quiet_curiosity: (Angelique)
quiet_curiosity ([personal profile] quiet_curiosity) wrote2006-09-11 04:12 pm

Fic: At the Cabaret

Title: At the Cabaret
Fandom: Dark Shadows (1966)
Characters: Jenny, Quentin
Time-Line: Pre-1897
Word Count: 1925
Warning: None
Summary: Pre-1897: Jenny meets the man who will change her life forever.
Lyrics to “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose”: http://www.chivalry.com/cantaria/lyrics/redredrose.html
Disclaimer: Dark Shadows was created by Dan Curtis and is distributed by MPI Home Video. I receive no monetary benefit from this work.

Usually, smoke hung in the air in clumps, forming small cigarette storms over the rowdiest of tables. On this night, those clouds were so dense that she couldn’t see to the back of the room. She hated those kinds of nights. How could they expect her to sing when she could barely breathe? Of course, it was early in the evening when she noticed the heinous condition of the performing area. By the time she went on, it would probably be much worse.

But there was nothing she could do about that. She could only sit back, hydrate herself with the club’s inadequate water, and wait for her time to perform. She was usually the next to last girl to do so. The first few groups to go on were always dancers. Regularly, she would sit just off stage and watch them twist and swing in their short, ruffled skirts and shiny black shoes. She had been shocked the first time she saw them backstage. She had never seen a non-tribe member in such a state. After all, they were in public. How could they bare their legs in such an audacious manner? From watching them and the audience reaction, the answer came quickly: it was what the men wanted to see. And though that sometimes bothered her, she decided that the audience response was acceptable. She mainly believed this because it allowed her to think well of the dancers. All the girls were so nice and helpful with her, fixing her hair and sharing stories from the various clubs, that she gave them her support in the only way she could. They, like she, were poor and if they couldn’t have these job, they would be forced to find work on the streets. Their legs wouldn’t be the only things the men would go after.

She knew that the men were the ones that had to be pleased with any of their performances. The most salacious acts went on first to wet their appetites for something exciting and interesting. As the night went on, performances grew more sedate as the audience yearned for something that wouldn’t be as over stimulating. That was where she and the other singers came in. None of them dressed in a particularly salacious manner nor did most of them sing overly bawdy songs. Their job was to lull the boys into a false sense of security before the showstopper came out. The showstopper was the queen of both abundant talent and over stimulation. Her job was to twist the audience around her little finger, throw them out, and have the dying to come back for more the next night.

Her job was to set the stage for the showstopper. Her own clothing choices were tasteful and basically keeping with the customs of the time. Unlike the other singers, she was allowed more leeway in her material. Most of the girls found themselves singing morose, slightly melancholy songs that gave them little chance to show off their ranges. The proprietors had noticed that she had the best voice of all of them. She couldn’t be expected to warble through sad old folk songs that no one remembered. She had to be different. And so she was allowed a wider, more adventurous range to sing. Occasionally, she would sneak in one of the songs she remembered from the tribe. She was always happy when she noticed those songs bring out a bit of awe from the audience. It was the bit of herself that she had to give and was thankful that it wasn’t rejected.

And so her night drifted on, waiting for her moment to shine. Gradually, the dancing girls began to filter into her area. Everyone stood around, gossiping and complaining of sore feet. “How’s the crowd tonight?” she asked the girl next to her.

“Horrible,” sighed a small blonde. “It’s just a bunch of rowdy assholes just getting off the ship. Can’t do anything to please them.”

She nodded in sad recognition. The crowds were generally an enthusiastic, if somewhat perverse, group of men. It was generally pleasurable to perform for them. But when they pulled in a group of men who hadn’t seen humanity in days, weeks, or months, they could be so demanding that no one could satisfy them. These men were more likely to chastise the performers or throw things at them when the performances weren’t to their liking. She had once gone home with a deep cut across her forehead because one man in the front wasn’t fond of a certain song. She tried to physically keep a happy disposition but inside she shaking. Can I make it through this night?

Just as quickly as she dreaded the moment, it arrived. A tall, gray haired man walked up to her and said, “Ester’s done. You’re up, Jenny.”

“Thanks, Will.” As she rose, she sighed deeply. Will grabbed onto her hand and offered it a slightly hard but friendly squeeze. She smiled, patted his hand, and walked toward the stage. Two women at the entrance scrutinized her quickly, checking her hair and makeup and straightening her dress before sending her out.

The lights, enhanced by the smoke, blinded her as she stepped onto the stage. This happened nearly every night, so she was able to find her way to the center just from memory. It took a moment to completely repress a smoke induced gag but once it was down she knew that she would have no problem with the environment bothering her for the rest of the night. Her vision began to clear just as she became aware of the catcalling men in front. They were burly and sweaty, obviously wearing clothes that hadn’t left their bodies in days. Each man had a woman at his side. The women looked sad and torn, as if they dolls shaken too harshly by an energetic baby. She knew that they were prostitutes. It was an observation and not a judgment call. If she could give them, as well as the men, a little reprieve for a few hours, she knew that she had done her job well. “Are we ready boys?” she asked, her voice sickly sweet. The raucous cheers gave her the needed answer. “Then let’s get to it.”

She motioned daintily toward the pianist. He nodded and, with a slight tap of his foot, signaled the beginning of the song. He started fast, running through harsh alternating chords and building the melody to bright, intense climax. That was when she entered in. She effortlessly crooned the little French ditty, letting the words float out of her and drift through the crowd like a warm sea breeze. She couldn’t speak French but she had loved the song the moment she heard it. She learned the song phonetically from a friend. The song was like a second nature for her. She looked down at the men in the front and smiled as she watched them groove in their seats. Even their women suddenly looked as if they were less harried than they had been just a minute ago. She ended the song on a high, lilting note. She was greeted by boisterous applause.

She smiled and curtsied toward the audience. She looked out happily across the bouncing crowd and noticed a man in the middle. He sat alone at a table empty of both food and drink. Unlike most of the men, he was impeccably dressed in what looked like a blue frock coat pants. His thick dark hair seemed to shine under the bright lights. And his eyes, bluer than the see, were focused solely on her. At first, the look seemed to her to be menacing. If it went on too long, she was more than willing to alert security and have him thrown out. But the look in those eyes shifted as he began to clap. They seemed to be smiling. She didn’t quite understand it. She did know, however, that she was intrigued.

A sharp his from the side of the stage forced her to break his stare. The stagehand motioned for her to hurry up. She only had one song left. She needed to make it special. For some reason, she knew that a Romani song would not do tonight. She fell back onto an old favorite: Robert Burns’ “My Love is Like a Red Red Rose.” It was slower than she was used to ending on but she knew that it could ring emotion out of even the toughest of men. And looking out amongst the crowd, she noticed that many of the men were in tears. Of course, many of them were sailors and a song about leaving behind a lover probably hit closer then she had thought they would. So when the song ended, the crowd rose to their feet with such force that she had to step back. She accepted their applause gratefully, only leaving the stage when the stagehand came to get her. She looked back into the crowd to find the man but she found that she could not see him.

Backstage she was met with more applause. “I didn’t know you had it in you!” squealed one of the dancers. They all seemed to agree.

She thanked them all profusely but excused herself to the dressing room. She shut the door behind her, sighing in relief. She sat in front of the mirror mopping up the sweat. They always hid a bottle of gin in the dressing room. She found it and took a long hard swig before placing it back in its hiding space. Her throat burned but it settled her nerves, which was good enough for her.

After a few moments of silence, someone knocked at the door. She didn’t want to let anyone in so she asked, “What is it?”

“Someone’s here for you, Jenny,” said the voice. “It’s a man. You got an admirer or something?”

Was it he? She spruced herself up a little more before heading back into the hallway. It seemed to be empty. She looked sharply to her left and jumped when she noticed the man standing next to her. It was he. She was surprised by how tall he was. Most men seemed to be dwarfed beside her. She found it kind of nice be next to man who could, at least physically, stand up to her. He was so handsome at this range. What did he want with her? “Um…hello,” she said softly, offering her hand.

He took her kissed it, never taking his eyes off of her. She could barely keep from melting. “Hello. I’m Quentin Collins. And you are…?”

“Jenny,” she said.


“Just Jenny,” she said brightly.

“Well ‘just Jenny,’ I’d like to take you out tomorrow,” he offered. “Would that be fine with you?”

“Of course,” she cooed.

“Good!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a card. Handing it to her, he said, “I’m staying here. Would you like me to meet you somewhere?”

“No! I can…I can meet you at your hotel.”

“Good. So I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, ‘just Jenny.’” He kissed her hand again and walked off down the hallway.

She watched him leave, clutching the card to her chest. She had a date tomorrow with a handsome man. She briefly thought about her family. They had always been so proud of her and sure that she would go somewhere far and grand in her life. Wouldn’t they all be proud of her now?