He had paid to be in the Pink Room, more francs than the Mess Hall—a larger room downstairs, so nicknamed because of the chaos that happened there. There was no capacity limit in the Mess Hall. When he’d been poorer, he’d spend the dawn hours in the Mess Hall, red light bloodying the flank of an older whore, teeth like an ally dog, her face in his crotch as the sun grew and exploded. More limbs than comfortable, moving like unpatterned snakes, pale and strong. Other men, patched trousers around their ankles, weighted by women, back to back sometimes, passing the same cigarette over each other’s heads.

But more money meant the privacy of upstairs, at the top of the brothel in the little room with the peaked ceiling and the walls the color of a tongue. His first time loving above ground. He had paid the madam with a harsh confidence unearned from his character, letting the coin clatter beside her hand and not bothering to bend and help her pick them up from where they fell. She was a woman used to fury, who’d been born outside, sliming onto the cobbles gently as her mother climbed over a wall, leaving her to be found hours later by girls from the Beaubourg Quartier. And now, in black clothes like bound wings and most of her teeth, she ran the 106 (its name taken from its address), which housed 24 girls and a leopard that lived in the bathroom.

She’d led him up the winding stairs, the small windows in the ceiling showing them moving up closer to heaven. And at the top, a small hallway leading to the Pink Room. Five francs a session, she had told him. He’d knocked on the door, afraid, and it clicked open. Inside, a basin by the wall, a small cup, a white water jug next to a folded towel. Hot afternoon wind flowing like breath through the window. A girl sat on the bed, legs curled under her bottom. Her eyes were a too-pale brown, near yellow, the kohl around them making them appear electric. She looked like a robeless wizard, her hair caught in the creases of her arms. She watched him as he undressed. He shivered, despite the warmth of the attic air. She crawled towards where he stood and her forehead touched his penis. She snapped her teeth together. She was some magic beast at his knees. He felt himself start to shake. How he longed for the busy anonymity and safety in numbers of the Mess Hall. Here, he was exposed and important, here, with her below and fully for him, he was responsible for his soul and hers. She watched him with her weird eyes and slowly laid on her back. He thought of a bitch his family had when he was a child, their house in Senlis, a small garden at the back where the dog had lived. And he tasked with bringing her breakfast scraps, her collapsing onto her back to show him her pink belly, her bullet teets.

Roué, he said, and put his finger to her mouth. You are my old dog Roué. Woof, she replied. He stood over her, just looking, as the light moved through the window, turning bluer as the afternoon waned. And she gazed up at him, her body bent charmingly like any pet below its master.

A rap on the door to signify his session had ended. She began to sit up, to unfurl her stockings that lay beside the bed. Wait, he said, wait. He went to the basin and filled the little cup with water. She watched him but didn’t move as he came to her, her nipples large and without definition, like drops of rainwater against glass. He held the cup to her mouth. Her indifferent bush, the deep purple of mountains in the dark. Drink, Roué, he whispered. He stroked the side of her face and gently pulled her ear. Drink, you are so tired and beautiful and I want you to sleep alone in the grass. I want for you to come when you please. Drink, my thirsty hunting girl. I won’t let you go without.

She opened her mouth and he tipped the water in. She swallowed and swallowed. Her eyes tracked the door, and calling out in a voice that best suits the high and dark places, she addressed whoever stood outside the door: Monsieur has paid for another session, alors, this bitch will be busy all night!