Paris....he who laughs....

Paris, November 5th, 1922..... I had rented the sweetest little flat on the Rue de Chou-fleur Puante, an infamous cul-de-sac, where, in 1871 a gang of 19th-century pickpocket/contortionist-mimes held most of the neighborhood in a reign of terror during the Communard. The gang members, mostly prepubescent boys with a predilection for wearing too much eye make-up, and dressing in their mothers' discarded foundation garments, mugged and robbed local merchants of odds and ends... day old croissants, manicure instruments, French postcards of farm animals and tattooed lady sailors smoking cigars, the usual stuff that kids like to trade and hide from Mother in their treasure-boxes under the bed!... At the height of their mischief, they numbered perhaps 30 or so, but as the political fortunes of the 1871 Commune unraveled, angry parents raided their clubhouses and dragged them home for spankings and dinners of cold gruel and castor oil….. Well, decades and decades passed, and about three weeks after I moved into my charming garret up in the dormered roof of our six-story townhouse, I became aware of a strange presence and a series of little occurrences, all innocent enough at the beginning... but as the days passed, the problem began to intensify. I thought I saw a face in the mirror one gray rainy morning, of an older woman with brown lipstick smeared way outside her lip line, and a unibrow that she kept raising and lowering at me... suddenly I realized it was me! I had been bingeing on expensive chocolates into the wee hours of the morning and there was a caterpillar crawling on my forehead! It wasn't the sight that startled me (well, not COMPLETELY!)... it was the soft chuckling that came from inside the walnut armoire in the corner, and continued even after I threw it open and tossed all my fine trousseau all over the floor. But no one was there, and the wall behind the armoire was an exterior one with the courtyard below. Even as I stood right there, the chuckling continued, hearty and actually quite charming, literally within inches of my face. I looked around convinced it had to be some acoustical trick of the architecture or the placement of the furniture or perhaps the building and the street, but no. It had to be something or someONE inside the room. When I look back on it now, I marvel at the fact that I wasn't frightened exactly, only a little startled and more curious really... the sound was so pleasant, almost musical, and it rose and fell slightly as if the person was watching me in my confusion. It grew as I pulled open drawers, looked under the settee, pushed aside the heavily embroidered draperies, and almost roared when I screeched at the sight of a spider on the sash! Normally I would have been furious at an actual person laughing at my fear of spiders, but the thought of a ghost laughing at me only made me chuckle myself, and I thought I could feel a warmth directed at my ability to laugh at my own foolishness, something I learned after years on stage in Vaudeville when my ukelele playing and novelty songs often got me paid only in thrown vegetables.... (to be continued..)  

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