Le Monocle opened in the 1920s beneath Paris and fled away, and it will be unscathed until the lightning men come to strike and sweep the city. Le Monocle belonged below ground, (it was a basement), but Le Monocle keeps one arm reaching out to the streets above. Le Monocle pulls itself half out of the catacombs, half out of the Seine and watches patrons and street folk walk by above ground. Le Monocle watches for rain, (basements can flood so easily), but it does not watch for lightning.
The patrons wear tuxedos. The patrons wear gloves and bobs and carnations. The patrons paint their faces and stain glass around their eyes. They scrape the muck from the Seine on the curb, (the streets flood so easily in Paris), and they think nothing of the sinkholes they pass, exposing the catacombs and bones below. The patrons have monocles and quiet raps on the door and the patrons look quickly from side to side, trying to memorize the street and which faces belong above ground.
The monocles are a clue—there is no password to enter, rather a head nod and tap of the cane. Le Monocle serves drinks, strong and imported, and it serves dark spaces for patrons to touch the seams on their partners' blazers and hems. The basement mutes the sounds of the street people, but the air is thick and warm, (nothing like the Seine, nothing like the chill of rain seeping into the catacombs). The monocles glisten and sparkle in the candlelight and dip into oblivion as their faces sink behind curtains and into one another.
The patrons come alone, come in pairs, come in parties. They wear black and white and beige and cream. Some of them have rouge on their cheeks. Some of them have penciled in stubble. Many of them have strong arms and strong hearts. The patrons try to lift up their differences from each other and from the streets outside. They try to memorize who belongs below ground. They trace the stains on their lapels, their cheeks. They feel each other's swelling arms. They kiss and nip at heels and sculpted calves, (there are no mentions of their sameness, there is no need). Nor do any patrons mention Violette Morris' mastectomy or her weightlifting championships, (she had it done in the hospital by the Pont des Invalides, the one not too close to the banks). Later, when the club reopens, no one will mention her betrayal of France nor her betrayal of the family and no one will claim her bullet-riddled body in the mass grave, least of all the stunning brunette relaxing into her arms on this night. They already have her face memorized and know whether she belongs above ground.
Sometimes monocles fall from their eyes. It is a poorly kept secret code, but it is their own and there is strength in seeing another monocle in the market or cathedral. But the shimmering circles do sometimes lose their tension and tumble to the ground, shattering like a firework across all of their shoes.
The city is the city of the city of lights, but it is the twenties and the lights are in danger. Thunder is rumbling in the northeast and lightning will strike. Soon, some of the patrons will be part of the resistance. They will melt their monocles for the iron frames, they will fold their tuxedos and hide messages for foreigners and they will wear military jackets and will cut their skirts into bandages and will learn bits of German just to avoid the purple triangles. They will hide to fight, (and fight, shooting in the darkness, to hide in the catacombs). Tonight, at the table next to heavyweight champion Violette Morris, a man goes by he and goes by the table and he leans on his elbow and wonders if there is too much grease in his hair. The tuxedo feels tight against his chest and belly, but his added body hides his pronoun and the black and white of the tuxedo hides that other name, Colette, (he would have joined the resistance in the future, but he will die of Spanish flu in the next few months). He will be buried in his favorite colors, ivory and maroon, but he will be buried under Colette near Avenue Dutuit. He would have been a valuable addition to the Allies. The man who goes by he knows his way around the catacombs, (knows his way around his grease and combs). Tonight, he watches the others. Some of them will join the future resistance, but not on this night, for now they are part of a different type.
And she, she is perfect, she is the piéce de rè sistance. Her hair is coiffed and her pleats are crisp and cold, and her pearls hang heavy against her chest as she loses herself at this table across the room from the man born as Colette and the calloused bartender and Violette Morris with the double mastectomy. She is dreaming about Josephine Baker, with her playful banana skirt burlesque and her unwavering understanding of her power on the stage. She wants Josephine's sophistication. She might also want her banana skirt. She scans the monocles and tries to decide who she will let buy her a drink tonight. She picks at her heel, (earlier, she stepped on some glass from the above ground people and it bit deep into her skin but she came she came anyways even in the rain). She will join the resistance in fifteen years, when her skirt is torn and she wishes that men in tuxedos and uniforms no longer could see her. She will join the resistance after the lightning men from the East kill and maim those they see as an inversion, (they will pile the bodies and bones in angles but they will diminish into the swift organization of decay, like that one entrance to the tunnels by the northern bend of the Seine). She will lose most of her friends, her lovers, and she will rage and anguish over their absence. She will think about the strength of that banana-sun yellow skirt, and she will cry out against the cold thunder night with her gun and voice and rags and knives. She will sink to the darkest waters in her grief, and she will betray the turncoat Violette Morris. She will think hard on the memorized faces, here and dead, of the below ground people. She will memorize the tunnels, the warm dark air. She will tell the resistance how Violette was allowed manhood and her survival by the lightning men in exchange for names, addresses, guns, secrets. Violette was allowed to be the man of the hour, the man of the city. She will tell them how Violette walks to her cottage every morning with a rifle and her hunting dogs, but how Violette never looks behind her to see if the night will catch up with her sins against France, against the sisterhood.
But for now there is just the reaching arm of Le Monocle into the gutters and the Seine. For now, no one says these things. Not on this night. On this night, there are patrons in sailor suits, in dresses, and of course, in tuxedos. There are wet and painted above or below ground people, but there are no patrons with naked sockets.
There are just blindingly bright monocles held on fast.
Le Monocle was an underground, (both literally and figuratively), nightclub located in Montparnasse in Paris, in the twenties through the occupation during WWII. The club catered to mostly queer identifying individuals who signaled their orientation, identity, and preferences through the use of monocles, carnations, and tuxedos. The events in this piece were inspired by Georges Brassaï's photography work with the club in 1932.
Sarah Glady writes, teaches, hikes, and lives in Phoenix, Arizona. She holds an MA in literature from Arizona State University. Her recent work can be found in McSweeney's, PANK, and Cartridge Lit.