All for Naught
Francoeur didn't like the predicament that he was in. In fact, Mademoiselle Voleur and her slummy apartment scared the dickens out of him. The room he was in had a low ceiling and close walls that held in the smell of Mademoiselle's sour cigarette smoke. As he sat scrunched up in a too-small chair across from the spidery woman, it was all he could do not to gag and sputter. He didn't like the way the scratchy scarlet tablecloth rubbed against his fine burgundy suit or the way the dying overhead lamp buzzed in an effort to stay alive. It was all too much.
"So," Mademoiselle began, exhaling more wisps of smoke, "I hear thru grapevine you want to become human?" She cocked a threadbare eyebrow at him at the end of her question. Franc chirped in agreement.
"Ah, but you do know a transformation require an exchange, oui?"
No, he didn't know that, but he warbled as if he did. "Well, Madam hears you have a sweet singing voice, non? I think that that would be a proper payment for a species cross…"
Franc stopped listening to her for a moment. His voice? His voice that was almost angelic as Lucille's? Franc hung his head low. "…Are you ready?" Mademoiselles asked, drawing her cigarette from her tar stained lips. He nodded; it must be done. "Remove your shirt," she commanded and he did as he was told. At that moment the light bulb decided to kick the bucket; the room was now thick with smoke and dark. Franc sensed the old woman come up in front of him, however, was still jolted when a gnarled finger traced a cold, crude circle on his chest. Mademoiselle began to chant in an eerie, widow's voice:
"From Carapace to Torso,
Chitin to skin,
Let sugary song stay bubbled in,
For a fortnight-14 days,
From Beast to Human,
There was more than a slight pinch. Franc didn't realize that he'd closed his eyes until he saw a dim glow behind his eye lids. Madam had lit a candle- an old slumped over thing. She held a small vial in his face. It was filled with a greenish-goldish liquid; she swirled it and the color changed a little bit.
"Now, look at you! I'm surprised I got it right this time. Now, say something so I know I got perfect." "…B-Bonjour." His voice was hoarse and gruff; not at all soft and sweet as before. Mademoiselle smiled around her filthy cigarette. "Wonderful! Now, listen closely," she scooted nearer to Franc, "You will be human for two weeks. In that time, you must find your true love. If you do, you'll remain human and get your singing voice back. However, if you do not, then you will return to your previous state which is in this glass. Fair enough?"
Francoeur nodded. "Now, I'll keep this little vial here…" He watched as Mademoiselle Voleur tied the little glass around her wrinkled, hag's neck. "Bonne chance [good luck] to you ." With that, Franc found himself, fully suited, out on the sidewalk in a light drizzle. He was still over 7ft tall but as he looked down at what was once forelegs, he found two human arms and two human hands. "All for you, mon ange," he thought as he hurried back towards Lucille's townhouse.
The sheets felt weird. They felt like soft and cold and warm and slightly scratchy. The ceiling also looked different-less detailed. Francoeur rolled over and then swung his new human legs over the side of his bed. The room swirled a little bit. After shaking the feeling off, he stepped over to his full length mirror. New fine eyebrows shot up. His face was narrow and had slick side burns where his mandibles would be. His hair was shaggy but smooth-it hung over his brow-and black enough to look navy blue. He leaned in and looked closer. His eyes were a peculiar shade of brown and red and orange-fiery. Other than being a human with hair and normal enough eyes, he was still the enormous size and shape that he was before. Tall with wide shoulders but muscular and lean.
"Francoeur? Bonne matin [good morning]…" There were three small raps on the door. "She can't see me yet!" Franc panicked and he quickly dove under his sheets. He feigned sleep. The door swung open and Lucille stepped in. She looked at the big lump in the covers and smiled to herself.
"Get up you, we've got rehearsals today after breakfast," Lucille chirped as she moved to throw open the curtains. "You'll never believe what happened at the dinner party last night…Speaking of which, where were you?..."
He heard Lucille come up to his side king sized bed and felt her small hand on the comforter. "Franc, seriously, wake up. You never lay in this…long…" The sentence evaporated from her tongue as she pulled the cover off of him. Franc looked up at her with nervous but fiery eyes. Lucille inhaled sharply and took several steps back, the coverlet still grasped firmly in her hand. "Franc, you…you're…" "Lucille, let me explain…" He started in his new, raspy voice, getting out of bed and reaching for her. Francoeur caught her as she fainted.
Lucille woke to a full room. Emile was huddled next to Maude, whispering something in her ear. Raoul stood facing a window; his arms were crossed and his back looked tense. Francoeur sat apart from everybody else-head hung, hands clasped, shoulders slumped. He fiddled with his fingers in his lap. "Like a big child," Lucille weakly thought as Raoul turned and caught sight of her.
"Lucille! How are you feeling?" He asked as he rushed to her side, reaching to clasp her hand. "I feel fine now. I was just…surprised," her brown eyes flicked over to Francoeur and then back to the expectant face of Raoul. "Yes, I can perfectly understand that," he looked over at the giant man in the corner. Emile and Maude also stared at Franc, with large and confused eyes.
"Franc, I think you better explain yourself.." Raoul began between clenched teeth. Francoeur raised his face a little but his eyes stayed glued to the floor.
"I-I, um, slipped away during the party, to get some air. And I, uh, was wondering around when I saw this poster for…" Franc peeked up at the surrounding faces and then dropped his eyes. "For what?" Raoul's voice sounded tense and on the verge of anger. Franc was confused at this. He'd done nothing wrong had he? What he did for Lucille had nothing to do with Raoul and Emile and Maude. However, he still felt ashamed for some reason.
"C-can I talk to Lucile alone, sil vou plais?" "Absolutely not! We're all your friends and we have a right to know!" Raoul shot back and was about to add more when Lucille stopped him with a hand to his shoulder. "I will speak with him." Grumbling, Raoul followed Emile and Maude out of the room.
"Francoeur, you know you can tell me anything," Lucile began encouragingly. Franc moved from his perch in the corner to the bedside. His gloved hand reached for hers and she took it with friendly squeeze. From the squeeze he gained the power to tell his entire story from the wandering to the dim, dank room to the new feeling this morning. Through it all, Lucille kept quiet, nodding every now and again. At the end, she rubbed her forehead, contemplating it all.
"But your voice, Francoeur! Your lovely, angelic voice! Why would you give that away to be human?" Shoulders slumped, Franc sighed, "Because I love you." Both of her eyebrows shot up. Instantly, her mind began to rack through memories, searching for a hint of his feelings. Francoeur did treat her as if she was fragile and as if she were both queen and angel but she thought that was because she was the first person who treated him as a friend. "Pardonne moi?" Franc raised his eyes to hers, no-nonsense expression in place.
"I love you, Lucille. From the beginning, I have felt this beating in my chest. A beating that wasn't there when I was nothing. And this beating flutters every time you are near, quickens whenever you smile, and aches when you cry. It soars when you sing. Sometimes it beats so hard it feels as if it will burst in my chest. This beating is a heart you gave me, that you helped me find and I love, I love you. I could never tell you before but here I am now."
Tears sprang to Lucille's eyes as she listened to Francoeur's confession. Franc waited for a reply. What he did receive ,however, was the raising of her left hand. His eyes widened disbelievingly at the gold, diamond studded engagement ring on her finger. People had been proposed to before in cabaret and Lucille had gently explained the importance of it. "You missed the dinner party…" she whispered, tears filling her large brown eyes. Franc stumbled away from the bed, clutching at his chest. It hurt. It hurt so much, so much that he struggled for breath.
"But Lucille, I…all this..for you!" He fell back towards the window and flung it open. He needed to get out. The room swam around his eyes and the walls felt as if they were creeping in.
"Wait, Franc, don't go! Let me explain!" But Franc couldn't hear her over the sound of his crumbling heart, over the cacophony in his new man chest. He leapt from the window and into the mid-morning light…