A Fine Chaos

It was an old shop, with dusty windows and dusty shelves, and cobwebs in the corners. The dusty shelves were adorned with painted bowls and fans, and a few scarves with flowers painted on hanging from the single coat rack. Everything, exasperatingly, was painted: the bowls and fans and scarves, and the wooden carvings, and the old, crackly stationery. It was an old shop, full of old things, and it rather liked itself that way. On the first of May, however, it found that at eight in the morning, it was somewhat inconvenienced by the invasion of a very hostile presence. A presence that made its wooden shelves tremble with annoyance, and the scarves flutter in irritation.

On May Day, at eight in the morning, Martin Courfeyrac wandered about the shop, touching everything and blithely ignoring the dirty looks of the clerk.

He flipped open one of the fans, grinning in approval at the spread of birds and flowers, painted in a flurry of crimsons and blues and cream-coloured silk.

Suddenly he paused, and turned to the clerk, giving the man a reassuring smile to say he hadn't broken anything.

"Where do you get your fans?"

"Several suppliers, monsieur. The ones on that shelf all come from a prominent artist--"

"No, never mind. I'll buy this." He brought the fan to the counter. "Pretty, don't you think?"

"Certainly, monsieur. Thirty sous, monsieur," murmured the clerk, eager to get the obnoxious young man out of his shop.

Martin paid quickly, and slipped out, despite the clerk's reluctant offer to wrap the item for him. Outside, he spread the fan wide, shielding it from the rain with the arm of his coat, and gazed over the painted silk in slight amusement. In one corner, the signature "D. Feuilly" had been painted with a very thin brush, curling into the tail of a crimson phoenix. He tucked it into his coat pocket, and hurried through the wet streets, stopping at a poor boarding house, and entering. A flight of stairs, a short hall, and an open door, and he stood inside the room of the artist signed "D. Feuilly", who was sitting at a desk in just a shirt and breeches, meticulously working away.


Damien jumped, his elbow crashing into the pot of paint. Dark green spilled into his lap, and his arm shot up, holding the clean white silk out of the stream.

"Martin, for God's sake! Give me a little warning, at least!"

"Begging your pardon, grand Monsieur, but it would seem you've become eminent and not told us."

"And what might you mean by that?" Damien raised his eyebrows. "I should think my location would prove that I have not yet reached eminence."

"I keep telling you, we could rent a room and share the cost," François remarked from the chair by the window.

"And I keep telling you I can provide for myself. My pride doesn't allow for otherwise, dear heart."

"No one's pride allows for anything, save mine," Martin declared loudly. "I can do anything I damn well please, and I don't care. I'd room with our fine philosopher, and enjoy it, too, if my beloved Mother hadn't arranged my lodgings in some reputable place. She doesn't trust her own son. But that is naught! See here, François. Our Damien is selling his fans proper." He removed the fan from his pocket and spread it for François' inspection. "You saw him painting that last week."

Damien peered over, and finally stood and walked to them, dripping green paint, to survey the object of their interest.

"I did, I suppose."

"Of course you did. I was reading that book, remember, and I read that passage aloud to you two. The silly thing about the red bird and the children."

"I remember, Martin. Don't worry."

"Well, goodness, Damien. Congratulations." François smiled over the top of his spectacles.

"God's sake, you idiots," Damien uttered lovingly, "I've been selling in shops for a month now. I'm clearly living somewhere. Clearly I have the money for paint and silk."

"I thought François was giving you the money." Martin looked surprised.

François eyed Martin rather warningly. "Isn't that odd. Here, I'll help you clean up, Damien. You're green down the front."

"It's terribly becoming." Cheerfully.

"Yes, but we can't just destroy shirts left and right."

So saying, François made his way to the washstand, dipping a cloth in the basin, and returned to swab at Damien's shirtfront gingerly. Martin watched in amusement until he was told to try and get some of it off the floor. At this command, he skulked off for a rag and a bowl of water.

Finding them, he got down on his knees and began scrubbing at the floor, murmuring blissfully about how nice it was to bloody do some work from time to time.

Damien simply stood still, exchanging grins with the ceiling. Suddenly he poked François lightly in the shoulder. "I'm getting very damp, you know."

"Darlings, he's damp. God help us all, he shall melt away like snow," the floor-scrubber wailed. "And life shall be so very empty!"

"Martin..." François sighed. "It would seem we need a real washing to remove the paint, love."

"No matter." Damien unbuttoned his wet shirt. "That's happened before. Hasn't it, Martin?"

Martin jumped to his feet, indignantly. "The last time, it was the landlady who came in without warning! I shan't take the blame!"

"We shan't force it upon you."

"Of course not." Damien pulled his shirt off, and began rummaging in the chest in the corner. "I wish you weren't always getting our things mixed up, Martin." He found a new shirt, and a waistcoat, for himself, and set about doing them up, at the same time tossing a different shirt to Martin. "That's yours, my dear."

"This is idiotic..."

François laughed. "As the responsible one here, may I suggest we do something interesting for May Day, instead of staying inside?"

"It's raining! What's the use of me changing my shirt, I ask? The heavens would gladly wash it for nothing. Much more convenient." Damien smoothed down his waistcoat and tied off his cravat.

"No, no. What did you have in mind, François?"

"I had the theatre in mind, actually."

"The theatre! I love the theatre!" Martin waved the shirt Damien had given him triumphantly. "We must do that."

"Who'll pay, François?"

"I shall, of course. It'll be something special. Don't refuse. We all like to laugh at your pride, but put the poor clown away for a day, won't you?"

"Very well." Damien smiled. "Don't expect it again, though. Not for a while, at least."

"Oh, I wouldn't expect more than this of it. It's a brave sacrifice."

Martin frowned. "Darlings, are we going or not?"

"Yes. M. Feuilly has acquiesced."

"Splendid." Martin took Damien by the shoulders, and kissed him lovingly. "For May and good luck, you know. And you too." He turned to François, and kissed him as well, tousling his hair. "There, all taken care of. Now let's off and see what's playing."

François shook his head, laughing again, and followed. Damien wrapped his arms about him from behind, and kissed his cheek. "Keeping the custom, dearest."

"Come along, silly."

They departed together into the rain, and their voices faded happily into the grey of Paris.

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