by elfin

For almost a year I did nothing but sit at my typewriter in the shadow of the Moulin Rouge and write our story.

The apartment fell into disrepair.  Not that it had been in the greatest of states when I�d got here, and the hole in the ceiling, where The Unconscious Argentinean fell through it that fateful afternoon, had never been properly fixed.

I lived on simple food and water.  I wrote during the day and cried myself to sleep at night.

Writing it all down was supposed to exorcise the spirits of those days, those weeks and months.

Instead, it just brought them all back.

When, after twelve months, I reached the final page, when I typed �The End� and put in that final full-stop, I sat for a long time and stared at the pile of paper next to the typewriter.

Slowly, I raked my short-sighted gaze over the walls to which I�d tacked more pages.  And then the floor, also carpeted in paper.  There wasn�t a surface not covered in our story.  The chairs, the ceiling, the bed�.  I�d used the pages as a mattress and the story as a blanket, one that I�d pulled around me for comfort when there was none to be found.

She was dead.  I�d finished the story and it hadn�t brought her back.  It hadn�t eased the pain.  Had I ever really expected it to do either?

I�d written it because she�d asked me to with her dying breath.

She�d asked me to give everything I had, everything inside me.  But this was it.  I�d already given everything I had to give.  To her.

My Satine.

I missed her.  Every second of every hour of every day.

I still miss her.

Only now, it doesn�t hurt so much.


After finishing the story, I sat for two whole days and nights, looking out over the Moulin Rouge.

I played memories over in my head, smoking the last of the cigarettes that Toulouse had brought with him the last time he had come with supplies.  He�d always done that.  And not once had he spoken a word nor asked for any money.  Not that it would have done him any good.  I didn�t have any and I didn�t want to talk.

Then for some reason, out of the blue, I decided to go for a walk.

I hadn�t been outside for over a year.  I�d stared out of the open window and paced the tiny apartment.

But on this one morning, I shaved off my beard, showered until my skin was raw, put on the cleanest clothes I could find and descended the narrow, spiral staircase to the ground floor and the street below.

I stood for a long time, with the peeling door at my back and the outside world before me.  I couldn�t believe how nervous I was, how scared.  The last time I�d stood out in this street I�d been walking into the Moulin Rouge to come face-to-face with the end.

A different end, I thought.

Would I have grieved as long for my heart as I had for her life?

Tentatively, I took a step into the quiet road.  I glanced up at the sails of the windmill, now dim and still in the warm morning air.

Once upon a time, they�d represented my hopes and dreams, fantasies and desires.

For one night, they had mocked me.

And since that terrible night, they had been my companions, mourning with me, sharing my tears.

Now, I smiled slightly at them before taking my second step.  How long had it been since I�d smiled?

I was walking then, out into the town that had moved on without me.

The people here too remembered the Moulin Rouge.  But they remembered that last night differently.  Cheers had rung out as the curtain had fallen, a standing ovation as the love of my life died in my arms and my heart broke in my breast.

I squeezed my eyes shut against the pain.  I�d once believed my tears would dry but they never had.  If I thought about it just a little, I could still feel her in my arms, taste her on my lips, her skin against mine.

I carried on walking, refusing now to turn back.  I should find a job, get some money.  I needed money.  But I didn�t care, I couldn�t care, and I knew that Toulouse would always look after me.  Maybe it was selfish, I hadn�t thought about it.  He did it because he cared.  A year ago, I�d imagined, in my madness, he was doing it because he refused to let me die.

I reached the market and stood for a time, watching the people milling about.  I wasn�t quite ready to have a conversation.  I hadn�t spoken to anyone for a year.  So I turned away.

That�s when I first saw Lass.  He was standing in front of one of the market stalls, buying a bag of cherries.

He was about my height, wearing a long, black winter coat, despite the warmth.  He had turned from the stall owner and looked at me, directly at me.

The first thing that struck me was the gentleness of his features and his blond hair that hung in short, loose curls to frame his face like an angel.

Then he smiled.

It was a wide, bright smile.  One that, for a moment, almost made me mirror his gesture.  But I caught myself, and I turned from his regard, starting back once again toward the Moulin Rouge and my apartment opposite.

Half a minute later he fell into step beside me, holding out the brown paper bag of cherries he�d bought from the fruit stall.

�Would you like a cherry?�

I turned when I heard him speak.  �You�re an American.�

I don�t know why I said something so obvious, but he nodded, smiling.  His accent had surprised me.  It was soft, harmonious.  He�d made his simple question sound almost like poetry.

I was about to turn his simple offer down, but something made me change my mind and take a ripe, shiny round cherry from the bag.  It looked polished.  I sucked it between my lips and felt the smooth surface against my tongue.  It tasted wonderful, and I glanced at him to thank him.  He was watching me, heat in his big, brown eyes.

I frowned, feeling oddly hurt and quite betrayed, and started away from him at a faster pace.  But he followed me, and catching up he caught my arm.

�Forgive me,� he murmured, �I meant no offence.  I have rarely seen someone take so much pleasure from mere fruit, that is all.  I didn�t mean to drive you from me.�

His words had a calming effect on my tumultuous emotions, and I nodded once.  �I am a little�.�

��fragile,� he finished for me.  �I do understand.�

I didn�t question that, and in silence we walked, side by side, eating his cherries, until we reached the Moulin Rouge.

I looked up, as I always did, at those sails that should have turned for many years.

�I was there, on that last night,� said the stranger at my side.  I don�t know why I was surprised.  Half the town had been there that last night.  �I was sitting at the back.  And in the end� I didn�t clap, or cheer.  I sat in silence, and I mourned.�

How I must have looked, when I turned to him, I have no idea.  I was hurt and angry, yet at the same time I was grateful that his voice had not been amongst the cheers that had mocked me and pierced the shattered remains of my heart as I�d knelt on that stage with the body of my love in my arms.

I stared at him for a long time, and his expression remained the same; gentle, kind, understanding.

�Why?� I asked, finally, my voice close to breaking.

And he looked at me.  �I won�t tell you, not now.  Later, perhaps.  But your pain is too fresh, your wounds too, open and raw.  You need to heal, my penniless playwright.�

I turned, from the sails, from him, from the world, just to hide my tears.  I wasn�t sure why.  I�d cried unashamedly for a year, why should I care now?

I walked over to the weathered door and opened it, starting up the old wooden stairs.  He followed me, like I�d known he would.

When we stepped into my small apartment, he looked around, obviously astounded.  �You�ve been writing,� he commented wryly, his tone not affecting that smooth, gently lilted accent.  �May I ask, what it is?�

�Our story,� I told him, knowing somehow that he would understand.

�Ah, the story of the end of the Moulin Rouge.�  Stepping up to the wall, he ghosted his fingers over the papers that hung there.  �May I read it?�

I opened my mouth to tell him, �no!�, but the memory of Satine�s dying words stopped me.  Why had I written it if it was never to be read?

�It� it�s everywhere,� I told him by way of forestalling my decision.

He turned to me, stepped up to me, and reached out, his fingertips touching my cheek.  �Sort the pages for me?� he murmured, voice hypnotic in its softness.  �I will return tomorrow, if you will allow it.�  Frozen by his touch, I could barely nod.  �Thank you.�

Brushing his fingers over my cheek, he turned for the door.  Suddenly he stopped, and looked back at me over his shoulder.  �What is your name?�

�Christian,� I murmured, unable to do much but stare at him, my mind blank.

He smiled.  �Mine is Lass.  I shall see you in the morning, Christian.�

And then he was gone.

I stood, rooted to the spot for a long time.  Until I noticed that he had left the half-eaten bag of cherries next to my typewriter.

Taking them, I stepped out on to the balcony and stared over at the rundown buildings that had once illuminated the whole town.  But my mind remained blank.  And although my heart still ached as it had done for so long now, I felt, somehow, a little� better than I had before.


I spent the night taking the pages down from the walls, the ceiling, clearing them up off the floor.  I didn�t realise how long it had taken me, for when I finally looked up the sun had both set and risen again.  It had been the first night since I had come here that I had not stared up at the windmill outside my window and let the hopes and dreams play in my mind.

Yet every page I touched, I saw her name typed there and thought of her, the ache returning with full-force each and every time.

But I got every page in order without a tear leaving my eyes.  And finally, when I fell asleep, curled on the mattress of my bed with no paper under me and nothing to hold around me, I dreamt of her.  A good dream, a happy dream.

It was when I awoke that the grief returned with renewed strength and the loss of her almost made me breathless with the pain.

And so it was, when Lass arrived around noon, that the first page of our story was crumpled with drying tears, and my eyes were red from crying.

But he said nothing.  Instead he handed me two of the four large bags that had filled his arms when I�d opened the door, and put the other two on the table.

They were filled with supplies � cooked meats, fresh bread and fruit, cheese and wine.  I stared at it all for a moment, before glancing at him.

�I� don�t have any money to pay you for this�.�

He smiled and shook his head.  �I know that, and I wouldn�t ask even if you had!  Consider it� my payment to you, for allowing me to read the truth behind that last night at the Moulin Rouge.  I have wondered, this passed year, what really happened.  Now, I shall finally find out.�

I shrugged, looking through the bags as he sorted them.  �I could� tell you myself.�

But he shook his head.  �No.  I want to read it all, read what you spilled from your heart when you were free to write down every word, every feeling.  I don�t want to hear it, I want to feel it.�

I honestly didn�t know what to make of him.

We ate, then he lay down on my bed and started to read.  I fiddled for a while, paced the rooms a couple of times.  He looked up once and smiled at me, but said nothing.

After a while, I went out on to the balcony and stared across at the club and the buildings that lay beyond it.  There was nothing more for me to do, I decided.  I�d completed what I�d set out to do.

I didn�t want to leave this town, I wasn�t sure if I could.  That would be like leaving her behind, and I couldn�t do that.  I wasn�t ready and I didn�t know if I ever would be.

But I had to do something with the rest of my lonely existence.  I wouldn�t end it, I couldn�t.  That would be cheating.  Although, why I thought that cheating a fate, that had been so cruel and denying to me, was wrong, I have no idea.

The truth, I suppose, is that I�m too much of a coward to take the romantic�s way out.

It was these thoughts that were occupying me when Lass came to stand next to me on the small veranda.

�I have a friend who works as an editor.  He oversees the writing of a weekly letter of sorts, a report on the happenings and forthcoming events in the town.  He�s looking for a writer to submit a short, weekly column on the history of the place.  He�ll pay, not very well, but it might suit you.  You could write here and would only have to venture out to deliver your submission once a week.�

It sounded perfect.  But I had to wonder.  �Why are you doing all this for me?�

�All what?� he asked so perfectly innocently.  �I�m simply relaying information about a job I believe you�d be good at and would suit your situation.�  He shrugged.

�I�m� grateful.  And� it would suit me.�

He pulled a folded piece of paper from the pocket of the white cotton shirt he wore perpetually, I was to find out, and handed it to me.  �These are the directions.  My friend�s name is Francoise.�

�Thank you.�

In reply, he just smiled.

Then he returned to the bed and continued to read.  I waited an hour, then I went out and walked the short distance, following Lass� instructions until I came to a building outside which a sign declared, �Montmartre Letters�.

I climbed the stairs to the third floor and spoke to Francoise a little nervously.

Toulouse would have been proud of me, I thought, as we agreed that I would deliver five hundred words on the history of the town a week, making up a serial over time.  The wage he offered would easily cover the rent that Toulouse had been paying for me, and still leave me with enough to eat properly again without having to rely on my friends.

Within a day, I had found a job, but more importantly, I had something to do with my time.

Five hundred words was not a lot for someone who has written so much in the last year.  I could write five hundred in half an hour.  But I could spend time planning what to write, choosing each of those five hundred carefully.

I would tell the story of the Moulin Rouge.  But I would tell it differently to the way I�d written it in the pages Lass was busy reading.

I would tell it like a historical document might.  Fact, not feeling.  I would tell it in a way that everyone might know how the Duke almost destroyed the greatest love ever known.  And they would believe it and remember it.

I had no idea what had become of him, but if he ever tried to return to claim his second prize � the Moulin Rouge itself � I would make sure everyone in this town shunned him until it was impossible for him to stay.

I would have my revenge.

The word stuck in my mind.  Revenge.  I hadn�t before thought about it.  I had been too lost in my grief to blame anyone for what had happened.  In a way, the Duke had been robbed too.  He�d tried to destroy everything and, in turn, had himself been destroyed.

So, I would do this for Satine.  For Zidler.  For the Bohemian players and all the dancers of the Moulin Rouge.  And I would do it for me.

As the sun set, Lass once again joined me on the balcony.  �I will come back tomorrow to continue reading,� he told me, looking out at the view.

�Thank you, for the supplies, and the job.�  He simply smiled and nodded, and turned from me.  �Wait�.  What are you getting out of this?�  I had to ask.  Because I didn�t know and I couldn�t work it out.

�The truth,� was his answer.  And he left for the night.


We went on like that for several weeks.  I don�t know how many pages I had written.  But Lass was, by his own admittance, a slow reader.  And I didn�t mind.  I became used to his presence in the apartment.  And I liked it.

I went to see Toulouse a few days after meeting Lass.  My short friend was joyous, delighted.  I said I would pay him back all that I owed him, but he shook his head and told me it wasn�t important.

He didn�t mention Satine, and neither did I.  She was all around us, her name didn�t need to be spoken for her presence to be acknowledged.

Each morning, Lass arrived with a bag of supplies for the day.  He always bought a bottle of wine, although we never drank it, and quite a collection was starting to clutter the floor under the window.

I took a couple of bottles to Toulouse, which he was excited to see and even more anxious to share.  But I refused politely and he didn�t push the matter.

Lass and I hardly spoke.  He was like a ghost, living in my apartment through the day, then disappearing at sunset to return the next morning.

I slowly and meticulously wrote the history of the Moulin Rouge for Francoise�s letters.  He seemed to love my work, and after the first month he doubled the pittance he�d been paying me.

And then, one Tuesday, I returned from delivering the next instalment to his building, to find Lass pouring two glasses of wine.

�I have finished reading,� he declared as I stepped through the door.  �I understand everything now.  Including you.�  He handed me one of the glasses and chinked his against mine.

I smiled apprehensively, and sipped the green-tinted liquid.  I hadn�t tasted alcohol in over a year and the taste exploded on my tongue, the lightness settling quickly in my head.

We drank the first bottle, and then Lass opened a second.  He sat down on the bed, and I sat next to him, feeling distant from my own body.

He filled my glass and I emptied it.  Again and again.  Until the room was spinning around me and I had to lie down.

Lass lay down next to me.

The pages were in a neat pile on one side of the bed, and I turned on to my side to touch them.

I felt Lass turn too.  I felt him lie with his chest to my back, and his arm over me, protectively.  I didn�t protest.  I could remember the last time someone held me like that it and seemed like a very long time ago.

�You asked me why, the day we met.�  I recalled what he�d said as we�d stood in the street below, eating cherries and looking up at the sails of the windmill.  �Why wasn�t I cheering and applauding that last night.�  I nodded, my head swimming as I did so.  Listening to his voice, it became the only sound that existed.  �I had seen you before.  I had admired you from afar, and that night I went from grief at knowing your heart belonged to another, to grieving for you when I realised your heart was broken.�

�How did you know� that she had� died?�  I choked on the word.  And for the first time in weeks I could feel the old emotions starting to wrap themselves around my heart.

�The curtain never went up again.  There was no bow, no curtain calls.  Leaving us on that emotional high without some recompense�.  I knew something terrible had happened.�

I let my eyes close and the vivid memories of that night flood my mind once more.  �I was so happy, I thought we�d won, that we�d always be together.  I�d imagined she didn�t love me, and then found out that she did�.  And then, as the curtain fell, she�d collapsed into my arms, and died there.  I went from deliriously happy to grief so fast�.�  My tears started to fall and I let them.  �I was broken.  The Duke might as well have shot me.�

A deep sob escaped my chest, and I felt his arm tighten around me.  �You loved her so much,� he murmured, �you will always love her.  But you have to let go now, you have to live.  One day you will be with her again, she will be waiting for you.  But for now, you have to honour your final promise to her not to waste the talent you have.�

I could hear myself making the promise as she lay dying in my arms.  I could hear her words then feel her body go cold as the hours passed after her death and still I wasn�t able to let her go.

Another sob tore through me, and my tears came in a cascade.  It hurt at that moment as intensely as it ever had.

And then Lass� gentle, soft voice swept over the pain.

�You do this to yourself, to make yourself remember her, so you won�t forget.  You�re terrified of forgetting, but you won�t.  Not ever.  And you�ll never stop loving her.�

I couldn�t speak.  All I could do was cry.

�But you don�t have to hurt yourself.  You�re punishing yourself for something you haven�t done.  She wouldn�t want you to live like this.  She lived her life in lights, always sparkling, for us, and finally for you.  Just for you.  You didn�t kill her.  The Duke didn�t kill her.  She was ill, and she died.�

Suddenly his words sounded so harsh to me that I tried to rise, tried to get away from this man who was telling me that this pain wasn�t real.  That I was wrong to hurt as I did.

But Lass held me tight and close.  Murmuring in to my ear.  �Don�t run from me.  Let me help you.�

�I loved her!� I claimed through my sobbing.  �She loved me.  More than anything in the world.�  The words came without prompting, and my voice caught on them as the music forced its way from my heart.  ��Come what may, I will love you, till my dying day.��

�Christian, Christian�.�  His voice was like a song.  �We all hurt.  But it�s a part of life.�

�She was my life.  She was my heart, my soul, my hopes and my dreams.�  And the barriers � barriers I never knew were there � cracked and broke.

Even the night she died, I didn�t cry as hard or as long as I cried there in Lass� arms that afternoon.  It felt as if the pieces of my heart were breaking into small shards.  I�d never known pain like it.  My nerves were on fire and every sob that was ripped from me seemed to pull me inside out.

Lass said nothing.  He just lay there behind me, holding me.  Sometimes I thought I felt kisses in my hair, but I was long passed caring.  I was so deep in grief for Satine and for myself that the world around me could have ended and I would never have known.

I don�t know how long I cried for.  I don�t know when I fell asleep.

I know only that when I woke, the sun had set.  I was alone.  Lass had covered me in a blanket and I was warm.  But I felt wrung out.  I hadn�t been this exhausted ever before.

For a long time, I just lay there.  I couldn�t move.  My eyes felt like they were glued closed.  My mouth� I was reminded of my first night here in Montmartre after Toulouse and I drank a bottle of Absinthe between us.

I didn�t dare to try to feel.  I�d done that hours ago, and it had been like touching a white-hot point within my soul that had started a cascade of pain so intense it had swept over me and drowned me.

But I reached out with a couple of my other senses.  There was a wonderful aroma coming from the small kitchenette.  Unlike that first morning, waking in the shadow of the Moulin Rouge, my stomach didn�t flip-flop at the smell of food.  And the sounds I could hear were domestic, oddly comforting.

I unstuck my eyes and glanced across the room.  Lass happened to look up.  He saw me and smiled, came over and sat on the edge of the bed.

�I�.�  How could I apologise for breaking down like that?  Did I want to apologise?

But Lass was shaking his head.  �Whatever you say, don�t say you�re sorry.  You needed something that cathartic.  You should have done that a year ago.  But instead of letting yourself fall apart and then trying to pick up the pieces, you held yourself together with grim determination.�

�I cried�� my voice came out rough, �myself to sleep at night for a year.�

�But you held on to your grief.  Your tears weren�t releases.  You held on to it because it was all you had left to feel.�  He touched my shoulder, stroked his palm over my arm.  �I�ve made dinner, if you�re hungry.�

I nodded, and watching him going back to the cooking, I sat up slowly.  Cautiously, I reached within myself and touched the epicentre of my agony; I thought about her.

The sharp twinge was nothing compared to the stab of desolation I was used to.  I did feel better, despite the soul-deep weariness that settled over me as I sat there.

The idea of food, though, roused me, and I joined Lass on the narrow windowsill to eat the meal he�d prepared.

We spoke of my job, of the town in general, of Toulouse and the group that still lived upstairs.

�Why did they leave you so alone?� he asked me at one point.

�They didn�t leave me,� I defended.  �I pushed them away, further and further until they had no choice.  Yet Toulouse still looked after me.�

Lass ate the last of his food.  �Friends indeed.�  He smiled, and I couldn�t help but return it in part.  They were friends.  And I vowed to see them often as I�d used to.

While he washed the dishes, I went to stand on the balcony and look out.  The pain had eased at last.  As I looked over at the windmill, the fallen letters of the club and the broken sails, I felt a strange peace within me.  An acceptance, almost, of what was my past and what might be my future.

Lass had been right.  I would always love her, would always hold her name and her memory close to my heart.  I would feel her loss until my dying day.  But I didn�t have to hurt every moment of my life.  It wasn�t a betrayal to smile.  I could remember without the pain always being so acute that it would cripple me.

After a time, Lass came to stand behind me, on the sill of the balcony door.  He folded his arms around my neck, over my shoulders and collarbone, his hands resting on the tops of my arms.

�How are you feeling, really?� he asked, his words further soothing me.

�Better,� I replied.  �Had I known�.�

But I could feel his shaking his head, his chin touching my hair.  �You were not ready before to let go.  Now you are.�

�I�ll never let go of her!� I swore, that passionate desperation rising in me yet again.

�Ssh.�  This time, I know what I felt was a kiss to my crown.  �I know, she will always be a part of you, always be in your heart.  I wasn�t talking about her, I was talking about the misery you needed to feel to know you were still alive.  There are other ways of telling such things.�

I don�t know why, but I leaned back against him, dropping my head to his shoulder.

�What will you do now you have finished reading our story?� I asked after a time.

�I don�t know.  Write a play perhaps.�  He hesitated.  �I will not leave you, Christian, not until you tell me to go.�

I couldn�t understand.  Somehow he had read my thoughts, my fears, as he had always seemed to.  �Why?� I wanted to know now.  �Why this devotion to me?�

�Oh, Christian.�  His breath touched my cheek.  �I used to watch you around the town, in the club.  Your bright smile used to light my days, and the sparkle in your eyes would make my heart sing.  After that night, you never ventured out.  But I waited.�

�Why?�  My question had become a whisper, because as much as I thought I knew the answer, I needed to hear it from his lips.

�Because I love you, Christian.  You must know that.�

�Love?�  Satine had convinced me that my belief in love was right, was the greatest belief of them all.  When she�d shattered that belief in order to save me, she�d destroyed everything my life had been based on.

For a night and a day I�d been empty, everything I�d lived for gone.

And then that final night, when she�d confessed her undying love for me, and I�d been filled with the miracle of it.  Only a few minutes of joyous song before my heart, brimming with love and passion and joy, had been torn out and smashed by a darker enemy I had not known was even threatening us.

�I won�t ever love again,� I murmured sadly, laying a hand on Christian�s arm around my neck.

�I believe� that one day you might.�  He replied quietly.  �I won�t wait for you to love me.  I doubt you ever will, as strongly as I do you, but instead I will wait to see that dancing light in your eyes once more, and the brilliance of your smile.  I will know then, when I see it, that you are remembering Satine without pain, and I will have helped return that to you.�

I owed him everything, I knew.  I owed him the way I felt at that moment, the glimmer of hope that I would feel� happy again.  From a grief so deep I could barely live from breath to breath, to the risk I was now able to take in believing that hope was possible.  He�d shown me the path.

I wanted, one day soon, to at least be able to give him something in return for all he�d done.  If I could smile during the day I believed completely that it would be his thanks.

I would no longer live in the shadow of the Moulin Rouge.  I would live in its memory.  As it lived in mine.