The Last Confession (2014)
Catalina stared at herself in the mirror after dinner. She’d supped alone; it wasn’t unusual. Guy scarcely ever showed for any meal, least of all dinner. She felt the familiar tightening in her stomach. She had drunk a good amount of wine – though at that point it didn’t seem to matter. Nothing succeeded in calming her nerves anymore. The wine had worn off months ago, and still she drank.
“He has little vitality left, just don’t make him angry,” Madame Poppa had forewarned upon signing the contract.
Catalina reflected on all of the horrific rumors about what he did to women whom he found displeasure in. She’d experienced it firsthand; a hit or a slap - he gave her plenty of those. Some hits had been so terrible Catalina had bruises for weeks. She was only fortunate that he hadn’t cut her, yet.
She knew she would be of no use to anyone with a hideous mark on her body – let alone her face. She shuddered every time she remembered the scar on her loving mistress’s cheek. Madame Poisson had once been one of the most celebrated courtesan in all of Paris, and she was thrown out on the street after a jealous lover had marked her.
Catalina forced herself to stop thinking. She needed a clear head if she hoped to last the night.
She straightened her back, holding in her breath and pushing out her breasts. Her fingers fell to the lace of her bodice and loosened it just a little for the mere sake of relieving herself of a growing nausea. She would make it through. She only had to spend him enough then quietly disappear while he slept.
She slipped out of her chambers and made her way towards Lord Guy’s room. She lingered in the doorway, pushed back a strand of her auburn hair, straightened her shoulders, smoothed her garments, and then knocked on the double doors.
"Come in," Guy ordered.
Catalina drew a deep breath and held it as her hand reached for the handle. She timidly entered the room, feeling as if her heart was going to burst from its rapid beating, her face burned as she held her breath and closed the door behind her.
Within were some torn tapestries hanging on the walls. The bed was large and shrouded in old drapes. Everything in Lord Guy’s home was old and decaying. It wasn’t that he was not a rich man, quite the opposite. He simply didn’t seem to mind living in a murky atmosphere. Catalina always imagined how wonderful the room would look if she opened the drapes and hung at least one of her dear friend, Nicolas’ paintings.
There was a chair in the corner upon which Lord Guy sat, fully dressed in black. He stared at her motionless through his right eye.
Catalina gnawed at her bottom lip while she thought on something to say. Guy was a man of little words. She recalled what Madame Poisson had once said of men who rarely spoke, to not make them uncomfortable with flattery. It was the job they wanted done.
Without waiting for his request, Catalina lifted her hand to her bodice and unlaced the loose tie, then cast aside the little fabric. Guy merely watched as the dress slipped off her body, down to her feet. She then reached for the translucent chemise beneath it, and slid it off her shoulders. She was still in her long stockings, garters, shoes, and jewelry.
She felt a cold chill creep up her body. It was the most unusual situation she had ever been in. Any other man would have taken the initiative by now. Not this man, this Guy. He sat there like a statue, gazing at her naked flesh with cold disinterest, and a strange feeling of discomfort crept over Catalina. She quite enjoyed being naked; there was something free and empowering about it. Now she fought the temptation cover herself back up with her discarded clothes.
With uneasy steps, she approached the motionless Guy. The dim light of the candle accentuated the scars and the black little hole where his left eye had once been, while other handsome half of his face was lost somewhere in the shadows. She lifted a trembling hand and stroked the long dark hair away from his face. Her hand touched his gaunt cheek, the smooth side of it, then fell to his neck. She began to undo the lace of his black tunic when he snatched her hand; Catalina shuddered under its iron grip.
"Forgive me..." she whispered meekly. She couldn’t hide her repugnance. It was like pleading to something that could not even see her, could not know her pain if it was clear in her face.
"Get in bed," Guy said coldly, releasing her.
Catalina obeyed at once, scurrying away. She lay there for a long time; Guy didn’t budge from where he sat, and without wanting to, she began drifting to sleep.
She awoke in the middle of the night to Guy standing over the bed, staring down at her. The candlelight revealed the unmarked side of his face, and she had no memory of the scars, of the horrible missing eye. She saw only beauty – beauty and lust.
He bent down and put his mouth on hers. Catalina tried so hard not to resist him, but the force of his mouth began to hurt, and she started to push against his chest. He grasped her wrists with one hand and held them above her head, while the other hand undid the fastens of his breeches. He thrust into her roughly with a grunt, his hold on her wrists was so tight.
“Please, let go,” Catalina whimpered, writhing to break free. She thought surely the bones would snap.
He didn’t relent, not even when she began to cry. His breath smelt of wine beating hot against her face, his teeth grazed the skin of her neck, biting her, and Catalina shrieked.
She turned her face to the side into the pillows and shut her eyes tight, waiting for it to be over. Her face was burning and wet from her tears, she could scarcely even breathe.
Guy suddenly let go of her; her wrists ached after being held so tight. She hadn’t yet opened her eyes, didn’t want to see, but couldn’t blot out the sound of Guy cussing and groaning while he finished. He fell faint on top of her, panting, and she slid her arms around him and kissed his worn face and exposed chest. He shortly unraveled her arms from his neck and removed himself from the bed.
Catalina sat up and watched him through her tears as he wandered back to the corner of the room and slumped back into the chair. Though the light was dim, Catalina saw his right eye shimmering in the candlelight as he stared back at her. She felt exposed, violated. She stared with disgust at the film of his spilled seed, wanting to wipe her stomach clean of it.
She glared at Guy from the shadows. “May I take my leave now that you’ve finished with me, monsieur?" she asked indignantly.
“You’ll take your leave when I say, Kitty,” he said. "You've not yet learned your lesson."
"What lesson must I learn?" Catalina demanded.
"Learn to watch your tongue.”
Catalina fell back upon the bed in defeat. She lay there for a long time, staring blankly at the ceiling, trying to remember the poetry, the music, the paintings her beloved Nicolas made of her. Life with Lord Guy was absent of color and song. She heard his quiet laughter and turned on her side to watch as he took up his wine bottle and drank.
"Mmm…you are a lovely one," he murmured in the silence. "I was your age on that night of Carnival. It was a popular place where our gangs assembled; the Protestants and the Catholics. We all knew our place and we didn’t mingle. That night there were no boundaries. I never saw their faces behind the masks. I knew only their laughter as they killed my brothers in front of me. Myself and two others they let live, but they took my skin as a mark. They branded me so I would not forget their name – Vindictae…so I would remember them every time I looked in the mirror."
Guy closed his right eye, a stream of tears came rolling down his gaunt cheek. "No one could bear to look at me. Every time I took a woman I could see the disgust behind her deceitful smile. And so I'd cut their faces, their hands, their legs. I made certain that I would be their last client." A faint, malicious smile curled his scarred lips. “I might have killed one or two. I became persona non grata in your Madame’s whorehouse.” He chuckled softly, slurping his wine bottle.
Catalina felt herself grow sick. She was in the house of a murderer, sleeping in his bed, letting him take his pleasure from her body. All those poor, unfortunate women. She only imagined how hard they must have tried to calm the monster that was in Lord Guy, and wound up purchasing their own death. She shuddered to think that was to be her fate also. But perhaps it was better that she should die. A courtesan with hideous scars couldn’t be of much use to anyone. Death sounded like a mercy than to be cast out into the streets.
"You’re cruel, monsieur,” she said, and then immediately regretted her words when she heard Guy’s deep, menacing chuckle.
“Oh, you don’t know how cruel I can be, Kitty,” he said, there was a warning in his voice. “You wouldn’t like it.”
She sat in silence watching him well past the hour while he drank. She grew restless, and began rising to leave, imagining he was far too drunk to even notice if she slipped out of the room.
“I didn’t dismiss you,” he said, slurring somewhat.
Catalina slumped back on the bed, sighing.
“You don’t like being in my company, Kitty?”
“On contrare, I find your presence invigorating, monsieur,” Catalina replied, lacking enthusiasm.
Guy sneered. "In a world full of liars, you lie the worst, Kitty." He set his drink aside. “Come here,” he ordered.
Catalina froze with fear, but she obeyed nonetheless, hesitantly rising and approaching him. He stared at her in displeasure, before reaching out and pulling her into his arms. He’d turned her round so that her back was pressed against his chest, and she felt his ragged breath against her nape. She tried not to struggle, but her body seemed to have a mind of its own. He merely tightened his hold on her.
“Don’t fuss, Kitty,” he hissed into her ear. “I only want to show you something.” He pulled a jeweled encrusted knife from his scabbard, the silver handle was twisted into the shape of a snarling gargoyle, and held it in front of her face. “This is my most cherished possession. I cannot tell you how many women I’ve cut with this beauty.” The point of the dagger was aimed dangerously close to Catalina’s right eye, its edges shone in the light of the candle. “I could tear out one of your pretty green eyes, Kitty. Wouldn’t we make a lovely couple then?” He laughed deep in his throat, poking the sharp edge at her plump bottom lip.
Catalina shut her eyes tightly, a sob choked out of her mouth. “Please…” she whimpered.
To her relief, Guy drew the dagger away.
“Shush…hush, kitten... You’ll ruin the paint on your face if you keep weeping like that.” He brought the bottle to her lips. “Drink,” he commanded, forcing the wine into her mouth.
Catalina reached up and tried to hinder the relentless flow. Wine was spilling from her lips, down her chin, and she coughed it up. He’d mercifully pulled the bottle away to take a swallow. Her face burned with humiliation and tears. She was revolted in having to be so close to such a vile man. She struggled to pull free again, but he locked her to him.
“Shh… Don’t fuss, Kitty. Have some more,” he insisted.
“No.” Catalina boldly refused.
“You’re going to feel the back of my hand if you do not behave yourself, kitten,” he threatened. “Have some more,” he commanded, pushing the bottle to her lips.
Catalina began to thrash in his grip, shoving the bottle away, causing it to fall out of his hand and spill on the floor. Guy rose up in fury and hauled her to the bed and flung her down. She squirmed to get away, but he was too quick, turning her onto her stomach. He held her arms behind her back and trapped her body between his long, thin legs, pinning her to the bed.
“Don’t move,” he warned. He yanked her long hair over her head, and Catalina felt the tip of the dagger brush along her spine. She struggled to keep still, fearing every moment what he would do. It didn’t make any sense. Just that morning he was kind to her, now he was a cruel monster. That morning she wanted to love him, and now she was certain she never hated another human being more.
“You don’t know how cruel I can be, Kitty,” he said.
“Please!” Catalina sobbed.
“Shhh-ut your mouth, Kitty!” Guy snapped, his hand grabbed the back of her head and pressed her face hard into the pillows until Catalina fought to breathe.
“You talk back to me! You smirk at me when you think I am not looking!” he hissed, his voice was ragged in her ear. “Now you force me to do this!” He drew the dagger away to put it into the flame of the candle on his nightstand until it was red with heat.
“This is going to sting a little,” he said, and then he pressed the dagger to her back, scorching her skin. Catalina screamed against the covers, her body writhed violently beneath him.
“Shush! Hush, Kitty!” he said, setting the dagger on her skin again.
Catalina ran away that night in the pouring rain after Lord Guy drunk himself to slumber. She made it through the doors of St. Denis, shreds of lightening flashed in the painted windows, contorting the glaring images of the saints. She huddled in a corner, her body feverish and trembling, her chattering teeth seemed to echo in the vast and empty vestibule.
A lightning struck, and a man appeared across the room. Catalina gasped, imagining she’d seen a ghost. For a long moment the apparition did not move, and then he spoke, “Are you alright, my child?”
Catalina knew this calm and deep voice.
“Father!” she implored, reaching her arms towards him.
He hastened to her and went down on his knee beside her. “Where have you come from?” he asked.
Catalina didn’t hear him, her mind was trying to assess his words. She grasped onto his somber black vesture with frail, shivering hands, and brushed her face against his warm, deeply beating chest deliriously.
He helped her gather to her feet, her legs feeling like they were going to give way beneath her, and led her down into a vaulted chamber. She clung closer to his body as they passed through a series of tombs, engraved with the images of the deceased rulers of France.
The priest opened the door to a sacristy where he set her down on a cushioned settee.
“Don’t leave me,” Catalina pleaded, clinging to him when he began to pull away.
“I’m not leaving you,” he reassured her. He returned shortly with a cloth and a washbowl. He moistened the cloth in warm water then dabbed it gently on Catalina’s bruised eye, and she winced. She watched him in a trance as he then dabbed the bruise on her cheek, and then her bottom lip.
“Who did this to you?” he asked, meeting her gaze, the look on his face was grave.
Catalina only shook her head fearfully.
He assessed her for a moment. “You’ll have to take those clothes off before you catch a fever,” he said.
With unsteady hands, Catalina began to untie her sopping bodice. He helped her out of the dress, and she was wearing a light chemise beneath it. He wrapped a cloak around her shivering body, his strong, warm hands brushed up and down her arms feverishly, warming her.
“My God, you’re burning up.” He helped her settle back into the settee, then went to a small table and poured her a glass of water from the pitcher. But when he turned around he saw that she had fallen into an exhausted sleep.