Whoever shall faithfully serve me by the
recitation of the Rosary, shall receive signal graces
(signs from God that you are moving in the right direction).
-Mary, the Mother of Jesus
“Nanette est un beau nom…”
“You like my name? You have to thank my parents!” Nanette said to the beatnik man-boy sitting next to her at a bar a few blocks from her apartment. It was bold, she thought, being in a bar in the middle of the day, talking to strange French men. It was bold and it was who she was, damnit! A bold American who didn’t politicize every damn thing – who didn’t make a toaster a produce of Satan himself. A bold American who knew when to take a nap and when to have a good damn time!
“You like to have fun?” the Frenchman asked in English now.
“Yes, yes I do. It is something it seems few of my friends understand – fun! Double bourbon, please!”
The bartender, a sweaty man in a damp white t-shirt with a tweed cap, poured her some bar bourbon into a thick glass with no ice.
“May I?” she asked, helping herself to a slice of lime in an off-white café au lait bowl behind the bar.
“You just did,” the man next to her laughed then, leaning in: “My name is not as pretty as yours, Nanette. It is Claude. It is very common, this name of mine.”
“I think it is an amazing name – let’s toast to the name Claude!”
“And to Nanette!”
The bartender raised one eyebrow at his fellow Frenchman – at least someone will have a good day in this place today.
Claude lit two cigarettes and passed her one. “Beautiful girl.”
Nanette pulled a few coins from her tangerine clutch, lying on the nearly black bar top.
“Non, non-” the Frenchman started.
“I assure you that I can pay for my own drink. I can even pay for yours!”
“Well!” He threw his hands up and smiled, gesturing that she can do just that. “If I can take you to lunch.”
“How about you take me somewhere more fun than that? You decide while I go to the little girl’s room.”
“Where are you going to take her?” the bartender asked, clicking on a small fan.
“I play the drums for a jazz band-”
“And we are practicing two streets over at half past.”
“I played the trumpet.”
“For ten years. I played here a few times.”
“Why did you stop?”
“I didn’t stop playing, people just stopped listening.”
Claude coned his cigarette.
The bathroom door slammed. Both men turned to watch Nanette, the blond coils around her face re-wetted into shape, a dark beauty mark now on her pale cheek, walk over to them. To avoid sloppy lipstick, she smoked with the inner portion of her lips, giving her a pout that – as good pouts do – made her seem both childish and seductive.
“Do you like music?”
“I love music.”
“Then I have somewhere to take you. Are you sure you don’t want lunch first?”
“I always carry nuts in my purse.”
The bartender raised his eyebrow again and smiled as the two left.
Nanette was as tall as Claude, so they both ducked on their way out into the bright streets. The wind had picked up so Nanette wrapped a silk scarf around her hair as he walked quickly down a few winding streets – shop windows everywhere – to the red door of “Bonne Note.”
“We are allowed to practice here three days a week before they open if we play for free those same nights. For us, it is double practice!”
He knocked three times then let them in, holding the heavy door open with his hands. She noticed that he had thin wedding bands on every finger and, until he spread his fingers to get a better grip against he wood, wondered if he was wearing brass knuckles.
She was careful not to snag the silky sleeves of her dress on the stone walls as they navigated a very narrow set of serpentine stairs. Thick wood beams held up by the same mortar holding the stones in place brushed the top of her head. She heard a bass warming up with a series of scales and riffs.
They passed through a doorway with no door into the cave of the club.
“It was almost impossible to get my drums down here. I leave them here – even thought other people sometimes use them – because I don’t think I can ever get them back up!”
He dropped his cigarette, stepped on it with a pointed boot, and walked her with his hand on the small of her back over to the rest of the band – piano, bass, guitar. No mic.
“No one sings – that is why they say we will never be famous!”
“Who is this?” the piano player, stepped up to them, his cigarette bouncing up and down under his mustached – one eye squinting to avoid the smoke, his black shirt unbuttoned to the middle of his loosely hairy chest.
“Nanette – the band.”
Everyone nodded while the piano player surveyed his friend’s date.
“Good,” he nodded. “Now let’s be show-offs!”
By the end of the first song – an upbeat number with a painfully long drum solo – Nanette was bored and her buzz was wearing off. She stood up and walked around the club, running her fingers along the cool, almost damp, stone walls. A bright red bench built in to the walls stretched the entire length of the club. She jumped up and walked on the bench, following it to the bar where she reached behind and pulled out… a bottle of gin!
The band stopped playing.
“All of us,” the piano player answered. “With this!” He pulled something from his pocket and dropped it on the top of the player piano.
“What?” Nanette ran back, tripping once but not falling.
“This.” He held up a baggie of cocaine.
The guitarist pulled out a few papercups from his sack and set them all up with a round of gin.
“It is early – we usually save this for the showtime – but this is a special day, to have an audience so beautiful.”
Claude put his hand on Nanette’s back again. He whispered: “Let’s do this and go have some fun.”
She nodded, not taking her eyes off the piano player as he sliced up the drugs with a credit card and laid out three lines. “You, me, Claude. He does not play well on this.”
The guitarist toasted with a glass of gin.
They each did a line.
“I’m going to walk Nanette home – you two work out our new song-”
“What?” the piano player held his hands out in theatrical confusion.
“Last two times it was my bag, so we are even. See you in an hour.”
By the time they winded back up, their eyes gradually adjusting to the growing light with each turn, Nanette had a plan.
“Let’s go to a park.”
“Not home?” Claude roughly took her hand.
“I am at home in nature.”
“Ah,” he pulled her to the right. “The closest park is this way.”
“Are you ready?” she flirted.
On the way into the park, Nanette noticed a pay phone. Call Guin, she told herself. Just stop this and call Guin. Then: I’ll call on the way out.
Claude pretended to be playful as he tugged Nanette to a jog through the park and into a crowd of trees toward the back, where he knew homosexuals met up. He kissed her roughly against a tree then hiked her skirt.
Nanette found herself in the awkward position of wanting to be with this man – in this way – and not feeling connected to her own excitement. It was as if she was watching someone having sex against a tree, all the while thinking: This is not very safe.
His hands were warm, but she found herself wondering if they were clean.
She wrapped one leg around his ass and clawed convincingly at his shoulders and back with her hands. She moaned more, to encourage the finale.
After Claude zipped up and Nanette checked to be sure everything was as it should be – her skirt was pressed down, her hair up, her bag in hand – he lit them two cigarettes and they walked out of the park.
“I’m going to make a call and head out,” she said, nodding her head toward the phone. “Shoot – I used my coins at the bar-”
Claude pulled a few loose coins from his pocket and dropped them into her hand, ignoring the obvious metaphor of cheap.
And without a goodbye, Nanette walked over to the phone to call Stefan and Claude returned to band practice.
* * *
Nanette set off toward Saint Peter’s, which she could see somewhere off to the left. The whitewashed, stone steeple was tall enough to guide her through the streets, her heart pounding against the drugs, her thighs sticky.
Bright green moss covered the walls leading to the entrance of the church. Nanette looked up at the dark stained glass windows all reaching to sharp points high up in the stone face.
When she shut the door behind her, all the street noise stopped and she stood alone in the cold, dark church. Rows of white candles flickered from a wrought iron row off to the side of the altar.
Not little votives like in the States, she thought. They use tapered, tall candles.
She dropped the rest of the change Claude had given her into the coin box and lit a candle, praying for the soul of her dead grandmother, although she seriously doubted her grandmother was in purgatory so she added: “Or any soul waiting for Heaven.” Like me, she thought.
Gentle echoes let her know that a priest was shuffling along the back wall, heading to the confessional. She waited, hearing a click of the door as he walked in then another click as he turned the orange light on outside the door.
Nanette’s high was crashing the way it did sometimes – fast, with skeleton fingers in her guts. She needed to get high again before she started feeling that darkness.
No, she told herself, pray.
Nanette clomped over to the second pew back, dropped the kneeler as quietly as she could, clasped her hands into a single fist, bowed her head and prayed: “God, I am so sorry for everything I’ve done. Just today – just today I’ve done so much to be sorry for. God, please, help me. I feel it starting up again and I don’t know what to do. These high emotions – flip-flopping so fast. I don’t know which way to go. God, please…”
Nanette always felt an affinity to Mary, the Virgin Mother – her kind eyes and warmth – so she decided to say a decade of the rosary, too.
“Hail Mary, full of grave, the Lord is with thee…”
Nanette focused so intently on the words that her eyes began to hurt, but still she couldn’t stop the other streams of thought running through her mind: There is no such thing as sin. If you don’t choose up soon you’ll certainly be down. That man could have raped you! Grandmother, I hope you can’t see me now – and if you can, I’m sorry. You need to confess to a Priest to be admonished. You are a fucking whore. God, please. Hail Mary… What is the Priest doing in there, maybe reading a paper when he doesn’t have any customers. He can’t see you in there, the Priest. He’ll never know who you are. He’s heard worse. Make a list of your sins so you know what to say. Practice your French. Hail Mary…
The church doors opened with a thin scraping noise. Stefan had no idea why he was meeting Nanette at Saint Peter’s.
Stefan walked quietly down the aisle.
“What’s up, babydoll?” Stefan whispered too loudly when she slid in beside the kneeling Nanette.
“I need to go to confession.”
“Are you high?”
“Wait for me.”
“Why did you call me?”
Nanette gabbed a piece of gum from her bag and scooted quickly from the pew. “I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel better when there is someone there when I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“But I don’t know what you are doing either-”
Nanette concentrated to keep her shoes quiet as she walked toward the orange light, repeating a list of her recent sins. She looked up at the crucifixion. It made her feel uncomfortable not because of the horror of it, but because Jesus never seemed to be reacting properly to the horror. She sucked in a breath then slid herself into the door next to the Priest’s cabinet.
Nanette knelt down on the hard wooden kneeler in front of the wood screen with holes in it, separating her from the Priest. She knew he would be sitting over there, waiting patiently to listen and – from his ears to God’s and from God’s mouth to his – offer her forgiveness.
“Father, forgive me for I have sinned,” she said in erratic French. “It’s been two years since my last confession.” Since right before I left for Berkeley. Since that time I told my parents to screw off after they told me they were tired of my theatrics. Always glad I didn’t say ‘fuck off’ instead. Then I called and they forgave me. The priest suggested I call them and apologize – and suggested I pray any time I feel the moods coming on again – the up down. “Two years – maybe two and a half now.”
“Bonjour, mon enfant.”
Hello, my child– that’s what her Priest back home had called her, too – my child.
This one smells like cinnamon mouthwash.
“I’ve been doing drugs, Father.”
She heard him lean in a little closer to the screen between them. “American?”
“Yes. Yes, Father.”
Cinnamon mouthwash and high alcohol aftershave. Nanette remembered one of her clients at Paquette’s explaining that he used high alcohol aftershave because the alcohol disinfects the skin in case the razorblade for shaving was dirty.
“I’m doing too many drugs and this afternoon – I met a man at a bar. Father, I fought with my roommate and I went to a bar and I met a man and he took me to his band practice then afterwards we went to a park…”
“It’s OK, please continue.”
The Priest leaned in close to the screen. His breath was irregular – one deep breath in and two shorter breaths out. The cinnamon mouthwash.
“Please continue.” His voice sounded like a hiss.
“We went to the park in the middle of the day but it was shaded there – there were many trees and…”
Nanette listened to his breathing, trying to come up with words that could make her seem less like a drug addled, mid-day whore. One breath in and two shorter breaths out.
Wait a minute.
“I am here. Take your time.”
I know him, she thought. It’s him. It’s her client – the one who licked her boots. The older man in the pressed white shirt who knelt before her on her throne and licked her boots clean. It’s him!
“You bastard!” Nanette burst out of the confessional and ran with loud steps to Stefan. “Let’s get out of here!”
The light clicked off above the confessional. She could hear the lock jiggling.
“Come on!” Nanette turned and ran from the church, her eardrums filling with blood pulsing, her ankles hurting from twisting back and forth down the stone stairs.
Stefan followed after her.
Nanette ran past the green moss, laughing at herself when she had assumed on the way in that a building peaceful enough to collect thick, undisturbed moss – that a building strong enough to have withstood invasions and bombings – that a building blessed enough to keep its door unlocked – that this building would be holy would take her from her sin, that this building would save her.
“Fucking stupid!” Nanette swatted the moss with her scuffed clutch.
“Shhhhh!” Stefan caught up with her. “Shhh… What is going on!?”
“Take me to a disco.”
“It’s not even dinner time-”
“Then take me to a strip club. We are going to have fun tonight, god damnit!”
The caught a bus to a club Nanette knew from her job hunt, before she found Paquette’s Dungeon. It was about seven blocks from the church, and they were there in ten minutes. She talked the entire way.
“He was a fucking client, Stefan, can you believe that?”
“Technically you didn’t have sex-”
“And there I am, wanting to be cleaned of my sins and maybe get a little divine intervention for my mind, which is in a bit of a turmoil lately,” she pulls gum form the bottom of her heel. “Jesus. Oh, here we are – hop, go, op off!”
She grabbed his arm and they rushed through the bus crowd.
“No need to be pushy,” Stefan advised.
“Cattle – like cattle!”
The strip club was a mess of lights, drinks, glitter, faux glamour, low, vinyl chairs, and music so loud they could barely speak.
“Always feels like James Bond, these places!” Nanette shouted, moving them to a small table with three chairs, the empty drinks signifying that the previous people had left.
“You look like a Bond girl – in the morning.”
“Just carefree!” Stefan gestured his apologies to two businessmen as Nanette pushed by them. The men stared at her and nodded with half-smiles, letting him know he’d earned their respect – coming to a strip club with a bombshell like Nanette.
“I’ll have a double of whatever you are having,” Nanette shouted as the waitress approached, her breasts poking out the top of a bikini top made from silver vinyl.
“This place is too loud for me,” Stefan said. Then, to the waitress in French: “A rum and coke for me, and a double rum and coke for herm please.”
Nanette smiled and held up to fingers, clarifying that it was a double. The waitress, her hair puffed up with a hair piece that didn’t quite match the strawberry blonde of the front, nodded.
“We should do a James Bond film and call it Dr. Yes!”
A man bumped Stefan’s chair and two strippers touched the back of his head, making their way around.
“I want to go.”
“No – drinks aren’t even here yet!”
“Nanette, I am going.” He shook his head no to the offer of a stripper who wanted to sit on his lap. “I am going now. Here is some money for the drinks.”
Nanette motioned that the stripper could sit on her lap instead, then handed the woman the money Stefan had laid on the table. “You are a party pooper!”
“See you at home. Please call if you get into trouble.”
“I can handle it.” She kissed the stripper’s neck.
“I’ll listen for the phone.”
* * *
When Stefan woke up the next morning, he found Nanette lying on the living room floor. Her wallet was missing and from what he could tell, so was a certain portion of her dwindling dignity. She was a different shirt and had a telephone number written on her stomach in shaky, black letters.
He helped her into bed, forcing an aspirin and a glass of water down her throat before turning out the light. Her lips bubbled with grateful saliva. He then found the receipts for most of her recent purchases (scattered on bathroom floor), repackaged them, and methodically rebuttoned his pea coat. He had to return a couple dozen tools of the modern world back to return.