Authors: Emma Mars
Love is a great master; it teaches us to be what we never were.
have never belonged to that category of women who see all hotel rooms as identical, all one and the same, each an anonymous space without any character or personality. A kind of cold tunnel with a uniform interior, offering standardized comfort for the night. Those women have probably only slept in them on exhausting layovers between trains or planes. To get a taste of a hotel room's unique character, you have to experience it during the day, when the rest of the building is empty, or almost empty. You have to take the time to feel it, to let your senses come alive, one by one, if you want to uncover the stories of its former guests, their laughter and tears, love and ecstasy. These past months, I've learned that there is a direct link between what we give a hotel and what we get from it. If you let yourself sink into sleep, boredom, or melancholy, you will only receive a reflection of your own sadness and futility. And you will leave as you came, regrettably unchanged.
But if you take the time to listen to what a hotel room has to say, you will hear thousands of stories, anecdotes, and sighs. You will burn to add your own. The most curious among us sometimes find themselves possessed by previous guests and their motivations. A scent of perfume hanging to the curtains or above the bed. A small stain that has survived the cleaning crew. A residue on the mirror tracing a shadow or a silhouette. These details affect you, infuse you, invite you to live your own story.
That is exactly what I am trying to do now as I lie naked with my wrists tied to the headboard of this bed. To write new pages for a story that began long ago, well before my time. Like most rooms in the HÃ´tel des Charmes, the Josephine contains a gigantic ceiling mirror. So, while I wait for things to heat up, I have all the time in the world to look at myself, Annabelle Barlet, nÃ©e Lorand, twenty-three years old, just married this year, and ready to give myself without restraint to the man I can hear getting ready in the adjoining bathroom. Who is he? I don't know yet. The only thing that's certain is that he's not my husband. If it were him, would we even be here? Honestly, would this be happening?
They call me Elle. Since forever and in all circumstances. Probably because “Belle” would have been too much. But don't be fooled, “Elle” is even worse. “Elle,” like the cover of a magazine, like I'm supposed to be a picture-perfect embodiment of woman in all her grace. A crystallization of desire. A melting pot for fantasies, the raw metal of which men are made.
WHEN AT LAST I HEAR
the bathroom door creak open, I yelp in surprise. Perhaps too sharply. Part of me must have thought he was only a dream. The stranger freezes, hesitating as to whether or not to come to my side. I imagine his hand tense on the door handle, his breath suspended.
“Madame? Madame Barlet, is everything as you wish?”
The voice I hear is not his. It comes from the hall. They worry for me behind the scenes. They want me to be satisfied. Madame is a regular. Madame is important here. My man gave them his instructions. He is the kind of person people listen to around here, the kind of person whom others obey.
“Yes, Monsieur Jacques .Â .Â . Don't worry, everything is fine.”
The first time I stayed in this room, last year, they were not nearly so attentive. Nor was I so sure of myself back then. The large mirrors reflected a very different image. My shape was already a burden, my curves already a promise. But I was not yet aware of their power, and still less of their function. I did not know the joys of another, and even less so of being myself.
What makes you come, Elle? Yeah, what does make me come? Do I really know? What exactly is it that makes me melt, deep down inside? That makes me wet without being touched, just at the thought of it? A man's naked body? His smell? The sight of an anonymous cock erect for me? Against me? In meÂ .Â .Â .
Handwritten note by me, 6/5/2010
NO, A YEAR AGO I
did not know that every room is a breeding ground for love, where every woman incubates and eventually learns to become herself. I was not tied up like I am right now, and yet I was more imprisoned than I shall ever be again. Don't be fooled, today
am the mistress, and not just to the man trembling behind the door. I have abandoned myself entirely, but I have never had this much control.
A YEAR AGO I WAS
just me, Elle. Every woman minus herself. A whole woman was waiting to be born Â .Â .Â .
was curled up in the sheets of the Josephine's unmade bed. On that day, my limbs were free. Free and yet so ill at ease. I had only met the men who was about to share my bed three hours before, four at most. Suffice it to say, I didn't know a lot about him, besides his marital status and the size of his walletâand soon of something else. Over the course of the long evening that had preceded this exact moment, I had not listened to a single word of his conversation with our dinner companions. My only contributions had been a few brief smiles and docile nods of my head. A wallflower, which is what was expected of me. What exactly did he do in life? Banking? Imports-exports? Or maybe he presided over something, was an honorary president somewhere? In any case, he was important enough to command the respectâand sometimes even silenceâof the other guests.
“Which position would you prefer, Elle?” he asked as he helped me unzip my delicate white dress.
Funny: a few minutes ago we were eating poached foie gras with blueberries and addressing each other as “Monsieur” and “Mademoiselle.” As soon as we crossed the threshold to our room, we started using our first names. When bodies undress too quickly, a deceptive form of intimacy emerges.
“Excuse me?” I choked between sips of sparkling water.
If a man sincerely desired you, a man you also desperately hoped would worship you, he would never bother asking such a technical question. In its own way, your body would tell him what he needed to know before he even got the chance. Words would not be necessary. Everything would be music, and your bodies would fall effortlessly into harmony.
“I mean .Â .Â . Do you object to any positions? Have any limits?”
I turned around and looked at him more attentively. He was fairly handsome. In his forties with graying hair. The athletic type. Probably really sporty, which would no doubt explain my presence in this room. If he weren't, there was no way I would have agreed to spend more time with him after such a boring dinner. I would have stuck to the basic itinerary. This was only the third time I had “followed” a client, to use the accepted jargon. It wasn't much, considering I had been working for eight months.
After his faux pas and the mood-killing way in which he'd asked about my preferences, I figured he couldn't be more experienced than I. Maybe I was his first escort. Not wanting to ruin what was left of the mystery, I didn't ask.
“No .Â .Â . No, not really,” I lied with what I hoped was an engaging smile.
“Okay .Â .Â .” He nodded, visibly reassured. “It's just better if I know in advance.”
My mind was miles away Â .Â .Â .
Doggy-style bothers me because it's animalistic. I only like to do it with men I know.
Doggy-style makes me come more than any other position .Â .Â . precisely because it's animalistic!
I fantasize about doing it with someone I don't know, preferably with a mask on.
Anonymous handwritten note, 6/3/2009, slipped into my mailbox without my knowledge
I WAS THINKING ABOUT ALL
the notes I'd received over the past few weeks, ever since I had found a small, blank, silver-covered notebook in my bag. An anonymous hand had taken advantage of the crowd on the metro to put it there. A mysterious message was stuck inside, and I did not recognize the handwriting:
Studies show that men think about sex approximately nineteen times a day. Women, no more than ten. How about you? How many times a day do you let yourself be invaded by that kind of thought?
Several days had gone by before I found an unstamped sheet of perforated paper in my mailbox. It had holes that matched the metallic rings in my notebook. The author of the missives obviously took pleasure in imagining my fantasies. He wrote in the first person as though he were me.
I had almost thrown the handwritten page into the trash unread. I had even considered filing a harassment report with the police. But I'm a journalism major and my curiosity got the better of me. Like a good student, I put the piece of paper in my miniature binder; I had already guessed that this would be the first in a long series. The faceless hand wouldn't stop there .Â .Â . Oh, no, it would not.
“I DON'T HAVE ANY LIMITS,”
I told my client.
To be fair, he was not any worse than the small handful of men I had let have me after a few too many drinks or a couple of mediocre dinners. And if I'm honest about my first time with Fred, my only serious boyfriend to date, I have to admit that it wasn't exactly glamorous. The night we'd ended up making love, I had given into it because the occasion had presented itself and the natural course of the evening had led to it .Â .Â . not because of any real desire. Where was the harm in dressing it all up as a transaction? Wasn't I worth more than a slice of pizza and two glasses of red wine?
At least this one was rich, clean, good-looking, and, to top it off, well dressed. He was wearing a bespoke, two-button suit with refined details, fuchsia silk lining, and topstitching that matched the buttonholes. Thanks to him, I was going to make more in a night than I had ever pocketed in a week working minimum wage at fast-food chains and other places.
Honestly, I was trying to motivate myself as best I could. The evening's champagne was already wearing off. I needed a pick-me-up, something effervescent like the bubbles that had vanished from my champagne flute.
I HAD JUST GIVEN MONSIEUR
Bespoke a blank check. But in spite of this, he unceremoniously, and without saying a word, sheathed himself in latex and pushed me into a tortured and grunting missionary position. The lack of sexual savoir faire in supposedly intelligent people will never cease to amaze me. It is probably the only form of knowledge that can't be self-taught and isn't the subject of private classes or coaches.
“You okay? I'm not hurting you, am I?”
No, no pain or anything else. A strange lack of sensation. The lower part of my body seemed completely anesthetized. I knew I was there, having sex, being penetrated in a very real sexual game, but I did not feel the least bit affected. Still, I put my hands on his butt and gently matched his movements in and out of me.
“I'm fine,” I said, trying to sound encouraging.
My own inexperience made it impossible for me to take the kind of initiative he must have expected from me. Was I supposed to sigh, scream, whisper obscenities into his ear? Just how much was I supposed to fake it? Was that part of the job, too?
“Is it good for you?”
That was the best I could manage. I know, it was pathetic. Still, he panted a yes before coming. Being the shrewd businessman that he undoubtedly is, he made the most of the precious postcoital moment, keeping completely still for about fifteen seconds. Then he started up again like a Swiss metronome.
I wasn't really there. I didn't feel embarrassed, disgusted, or even mad. My hand slowly stroked the length of his back, from his ribs to his pelvis. I honestly wanted to give him pleasure. I took the increasing intensity of his groans as a sign of satisfaction. Frankly, the encounter wasn't any worse than most of my past experiences in horizontal gymnastics. Besides, boring sex gives you plenty of time to look at the decor. The rooms in the HÃ´tel des Charmes were worth admiring. With the exception of the ceiling mirror, one of the hotel's rare concessions to our time, my surroundings faithfully replicated the room occupied by Napoleon's wife, Madame de Beauharnais, in ChÃ¢teau de Malmaison. On the whole, the circular space resembled the most luxurious countryside tents, held upright by a series of thin gold columns. Between these columns were laced large red wall hangings, which lent an ancient and gracious air to the surroundings. An eagle with wings outstretched, as though taking flight, overlooked the massive four-poster bed. The headboard was decked with a couple of golden swans, and the footboard with two horns of plenty. The rest of the furniture, including the armchairs and chaise longue on the other side of the room, reflected the dominant theme of gold and red as well as the floral motifs on the bedspread and bed skirt.
The ambiance was flawless. It wasn't hard to imagine oneself in the nineteenth century. Did Napoleon treat his Josephine to this same monotonous precision, or did he vary it up? There I was, with my aesthetical and sexual-historical musings, when Monsieur Bespoke gratified me with one last pelvic thrust and a final gasp. He hadn't lasted more than three or four minutes. Perhaps he'd been distracted by the majesty of the place, or maybe he'd simply felt bloated from the meal and weak from the alcohol.
After pulling out, he rolled to one side. His stomach was almost touching mine. Feeling grateful after his orgasm, he paid a banal compliment:
“You're really pretty, you know.”
How else do you respond when you know it's not true? I did not like the person I saw in the mirror above. She had never suited me. And I knew that this kind of activity was not helping things. Too round, too this, too that. What could I say, I was me. More like a young, poorly polished girl than a femme fatale. In a word, I was hopelessly imperfect.
“I don't like thin girls,” he confided. “I'm always afraid I'm going to break them .Â .Â . and hurt myself on their bones.”
That was his way of saying that he liked my curves. At least one of us was happy with what I had on offer. All-around abundant. No sharp angles. Satisfying, it seemed.
I took the small stack of bills he had left on the mahogany side table, glancing quickly to check the amount. He disappeared into the bathroom, and I took advantage of his absence to leave the room as quietly as the ghosts who inhabit it. What could I have said that would not have sounded like a lie or a false promise:
It was really great
See you soon, I hope
I PUT MY SHOES ON
in the hall. The thick carpet felt good under my feet. I headed straight for the lobby. From his polished reception desk, Monsieur Jacques gestured discreetly for me to come talk to him.
“Did everything go well, Mademoiselle?”
“Yes, yes,” I said in a low voice. “Very well.”
The concierge at the HÃ´tel des Charmes was impressive, with his Louis XIV livery trimmed in gold and silver lace. But beyond the uniform, I was fascinated by his physical appearance: the old man did not have a single hair on his entire head, not a tendrilâno mustache, no beard, no eyebrows, not even any lashes to frame his large, slightly bulging blue eyes. No one could be more smooth-faced than this man. Nor any paler.
Surprisingly, when Mom had chemo, she didn't lose any of her gray hair. The last six months of her treatment took a toll on her muscles and their strength but not on her head, which remained covered in hair. Maude Lorand was a trouper. She hung on as she always had, with courage and humility. She didn't even complain. Her lungs had gone to hell, but she hadn't lost one inch of dignity. She was a bronze statue rising from the ashes.
“Do you think you'll need another room in the coming days? Perhaps tomorrow?”
“I don't know yet. And even if I do .Â .Â . it will definitely be the last time.”
He did not seem surprised by my off-the-cuff statement. He almost looked happy about it, flashing me a knowing smile. Monsieur Jacques wanted what was best for me. Or, rather, he saw the best in me. At least that's the feeling I got whenever we met. In spite of appearances and the obvious reason for my presence in his hotel, he thought I could be good, or better. It only took a few seconds for his kind gaze to boost my morale.
But that night I didn't have time for his tonic look. He was still smiling as the doors sucked me out of the hotel and into the gentle night. It was still early.