The whores of Paris all wear red lipstick, but in different shades. Despite the differences in hues, the girls are easily identifiable by this lipstick. Ask any man who searches for their services: the color, to these lecherous creatures, is the same from one broken woman to the next. Each girl carries this color the same way, a cross and a crown to weigh down her weary head.
For her, the color of heartbreak is a deep ruby that catches hints of gold in the sun; it is the first streaks of morning against an inky night sky. When she tilts her head to catch the rays that marks the end of her own day, she feels a connection with the dying night. With it passes her cover and her anonymity; she must re-enter the world she’s never felt at home in, and she must pretend that heartbreak does not color everything she sees.
She knows that, for some, the heartbreak is much more genuine. Her French isn’t perfect, but she knows enough to understand the stories she hears from the other girls as they linger on the worn Parisian cobblestones, surrounded by smoke and thick perfume. Some have lost their entire families, whether it be to death or some other cruel mistress. Others have deeper scars that don’t have the luxury of healing: abuse, at the hands of those whom they loved; violation, at the hands of those whom they never even met. And others yet have been burdened with lives and mouths they couldn’t afford, left to take to dark and haunted streets to find their way back into the sun. These girls, she soon learns, are the ones who leave the fastest. They are not creatures of the night like the others. At the end of their tunnel is the faintest ray of sunlight, and they do not shy away. They are the strong ones.
Her heartbreak is the simple kind that comes with a love lost too soon. She’d come to escape, but she never imagined it might actually be the end of them. She never knew she needed him, never realized that it was his pearly smile that anchored her to earth. All she could remember, when she marched down the cool, unfeeling tunnel to the plane that would take her far away from everything she ever knew, was how they fought and how he was never quite perfect.
She doesn’t understand how she could have been so ignorant. How could she have looked upon him that one last time and not held onto it forever? How could she have seen those grey-blue eyes and not realized that it could be the last time she would ever see them with any sort of tenderness? She chose this life, this escape; she thought it would be her own dreams, finally realized. Paris, she learned quickly, was a city built on the stones of the heartbroken. Its claim to be the city of love only runs on the undercurrent of those trying to put themselves back together.
During the daylight hours, she sometimes slips on black sunglasses and a white sundress, so that she might try to disappear in the Parisian café scene. But she cannot shed her ruby lipstick; it is her marker and her identity in this world, the only thing she has to hold onto anymore. It is slightly masochistic, she realizes, to use heartbreak as a marker of self. Everything, now, is tinted with the color of heartbreak; the irony of looking through the world in ruby, instead of rose, colored glasses is not lost on her.
The cruel and revealing sun does her no favors. Neither, of course, does the lipstick. Even as she sits under the shade of an umbrella, sipping a glass of Jurancon Doux, and quietly reading an English book, she is conspicuously a whore. Men pause as they pass, considering for the briefest of moments if her body is worth the fifteen minutes they need. She is nothing but a commodity, an object to leer and consider and cast aside after several moments. This is her fate. This is what she has chosen. Life as an object was easier than a life with no choices at all. At least this is her decision.
That’s what she tells herself when she wakes in a cold sweat, panting from a fresh nightmare. Her lipstick, of course, is smeared.