The Night Has a Thousand Eyes

© 2004-5 Black Tangled Heart

I started writing this in the summer, and there was a scene missing that had formed itself in my mind, but I couldn't make it work. With my sudden influx of creative energy, things seem to have fallen into place. Amazing things comefrom spending a weekend obsessively reading Sylvia Plath's poetry out loud.

Disclaimer: Moulin Rouge belongs to the wonderful Baz Luhrmann. The title is from the Lamb song of the same name, and the lyrics are from the Lamb song "What Sound".

Thanks: To my sweet Nikki: muse, beta and support.

Dedication: Though her birthday is not for another few weeks, this is for Petal La-Belle-En-Cuisse. Thank you for everything and more. You mean so much to me. Happy twenty-first, darling. I love you.

what is that sound
ringing in my ears
the strangest sound
i've heard for years and years
the sound of two hearts
beating side by side
the sound of one love
that neither one can hide

the sound that makes the world go round
the sound that makes the world go round

When she had nightmares, they were of glass. Glass flooding the streets like an overflowing Seine. Glass crashing down from the sky like sharp, unforgiving tears. Glass in her heels when the dance floor was hers. Glass in her hand rather than money. Her palms cut, her eyes wild. Glass in her corset to ribbon her ribs. Glass in her throat to cut out her song. Gleaming glass. Dulled glass. Smashed glass. Whole glass. Glass scattered like rose petals, like memories, like nightly tears and morning shame.

Perhaps it was because her scars were caused by glass. Pink satin across her wrists and her thighs. Perhaps it was because her past stared at her when she saw her face in the mirror. Every childhood night spent in fear of her father, in fear for her mother and sister. Hiding her face as the slaps came, and the screaming echoed in her dreams. Perhaps it was because this glass was inescapable. Around every corner loomed her bruised cheek, her blood-smeared wrist, her ravaged heart. And god, the more she turned, the more she saw. And when she broke the glass, everything of pain and past only multiplied. There came a thousand scars, a thousand screams. They drove her madder than jealousy ever could.

So she learned to turn her back to the mirrors; to shut her eyes to the ones that leered before her in her attempts to escape others. She hid her hand mirrors beneath her underclothes; she draped shawls over every glass surface in her room. When clients were due, she folded them and tucked them away, always turning her face from her reflection.

So she taught herself never to let the kohl slip, the rouge smudge, the lipstick smear. So she practiced until she could make her face up without the aid of a mirror. Until she could cover an unblemished cheek or a marred one, never showing a trace of imperfection. She did the same with her hair, until her chignons were sleek and perfect, done with her lined eyes closed. She turned blind circles in her room until her pirouettes and kicks were flawless, knocked nothing out of place, left her with no bruises from bumping her hip or thigh on sharp corners. She learned her way through the dance hall in the dark. She made love to her Argentinean in blackness. Anything, anything to avoid looking at her own face, her own flaws.

Still the mirrors haunted her dreams.

And so she tried to stay awake. It began as more of a struggle than she'd imagined it would be. She'd fall asleep curled in a chair, across her bed, upon her floor. But she pushed herself through the hours where her limbs felt like lead and her eyes burned. She found ways to conquer her fatigue. She couldn't vanquish mirrors, but she'd found the upper hand in her tirade against seeing them, dreaming of them, hurting because of them. She danced until her adrenaline was too high to sleep. Fucked so she could concentrate on something that would keep her eyes open, that would infuse her with energy, with life. And so she and her lover danced together in the dark.

He waited for her in her room, a place she knew now so perfectly, everything could be done without light. The red and white electric bulbs scattered around the room were without power. The curtain leading to her balcony was drawn tight. The moment she stepped inside the chrysalis of black, she found herself in his arms. His kiss turned her tired heart to fire: live and hot and burning. It was with this need her fingers traced his clothes, to rip them open, to feel herself come to true wakefulness. But he wanted things slowly tonight; she knew when he touched the small of her back, the curve of her throat. And so with careless grace they danced, without a mind for the steps, only each other.

She was beautiful even in dark. The sound of her breath, the heat shed off her skin, the way her body melted into his. It was a slower, quieter tango, but with no less passion. Her limbs smooth, her mouth swollen. His hands callused and carnal. His language fluid, fervent. They danced as though they were in perfect light. They danced as though they had been made for nothing else. They danced from floor to bed, her weight a whisper in his arms, a rustle on the sheets. Their clothes undone and shed, their tension unwound, their skin warmed.

It became impossible to discern where she ended and he began as they fit themselves together, painting the dark with the colours of their love: bronze and white as their fingers entwined, gold and red as their mouths pressed together, pink on pink for their curling tongues.

For this spare handful of moments, Nini had no emotional burden. There were no scars, no screams. Just love. Love in darkness, but love undeniable. Love is true when it cannot be questioned, and she could not question this. She knew its truth, relished its freedom, and felt beautiful.

And they made love until they couldn't move. Their dance returned itself to their cores.

With peace, they slept.

what is that sound
running round my head
funny i thought
that part was long since dead

She struggled to wake from the first dreamless sleep she'd had in months. Dawn light was sweet on her face. When her eyes did open, she saw her curtains had been pulled back. The Argentinean stood on the balcony: smoking a morning cigar, watching her silently. The bed was still warm from his body curled next to hers. She turned onto her side, and her hand brushed against something startlingly cold. On the pillow was the small hand mirror she had buried among her underthings when she'd first begun turning away from the wretched glass.

Her first thought was to pick up the thing and hurl it at the wall, to watch it break the way diamonds never could. Her next was to smash it against her lover, for retrieving it and placing it near the face she had not seen for so long. Her eyes were mirrors themselves, and when she looked into his dark orbs and gold countenance, he could plainly see her thousand scars and screams.

He stepped toward her, his grace as a dancer matching the fluid fervency of his native tongue. He didn't settle next to her, knowing that the action would not be taken lightly, merely shrugged off. He only watched her mouth as it opened without sound. The lips unpainted, the throat dry, the words caught somewhere between silence and sobs.

"Look into the mirror."

Her eyes narrowed, and from the creased rims spilled the tears she had not shed into her pillow before sleep. The mirror slipped from her trembling hand. She was trembling all over, vulnerable, exposed, without so much as a glance toward the dusty oval that held everything she couldn't bear.

"You don't know 'ow much hell I've been through to avoid this," she told him, words slipping from her lips like the tears down her cheeks. For him to see her in such pain was a burden for them both. When he sank down beside her and wrapped her in his arms, she did not fight him.

"You're beautiful, you know."

She closed her eyes, released a sigh. "No, no I don't know. I 'aven't seen my face in years."

He was silent then, and gently combed his fingers through her hair. He knew better than to place the mirror in her hand. She would fly into a shrieking rage if he did; he could see her wild eyes, hear her profane tongue, feel all her raw fear and hurt. It wasn't that he hadn't seen this all before, in her anger just before they had danced their tango. He couldn't shatter the moment of peace she had just only begun to find, resting against him, safe from herself once again.

She didn't know how long they remained silent. Not speaking, not kissing, barely breathing. Just touching. And in the silence, her thoughts were a dizzying rush of noise and movement. She knew her fears lay not within the mirror itself, but beyond the glass. And she'd have to put herself beyond this bed, this room, to see her face. She'd have to walk the cobblestones like the common whore she wasn't, like the street urchin she'd been two decades before. She lifted her cheek from the Argentinean's shoulder. "I'm going out." She gently pushed his hand from the curve of her hip and began to dress. He did not protest or try to hold her back, but she could feel the tenseness in his body when he reached to help her lace her corset. His hands were rigid, his voice like sandpaper.

"Are you all right?"

She didn't reply until she'd put on her stockings, dark green skirt, and her warmest shoes. Buttoning up her blouse with elegant white fingers, she turned to him. She took the silver hairbrush he offered her with a faint smile. She pulled it through her long hair, from the gleaming crown to the perfect ends. Beauty existed in her every gesture. "I'm fine. Just need t'clear my head." She felt as though her thoughts were brass bells, clattering and crashing inside her skull, exploding with memory resonant as their morning call.

He kissed her silently in parting, and she gently squeezed his hand. When the door to her room was safely closed behind her, she found the corridor and stairwell blessedly empty. The purple sky outside the corridor's high windows was traced with rose, and she knew it was barely dawn. She left the Moulin Rouge on silent feet, and met the clear, cold morning. Breathing deeply and exhaling slowly, she began to walk. Her body knew these streets so well, she barely had to think. Each dank alley, each alcove, each corner held a memory. From tumbling and turning and walking on her hands as a child, to flirting and fornicating under sickly yellow lamplight so she could feed herself. Both circumstances left her face smeared, her hands tarnished, her heart hardened. She could see papery money and dirty coins on the ground, in her fist. She could hear rapid breathing of a stranger, smell liquored breath, feel gnarled fingers on her skin. She had not been in such sordid situations for some time. The Moulin Rouge did have its fair share of violent patrons, but it was nothing like her scraped skin on the ground, a bruise blooming furiously across her pale forehead. Nothing like feeling her bones crack as she was thrown like a plaything, and left splayed and violated.

But that had not happened for so long.

She could still hear her own screams. She could still feel her own scars.

The world changes, but memory never does.

She closed her eyes, released a sigh.

When she opened them, her head wasn't yet cleared. Something still ached at the bottom of her chest. There were still screams lying in her throat, waiting to burst upward like geysers. There were still her scars, throbbing along her skin apace with her hammering heart. She felt her feet carrying her away from the alleys, and in a path she had not walked for years. She had twirled and danced along this path. She had scrambled and stumbled along this path. She had fled along this path, fled far away. And now upon returning, her mind moved like her body: restlessly. Still she walked, knowing she couldn't turn back. Through mud, beneath weeping trees, down broken stairs, to a dusty door.

She half expected to open the door and find her mother wilted on the floor, her sister nursing a wounded shoulder, her father with his absinthe bottle like a dying lantern in his hand. She could remember so clearly the day she found her mother's ashen face, ashen for the last time. And she had rocked her sister back and forth and sang to her in an effortlessly fluid voice, despite her tears.

She pushed open the door, and found the room swathed in cobwebs and shadow. Dust festooned every surface, even the flashing mirror she saw still hanging above where her washbasin had been as a child. In the mirror she glimpsed her silhouette, begrimed by dirt and decay, mourning and memory. She knew she could step through this tomb of what had once been and smear her palm across the mirror. She knew she could wipe it clean and see herself again, but she didn't dare step beyond the threshold, into her former life. She knew there were screams not her own still trapped within, and scars not her own had been made nightly there. She would not see her face as it was now: brilliant and beautiful. She would see her face as it had been as a child: jaw florid with bruises, eyes veiled with mistrust. She closed the door and ascended the stairs, her breath catching in her throat when she reached the top.

A battered whore sat just beyond the stairs: it was a corner Nini herself had whored at when she'd first fled home. Only in the darkest night would she crawl there, the place closest to her family. Sometimes the men that followed her were careful with her doll face and doe eyes. Sometimes they weren't, and her skull smashed upon the stones that she'd skipped on scant years earlier. The woman there now had heard her approaching. She wore a long, tattered gray dress. Her skin was pouched with fat, her mouth chapped. When their eyes met, blue against blue, she spoke.

"I only pray you're not here to work this corner. This is the corner where the lowest of the low come, in every way." Her voice was as frayed as Nini's nerves. She raked an aged hand through her matted hair. "No brothels for them. Only beatings on whomever they can find. I wouldn't wish this life on anyone."

Nini could still feel herself being thrown down, just as her mother and her sister had been in the room just below. She must have been no more than thirteen. The rough hands, the cold laughter, the soiled money. Her scars. Her screams.

She shook her head. "No. I'm not."

The whore smiled ruefully, showing her rotten teeth. "Go home to your lover, then. Your warm bed and full belly. Sweet dreams."

She could only nod, a shriek and sob tangled together in her mouth. If she opened her perfect lips, every memory would take the form of words and flow off her tongue faster than she could run. So she trusted her strong legs and not her larynx. She turned, and when she was sure that she was out of the whore's line of vision, she ran until her lungs screamed and her eyes streamed.

"You don't know 'ow much hell I've been through to avoid this."

The world changes, but memory never does.

but now there's new life
coursing through my veins
because there's someone
who'll make it beat again

She didn't care if she woke anyone up as she came crashing back into the Moulin Rouge. Her hair was wild as her eyes, her cheeks crimson and smarting. Her boots cracked across the floor. Her breath hurt in her chest, sharp and jagged as her reeling mind. Running up the stairs, she flew into her room. She threw herself into her Argentinean's arms, shaking too hard to even breathe. He caught her, and asked no questions. Only kissed her flaming face, eased her gently from her clothes, held her until her breathing slowed, and she made her only request.

"Just keep holdin' me. Please."

And so he did. He only broke the silence as he kissed her hair, and whispered gently to her in Spanish. She didn't understand his words, but his tone was soft and mollifying. She had never felt so grateful than to have him there, a solid presence in a precarious world. With him, the screams and scars faded. Even if she could not behold her own face, she knew that he saw the beauty of her skin and the beauty of her soul. And she did not fight him.

She did not fight the silence.

Even when they stretched their limbs and made love for the second time, it was wordless, nearly soundless, save for shuddering breath and crinkling sheets. Sunlight streamed from her balcony, making her hair glitter, her teeth glisten, her flesh glow. He filled her heart and body contentedly. She did not forget what she had been through not an hour earlier, but instead relished everything she had at that moment: a place among Zidler's top girls, perfect dancer's grace, a singing voice of pure gold, and a lover who cared, who loved. The hand mirror lay at the foot of the bed, and she was surprised it hadn't been kicked from its place and smashed to oblivion. When they lay curled around each other, sated, he brushed her hair from her bright cheek.

"Look at yourself now, Nini. Look at how beautiful you are."

She drew in a sharp breath. Sharp as broken glass. Glass in her heels, her hand, her throat.

"I can't."

"You can."

"Oh, fuck you"

He placed his fingertip upon her ripe lower lip.

"Shhh." He ignored her scowl. "You're beautiful."

He traced signs of infinity across her face. His thumb smoothed over skin whiter than milk, upon her forehead, her cheeks, her eyelids, nose, mouth. Her perfect face that she couldn't fathom, couldn't see. Blind beauty. Blind, but never blurred, never false, never fabricated. He reconnected the stars in her eyes, made new constellations. He kissed her bare lips, savoured the taste of her tears.

It was his warmth she wanted to dissolve in. To feel anxiety leave her heart, her mind. She wanted to crush the mirror to tiny crystalline shards. To fling the powder of her remorse into the overflowing Seine, towards the sky from which rained sharp, unforgiving tears.

She let him twine his arm around her waist and draw her close. He kissed her tears, kissed her eyelids. When she opened them, he saw stars. Her eyes were blue stars, glittering and flickering. "Do y'know why I don't look at myself?" She pressed her lips together, and his eyes told her that he wouldn't have to wait for an answer. The question had been on his beautiful tongue for more than either of them cared to imagine.

She idly traced a fingernail over her pinkish scars. "Because every time I see myself, I see me mum and sister and everything my father put alla is through when we were little. I see every 'orrible thing I've had to live with. Every dirty alley an' every horrible client an' every cold night. An' I can't escape it."

"I wouldn't wish this life on anyone."

He smiled.

She frowned.

"Get that smug look off your face."

"Nini, you have."

Her frown deepened to a scowl. Even in her anger, she was beautiful. Her flashing eyes, curled mouth, flushed skin. "Have what?"

He touched her scars, his fingers moving in the same pattern that hers had moments before. He knew that with time and healing, the scars would turn from pink to silver. His own had.

"You've escaped it. All of it."

Her features relaxed slightly, though there was apprehension in her eyes. She bit her lip.

"It's been a long time since you've been in a filthy alley, Nini Legs-in-the-Air. You've escaped your home and found a new one here, where you have thrived and grown and changed. You've emerged from every nightmare a stronger woman." He kissed her gleaming white teeth, her rose lip. "And you're beautiful for it." He brushed away the tear that slowly began to track down her cheek, and she closed her eyes.

"Go home to your lover, then. Your warm bed and full belly. Sweet dreams."

She had never felt so vulnerable, so raw as to let herself cry this way. In these scant hours she'd cried more than she'd even believed possible. The tears were relentless, uncontrollable. They were perfect against her perfect face. Before this, she'd rarely cried, and when she did, she did it alone. Always. And yet these were all the tears she'd never let herself cry when the beatings happened, when the wounds bled. When she'd screamed too long and hard to even breathe.

She felt the shift of his weight on the bed. She heard the rustling of the sheets as he moved, and flinched at the weight of the mirror he placed in her hand. She'd felt the same involuntary tremor before her father had stuck her face blue, or a client had twisted her pale arm until she screamed. But her Argentinean was not there to hurt her. He'd never been like any of her other lovers. He had been a lover in the truest sense, the sweetest sense. But now, it felt as though he'd pushed his fist into her stomach, yanked her hair back with his fingers.

But he hadn't. He loved her.

"Trust yourself, Nini. You have to."

"You've escaped it. All of it."

She knew that there was no turning back. The only thing to turn to was her face. Herself.

He kissed her forehead, and clasped her wrist between his palms, slowly raising the mirror to her visage.

"Look at your beauty, Nini."

She opened her eyes.

"I don't see beauty." A wry smile tugged at the corner of her mouth.

He kissed her again. A kiss she returned. "I do."

the sound that makes the world go round
the sound that makes the world go round
the sound that makes the world go round
the sound that makes the world go round

They danced all day. They bathed and dressed and danced. They danced the day into being as the sun finally rose. They danced through a searing noontime, their hips in gentle rhythm. He twirled her from her room onto her balcony. They bared their faces and throats to the warmth, breathing deeply, moving perfectly. His hand on her waist; her cheek against his. She felt purged of her scars, her screams. She still felt as though there were tears on her cheeks, but weight had been lifted from her heart as they'd flown, swift and silent. Tears of mourning and memory. She lifted her head, and when they turned together, she saw herself reflected in the glass of her balcony doors. Her limpid eyes, her streaming hair, her perfectly pure skin. The slope of her throat, her fine collarbones, the swell of her breasts. Beauty existed in her every pore. Her every breath. Every gesture. Every part. Flat, pallid expanse of her abdomen, sharpness of hipbone, smooth stark thigh. Her reflection was just that: her undeniable beauty. She didn't turn her face, or break her gaze. It lingered there. Her lover noticed the pause her body made along with her thoughts.

"You're beautiful, you know."

She looked at him. His sincere tone, his warm eyes, his tender mouth, gentle touch.

"You've escaped it. All of it."

"I know."

what is that sound
ringing in my ears
the strangest sound
i've heard for years and years
the sound of two hearts
beating side by side
the sound of one love
that neither one can hide