Marguerite of the Camellias
Sleep eludes me, and I open the window to the cool air. Refreshing, but before long I cover my mouth to suppress the next fit of coughing. The small stain against the white handkerchief, as red as the flowers that I wear each month, is just visible in the pale moonlight. I am well known for my camellias, and the white ones bring me attention, adoration, though not respect.
I’m reluctant to disturb Armand, who sleeps on in my concubinal bed, as he turns over, rustling the soft white linen bedclothes lavished on me by the Baron. I listen to his gentle breathing, so different from the grunting snores of my benefactor, but I can’t help counting the minutes of the borrowed time we have together before the key turns in the lock tomorrow. He says he will love me for ever, but as I look up to the carpet of stars I wonder how long my ever will be.
Last night, his head in my lap, he asked me to leave with him. I do not stay for the lavish gowns that Mme Duvernoy procured for me, and already my body grows weary of parties and dancing, even my box at the Opera. But what future would there be for him, harnessed to a coutesan? I may have ridden around town dressed in cashmere and velvet, but the virtuous women who ride the carriages that are splashed by mine in the streets will nonetheless always look down on me.
I turn away from the window, walk over to admire the pink flowers he brought. These simple blooms look incongruous in the Sevres vase on my rosewood and buhl cabinet, where I see engraved the coronet and intials that recall my shame. I remove them, and run my finger along a petal, as shapely as his muscular torso but as delicate as my tiny frame. The glossy leaves shine in the dim light, a glimmer of hope. Pink camellias symbolise longing. They show me that this desire is different, but will it be enough? I know it will not.