Here is my flash fiction piece for the Write...Edit...Publish challenge for January. I'm writing this on my travels. My strongest influence is Paris and its street life. One of my other obsessions is 24-hour news, so I think you might guess where part of the story comes from if like me, you're a news junkie. On a side note, all names in the story come from the Paris Metro Map which is always in my pocket when I'm in Paris.
If you'd like to post either a fiction, non-fiction, photo/graphs, artwork...for the prompt, or for future prompts, you are most welcome. After reading my story, you might like to click on some of the names in my sidebar list to see how others have interpreted NEW BEGINNINGS.
Blanche St-Ouen was once a premiere dancer at the Moulin Rouge cabaret. Now she had lost her job. She was nothing, nothing.
She stumbled down Rue Des Martyrs, ignoring the tears that washed her face. The name of the street suited her well.
Hearing a familiar croaking voice, she absentmindedly dropped a euro into her favourite homeless person's basket and patted the blond chihuahua in the lady's lap.
Blanche looked up at the blue and white street sign. She'd always been a martyr to her beauty, now her beauty was fading and her services at the Moulin Rouge were no longer required. All she had to fall back on was her nursing training which she'd never used, having been lured by the bright lights of the stage.
Marcel's words exploded in her head as she lurched on down the street, away from the artists at the Place Teatre at Montmarte who always wanted to paint her likeness; all she wanted to do was to shut out images of the dance hall that had been her life for the past ten years, but she couldn't shut out Marcel, never could.
"Moulin Rouge is not your whole life, Blanche, it's just an experience along the way. Your life, your calling, the best, is yet to be revealed."
"My life is here; it's all I ever desire, Marcel, no matter what you say."
"Don't you desire me, dancing girl?" He'd held out his arms and she'd willingly embraced him. He had his way of diffusing a situation, and his way was exciting.
It was a warm Spring night. She sat at her tiny table in the Chat Noir, not far from Moulin Rouge, sipping an aperetif, watching the evening crowd on the street. While she watched, darkness fell and the lights came on, electrifing the Pigalle district in exciting reds and blacks. How pretty it looked, all dressed up for Christmas. But her Christmas would be bleak.
She'd lost everything that was important to her. What would Marcel say to her now? He'd always been negative about her choices. He couldn't understand her fixation with her dancing career. He'd had a fantastic career himself at the Moulin Rouge, caring for and training the animals used in the show. The snakes were always his favourite. She liked to think it was because she swam in the tanks with them, but she knew it wasn't that; Marcel just loved all living creatures.
"Snakes remind me of the countries I want to travel to," he'd said. "I want to work, to help those less fortunate than I am, as corny as that sounds. As soon as I have my medical qualification, I'll be gone."
"Oh, Marcel, that is so dangerous. I don't want you in one of those field hospitals in some Godforsaken land. Can't you be happy in Paris? With me? I'm never leaving Paris. It is everything I want."
Turning her back on Marcel, she'd tossed a euro into the homeless woman's basket, reaching down to pat the head of the tiny dog which looked up at her, hopeful-eyed.
"If only you could see yourself, Blanche. Your heart melts for Paris' homeless who are relatively pampered when compared to those in war zones in Africa and elsewhere...and a spoilt dog that will get sick of getting nothing but pats from you, but your heartache doesn't extend to the real suffering in the world."
"What else can I do to help the refugees in the Sudan, Somalia, the Congo, Syria for Christssake? The whole world has gone mad! You know I donate to World Vision and Medicin sans Frontiers. On a dancer's wage, that's a sacrifice."
"You could come with me to the Sudan to actually work with Medicin sans Frontiers. You're a trained nurse. Why not? You could do so much."
"My life is here in Paris. It always will be. That fierce sun would dry up my skin, suck the life out of me. I'd lose my looks."
"Blanche," he'd said sadly, "beauty isn't just what you see, but what you are inside. Helping others is a thing of beauty."
She looked up from her aperitif just in time to see Varenne and Iena walking arm in arm, giggling, heading in the direction of Moulin Rouge. Why did she torture herself sitting here, watching her friends make their way up the street? How she would miss the excitement of the dance. How she would miss the rehearsals, the costumes, the make up, the make believe. But most of all, she would miss Marcel.
She and Marcel had been together for three years, but they'd never shared an apartment. He needed his own space for studying when he wasn't at the theatre, he'd said. As soon as he'd qualified as a doctor, he was gone.
The voices on the bar television soaked into her consciousness. She swivelled around in her chair and watched refugees trudging along the dusty road in the Sudan, trying to escape the latest atrocities. Their meagre belongings bounced on their bent backs. Tiny children clung to their mothers' bright skirts. Some were crying, some were laughing as they danced down the road.
As she watched, a spokesman for Medicin sans Frontiers came on the television, giving an update on the millions displaced by the latest outbreak, asking for donations for the cause. She leaned closer as the image panned to a close up of Marcel's face.
"We won't claim that working for Medicin sans Frontiers is without risk," the spokesman said, "and the recent death of Marcel Maubourg proves this. We mourn the death of our gifted young surgeon who is a martyr to our cause, who was kidnapped and killed by insurgents while carrying out operations in our local field hospital. But Marcel would not have wanted his death to dissuade anyone with the desire and skills to help our mission here. These people are desperate. They have nothing, nothing. I beg you, if you have any medical training, consider joining us. We need you."
Blanche wiped her tears away. Her new life, her new beginning, was opening up before her.
She pushed aside her aperitif, placed her tip in the little metal tray, and walked out of the restaurant. It no longer felt like her special place.
Outside on the street, she dropped a euro into the homeless lady's basket and patted the dog which startled her by jumping up and snapping at her face.
Blanche withdrew her hand and laughed...and laughed...and laughed.
WORD COUNT: 1087 (sorry I'm over, but I'm rushing to schedule this in case Google wrecks my connection as has been happening to some.)
FEEDBACK WELCOME AS THE FINAL VERSION IS TO BE PUBLISHED IN AN ANTHOLOGY
In these times of global unrest, Médecins Sans Frontières is often the first on the ground to help. It has become one of my chosen charities and I support it in any way I can. I hope you have learnt something from my story...