The Voice Behind the Screen
Silvery morning light streamed through the little windows of your room as you opened the curtains ever so slightly. The light felt wonderful on your face, which had been disfigured since you were born. Your face had been described as 'a grotesque parody of a real human face' by one of the midwives present at your birth. You never looked out the window, for fear of people seeing your face, but you needed a little light to see. There were, of course a few oil lamps in the room, but your mistress, Madame O'Reilly, hated to waste oil, so you and the other girls that lived in the song parlor only lit the lamps at night. A silvery, whispy figure in the darkest corner of the room caught your eye. It was your friend, Elena. She radiated her silver light, like most positive spirits do. Elena used to be your best friend when your parents were around. She would come to your house almost every day when she was alive, and you always enjoyed her company, even in death. Her parents were terrible people; they abused Elena every day, kicked her out of the house, and even left her without food. Elena had a horrible life, it seemed you were the only bright spot. One day, back when you were both about thirteen, Elena had had enough. She yelled at her parents, pointing out everything wrong they had done to her, and ending with the harsh words of, "I hate you both! I hope you burn for what you've done!" They stabbed her over and over again, then dumped her body in a river. She appeared to you that night, telling you what happened. You cried harder than you ever had in your life, not only for your friend, but because you knew there was nothing you could do to help her.
After that, there was only tragedy. Your parents became deathly ill, and, just after your fourteenth birthday, they took their last breaths. They had not known they would die so young, therefore, they wrote no wills, leaving you with nothing. You were forced onto the street with nothing but a bag containing two dresses, a burlap sack stolen from the kitchen to cover your face, and a few bit of jewelry stolen from your mother's jewelry box, which you would later trade for food. You became a beggar, living in alleyways. It wasn't total hell, Elena's spirit was with you all the time, and you would talk, though to anyone walking by, it would look like you were talking to the air. In order to make money, you sang for people. You had a wonderful voice, like that of an opera singer. It was your wonderful voice that caught the attention of Madame O'Reilly, a former opera singer herself. She bent down to your level that day and said to you in her thick Irish accent, "Now. That's a nice voice ya got there, girly." You blushed under the sack and thanked her. "How wouldja like to come live with me? Ya see, I run a newfangled type o' business called a song parlor. All ya got to do is sing all day for the gentlemen that come in, and ya get paid much more than what yer makin' out here. Plus, ya get to have a roof over yer head and three meals a day." You declined at first, not wanting to scare off the gentlemen with your hideous appearance. "Now why not? Ya got the perfect voice..." She looked at the bag. "I'll bet ya it's got somethin' to do with that beg, don't it?" You nodded, suddenly feeling her thick hands lift the sack off. You were too shocked to react. Madame O'Reilly didn't even flinch. "Your afraid o' scarin' off the customers, ain't ya?" You nodded, putting the sack back on. Madame O'Reilly laughed. "Girly! Ya ain't gonna scare anyone off! Yer gonna be singing behind one o' them Japanese screens! No one's gonna see yer face." Your eyes widened. "T-That does sound nice.." You said quietly. Madame O'Reilly laughed again, holding out her hand. You took it, and she led you, and Elena, invisible in the daylight, to a large redbrick building with a sign that read: MADAME O'REILLY'S SONG PARLOR. The song parlor would be your new home for four more years.
"Morning, Elena." You said as you changed out of your night dress. The faraway voice of your deceased friend floated to you as if carried on the wind. "Good Morning, (Name)." You smiled at her, and put on the little silver necklace Madame O'Reilly gave you for your Sixteenth birthday. It had been engraved with your name and had a few (Favorite color gemstone)s embedded in it. You slipped on your (favorite color) dress to match the necklace. "You look nice." Elena said, grinning. You thanked her, and bid her farewell, as she would most likely disappear for a while. You made your way through one of the many hallways, greeted by the other girls who lived there. You returned their greetings politely. Some of the others were once prostitutes, or beggars, so they had seen many horrific sights. They had treated you like one of them, and you were grateful, though you would sometimes catch them staring out of the corner of your eye.
You made your way down the large staircase, along with a few other girls, where Madame O'Reilly was waiting. "Good Mornin', (Name)." She said with a smile. "You'll be in booth number five tehday." You were about to enter your assinged booth, when Madame O'Reilly stopped you. She leaned in real close and whispered, "Today is a special day, (Name). A very important, very rich man is comin' in this afternoon ta sample a tune. I'm gonna direct him to yer booth, so give it yer best today, okay?" You nodded vigorously, not wanting to disappoint. You entered booth number five from the back entrance, where the screen was located, sat in the plush armchair Madame O'Reilly installed, and waited for your first customer.
~~~Le Time Skip~~~~
I turns out, you didn't have to wait long. You saw the figure of a rather tall gentlemen enter the room. He inserted his money into a little box attached to the screen. He wanted to hear one song today. He spoke his request, off of a pre-selected list of songs that was posted in the customer entrance hallway. The man spoke in a deep baritone with a heavy German accent. He requested a beautiful aria from a German opera. You sang your best, and the man thanked you for the song, and left a small tip. Your throat suddenly felt dry, as it always did when you sang that particular aria. You pulled a little rope that was connected to a numbered bell in the kitchen. By ringing the bell, you were requesting a glass of water. You thanked the servant who brought you the drink, and dismissed her. You sat in the armchair and sighed impatiently, wondering when this important customer was going to arrive.
I walked down the avenue with M. Spain, winking at the pretty girls we passed. My fancy little walking stick making a little Clack, clack noise as it hit the pavement. "'Allo" I said to a pretty girl as she passed, and I saw her blush. We passed the local market, where M. Spain sold Tomatoes for diabolically high prices. "This is my stop. I'll see you later." He said, and he walked to his little booth. I continued on my merry little way to the song parlor. M. Germany had recommended this place to me, saying that he was a regular customer, and that the young ladies who sang there were Magnifique. Now, normally I would have ignored this recommendation and went to a brothel instead, but I decided to go anyway. I thought, Perhaps zhese girls are virgins... I could change zhat. "Ohonhonhonhon" I laughed. I continued walking until I reached the large building that supposed to be the song parlor, and went inside.
I was greeted by a fat, ugly, old woman with an Irish accent. "You must be Mr. Bonnefoy. I'm Madame O'Reilly. Mr. Beilschmidt told me that you were comin' tehday." She smiled a yellow-toothed smile. I nearly threw up, she was so hideous! She held out a piece of paper with some songs on it. "Jest pick one ya like an' tell the girl what ya want teh hear. The price per song's listed on the back." I thanked her for the paper, trying to hide my disgust. "You'll be goin' inteh booth number five. Down the hall an' to the left. She's my best girl." I turned and went down the hall quickly, trying to get as far away from that woman as possible.
I found the fifth booth quickly, and went inside, still cringing from the sight of that woman.
The important customer entered your booth, and suddenly, the mood of the room changed. He had a certain presence about him, one of importance, with a hint of arrogance. He dropped enough money for seven songs in the box. "What would you like to listen to today, sir?" You asked politely. He spoke with a very heavy French accent. He requested "Il ne revient pas" from Faust, but that was all he requested. "You want to hear only one song? You've paid enough for seven-" He cut you off rather rudely, saying, "Ze woman outside said you were 'er best singer. I 'ope she wasn't lying." You sighed silently, and opened your mouth to sing, ignoring his rudeness and focusing on the song, it was one of your favorites, after all, and singing it could take you away from your troubles, if only for a little while. You felt yourself slip away from the world and float onto every note that came out of your mouth. You were in your own little world, singing the best you could. Every note, every pitch, every word came out perfect, and as the song came to an end, you smiled, proud of your accomplishment. The man stayed deathly silent, then he spoke in a soft tone. "What is your name, Madamoiselle?" You felt a hot blush creep up your cheeks. No one had ever asked for your name. "(Name) (Last Name), Sir." You managed to stutter out. "My name is Francis Bonnefoy. I 'ave never 'eard such a beautiful voice such as yours." You blushed even more. You could hear his smile when he spoke. "I 'ave a feeling I will become a regular customer 'ere. I would like to listen to you again, Madamoiselle (Name)." You smiled giddily as he left, your heart overloaded with joy. Madame O'Reilly would be very proud when you told her about your new regular.