Flash Fiction by Lorette C. Luzajic
after Seraphine Louis, artist, France, 1864-1942
She painted what the angels she was named for told her to. Cosmic lightshows, dazzling bejewelled foliage, wide eyes: what she saw when she closed hers. Paradise followed her, glittering with shards of light like stained glass. Perhaps the glowing irises peering between petals were her mother’s. She could not be sure, since she could not remember her face. She was still nursing when her mother left this plane. Seraphine’s own breasts had not yet bloomed when she took to the pastures, cajoling lambs with her shepherd’s crook and the sad smile of a girl already orphaned for years. The lambs knew. They followed her, to keep her company. She loved the soothing mewl and rhythm of their bleating.
It was after, in the convent she cleaned, that she started to record the lush patterns that surrounded her. When her hands stung from the lye she used to soak the sisters’ habits, the pictures of the saints provided comfort. She knew she belonged to Mary as much as did the nuns. She was the Virgin’s daughter, and her bride.
Seraphine, in secrecy, covered by darkness, mixed tinctures and pigments from the bounty of the world around her. She never told a soul how she conjured colors, and no one knows now. The angels sang to her when she worked, just as they appeared to the other shepherds on that extraordinary eventide in Bethlehem.
One day their trumpets ceased to sound. Seraphine laid all her brushes down. She would never paint again. It is finished, she said to the starry night.
“You are today, Madame, the renown, the preoccupation, the scandal and the toast of Paris. Everywhere they talk only of you…” Alfred Delvau, The Pleasures of Paris, 1867
1. He has run out of diamonds, and out of horses. He can no longer pay his way, he cannot keep her. This is how Cora’s reign of the half-world screeches to a halt. Alexandre Duval is a hothead with a taste for gambling and expensive women. He has squandered his butcher father’s fortune already, and barely thirty.
2. It is not his empty hands that Cora can’t stand: she has lovers galore to lavish her in lavender, in pale silk petticoats and twinkling tiaras. It is his possessive and obsessive nature: as many times as he has demanded she marry him, she has politely and firmly declined. One day he shows up waving a pistol. It goes off, and he nearly bleeds out in her front hall. No one knows for sure whether the gun was intended for himself- or for her.
3. No matter that she was likely the intended victim of his violence. Tongues are wagging now, and her suitors are afraid of her.
4. After palaces of her own, and marble statues in her likeness, a stable of sixty thoroughbred horses and a handsome fleet of carriages, after fine perfumes and couture lingerie and handwoven ivory laces, after princes and dukes and bathtubs overflowing with Champagne and orchids, Cora will end up alone, penniless, ravaged by stomach cancer.
5. The belle of the Belle Epoch, the pride of Paris, was not even French. Cora was a cockney milliner from Cornwall. Her father was a starving composer, and she loved music, too. When he abandoned his brood of fifteen, to find his fortune in America, she was sent to her grandmother’s, and to Catholic school. She took naturally there to the arts of culture and comportment. Even as a skilled young hat maker, she wanted desperately to join the theatre. You may as well be a prostitute, her grandmother said.
6. So that’s what she does. She rents a spare little room in London in an establishment of questionable repute. She overhears the proprietor: he references girls like her as ending up “poor and degraded.” So, she upgrades to a luxury suite, starts charging a fortune.
7. Runs to Paris. Tears up her passport. Never looks back.
8. In France, her clients are enchanted by her pantomime of aristocracy and her folksy, bawdy ways. She is at the same time opulence personified, a vision to behold in her finery, black hair, killer body, pink as a peach. But she can hold her own with men at cards and horses. She speaks frankly, on a wide range of subjects. She is fun to be with. She is earthy and unflinching. She is the star attraction of her own theatrics, serving herself up naked at a buffet, carried in by four admirals, on a silver platter.
9. The woman seen weeping on the curb outside the Monte Carlo gaming house is none other than Cora Pearl, not long ago The Queen of Paris, the most sought-after courtesan of Europe. A former lover found her there, evicted, having betted her last belongings. “She appeared to be about fifty years of age, handsome… but much bedraggled,” he writes later. What has become of the numerous opulent chateaus in Loiret, he wonders aloud, or the emeralds? War, Cora tells him, and damn this casino.
The Game of Keys
after Gertrude Abercrombie
In the rainy city before dawn, two shrouded women in the garden of the city square. They stand guard on either side of the chess table. One holds an hour glass in her hand, and the other holds the upside-down corpse of a small bird. They sense your presence and lift their faces: neither of them have eyes.
The woman under a white cloud touches the shank of a rusty key, pushes it forward several squares toward the center of the board. She lifts her hand skyward, first and last finger touching, like a mysterious mudra.
The other pulls a deep red ribbon and then a narrow key from her mouth. She places it in the row closest to her. She briefly touches one thumb to both ears, then sways the fallen sparrow over the game like a macabre pendulum. An owl asleep on a barren branch stirs, then swoops, taking something from a chalice in the middle of the board.
A black cat moves from the shadows into the game. There is a tiny silver key at her throat. The pale wedge of moon left over from the night dissolves against the lightening sky.
1. We all saw it coming- it was just a matter of time. You had a death wish in neon lights. You practically had it tattooed on your forehead.
2. I married you anyways. The romance of the shotgun wedding was just too much for me to resist.
3. The irony of your death is how you taught us about life.
4. In the middle of a rave in the middle of nowhere, you had stopped, mid-motion. Listen, you said, waving your fingers into the sound around us. Look, you said. The bass lulled and the fields were filled with sonic fireflies, buoyant and melodic lights that flitting and flickering about in a soft parade. The beat fluttered, then broke open, rolling thick and dark over the revelers. Dissipating without a trace into the open expanse of night.
5. Where does the sound go? you asked, sparks coming off of the edges of you.
6. I was bereft for a long time after you jumped. But even so, it saved me.
7. Your departure was the catalyst, the fluorescent orange road marking between my before and after.
8. Maybe that’s where you went. Off, chasing the sound.
9. I cleaned up my act. It took some time. The art, like I promised you. The programs, the doctors. I did it. What you wouldn’t.
10. They gave me the clothes off your back. Folded, trim and neat. As if you had ever been tidy. The rope of small silver plastic beads. I divided them up among your mourners and lovers.
11. They held no value but poetry. Which was everything to me, the reason why I was in this mess.
12. My brother understood why I handed those beads out in tiny boxes. These are the mementoes of a transmogrification. He was wearing them when he went through The Doorway.
13. A lifetime later, the fullest joys the most picayune. Carmenere, Mahler, habanero, prayer. The stuff of life itself.
14. If you had any second thoughts, you’d already had them. In that moment, mellowed by Zen and heroin, melting at the threshold of the doorway, you went head-first. No turning back: you didn’t even look behind you.
Lorette C. Luzajic writes prose poetry and small stories, recently published or forthcoming in The Citron Review, Trampset, Cleaver, and The Miramichi Reader. She is the editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted to writing inspired by art. She is also an internationally collected visual artist.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photograph Wes Candela.