Behind the curtain

Diane had grown so sick of these cabaret nights. During the spring wave of the pandemic, the clandestine bar had been a safe harbour where lost souls came in search of a discreet encounter, whispering over a glass of bourbon and planning forbidden midnight meetings to ease their loneliness. You could live right on top of it and never guess that people met in a bar below. Now that Yollande had become infatuated with George her bartender, he had convinced her to “broaden” the pleasures and Saturday nights were now known as “performance nights”, whether Diane liked it or not.

It was 7 months down road since she had taken away that little baby girl in broad day light. She had named her Rose because of the colour of the blanket she had taken her in. 7 months and the father had never come forward. From the back room of the bar, Diane had eventually moved upstairs into Yollande’s apartment where she had cloistered herself with the child. They rarely went out and Diane had stop going to work after sending a message to a colleague the morning after taking Rose, explaining that she had enough of the pandemic, was going through some kind of breakdown and needed some time off. Diane turned off her phone after that and had not turned it back on since. She had been back to her house in the countryside a few times, mostly at night, to get clothes and items she could not do without but she had been too afraid to move back in.

Diane was living in a sort of status quo since she had followed her impulse to save Rose last spring, an impulse that had changed her life and the little girl’s for better or for worse. Since then, she was hiding with Rose, unable to figure out what to do next. Yollande was their link to the outside world, caring for groceries, nappies and just random news from the outside. Diane had gone from long working hours in the hospital to watching daytime TV and following neighbours’ lives in their apartments on the other side of the courtyard, unaware that they were being watched by a lonely and worried woman.

Summer had come and gone and gave now place to the coronavirus’ second wave. As Rose would slowly fall asleep in her arms at night, Diane imagined her former colleagues tending to the new casualties, the stress building rapidly until it would no longer be bearable. She did not regret it but she missed her work as a doctor. Where would she go from here?

A few days after Diane had showed up on the bar’s doorstep, Yollande had started taking long walks around the neighbourhood, walking slowly in front of the building where Diane had taken Rose. She would eavesdrop on conversations from people coming in or out of the building. Nothing ever came up worth reporting to Diane. Yollande regularly checked the Childfocus website and listened carefully with Diane when a police televised message came on the television but nothing was ever mentioned.

As October drew to an end, Yollande started picking the brain of Mike, a policeman who often came to the bar. By the time George had figured out that he was policeman, he had gotten close enough to the regulars to be trusted. He was another lost soul who had nothing to go home to in the evening and would gladly close his eyes on a place like this one as long as he was received with open arms. Mike never mentioned any story of a missing baby in the neighbourhood. For Yollande this was a good enough proof. Rose’s father hadn’t reported the kidnapping.

The two women had many conversations since then with Yollande arguing that, for her, the coast was clear. She believed that Diane could get on with her life and maybe even go back home with Rose. She would have to figure a way of getting back to work again but she did not think the father would ever come looking for Rose. He seemed to be happy to have gotten rid of her and by some miracle; none of her colleagues had seen her walk away with the baby.

Many questions remained. How would Diane explain the appearance of Rose in her life? Would she need to adopt her? Or maybe pretend that she was a family relative that had come into her care?

Diane would sometimes get little Rose all dressed up and come down into the bar’s backroom, trying to pluck up courage to pass through the bar and go out with her, walk straight until the Etterbeek train station and hop on a train back to her countryside house. She had made it many times until the heavy dark curtain that separated the tiny room from the rest of the bar. Sometimes Rose would cry, sometimes she would just be sleeping against her in the body carrier, but that didn’t make a difference. Diane was unable to pass the dark burgundy curtain.

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