CurioBy: Cara McKenna
Great thanks to my editor and one-woman bomb squad, Kelli, for snipping my green wire, mere seconds before my head asploded.
Equally heartfelt thanks to Amy and Ruthie, for their willingness, time, encouragement and invaluable (yet somehow free) feedback.
Enfin, most grande thanks à la belle Liz, pour aider avec my hideous mots franglais.
The First Visit
Didier Pedra is the name of a male prostitute who lives at sixteen Rue des Toits Rouges, in Paris.
It’s a relatively quiet street amid the greater bustle of the Latin Quarter, his flat on the top floor of a long tenement, two blocks from the river. I’d never expected to find myself standing on the stoop of a prostitute’s building in the rain, on what should have been another unremarkable Thursday evening in March.
Then again, I’d never expected to be five weeks from my thirtieth birthday with my hymen still intact.
As I stood on Didier Pedra’s front step—precisely six minutes early for my appointment and unwilling to go in, lest I appear too eager—I knew only a few things about him. I knew he’s in his early to mid-thirties, that he’s always lived in Paris and that he has a reputation for being supremely good in bed.
As if I have any basis for comparison.
I knew also, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that he’s gorgeous. I use that word without gushing, without girlishness. I say gorgeous as though I’m speaking of the most luscious and decadent cake you ever laid eyes on, one you can taste from ten feet away. So beautiful that not only do your salivary glands tingle, your eyes water. So beautiful that cutting a slice and consuming it would feel wrong, because you are beneath such a specimen.
As an aside, you might wonder what sort of woman would visit a male prostitute. I can only speak to the one I know, which is of course myself.
I’m not what I pictured.
I’m younger than I’d have guessed, not quite thirty as I said, and I suspect I’m better-looking but less well-off. I’m not beautiful, but I’m an inch or two taller than average, perhaps a bit underweight, though in this city of chain smokers my measurements seem standard. I have curly hair, neither short nor long, neither blonde nor brown, neither sloppy nor tidy. I pin the sides back with a barrette behind each ear. For some reason I dressed this evening more for a job interview than a first date, likely because Didier intimidates me tremendously. My flats collected rain on the walk from the Metro and the cuffs of my slacks were wet and shapeless by the time I reached number sixteen, Rue des Toits Rouges. The Street of Red Roofs.
I was scared and thrilled, shaky from excitement and nerves and anticipation.
There was no doubting Didier’s aforementioned gorgeousness. I work at a museum in Paris—no, not the Louvre but still very nice—and two of my best friends work in the gallery next door. Paulette is from near Provence and Ania is Polish, and they are both insatiable perverts. I say that affectionately. When customers wander out of earshot, Paulette and Ania are never more than a breath from discussing some man or other or the exploits of a mutual friend.
Ania first told me about Didier Pedra when the gallery displayed a half-dozen daguerreotypes. You may have seen some—photographic images burned onto shiny silver plates, like dark mirrors. It’s a delicate, temperamental, antiquated medium. The artist behind the exhibit was a local woman and her model was Didier.
He is without a doubt the most stunning man I’ve ever seen, both burned onto metal plates and in person, burned forever onto my retinas. He’s so beautiful I actually felt an ache in my chest when I viewed those images.
Noting my fixation, Ania had declared herself the model’s greatest fan and disappeared into the storeroom, emerging with a large binder filled with prints. Didier has sat for many photographers and other artists since he was in his late teens. Ania plopped the portfolio down on a table and proceeded to flip through the images. I’d immediately wondered how I might possibly steal the binder and sleep with it beneath my pillow, though of course I never would. But if given the chance, I might borrow it on a long-term basis without permission.
Definitely without permission, because there’s some defect in my personality that prevents me from admitting my attraction to handsome men. I’ve always been that way. I was an extremely homely kid, growing up in northern New Hampshire. I wasn’t quite the ugly duckling who blossomed into a beautiful swan… I merely developed into an okay-looking duck. But back then I was inarguably gawky, and because I knew it would be laughable for me to profess my love for the cutest, most popular boys at my school, I chose to act as though I couldn’t care less about them. That I was above such nonsense.