Mind Caviar Fiction


Aidan Baker is a writer and musician from Toronto. He has had writing published internationally in such magazines as The Dream People, The 12 Gauge Review, and Skin And Bones. He is the author of a poetry chapbook (Eraserhead Press), a forthcoming book of poetry (Penumbra Press), and a CD of dark-ambient guitar music.

Madeleine
by Aidan Baker

The time I first remember noticing him I was pretty young. Everyone knew of him, of course. He was a comte, after all, and he probably had the finest rooms in the hospital. He often had visitors, too, important people sometimes. The police came a few times. One time I can remember, they took away some of his writing and his journals.

But the first time I remember noticing him, becoming aware of him, I must have been seven or eight. Iím pretty sure this happened; sometimes I get things mixed up with what people say about him, things people say he did, and what I know happened:

He was out in the garden -- he was allowed out for daily walks -- with a huge bunch of roses, fat red ones. He was making his way purposefully to the end of the garden where there was a stream. Just a trickle, really, shallow and muddy. He laid the roses carefully on the streamís edge, then spread a blanket across the grass, upon which he sat himself. Then he plucked a single rose from the bunch, lifted it and held it to his nose, making a great show of inhaling its scent. Then, slowly, languidly -- he always moved with such grace -- he dipped the flower into the stream and stirred it into the mud. Laughing, he removed the sodden, filthy flower and again held it to his nose, parodied smelling it, before hurling it into the stream and letting the current carry it away.

He did the same with the rest of the roses, at least a dozen of them, perhaps, in all.

~

I suppose he first noticed me when I was twelve. Surely heíd seen me around before. Or maybe not, I donít know. Who knows what he did or did not notice? But one day I was with Daniel -- his mother also worked at the hospital -- when the comteís wife, Constance, gave some books to Daniel to deliver to her husbandís rooms. I followed, partly because I had nothing else to do at the moment, partly because I was curious about the books. It wasnít often that I saw books. I couldnít read then, so the large leather-bound volumes were a novelty. Daniel let me look at one as we walked along, and even though the text was meaningless to me, I liked just having the book in my hands. Before I knew it, Iíd followed Daniel into the comteís room.

He was sitting at his desk, scratching away with a stylus. He looked up as Daniel approached. I stood in the doorway, stuck, too far in not to stay.

Daniel placed the books on his desk.

"Thank you, Daniel," he spoke. He had a soft voice. He looked beyond Daniel to where I stood in the doorway. I still held his book in my hands. "Would that be one of my books?" he asked.

"Yes, Mísieur."

"Well, bring it here."

Perhaps heíd been more interested in the book, or maybe he hadnít perceived that I was a girl -- his eyesight was poor -- although heíd seen that I held a book, hadnít he? It wasnít until Iíd placed the book with the others on his desk that he truly seemed to register my presence.

He peered closely at me.

"What is your name?"

"Madeleine, Mísieur."

"Madeleine...?" he arched his eyebrows.

"Madeleine LeClerc," I spoke, a little less hesitantly.

"Ah. You are Madame LeClercís daughter?"

"Yes, Mísieur."

"Hmm." He turned his gaze to Daniel. "Is she your lover, Daniel?"

I felt my cheeks flame and looked at the floor.

"No, Mísieur," Daniel answered quickly.

The comte smiled and chuckled, gazing at the two of us in our discomfort, and then dismissed us as he turned back to his work.

~

He wasnít in the best of health. He was fat and his eyesight was poor and he suffered from gout. He was old. But he still bore himself with dignity and grace. He still spoke with refinement and gentility, for he had grown up amongst wealth and finery. Even in Charenton, a home for lunatics, he retained his aristocratic bearing. Heíd made his share of enemies in his time, it seemed, chief of whom seemed to be his own family. They made sure he would never be allowed to leave the hospital.

One time, when I was taking something to his room, his son was there. He was every bit as aristocratic as his father and Iím sure he was a portrait of the comte when he himself was that age.

"Hello, Madeleine," the comte greeted me after he bade me enter. He gestured to the man sitting across from him and, with a certain edge in his voice, said, "This is my son."

"Mísieur," I spoke, eyes lowered. His son ignored me.

"You have my books?" he asked, gazing at me.

"Yes." I held out the parcel, met and held his eyes for a moment, as he took the package from my hands.

"Thank you, Madeleine," he said, smiling at me.

In the hallway I paused, hearing his son speak.

"What are you doing with that girl?" his son asked sharply, suspiciously.

"What am I doing with that girl?" the comte repeated. I waited for his answer. "Why, nothing," he answered calmly. "She is but the child of a woman who works in the hospital administration."

"I do not think your familiarity is appropriate," the son said.

"Thank you for your concern," the comte replied icily.

~

"You may call me Donatien," he told me one evening as I stood before him in his rooms. I was fourteen. I wondered what he would require in exchange for such a liberty as calling him by his first name. His breathing seemed shallow, as he reclined in his chair, and at first I wondered if he were ill, but then he raised his hand and reached across to me and touched my breast through the fabric of my dress. I felt the blood rushing hot to my cheeks, and the weight, the warmth of his hand on me.

"I have spoken with your mother," he said, gazing up at me, his eyelids heavy, "and she has agreed to a liaison."

I swallowed, nodded.

He removed his hand from my breast and picked up a pouch. He held it up before me and shook it gently. The coins within jingled.

"This is for you," he said, placing it on the edge of his desk.

My eyes slid from the pouch back to his gaze.

"Come," he said, reaching a hand out to me. I took it and he drew me onto his lap. He breathed on my neck as he loosened the ties of my bodice and slipped his hand against my bare skin.

~

He had participated in the theatrical productions at the hospital. Some of the plays he had written himself; sometimes he directed them, sometimes he acted in them. I had always liked them, but had never had a chance to be in one, since the productions ceased before I was old enough to participate. Some government official informed the Abbť that it was too disruptive for the patients.

When I expressed an interest, the comte told me that he may be able to be of assistance, since he knew people in the theatre. My mother did not exactly approve of such interests, but as long as the pouches of coins kept coming, she did not mind.

Before I would be able to do anything theatrical, though, Donatien told me, I would have to learn to read. Thus he became my teacher -- in reading, writing, and song -- as well as my lover.

~

That first night, when he had me sit upon his lap, we did not have intercourse. All he did was expose my breasts to the light and caress them, pinch, briefly suck my nipples. I was so inexperienced, having exchanged but a few innocent kisses with Daniel and some of the other boys around the hospital, it was more than enough. Oh, the sensation of his fingers on my flesh...the heat of his mouth...like nothing Iíd known...

I was prepared, that first night, to do whatever Donatien asked. I was prepared and I was willing, but nothing more happened. It was a relief and a disappointment. I do recall wondering if that was all he could do. Surely not. But he was seventy years old, that year, when I was fourteen, the year of 1810. That man, that poor old man; I wondered if he could ever satisfy me.

The next time I came to his rooms, some days later, he was already in his bed. Lying there, he commanded that I undress.

"Dim the light," I asked him, shy, but he refused.

"Go on," he said, as I stood there in the middle of the room, "go on."

Tentatively, I began to loosen the stays on my dress. At first, once past my initial hesitation, I tried to undress quickly and get it over with. But then I realized that he derived pleasure not simply from my nudity but from watching me reveal myself. My first acting lesson: I stretched out my undressing, taking my time, deliberately fumbling with my ties, aware of his arousal.

Then I was slipping my underclothes from my limbs -- and again I felt hesitant, nervous -- no one had ever seen me like this...

"You are beautiful," he said. He lifted the lamp to cast its glow more fully upon me and I felt myself blushing. And when he smiled at that, I blushed even more, from head to toe.

"Come," he said, replacing the lamp and dimming it until the room was soft with darkness. He held back the sheets, gesturing for me to join him.

I slipped in next to him, next to the warmth of his body.

"I want to see you too," I said, lying next to him.

"No...I donít think you do," he replied, caressing my cheek, my neck. "Not this old body..."

When I tried to say otherwise, he placed a finger against my lips, stilled my speech. He let those fingers stray, down my neck, slowly down my breast bone. My breath sucked in, uncontrollably, as his fingers slid across my belly, across my pubis, and touched my sex. With his fingers he pleasured me, then he rolled me onto my back and shifted his weight on top of me.

"It will hurt," he whispered.

"I know," I replied, prepared, unprepared.

"I will be gentle..."

He raised my knees, spread apart my legs, reared between my thighs a moment, a moment in which I caught a glimpse of his naked body, his naked self, before he entered me.

~

"When I am free," heíd tell me, "you will come to live with us." He always maintained that he would some day be allowed to leave Charenton. He constantly sent out letters of appeal to various officials, to the family of his former wife, whomever he thought might be in a position to help him. Even in his last days, he never allowed himself to contemplate the possibility -- the reality -- that he would die imprisoned.

"When I am free," heíd tell me, as I lay beside him in his bed, as he caressed my naked skin, "when I am free, you will come to live with us. You, Madeleine, you and Constance and me. We will take a house in Paris and the three of us will live together. We will sleep in the same bed. We will be happy."

"When you are free," Iíd tell him, caught up in the fantasy, "I will come to live with you." Iíd press my young body against his girth and promise that Iíd never leave him.

~
In his diary, I am Mgl. That is how he refers to me. I know I shouldnít have looked, but I was curious to see what he wrote of me. Without him, I would not have been able to read the script at all.

While he dozed, one evening, after having lain with me, I tiptoed to his desk and looked in his journal. Much of it was numbers, symbols; every time heíd taken me unnaturally, from behind, it was marked with a particular symbol. He seemed to prefer it that way, although he showed no sign of desire for men.

One time, when I was ill, the doctor had shaved my pubic hair. When I came to visit Donatien shortly thereafter, he made much of my bald sex, fingering the rough and stubbly skin, and applying his mouth to me. Of course, heíd recorded it all in his diary, and I couldnít help feeling embarrassed, standing there naked at his desk, reading, while he snored behind me. At the same time, I was pleased, remembering the attention he had devoted to me that night.

Closing his book, I turned and gazed at his sleeping form. I tiptoed back to the bed, slipped beneath the covers and slid next to his warm body. I stroked him and he stirred in his sleep.

"Itís just me," I whispered to him, "itís just me, Madeleine, your pet."

I crawled atop him and took him into me, riding him as he dreamed, as he dreamed of me, and I shook with pleasure as he smiled in his sleep.

~
I donít know that anyone was innocent, in those days, following so close upon the Reign of Terror. People told me stories about the comte. People seemed to like telling me stories about him, both when I knew him and after he had died. I never knew which stories to believe or which to dismiss.

There were some who told me that he used to keep young girls imprisoned for his pleasure at his estate in La Coste. Others told me he had poisoned some women in Marseilles. He once told me himself that he had been executed, but I didnít know what he meant until I learned that an effigy of him had been tried, found guilty, sentenced to death, and beheaded. Still others told me that he worshipped the devil.

There were books, too, attributed to his name. Books that were so horrible they were supposed to make young girls go mad and commit suicide. How could he have written something like that? He always denied he was the author and I believed him.

~
"Never go to dances," he told me as I dressed, preparing to leave him for the evening. He was lethargic that night. "Never mind the attentions of young men."

"I wonít."

"Never go to parties."

"I wonít."

It was the month of December, 1814.

"I will be eighteen soon," I told him.

"Never go to dinners."

"Donatien?"

"Yes?"

"Are you listening to me?"

"Yes," he said, "of course, always."

"I will be eighteen soon," I repeated.

"You will? When?" he asked, gazing intently at me.

"Two weeks' time."

"I will give you a present."

I smiled and leaned over him to kiss his forehead.

"Now," he spoke, "when will you next come to visit me?"

"I donít know. Soon."

"No, you must tell me when," he insisted, "so I can look forward to it."

"I can come next Sunday. Monday, if not then."

"Sunday or Monday?"

I nodded.

"You promise youíll come then?"

"Yes," I laughed, "of course."

"Good," he smiled. "I will look forward to it. Goodnight, my love."

Those were the last words I heard from him.

He died the following Saturday.

~
His will was not honoured. He had wanted to be buried in an unmarked grave, in unconsecrated ground, without ceremony. He was given a Christian burial in the hospital cemetery. He had wanted the earth of his grave to be seeded with acorns, so that no trace of his earthly existence might remain. His grave was marked with a cross.

I tried to make the hospital officials and his family honour his wishes, but I was just an almost-eighteen year old girl. No one would listen to me.

Among his papers, I found this epitaph he had written for himself several years before his death:

    You who pass by,
    Kneel here and say a prayer,
    Close to the most wretched of men.
    He was born in the last century,
    and he died in our own.
    Tyranny, with hideous face,
    Made war on him at every time.
    Like a foul beast, under the Kingís law,
    It would have torn his life away.
    Under the Terror, it rose once more
    To bear Sade away to deathís abyss.
    Under the Consul it lived again,
    And Sade remained its eternal victim.


Copyright © 2000 Aidan Baker. All rights reserved.

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