there's charcoal on her dress

A woman is gazing down at Paris. She’s wended her way up the steps of Montmartre to view charcoal being smeared across paper, to watch the artists high on the hill. She’s sitting in front of the Basilica de Sacre Coeur, its creamy dome outlined against the late afternoon sky, one woman amongst the pairs of lovers lining the stairs. She knows the glow of travelling alone, but watching a slender hand stroke a curve of back, the pang in her chest startles her. She thinks perhaps to drown the pang in Viognier, and looks over her shoulder at the restaurants lining the square. The iron curlicues of the gate to the church catch her eye, and she can see the flicker of candles making shadows dance within. The door to the church gapes open, and the cosy darkness within tempts her as much as the rosy light of the sunset from the steps.

If she stands up and enters the church, go to 2.
If she stays to watch the sunset, go to 3.

2

The church soothes with its cool darkness, and she stands beside the nave in silence. Light tumbles through the ruby stained glass and falls at her feet, and suddenly she remembers the last time she stood here. Seventeen and fraying at the edges, she’d lit a creamy candle and willed the flame to banish the shadows that had followed her halfway around the world. Nostalgia is not a comfortable travel companion, and she’s grateful when her hunger kicks a hole in her sentimentality. A restaurant beckons, but her mood has made the hotel room suddenly appealing, and she could almost believe that the goat’s cheese and wine in the mini fridge is a typical French meal, to be enjoyed on her balcony.

If she goes out to dinner, go to 4.
If she returns to the hotel for goat’s cheese and wine, go to 5.

3
The late afternoon sunlight is beautiful as it spills across the steps, and when someone pulls out a guitar she doesn’t even flinch at the cliché of it all. She feels golden and gorgeous, and very slightly damned. A man is watching her and she feels him staring at her throat before she sees him, before she notices his unshaven whiskers and knowing eyes. She practises the French in her head and wonders if she’s brave enough to use it. French men alarm her somewhat with their brazen gazes and seductive words, but when you’re travelling, the rulebook stays at home.

If she speaks to him, go to 6.
If she doesn’t, go to 4.

4
Her hunger climbs over the other emotions, and begins rising up her throat to make itself known. She walks past the church and turns right along Rue Saint-Ėleuthėre, her kitten heels clicking on cobblestones until she come to the Place du Tertre. She takes a corner table and orders a wine she doesn’t recognise in an accent that makes her blush, but the golden liquid looks glorious in the twilight and she almost laughs out loud. She eats succulent mussels in a broth thick with herbs and downs her wine in greedy gulps, the bliss of dining alone making her eyes radiant and her food divine. She holds the fork in her left hand and reaches for her scarlet moleskin with the other. She needs this spilled in ink; her night at the very top of Paris, with only the light and her pen for company, and not a word to be said. THE END.

5
Dusk is falling and her shoes don’t take the steep descent well. She stumbles, and the men lining the steps rush forward with outstretched hands that land on parts of her that don’t need help. By the time she reaches Boulevard Rochechouart she needs alcohol more than ink, and a bottle of warm rose is bought before she realises she has no corkscrew. The back stairs of the Avenir Hotel take her away from the concierge and his loaded “Tout seule, madame?” and when she reaches her room, she knows she won’t leave it again that night. The breeze on the balcony blows her dress up, and as she props her bare feet on the railing she tucks the swathes of black cotton under her thighs and pushes the cork into the wine bottle with trembling hands. Her last night in Paris and she’s retreated to her balcony, again, where her French won’t be practised and her heart won’t be filled, and the dark blanket of travelling alone has already begun to wrap itself around her shoulders. She places the bottle against her lips, and opens them. Somehow, a glass seems unnecessary. THE END.

6
He has eyes the colour of his cap and she knows this isn’t accidental. She smiles and at her “Ca va?”, he smiles too, and pounces. He wants to draw her, wants her curves in his sketchbook, her cheekbones poured from his ink. She knows this line must have worked, this step must have delivered far more willing women into his web, but what she doesn’t know is that when she teasingly notes he has no sketchbook, he will take her by the arm and pull her to her feet, closer to the twilight of Paris. “Que faites-vous?” she stammers, what are you doing, and he actually looks annoyed at her fire. “My sketchbook is in my apartment, we’re going now.” The French is no longer so sexy, and the night no longer so impervious; her hotel beckons. And as the language of seduction climbs into the back seat and nestles down, her heels click her away from his purred vowels and knowing eyes. Go to 5.

there's charcoal on her dress

bellmusker

Melbourne, Australia

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Artist's Description

Because we shouldn’t ever have to grow out of Choose Your Own Adventure books.

And because Paris makes me thirsty.

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