She smelled the sweat. The sweat of her body that lined the corset: the pretty torture of whalebone that gave her waist the width of a bird’s voice. The sweat of champagne; its cold pearls forming on pink glass and gold labels before melting into baths of ice. The sweat of the unwashed audience, seeping through slim frock coats, pale waistcoats and shirts that stared back at her like rows of white, gaping eyes.
She gripped the coarse lace between her fingertips. The tiny, ladylike patterns were traced on her skin: roses, hearts, romantic vines. Yards of fabric, ruched and ribboned, rose and fell like a vibrant ocean. The hems ebbed and flowed like currents, obeying her moon-like hands, and her ankles twinkled in a froth of petticoats.
The room was dark, lit by a jungle of curious things. Appetites, crouching and predatory beyond the stage, glowed hungrily into her face. Chandeliers, burning like many-armed goddesses in their gas-lit shrines. She danced in their heat, caught in the circle of light like a moth.
She danced like a debauched ballerina. Uncontrolled but graceful, shameless yet coy, an en pointe hoyden with soft, admonished muscles, she performed for the dark, velvet world of the demimonde. She lived briefly amongst the louche populations and sought to rouse them out of their notoriety, their languid boredom.
She kicked with a flurry of uninhibited skirts. She displayed arms and calves that curved gently to calm the eye and worry the heart. She bit her lips so the outraged blood rushed protesting to the surface, splashing it with the submerged reds. She smiled into the faces of her animal, immoral admirers.
But one night she looked away from them to smile quickly for the camera. And that is the smile, curling as delicately as a flower, that will bloom forever.