She was gone. The warmth of her body already seemed to fade. I held her closely to my chest, naively hoping the beat of my heart would somehow reinvigorate hers, but it was, of course, in vain. Instead, I came to find that I was only clutching the beautiful shell that also once held her inner perfection.
Where were we? Who was screaming? Was it I? It had to have been, because as I glanced at all the faces surrounding my crumpled form on the floor, it occurred to me that no one was moving or speaking. I must have been the one screaming.
My mother had died when I was a lad. It was right around the time I had turned thirteen years old. She had been a bit of an eccentric woman my entire life. When I began writing short stories for the Grand King's Country Post, she was the subject of every tale I tried to sell. She and my father had not shared the fantastic love that I had come to know with Satine, so my father had gone about her death in a very business-like manner. Even as we buried her, he did his best to instill in me the principles of suffering in silence. "If you must cry, don't burden those around you with your pain." His words troubled me. I felt a strange, immense sadness deep within my core that my mother had died. His apathy turned my grief into guilt for mourning.
With the thought of my mother, I then braved a peek at Satine. I loosened my grip around her chest and laid her back gently to see her face in the light. Though before I could take a look, my breathing became much more erratic and I lost my nerve.
I felt two hands fall onto my shoulders. "Christian," Toulouse's voice sounded far from wherever I was. I jerked away, letting frustrated howls rip from my throat. I didn't know what I was saying, or to whom I was speaking. Then came the thought, who would I speak to anymore? Satine was gone from my life. I had no one to share my writing with any longer.
Toulouse made an attempt to get my attention again, but my reaction had been even louder and angrier than before. Did he not understand? Did none of them? Had they not experienced loss? Or had my father been right, meaning I was holding Satine's ever-chilling body and exhibiting all the wrong displays of grief?
Without any warning, a large, rough hand struck my face. I fell backward, releasing Satine and landing in the arms of someone behind me. I blinked, stunned into quietness. I felt a dull, but potently present throb start from my cheek and slowly creep into the rest of my body. I heaved a breath, but there was pain in my chest and throat. I must have been sobbing for ages. I looked at the circle of performers around me. They stared back, their faces squished into expressions of sympathy and remorse. There were even women whose thick, powdery makeup was visibly streaked with tears. Still, though, they were quiet, no one uttering a sound.
With nothing but masks of sorrow looking back at me, I wondered where all the chatter that had begun to fill my ears was coming from. It was clear that, on the stage, there wasn't anyone who would dare speak while the writer was a hysterical mess on the floor.
The stage. I remembered, then, that there was an entire audience in the house still. The applause had ceased, and it sounded as though they were now preparing to file out. I wondered, for only a moment, where the Duke was. What would he do when he heard about Satine?
Satine's body lay between the Argentinian and myself. He had been the one to deliver the smack to my face. I could tell, as he was still shaking his right hand, as though it had been jarred. I looked up at his face, and he returned the gaze.
The Argentinian held his other hand down to me. I looked on Satine for a moment, her body lying still in the mess of flower metals and confetti, before accepting his assistance. I was surprised to find that my legs were almost too shaky to support me.
I stood, sniffling and wiping my face while I turned in a circle to get a look at everyone present. Still, no one said anything. The sound from the audience was becoming less obtrusive now. They must have been leaving. Everyone in that room had somewhere else to be. After all, anywhere was better than the Moulin Rouge. I had had somewhere to be, hadn't I? Before tragedy transpired, my life was going somewhere, was it not?
"Zidler," I said, calling to him in the only voice I could muster. The Argentinian stepped aside and Zidler filled his place on the floor, careful not to look down at Satine. Instead, he looked at me, his face dark and sullen. He appeared neither sad nor surprised. There was nothing to his eyes, except that they didn't dare venture down. I couldn't help myself. I glanced at Satine's body. The sight of her dead stabbed a pang into my chest and I caught my gasp before it escaped.
I looked back at Zidler and began speaking before my cries could consume me again. "She was ill," I said, stating more so than asking. Zidler nodded once, never breaking contact with my eyes. "She was ill," I repeated, waiting for any sort of clarification.
"She had consumption," he said to me, but loudly enough so as to explain to the rest of his Moulin Rouge family. "Tuberculosis. It's terribly deadly, I know you've all heard of it." His attitude reminded me of my father's after my mother's death, and I felt deeply bothered. Yet, I found I felt comforted by the familiarity of his impassive tone.
She had been sick. I had witnessed several of her fainting episodes. Guilt began to rush into the pit of my stomach. Was there something I could have done? I should have been kinder to her in her final hour, instead of venting my frustration like a madman. Why hadn't I realized sooner that something was terribly wrong?
A moment later, I found myself on the opposite side of the stage, bent over, unable to stop the bile from spilling out of my mouth. She was gone. Satine was gone. When she came to me the day prior to tell me she had chosen the Duke instead, I thought I'd never feel such excruciating pain again. I was sure that it was the worst thing that could ever happen to a man. I had been wrong. I had been wrong about so many things.
I panted and tried to collect myself, but the fumes from my vomit made my stomach feel sicker, and I began to feel dizzy instead. I thought about my mother and all the vomiting she had done before she died. I wished desperately, then, that the upheaval of my gutty fluid would have killed me too.