by Rebecca Green


The beautiful lacy dresses are what first enticed Madame's fascination. The way rose perfume wafted on the air with each warm breath of the wind. The faces that had been so carefully painted on were still fresh in her mind, each face still had it's own distinct voice. It was forty years later that Madame remembered these things. The memories came to her in such vivid detail that it almost scared her.

As a child, she was fatherless and her mother left her when she was seven to marry a rich American businessman, who had no knowledge of Madame's existence. As a young girl she was pretty and her will to live was stronger than any grown man's.

The woman who did laundry for her and her mother took in Madame when she was abandoned. The woman who took her in was named Fray and she was plump and short. She had no children or husband of her own and though she was of the lower class, she was more than happy to have some company.

Fray worked for many of the people in her neighborhood, and since Madame was old enough to be of help, she tagged along. Some days were more exciting than others were, but Fray was always good company. Fridays were Madame's favorite. Fray was a woman with strong Catholic morals and though she knew it was wrong, she did the laundry of the women at the burlesque house around the corner form her flat. Every Friday Madame would skip as far ahead of Fray as was allowed, so as not to be bothered by her lecturing about the evil sins of knowing a man out of wedlock. The lecture would end as soon as they reached the door and then even Fray couldn't hide her wonder and excitement. Inside the brothel the air was sweet and cool, a refreshing breeze washed away the hot sticky smell of the street. All the women in the house knew Madame and adored her. They had also known her mother, but even in their company she was not respected or liked.

At any other customers house it took Fray and Madame two hours at the most, but Fridays at the burlesque house took all day. The women were always happy and full of laughter. Each afternoon the women would crowd around the laundry to tell their stories. On those days Fray would allow Madame to wear lipstick, Fray even let the women curl her own hair or brush it until it shown like satin. It was here that Madame made the only friends that she ever have. The women inside those doors trusted and loved Madame that was something she had never had.

The way rose perfume wafted on the air with each warm breath of the wind. The faces that had been so carefully painted on were still fresh in her mind, each face still had it's own distinct voice. These were the memories Madame liked to think of. She tried not to remember the flu that took away the liveliness of Fray and drained her of everything, finally, taking her life. Madame didn't like to remember the long plane ride to America where her new life was to begin.

The cook from the Burlesque house took the Madame in. Ursula was only one woman at the Burlesque house that Madame didn't like; she was the cook. She always smelled of last nights dinner and reminded Madame of her ill tempered grandmother whom had come to visit from America only once. While Ursula and the women of the house wrote to a man in America who found lost family members. Soon, they found the address of a great uncle who lived in America. He agreed to have Madame live with him there until they found her mother.

It was different in America than her mother had told her, it was different than anyone had told her. She went to a hot, humid place like hell. It was called Iowa. This is the word Madame repeated in her head the whole plane ride to America. Iowa, Iowa, Iowa. No matter how hard Madame practiced the ugly word, it still sounded like broken glass in her mouth. Madame's uncle was named Bill; he was nice enough and wealthier than anyone Madame had met. For a couple of months Bill looked hard to find Madame's mother, however he liked having someone else around the house. Madame was asked by her uncle to go to school. He insisted she go to private school, but she had no patience for class work after the twelfth grade and after a few short arguments, Bill dropped the entire issue.

Bill's money made it easy for Madame to travel where she pleased. Much of her time was spent visiting her girlfriends from high school who had moved away to college. This arrangement worked well for both Bill and Madame.

When Madame was twenty-two and living under the blue skies of Los Angeles she received a letter from her uncle's lawyer in Iowa. Bill had died at the ripe age of seventy-eight. Everything was left to Madame in his will. Though Madame did not like the small town that his properties were in, she had just broken up with her boy friend in California and, at the time, had no where to stay. So, Madame moved to back to the small town that she used to spend long hot summers in.

The following years flew by without excitement. Madame was pretty in her youth, however as she aged, it became apparent that it was her wild, passionate juvenility that had made her attractive. None of the towns' people seemed stimulating in the least to Madame and she often traveled back to France for months at a time. To hear her speak was like listening to country Dixie in the Eiffel tower. Madame lived in France for only ten of her fifty-five, years but her accent was the one thing besides her memories that she could hold on to. It was whispered by the old women of the town that Madame's inheritance was dwindling away. Yes, Madame had made a large investment, which in the beginning made her financially nervous. Madame had bought the burlesque house in the town of her adolescence and more and more of her time was spent in France. The decision had been made after days and nights of crying for the smells and sounds of the Burlesque house of her childhood. Though none of the women from Madame's childhood still worked or lived there, it was though Madame had become obsessed with the people from her past. Soon the fortune did become smaller and smaller and it was not possible for Madame to visit her friends in France. She longed to see them, and sit once again like a little girl listening to their stories.

Eventually after making some of her money back on the burlesque house in France she decided to move her business to the U.S. Madame thought of buying property in L.A where she knew her business would flourish, but decided that it would be risky. Than the idea came to her, open a burlesque house in Iowa where she had been living for the past several years. Madame knew in her heart that she could not live in France again, this way she could finally be a part of something again. With the women of the Burlesque house she didn't have to wear her façade. She remembered how so many of the teenagers had fields of dope growing on the outskirts of town and though it was a constant topic of discussion no authorities were ever contacted. Even though she knew that this too would be on the lips of every Harris, Candy or Marge of the town she felt confident that she would not be turned in. Bill had bought an old storefront on the edge of town that had originally been Main Street. Madame had the inside of the store redone and redecorated. Than a separate house much simpler in design and decoration was built in the large grassy back yard. Three women from France moved out to Iowa to help in the project. They recruited in many of the poor uneducated towns of Iowa for other girls that wanted work. The luscious accents, clothing, and makeup of the foreign women attracted many a frustrated teenager. Of course, Madame insisted that they be at least eighteen and have full physicals before they would even be interviewed. Then followed a long process of sorting through pictures of young naked bodies and many hours of brutally personal phone interviews. Finally, Madame decided on four young girls who would move in and work at the burlesque house. By this time one of the French women who was getting older had married a man that had passed through the town one cool moonlit night. So now six women lived in the Wilted Rose Brothel.

The raising of the figurehead on the porch was the last straw for the women of the town. It was something from her uncle's old sailboat. It was a wooden maiden with the fairest face in town. The old folks recognized it as soon as Madame put it up claiming old Bill had carved it himself, with his only true love as the model. None of the girls of the house liked to believe that a woman so fair had ever lived. Everyone was speaking about the brothel, how young the girls were and who had gone to test the "products."

Years have passed and the town has quieted. Girls have come and gone, but the Wilted Rose has proved to be a lucrative business. Madame is fond of the women eho she works with. However, the glory of the Wilted Rose can never compare to memories of Fray and the painted women at the corner burlesque.