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I am Caroline Petit. Black Lambs re-imagines the intimate lives of the naturalist, explorer and diplomat, François, the Count de Castelnau and his much younger Brazilian mistress Carolina Fonçeca. The scene occurs in 1861 at a Paris theatre.
The corridor outside our box was crowded. François and I waited for the crush to pass. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an old elegant woman with an enormous feather in her hair elbowing her determined way through the crowd toward us. François paled.
“François, I certainly did not expect to see you at a play about hypocrites,” said the woman.
“You should have pressed for the annulment. It would have been better for both of us.”
Stunned, I realised this woman was François’s wife who looked me up and down as if I were a piece of meat hanging on a hook in the butcher’s shop. “I see my husband has collected a beauty.”
“Beatrice, leave Madame Fonçeca be.”
“We haven’t been introduced. My husband is so rude not to make proper introductions. I am the Countess de Castelnau and you, my dear, must be the lovely, Madame Fonçeca.” She tried to kiss me on the cheek, but I stepped back; she kissed the air and scowled.
“You’re creating a scene,” François said.
“You could be in one of his exhibits at the zoo at the Jardin des Plants. He brings back so many exotic creatures . . . When he returned from Brazil the first time, he was half dead. Did he tell you that? . . . No? I nursed him back to health and he pledged . . . What did you pledge, François?”
“Beatrice, go home.”
She dropped a small grim curtsey. “See, Madame Fonçeca, François plays at being husband and still orders me about. How does he act with his mistresses, Madame Fonçeca?
“I will have you forcibly removed, Beatrice, if you don’t leave this minute.”
“I am not going anywhere, François. I have bought a ticket and want to see the end of the play. Does he order you around too, Madame Fonçeca? Tyrant.” She raised her fan and made a feint toward him. Hemmed in by curious onlookers revelling in the sideshow, François ducked and scanned the lobby for an escape route.
“Does she have any black blood? Did you buy her?”
I lunged and slapped the Countess. She shrieked then addressed the crowd: “She’s foreign. They have no manners.” People laughed. A few young men began to slow clap: encore, encore.
François grabbed my elbow and propelled me through the jeering crowd. Above the catcalls, her voice rang out. “Goodbye, husband. Go back to your jungle and your monkey.”
ABOUT CAROLINE PETIT:
Caroline Petit is a Melbourne writer born in the USA. She has published two literary thrillers, The Fat Man’s Daughter (Soho Press, New York, 2005) and Deep Night (Soho Press, New York, 2008) set during the Sino Japanese war in Hong Kong and Macau based on the character Leah Kolbe. Her short story “Child’s Play” was broadcast on ABC National Radio in January 2010. “Flight”, a long short story, commissioned by The Asia Literary Review was published in December 2008. She is currently working on an historical novel in 19th century Melbourne. It is a story of love, lies and ruin.
The Fat Man’s Daughter (Soho Press, New York, 2005)
Deep Night (Soho Press, New York, 2008)
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