I didn’t want to hit the guy. Fuck, it was New Year’s Eve. I don’t have anything against Australians. I didn’t see him do anything wrong. But when you’re in Paris with a group of prima donna cabaret dancers, you better be doing something to earn your place. ‘Jaaaack. That guy just touched me…there’. Fucking hell. What the hell was I doing here, lost in some club in the depths of Paris? A short and narrow club that could fit thirty people at most. Was this exclusive V.I.P? It felt like a freight container and we were all being smuggled into the New Year.
It wasn’t the first club of the night. It had started out well. Champagne and aperitifs backstage at the Moulin Rouge is a great start to anyone’s New Year and it was the first time I’d asked myself, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’
Tequila in the guy’s dressing room and then a walking fashion show overflowed into the streets. Black dresses, gold dresses, red dresses, high heels, jaunty hats, designer bags, the taste of champagne and the freedom of the Parisian night. And then we were walking through the cold night air and it didn’t matter that she was slightly in front and you could imagine this was some normal night out for her when you weren’t even there. When you were back in England, probably on one of your normal nights out with your friends who weren’t dancers and some-time models.
We made our way to the first club, heels clicking on the night pavements and cries from all corners of Europe welcoming the early hours of the virgin year. We arrived at an old grand ballroom that seemed to be empty and were greeted by a fruity Frenchman in an expensive suit and haircut. He set about us, kissing all the dancers like they went back thirty years. None of the girls had even seen thirty years and the host had paralysed his face to pretend he hadn’t either.
So then it was free champagne under the golden chandeliers and deep red of the walls and the painted angels on the ceiling. A half empty dance floor and her getting annoyed because the free champagne only stretched to one glass each and this wasn’t enough for you to dance; but fuck, you were out with twenty dancers who needed no encouragement so you looked amateur to say the least next to them and you got pissed off with her jokes about your dancing. You didn’t mock her writing. Or her guitar playing. At least you tried.
So after being left alone with some of her friends and being hit on by some gay Frenchman and having to pretend you were the boyfriend of one of the other dancers (another Australian) you all left the club, some of the group fracturing off to find their own way into the earliest hours of the New Year on this wildest of nights.
‘Where now?’ and she told you, ‘Vern, he’s a really good friend of mine, he’s organised for us to go to another club. He’s going to drive us.’ A really good friend. But it turned out not like that; he was Nadia’s fiancée, whoever Nadia was. He drove a few of us to the freight container and then disappeared into Paris to pick up the rest of the troupe. Soon we were all reunited and half the girls filed into the bathroom to do lines with Vern. He may as well have been doing them off the dashboard.
And now there were no free drinks and you started to sober up. Some fat cats in suits were pouring the girls free vodkas. She asked if you wanted one but she had to pass you it in private because the men only wanted to give the girls drinks and you had to stand there and watch them all flirt just to get a drink and fuck, you weren’t even feeling it anymore.
And then suddenly some Australian who’d had too many snaked his hand across her and you’re being called on to defend her honour in front of all her drunken friends. I remembered when we used to live back home and she always said, ‘I hate violence’. I remembered the time I’d pushed a guy for dancing with her and she ran off crying and I felt compelled to apologise. But Paris had made her want me to kill this guy. She was a goddamn V.I.P. Free drinks all round. She didn’t have to stand for this shit.
I felt no anger towards the guy; just the whole situation, so I pushed him and asked him what the fuck he thought he was doing and he looked as bewildered as I’d expected. His girlfriend shrieked and my girl took her arm and explained to her slowly and clearly that her boyfriend had touched her up and you can’t go around doing that and it’s just disrespectful and if it were her boyfriend she’d be sickened and why did she want to be with a man like that?
Meanwhile the Australian and I stood there awkwardly, not knowing what either of us should be doing and neither of us really knowing why we were there. The guy’s friends start to stand up and damn, they’re big guys. I have to keep up this macho persona. The girls’ attention is back on us. I tell the guy if he does it again I’m going to break his fucking nose. This seems to be what she wants and so I push him and he’s so drunk he stumbles over a table and sends all the drinks crashing down to the floor with him.
Now his mates stand up to get involved and I know it’s game over for me so I’m in the process of trying to man up to them when the bouncers come over, shouting in French. Definitely game over now. Except it isn’t because she has a word with them and I don’t understand what she’s saying but she flashes the V.I.P wristband and soon everything’s ok and the guy sits down with his mates and his girlfriend (who by now is crying her eyes out).
Now we’re back in our little group and the other girls are back from doing coke or talking to the guys for the free vodka and they’re asking what happened. She tells them ‘That idiot tried to touch me up so Jack pushed him over.’ But it’s matter-of-fact, there’s no thanks or admiration in her voice, just as though she’s telling someone what she had for dinner.
Then, although things have calmed down, it’s time to leave because Cocaine Vern has another party organised for us. I ask who made him the official planner but she ignores me and soon we’re pushed into the back seat of his car whilst his Russian fiancée screams at him as city lights slip past the windows.
Then we’re in another club. On the Champs Elysees. Does it get any more glamorous? Oh what a fantastic new year. We’re in the club, V.I.P again. But there’s a problem. We have to pay at the cloakroom. Do they know who the fuck we are?
So moody Nadia the Russian leads us through the club and marches up to the same guy who owned the first club. There are more hugs and endless kisses -on both sets of cheeks- and then we’re at our own private cloakroom and of course we don’t have to pay. Even me, the quiet guy following along. Only here because of her and no one really knowing why I’m following them all along, but either not questioning my presence or not noticing and very likely not caring.
And then we’re back where we belong, back in V.I.P with our free champagne. This time there’s enough for me to finally start feeling like it’s New Year’s Eve. The music is flowing and the drinks are ringing in my ears. I realise I’m in Paris with a group of beautiful cabaret dancers and again I wonder what the hell I’m doing here as the starlets of Paris float around me.
Everyone’s feeling ever so happy now that we’re settled here. Vern has left and Nadia seems calmer. I have to get a picture of me surrounded by all these girls so they crowd around and do their best smile. Practised to perfection from meeting footballers and rockstars backstage. She’s sitting on her own looking spaced out but happy. She always was a lightweight. She’s started giving me her champagne which is fine by me.
The champagne has made me one of the gang as I talk to a beautiful blonde Austrian whilst my girl rests in the corner. She’s still looking distant but happy and keeps looking over as the Austrian plays with her hair. Part of me wants to show her I could get girls like this if I wanted, I’m a free man. She’s not the best I can do and while she’s out with her friends in Paris being a V.I.P, I’m doing just as well back home with my own friends. But this is only ten percent of what I’m feeling. I’m not angry any more. Everything’s fun now.
The night slowly winds down as the sun creeps over the horizon, a new light on the old streets. The festivities splutter and die and we get into a taxi. More hugs and kisses with her friends. Almost my friends now. These hugs and kisses are genuine. Or at least more so. And then we’re away, just us two in the back of the taxi and it feels like it’s the first time we’ve been together all night. All year. She smiles and asks if I had a good time. Then she tells me she was a little bit jealous when I was talking with her friends. She knows I was just talking but she couldn’t help worry a little bit. She smiles again as if she’s being silly and then we’re back at her flat.
We walk in for the first time that year. It’s still a mess from before we went out and smells of the special dinner we ate. It was good then, our home cooked meal and home made cocktails and how we sweated through midnight. It was as though in there was just for us but outside is Paris and everything that word means to a cabaret dancer which is of course different to what Paris means to a tramp sleeping outside Notre Dame but isn’t too far from what most people think of when they hear the magical word.
The flat was a cocoon from the outside world but at the same time was more real. Everything that night had seemed plastic and showbiz, everything was a set piece and everyone was acting. We were even acting together. Acting differently now we were alone but still acting and neither of us sure which was acting and which was real. But we knew us together in Paris in any form was only transient. It was real for her without me and perhaps she’d forgotten what had been real to her back home, but now this was her life and what was real.
It was great for me to escape and go to Paris to experience all this but I wasn’t immersed in it deeply enough so that the bright lights permanently blinded me and the free champagne erased all memory of reality. So soon after I left Paris in the glow of the January sun and began to wonder where next New Year’s Eve would find me.
Thomas Ward is soon to graduate from Newcastle University with a BA in English Language and Literature. He has been published in Alliterati and awaits feeback on his first novel. As well as writing he likes to travel, play music, watch films and fantasise about fighting sharks and the inevitable zombie apocalypse. He has a tumblr at www.renegadeviper.tumblr.com
© 2012 Thomas Ward