemed a little odd since we were in the evening shade of a tree. When I grew closer, I noticed that she has a tea set and a small bottle of Drambuie that she added to her cup, slowly stirring it with a sterling silver tea spoon.

“Mr. Barker,” she said. “Do sit down.” Her accent was distinctly European, and seemed both French, English, and Italian in all the right ways.

She clumsily grasped a large pair of sunglasses on her face and pulled them down. She squinted at me before she through better about the idea and awkwardly put them back on. Given her large dark glasses, blue striped eyeshadow, and small puckered lips, she was not unlike a fish I had once seen in the Bahamas. And as always, her personality was on the edge of being tipsy and charming, wobbling that line like a drunk driving test on the roads of Sardinia.

“Ms. –er, Madam Kanstandoplois,” I started.

“Oh, do please call me Shelly. I mean, Michelle,” she said, accenting the extended name like it was an elegant French cloth. She then hid a burp with an arched back and pressed the back of her hand to her mouth. It left a silvery red lipstick stain on her hand through the rest of the interview. “I mean, Michelle…” she repeated. I was not sure if she was emphasizing this or had just forgotten she already said that.

“Michelle…” I said. I never knew her first name, so I was delighted to be on a first name basis with her right off the bat.

“Why did you call me Michelle?” she asked indignantly.

I paused.

“It was a joke,” she said, and laughed a little too hard, like she had forgotten how to laugh honestly.

“Oh, sorry,” I said.

“Oh… you’re a fun one,” she moaned, but it was impossible to tell if she was being sarcastic. “Son, you better have a sense of humor when you’re with me.”

“Madam… er, Michelle. I want to thank you for this opportunity. My readers–”

“I have never heard of your magazine,” she said. “I have heard of one like it, but honestly, if you have come here to interview me for a fan… b-blog or something… blog. Blog? is that what it’s called? What a funny word. Blog. BLOG…” Michelle then stared off into space, which ended where a skinny and shirtless Italian man was painting on a canvas something from the garden.

“It’s Vanity Fair,” I said. “It has over a million readers world wide. It has been in print since 1913. Surely you must have–”

“The name is Michelle, and I don’t read the Internet,” she said, making a point that I was to understand this from this moment forward. “I know nothing of your periodical or this blogging web… net.”

I began to worry about her state of inebriation and how this would affect my interview. I started thinking heavily of what I had learned in journalism class dealing with drunks and the skills in interviewing them. I came up empty.

“I was born in 1962…” she started abruptly. “As a little girl, most of my friends had pictures of horses on their bedroom walls. I had a teaser poster of a German dominatrix from a 1958 American stag film. I can still picture her thin build, dressed in black leather that coated her like a dark paint. She had a whip in one hand, and was smoking a cigarette with another, holding it between her fingers like this…” Michelle pressed her hand into her chin, forcing her own cigarette between the knuckles of her fingers. “She wasn’t smoking her cigarette like most society matrons of the time period, no. It was almost guttural and foul, making an unclenched hand like it was worse than a fist, covering her face with protection as she blew out the curls of smoke so thick, it had visible particles in it. She was looking down at me with contempt and pity. I both feared and adored her. I learned to read because of that poster; first words I ever read. The only words on the poster were, ‘Catherine Shtrumm stars in Leather Beaten’ and a list of cities the film had supposedly been banned in. It made me wish I could be as worldly as Catherine. As a little girl, I used to dream of the places I’d visit. I would be Catherine Shtrumm. And like her, I would do things to men that would get be thrown out of the finest cities.”

I furiously scribbled notes, but she was rising just jarring imagery, it was difficult to buffer and compress any coherent thought. My notes started to look like those of a mad poet, substituting words and conjunctions with arrows that crossed one another.

“… it was age six, ankle deep in pony shit, when I looked at the children before me who had come to my party as a favor to my parents. It was my first sense of disillusionment when I saw the former bouquet of helium balloons that had been sitting all day in the garden sun. They were halfway to the ground, drifting lazily on their ribbons like a street bum at three in the morning. I realized that all balloons die. You have to let them go and fly away before they become saggy, wrinkled, and stop being fun.” Michelle leaned forwards to me and said in a polite stage whisper. “And I approach my husbands the same way…” She blew a puff of smoke across my notes, peering at them like a snake peers at a rodent.

I laughed politely. “You made a statement in last week’s issue of Soho Journal that you never apologize for your smoking. What did you mean by that?”

“I remember my first cigarette,” she started after a long pause. “I must have been about eight. My father usually got cigars in exchange for being a bouncer the pinball arcade down the street at night and not asking questions about who he saw in the back room. But the place had been boarded up unexpectedly due to various health code violations and bribes unpaid. I remember staring at the empty box of Cubans and thinking, “So now what am I gonna smoke?” Not those cheap African turds, that’s for damn sure. That’s when I remembered the local drugstore. There were older boys who would buy them for the little kids; I think the leader was about 10. They would give you cigarettes in exchange for a flash of leg, but at 8, they just laughed at me.”

“Laughed at you?” I asked.

“Yes, they would taunt me flashing a great leg for an eight year old, which I must confess, has very sexy for my age. ‘Why don’t you have your out-of-work daddy buy you some?’ said the ringleader as I put my skirt back on. He was taunting me, and I knew there was no pleasing an older boy. This was before I knew about hand jobs, you see.

“I was desperate for nicotine and allowance wasn’t until Thursday. So I did what any small Parisian girl would have done: I stabbed him in an alley. I took his smokes, and lit them with a match I struck from the metal plate in his head. I told him he was shit, and would never amount to anything. Then I kicked him a few times in the groin any time he tried to get up.

“It was then I understood why the dominatrix in the poster smoked. There was a certain power a thin stick of white in the hands of a woman covered with the sweat of a good beating mixed with pity. I took a thick, deep drag of the hot smoke like the poster girl and blew it in his face. And from then on, twice a week, he paid me to beat him up in exchange for smokes. That man works for the French Parliament now, and I even voted for him twice. He still sends me flowers, and I send him nothing in response.”

“I think you’re pulling my leg,” I said.

“Well, when I was a young woman — and that meant 13 in those days — I was sipping wine at a small cafe in Lens when this tall gentleman approached me and asked if I would take a picture of him and his wife. Well, I had heard of sugar daddies before, but this crusty American tourist was simply ghastly. From his tye-dye shirt to his huaraches, he was the very personification of someone who had seen pictures of the Flower Child movement and used them to gain nubile young tourists. His young bride was an English woman who told me, in grammar school French with a South London accent, that her husband was all she had dreamed of in a man. But as her husband fidgeted with the lens cap, she winked at me in that artist language that suggested a certain restaurant gave out free bread and coffee out back on trash day. As she pushed her dirty blond hair back, she flashed me the diamond ring that had sealed the deal. It violated everything I stood for: art, beauty, and truth. She had sold her soul for a man who was too old to demand sex that would have scared a gypsy, but had more money than sense. All she had to pay him was attention and a an occasional hand job while he fell asleep in a Barcolounger. I was repulsed. I was indignant. But as a young woman, all that really meant was I was jealous, and three months later, I was married to my first husband; a real estate mogul from Miami. THIS was to change my entire view of the art world.”

“How so?” I had stopped writing. I had let go of the wheel and let the road steer me.

“Art and money are bedfellows. Like a mistress and a politician, they are not seen as morally proper, but that’s where truth of the art community is born: between the loins of an unhappy and desperate love affair. My love was a man of Hebrew status. Money was no object to him, but it was to me. I carved juicy chunks of money from the roast he allowed me to suckle from. He didn’t care for loyalty; he had none himself. But he cared about showmanship, which was how he sold so many condos. He was an artist himself. He’d take an old condo, reeking of old man smell, and with a few grand in paint and accents, resell the box for a hefty profit as the must-have of whatever scene he claimed to be a long-time member of that week. I was his trophy wife who displayed in galleries and exhibits he paid for. He was like a chameleon that had a tropism for wealthy retirees trying to start a new life.”

“So he used you as an interior decorator, backed up by the validity of the fact you were a famous… artist? An image that he essentially created?”

She sniffed. “Well, if you put it that way, yes. Good business. I was an investment, like an architect who designed his own office. Of course, for the biological needs, he had a cadre of widows. I’d say half our income was single women who left him in their will instead of their own children.”

“Um… wow.”

“Don’t act surprised. We did have sex of course, and I even bore him a son.”

“I didn’t know you had children.”

“‘Had’ is the essential keyword. Our son became a rabbi and was killed in a Lebanon bombing many years ago. We never got along, though. I only found out years later through a mutual friend.”

“I’m sorry…”

“Don’t be. He did well. I might have grandchildren, though. Can’t confirm it.” Michelle shrugged.

I didn’t know how to take that bit of news. It sounded like a huge break, if she was telling the truth.

“Well, my first husband died in a hot tub of a massive stroke and a grin on his face. I inherited his wealth, but squandered it foolishly. I didn’t understand how money worked, and the foundations of his empire crumbled around me as I drank my way through European cities, and in less than three years, my credit was no good anymore. It was time to sober up and find a new husband.”

“That would be the famous Prince Alexander DePuedo,” I said.

“Your research serves you well. Yes, Alex was my second. Nothing about him I could tell you can’t be found in history books.”

“How did you meet the Price of–”

“He was not technically a prince of anything. He was, at best, some kind of duke. He became prince due to the famous military coup. I was on my balcony, having a good smoke of a $500 cigar when the first wave of soldiers came. I had to spend the next few days as a hostage in my own bedroom while various things were sorted out. That’s when I realized I had gone from duchess to princess. Second in line to the throne.”

“Then he was assassinated.”

“Quickly, yes. I was in our Manhattan apartment when I heard the news. The US Government protected me for a while, but I eventually managed to shake that off.”
————–
This short fiction is copyright 2010 Grig Larson. No reproduction is allowed without the author’s written consent.

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