I fixed my wig into place. It was expensive, made from human hair and shining like gloss under the light. I owned other wigs, but this was my favourite. It wasn’t powdered like the others, nor heavy, nor tall. I liked a good tête de mouton as much as the next Frenchwoman, but the hairpiece felt like a feather laid delicately over my head. It had to be detangled, carefully washed, towel dried and then artfully styled into a sleek bob. The deep pomegranate colour complimented my skin tone. The ends brushed my cheeks in a thankful kiss.
Taking the liberty to reapply my rouge, I ignored the call of my name. I would not dare to set foot on stage unless I looked seamless. I analysed the woman in the mirror before me to make certain that I was perfection from head to toe. A hand roughly grabbed my shoulder.
‘You are supposed to be in the wings now,’ the director’s assistant hissed in my ear, his lips too close to my wig.
He was always touching me, always too close.
I could have shoved my fist into the lecher’s mouth. Instead, I stood and gave him a demure smile, straightening out the creases in my dress. Blue silk looked terrible under theatre lights if it had creases. I gestured for the assistant to lead me towards the wings, which did little to placate him as we weaved through the trunks full of costumes scattered about backstage.
‘Burn the brothel to the ground!’ the Baron’s baritone rang out, indicating my cue.
I stormed downstage like a thunderous Erinye, striking the Courtesan across the face with an echoing smack. The audience noticeably perked up, whispering excitedly amongst themselves at my appearance. ‘Look what you have brought down upon us!’
She looked up at me from her knees, tears spilling down her cheeks. ‘Please, Mademoiselle, have mercy on me!’
‘I shall not! You are filth. A traitor. This is how I punish traitors!’
I pulled up the skirt of my dress to present a knife strapped to my thigh. The audience eagerly leaned forward. I took the knife from its sheath, running my fingers across the decorative patterns carved into the handle. I pressed the pointed tip of the blade into the pad of my pointer finger, drawing out the audience’s expectation. Then, without ceremony, I slit the Courtesan’s throat.
The theatre filled with gasps and cheers as blood spurted from her neck, glazing me in the brilliant red. I spread my arms out either side, letting myself be discoloured. My audience stood from their seats, clapping and fainting and vomiting. The applause grew to a roar, near deafening, as I grinned to show my blood-stained teeth.
The Baron, the Courtesan, the plot – they had all been forgotten. It was simply me. This was what my audience came to see: things that you would have to be a murderer to see otherwise. Death on the far end of the most gruesome scale. In their eyes, I was a murder.
And they loved me.
It was here, onstage, that I could bask in their love – a woman without law. Dressed in silken finery, bathed in lifeblood and praise. I would kill people for the rest of my life, if it made me feel this way.
The velvet curtains drew shut.
I had a cat, once. It was a scrawny tabby runt with protruding ribs and uneven hindlegs. The disgusting little thing smelt like a cocktail of stenches – piss and shit with a dash of sardines. I did not love that cat. It was grandmother’s pet and when grandmother died, it had clambered up into her armchair and began to waste away just as she did. I hated the sight of it, and I hated coming home to an empty house and see the stupid whelp expecting me to feed it, love it, and care for it.
Once, I brought home a man from the Pigalle and told him all this. He stood in the entryway and glanced towards the cat with raised eyebrows.
‘Miaou,’ he said. He did not care that I hated the cat. He only cared about one thing.
My neighbour had caught me digging a grave in the small, flowerless garden behind our apartment building. I told her that grandmother’s cat had been mauled by a dog. She seemed as though she didn’t believe me, and I wanted to hit her over the head with the shovel. Tout le monde est critique.
‘You pressed that knife too hard. I thought I was actually dying,’ an actress complained from her seat beside me. I ignored her as she continued wiping her decolletage with a cotton pad.
Though the fake blood had been cleaned from my face, it was still caked on my wig. I preferred to wear the pomegranate bob during messy scenes because the stains were not so noticeable. I was very attentive to minute things such as this.
I rifled through the abundance of bouquets on my vanity dresser. They were offerings from my spectators, each with tags attached. Roses would say, ‘bravo!’, irises said, ‘je t’aime!’. I delicately pushed them to the side and stopped when I felt my hand brush something solid. Tugging it out from the expanse of flowers, I saw that it was a long, rectangular box about the length of my forearm. Red-painted cedar, with golden engravings in looping designs. It looked like an over-sized cigar box. Or a case for a dagger.
‘What is that?’ the actress asked, leaning towards me. She attracted the attention of the other actors, who crowded around me in wonder. It wasn’t often that we were gifted something other than flowers.
I hunched over the box quickly to shield it from her prying hands. ‘It is my gift. I will open it.’
I sat up and flicked the latch open. My heartbeat became stronger, and I could feel my pulse in my neck. The blood danced in my veins in anticipation. I lifted the lid slowly.
On a plush, red velvet casing lay a single finger.
The actors gathered around me shrieked and jumped back, aghast.
‘What on earth!’ a male actor said.
The actress beside me began hyperventilating. ‘It’s fake, yes? A prop?’
I let her question drift in the air unanswered. My eyes felt wide and child-like staring at the finger. My own fingers hovered cautiously above it. In a theatre that specialised in faux deaths and glycerine blood, I had seen a plethora of prop body parts: ears, tongue, and heads. If this finger was indeed fake, the maker was a technological genius.
I touched it. The skin was pale, soft, and had little blonde hairs sprouting between the knuckles. A golden ring gleamed at the base – a thin band that tapered to a decently sized diamond that glittered under the lights. I took hold of the finger. Beneath it was a small piece of paper creased in half.
‘Mon amour’, it read, ‘take this token. It is a testimony of my deep admiration for you, oh lovely murderess.’
My chest ached at the private sentiment of the unknown sender. I was flattered that someone appreciated my art. Cradling the finger close to my heart, I raised my gaze to the horrified expectance of the other actors.
I smiled at them.
‘Oui, it is fake,’ I said.
Author: Kyrah H is a fourth-year creative writing student of the Wiri and Luritja First Nations. She likes to experiment with horror-themed fiction. Expect to see more of her work in ScratchThat, GLASS magazine, and online.
Artist: Yongzheng Wang is a visual arts student from China, currently studying at QUT and living in Brisbane, specialising in traditional painting such as classical oil painting and academic sketching. While studying art in China, he won a first prize in landscape drawing in institute. He is fluent in Chinese, French, English and Italian and has a good knowledge of Western art theory.
Editors: Willow Ward and Hannah Vesey