She was humming Shakespeare's bawdy songs again. ...By Gis and by Saint Charity/ Alack n fie for shame/ Young men will do't, when they come to't, / by cock they are to blame...
She'd never had a prince.
Unattainable as a blue dahlia, not a black one, all dressed up, she dallied in the pre-vernal gardens of Le Palais Royal, hoping to be approached many times, so that she could say No. But she was not.
A gorgeous stud on a dapple horse passed, looking in the other direction. The horse made direct eye contact, but what could he do? The horse?
Damn, she muttered. Coming from a Reverend's family, who never said Damn.
She comforted herself with the thought that he was probably a cad and a bounder. But for a woman with no date, he looked tall and dashing and good in bed. She'd never been in a bed with a man, but she did have an enormous imagination.
The trees of the Palais Royal gardens were just filling in with miniscule green sprouts. The dogwood was pushing its little red tongues forth with the thrill of an early Spring season. They look just like baby penises, she thought. Those, she had seen. Oh, she wanted to daub in romance. Fat chance, she muttered. She really should sign up with a matrimonial office.
But in this era, was it done? And she was a woman burning. She pretended to dawdle. Inspected her umbrella. Her left red shoe. She blew her nose delicately. She was dazzled but she might as well be dead. Damn.
She touched her inner wrist to feel her own pulse. It raced like a hamster on a wheel. She held her breath as she did when she had hiccups.
Suddenly, the horse reappeared, dappled and darling creature, oh, hello. And of course she shyly noted its rider.
It was the horse who spoke. My master says don't be silly, just drop your handkerchief. And his name is Achilles, by the way.
The woman was utterly astounded, and did as she was told.
It was pale blue lace. It had belonged to her maternal grandmother, who was French. She had, oh my God, carried it today for luck.
The cad and the bounder dismounted and the dappled horse poised like Nijinsky.
The dismounted rider did as he'd been programmed, retrieved the blue lace square from the dust and handed it to the woman who had a trembling heart. Achilles, Madame. He clicked his boot heels.
So would you like to come to tea? Dinner? Care to dally? I'm available.
She smiled persuasively. Actually I need an older woman to support me. I'm a cad, said he.
Yes, I saw the advertising like a neon light on your forehead, said she, giggling. Unwilling to believe that her daddy's God would send her anything less than perfection at this late date. After all.
They embraced under the spider webbed afternoon shadows of chestnut trees, and she was a happy woman, on her way at last.
She led him to her bachelor apartment in the neighborhood where she cooked the first pot-roast, while he removed his tall black leather boots and socks, too, and warmed his feet by her quickly built fire.
I like your apartment, he said, looking lazily out the double windows to her inner courtyard where his dappled horse stood proudly tethered. Everything looked cozy up there on the second floor. It's going to be a sweet deal, the horse nodded up at the windows, switching his long grey tail.
Inside, the rider repeated his affirmative statement. She must not have heard him. He was enjoying the aroma of her cooking but he was also wishing she'd bring him a glass of fine wine. Which just then, she did. Yes, cozy, isn't it? And she sat on his manly lap. And he bedded her before dinner.
This is the only night it will be like this, he spoke in a low and meaningful tone, as he brushed her hair with the silver tool he found on her dresser. An act she could never have wished for because having a huge imagination had not gone this far. She was now officially in heaven.
What will it be like, then? She was a child again, waiting to be told a story.
But he would say no more. He dressed. Remaining barefoot.
Seeing is believing, is what her practical Reverend father had always said. So she would wait to see.
It did not take very long.
He was happy to stay the night. In fact, he produced a toothbrush from his inner pocket. And, he did not lie beside her when the moment came for sleep. He would not. He remained in his clothing, and pulled her blanket around himself and curled up at the foot of her ample double bed.
Terrified that she'd done something terribly wrong, she did not dare to say anything more that night. He soon was purring in his sleep. She lay awake all night, in her remaining sheet.
When dawn came, she crept from the sheet and went to stand at the window. There in her bed was Achilles, sleeping very well. There in the inner courtyard in the early light, was the dapple horse, stamping in place. He looked her right in the eyes. I'm hungry, he said, loudly. As the first birds twittered in the courtyard tree.
She opened the window ever so quietly, thinking the horse would understand and be patient if he had a better look at her. If he understood her confusion. If she whispered, Dearest, dapple gray horse, I have nothing to give you. I have no hay. Just wait, please. Just then, the horse left large deposits on the cobblestones.
If you want Prince Charming, darling the horse was the broker, it seemed he sleeps where he wants, you cook, you crook, you cha-cha, you choose the wallpaper and the breakfast cereal, but you chill, you hear? And darling lady-be-good, if you want Prince Charming, you clean up after his horse.
Just then Achilles appeared, nuzzling her hair and wrapping his warm arms around her from behind. And you pay, ok, my sweetheart? You pay every day.
She made the deal. She didn't like it. And she made it. Degraded. Depressed. And attainable.
And then, one morning, she did a terrible thing when she crept from the sheet and eased open the window and looked just one more time into the eyes of the dapple grey horse tethered in her courtyard.
With no deliberation, a terrible thing.
Not at all demented, she was singing Shakespeare's Ophelia, as she did it: Let in a maid, that out a maid, never departed more.
(Prior publ.: The Paris Times, 2005)
Margo Berdeshevsky's new poetry manuscript, But A Passage In Wilderness, will be published by The Sheep Meadow Press in November 2007. She has received four Pushcart nominations, the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Chelsea Poetry Award, Kalliope's Sue Saniel Elkind Award, places in the Ann Stanford & the Pablo Neruda awards, Border's Books/ Honolulu Magazine Grand Prize for Fiction. She lives in Paris. Her works are published and forthcoming in The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, New Letters, Pool, Runes, Poetry International, Women's Studies Quarterly, Nimrod International, Chelsea, ACM, Traffic East, Kalliope, Southern California Anthology, The Literary Review, Many Mountains Moving, Van Gogh's Ear, Rattapallax, & more. Her Tsunami Notebook was made following a journey to Sumatra in Spring 2005, to work in a survivors' clinic in Aceh. A collection of short stories, Beautiful Soon Enough, waits at the gate. A "visual poem" series, Les Ombres de Versailles (The Ghosts of Versailles), may be seen on the Parisian gallery site http://www.galeriebenchaieb.com/flash_fr.html. She is a contributing editor of the magazine.