I opened the book, only it wasn't a book. It was an ancient-looking, sculpted silver, book-shaped strong-box with a ruby, sapphire and diamond cabochon on top and a gold padlock. The calligraphic note said that I could have the key if I'd come to the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on Christmas Eve.
I vaulted back upstairs and realized that I must have been transfixed by the note much longer than I'd thought because Carla had had time to prepare her various beauty treatments for the night and was now sitting up in bed with bull semen in her supposedly damaged hair, nightingale droppings and Japanese rice bran on her face (the Geisha facial ), the nightly $800 jar of moisturizing cream spread evenly over her body, and leeches working merrily away on her neck, breasts and stomach for her weekly detoxification. We had planned to go for one of those fish pedicures the next day (Carla said "They must need a microscope to see the fishies' little toes!"), but the tiny Garra rufa fish who nibble away at dead skin on your feet at Carita had all mysteriously died after a disgruntled former pedicure girl who'd been transferred to shampoos had given them a perm.
I showed her the silver box and the note and Carla giggled and said "Isn't it romantic? He's rented the entire chateau for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and I believe the 26th."
And I said "Creepy and nauseating, yes; romantic, no. I mean if he knew me or if we were even on a first name basis-what is his name again, by the way?"
"Patrick," said Carla.
"Well, if this Patrick knew me as well as you claim he does, then he'd know not to play silly games like this."
"But Loulou, ma cherie, it's not a silly game. I asked him how serious he was about getting to be with you for a day or two, and he looked at me and said "Carla, for me, this is the foundation of Rome."
"Good thing it doesn't make him sound even more like a psychopath!" I said. "And, by the way, who decided that this little get together was actually going to happen?"
"Oh, Loulou, you must go. I promised him you would."
"Then you can just unpromise right now. Carla, use your head! I don't care in the slightest for all of this childish mystery and certainly don't want to discover that he's actually Colonel Mustard or something once it's too late. Why doesn't he simply call me if he wants to ask me out so that I can say no viva voce?"
"But Loulou, he doesn't need to speak to you. He wants to be with you."
"Well, darling, you know I'm always a bit skeptical of the sepulchral, silent type, especially when no one seems to know anything about him except that he's quiet but just really nice and polite, which is what the neighbours always say about the crazed loner who lives next door in his mother's basement once he's been carted away and they dig up the floorboards and find hundreds of Cabbage Patch dolls that have been skinned alive, given haggis "hats" and had all their eyes replaced with live, tethered cicadas."
"He's astounding, Loulou. He claims to be able to tell me anything and everything about your past, present and future and I believe him. He already knows everything about you, your tastes, your schedule, even that you have Jesurum add lace and the Ursulines in that convent in Macon in Burgundy embroider little flowers on to the underwear that you buy from La Perla and Aubade."
I felt sick. Had he been going through my semainier, the perv?
"He even claims to know your thoughts!"
"And how scary is that?" I said. "But okay then: call him."
She took my cell phone and dialed and said "Hello Patrick" in her sex kitten voice.
"Now," I said, "ask him the name of the stallion that sired my first foal," and she did and I heard him say something.
Carla listened and then repeated Patrick's answer: "Abdullah,"
"Pfft. That's public knowledge," I said. "So ask him to tell you exactly what I'm going to say when I come back from the bathroom?"
Three minutes later, I came out and Carla said "He said you'll say "I'm still in love with Nicolas."
If the man had come up to me just then and asked to borrow my panty hose so that he could rob a Starbucks and told me that I could keep them on but that in that case it would mean that I would be upside down for about five minutes while he pistol-whipped the cashier but not to worry because no one would see my face, I would not have been more surprised. Because I actually was going to say that I was still in love with Nicolas, about whom I simply cannot stop thinking and I wonder if it's simply because I refused all of his many marriage proposals for twenty years and then when he became president sort of regretted it and the fact that Carla got him to marry her, but that is water under the bridge, only the bridge keeps moving and managing to stay just ahead of the water.
So I said "Carla, hang up at once," but I was still so stunned that I could barely make out Carla repeating "Just give him a chance, Loulou."
"Carla you're hardly in a position to be giving advice."
"Oh Loulou, that is so cruel."
Carla had called me, you see, on November 7, a Friday night, and cried "Loulou, this is terrible, I made a booboo."
"A 'booboo,' darling?
"Yes, I just gave an interview and I got carried away and told this huge lie and tomorrow morning in Saturday's Journal de Dimanche they'll be carrying it and I called the reporter and begged him to delete it and he said he was so sorry but that it had already gone to press and Loulou you've got to help me."
It all started the other day when Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, said that Barack Obama has an admirable suntan har har har. So Carla signed this French petition called "Yes We Can," calling for equal opportunity for minorities in France and then Carla told the interviewer "When I hear Silvio Berlusconi joke about the fact that Obama is 'always tanned', that makes me feel funny. But often, I am very happy that I was given French citizenship right after Nicolas and I got married in Loulou's garden earlier this year. French power has often had the same face: that of men who are white and ageing. That is why I can identify with this appeal." And Carla told me that Nicolas had taken that personally and that he had just cried and cried and cried in Rachida's arms.
© 2008 Louise de la Paumardiere
About LOUISE DE LA PAUMARDIERE It would be difficult to imagine anyone more purely French or a better embodiment of France and French values than polyglamorous Louise de la Paumardiere. Loulou's paternal great grandfather Andre Le Troquer, unfairly removed from office as President of the French Senate in 1958 for having run a pedophile network, and her maternal grandfather General Paul Ausseresses, unfairly stripped of his rank and thrown out of the Legion d'Honneur because of his role as a torturer in the Franco-Algerian war, are but two of her many famous ancestors. Author of From Foreign to French: 100 Makeovers in Stories and Pictures (New York and London: PLB Books, 2006), multi-talented and multilingual Loulou de la Paumardiere first came to public attention when several of the high-profile Paris-based foreign women on whom she performed makeovers committed suicide. Her family operates the majority of the uniquely French institutions known as Centres d'aide par le travail, or CATS, factories in which handicapped French citizens are employed at less than minimum wage because, as Loulou puts it with her typical Cartesian clarity, "they are handicapped." Her ancestral home, Château de la Paumardiere in Boilly-sur-Gui, an hour from Paris in Normandy, has hosted every head of state since Louis XIV and was a favorite haunt of Lully the Sodomite. She continues that great tradition of French hospitality on weekends in Boilly and during the week at her luxurious mansion at 60, rue de Varenne in Paris.