Story: Music & Silence
File: Misc. (Coco avant Chanel - biopic, 2009); character study, writing exercise.
Word Count: 600
Summary: Gabrielle Chanel meets the love of her life one early afternoon in her consort’s estate.
Author's Notes: (May contain minor spoilers for the film) For those who have never seen the film or aren't familiar with the prolific fashion designer, here's a little backstory: nee Gabrielle Chanel, the designer and her younger sister were abandonned by their father at an early age and spent their childhoods in an orphanage in France. When they were old enough, they struck out on their own singing cabaret songs in various divy pubs and other seedy establishments - most notably the French diddy "Ou est Coco?", a song about a girl looking for her lost dog. She meets her consort, Baron Balsan this way, a ladies' man with considerable wealth, and decides to stay with him as his mistress when her younger sister leaves to be the mistress of another wealthy old gentleman, lured by a promise of marriage that never comes. The man who she falls in love with is an English businessman who carouses with the Baron - young and exceptionally handsome, musically gifted, a flawless silvertongued Francophone...and engaged to a wealthy Englishwoman. That's all I'm going to say about that; if you like fashion and biopics, this is a brilliant take on Coco Chanel's pre-designer life, so go see it!
Music & Silence
Gabrielle Chanel meets the love of her life one early afternoon in her consort’s estate. She walks indifferently from room to room on the flats of her bare feet, wild wisps of her thick brown hair falling behind her like jet streams through a dark cloud and then skids to a halt, arrested, unsure, in the half-shut doorframe of the piano room. Never in the year that she has lived in this mansion has she seen the piano in use, but this man has wafted in like the scent of paddock after a torrential downpour, startling and refreshing and right after an indeterminable time in captivity amongst the dogged scents of roasted pheasant and spilt champagne and lavender oil to disguise the smell of sex. He sees her watching him wearily, the way a little girl eyes an intrusive stranger, and he stares back, never once pausing or breaking the melody he presses into the black and white keys. After a stretch of music and silence Gabrielle turns away and resumes her indifferent march through the main floor of the house. She rests two rooms later in the cool, forest-green of the study that her consort never uses, plucking a book from the endless vertical shelves. She sits upright on the fainting couch and tucks her bare feet under her bottom to keep them warm and dives headfirst between the pages.
The man’s voice is like a hand grabbing her hair and forcing her up for air again. “A good choice,” he says. Irked, Gabrielle mutters an inaudible French curse and forgets to answer, a quirk she developed at the orphanage that only got more frequent as life handed her lemon after lemon. He continues talking regardless of her silence, scanning the books on the shelves, his tone easy and slow, waves of sound rolling and breaking against her dry, sandy shore. Gabrielle doesn’t hear him but she feels him wearing her down. She grips the solid spine of her book tighter.
She is saved – or stalled? - by her consort, who slaps the glass door open and slaps it closed again, tracking mud into the study from the riding fields outside. He brandishes his riding crop at the strange man with the seaside voice in mock accusation, chortling something demeaning about being locked up in a library reading made-up romances when there are horses out there to be experienced. He casts a sidelong glance at Gabrielle’s cream silk pyjamas with navy buttons and trim. They are ridiculously unrevealing, yet another symbol of her indifference. “Coco, go get dressed,” he tosses at her, not unkindly. She takes no offense to it; he loves her at night, sometimes; after night upon night of Parisian excess she was a haven of clean lines, sparseness and simplicity. Dignity. She never pretended to things she didn’t like and people she was not. Nevertheless, she huffs because he expects her to be moody, and marches slimly past the two men without further word. The stranger turns and grasps her consort’s outstretched hand, preparing to follow him out to the stables, and when he shows his back Coco allows herself to hesitate around the corner of the doorframe and watch the sloping horizon of his shoulders as he holds the door open for his patron. Then she disappears up the stairs, flying over them in twos like some rich man’s child. She would plot to run into him again, perhaps intrude upon their riding tomorrow. Her fingers itch for a pair of scissors, the thought of a new pair of slacks to match the tie and vest she made an excited bird of an idea, fluttering around her mind and banging into walls.