Fifty Pounds, or the MMFD Cabaret Fic
Inspired by Moulin Rouge, a fantastic drag show I recently attended, that one Christina Aguilera Burlesque movie, and 200 pounds of beauty, I present the MMFD Cabaret fic.
Let’s pretend that it takes place in mid-2000s, mostly so I can get away with having cool technology and, well, internet. Also the song choices are completely irreverent of time. This is mostly because I’m lazy and don’t feel like looking listening to a bunch of 90s music.
“C'mon now, Finnley, don’t look so put out, you grumpy sod.” Chop nudged Finn in the side, nearly knocking him out of his chair and into the path of two scantily clad waitresses, who tittered flirtatiously before wagging their feathered behinds at him. Finn cleared his throat and turned away, taking a long sip from his wine glass.
“’M not put out,” Finn grumbled, “Just tryin’ to figure out why I’ve spent twenty quid on a table at this…” He looked around and made eye contact with a woman with her eyebrows drawn in in spirals, “…establishment when I could’ve gone to the pub for free.”
“The birds, Finn, the birds,” Chop proclaimed. “Aren’t they lovely?”
“Plenty of nice-looking women at the pub,” Finn said, even while his eyes lingered on a particularly busty waitress’ ample bosom. Embarrassed, his eyes cut away, and he looked down sourly into his drink.
The Grand Theatre had gained notoriety in Lincolnshire as the first cabaret club to open in the sleepy county, and despite the protests from the more stuffy denizens about how it was degrading the moral standing of Stamford, attracted large crowds of well-looking gentlemen and ladies every night. The performers were said to be the greatest beauties in Europe, talented, lithe creatures who could sing and dance a man’s coin right out of his pocket. All of the singing was done live, and apparently the stunts were real, too. Chop had been badgering Finn about the club for the last two weeks, trying to convince him that the performance was the kind of once in a lifetime experience he could give up a day’s wage for. He’d finally given in, and thus far, he was not convinced it’d been worth it.
“They don’t sing for you in the pubs though, do they now?” Chop said with a wink and a grin so wide it nearly split his face in two.
“Chop,” Finn said darkly. “I hear girls sing all the time. It’s my job to hear ‘em sing.”
Chop pouted at him. “Come now, you know that don’t count-” the lights dimmed, and Chop’s grin returned in all of its shining glory. “The show’s startin’!”
A voice rang from through the room, it’s owner invisible for the time.
“Welcome to the Grand Theatre, ladies and gents! Prepare your eyes-”
The spotlight swung off stage for a fraction of a second to somewhere near the ceiling, where they briefly caught sight of a heavily made-up woman flashing her gold-lined eyes open from amongst the curtains.
“And your ears-”
It swung again to a barrister on the side of the room, where three of the waitresses with large, brightly colored feathers in their hair and behinds clustered together and sang out a high, lingering note together, then to another girl in the center of the room who added to the sound with a seductive little shake.
“…For the most captivating show on Earth! With your charming host, The Great Archibald!”
The spotlight swung at last to the stage, where an attractive blond man in a top hat, waistcoat, monocle, and leather high waisted corset now stood. He was quite shirtless under the coat, and his straight pants were at least a size too tight. The women of the audience, and some of the men, positively lost their minds, throwing the provided carnations up onto the stage. 'The Great Archibald’ snatched one of the flowers out of the air, then bent on one knee on the stage and took the hand of the nearest woman, kissed her knuckles, and tucked the carnation behind her ear with a roguish wink. The woman gave a high, keening moan that could almost be heard over the raucous applause and hoots from the crowd, and the Great Archibald clambered back to his feet.
“Good to see such a positively lovely crowd this evening,” The Great Archibald proclaimed, though with the light in his face it was highly unlikely he could see anyone at all. “I’m sure we’ll have a,” he smiled beatifically, “truly beautiful time together tonight.”
There were several wolf whistles directed at the stage. Finn wondered whether the entire night would be wrought with sexual innuendo, or more than. He’d heard of burlesque shows in cinema; he wondered whether this was what the Grand Theatre was, a hyped-up burlesque show. That cost twenty fucking quid a seat.
With time and some wine, though, Finn started to enjoy himself. The acts that he’d first thought were too over the top soon became artful, and he found himself shouting along with the crowd as a fiery redhead in a multicolored, silk dress slid into a split while singing a Lana Del Ray song in a pixie-like voice. The stage was transformed entirely with every act, and Finn marveled at how they managed to turn moonlit cityscapes into African Savannas out of cleverly draped fabrics, colored lights and carefully cast shadows. There’d been some pretty memorable outfits, his favorite currently belonging to a blonde who’d come in dressed like a peacock, with billowy royal blue sleeves and a tail that fanned out when she pulled a string at her waist. Their voices hadn’t been half bad either, with good range, though most of the songs chosen wouldn’t have been particularly challenging for anyone who could carry a tune. Chop had been right- it was an experience.
The last act was announced, and Chop sat up straighter in his seat, jostling Finn’s shoulder.
“This one, she’s supposed to be a sight. Loveliest of them all, and could sing a mockingbird out of its profession! Reckon even you might be impressed.”
“We’ll see,” Finn said. He’d been told some iteration of 'this voice will blow your socks off’ enough times to know that it usually meant his socks would stay decidedly on. He’d given his life to music; he could make an opinion for himself.
“Please put your hands together and give your most enthusiastic welcome to the Belle of Lincolnshire, nay, the Beauty of All England…the lovely Aphrodite!”
The woman who came on stage truly was a sight to behold, with bright, slightly wide set eyes and a figure that managed to be both willowy and curvaceous. Her backdrop was markedly simpler than her predecessors, a night sky full of glittering lights, and her dress seemed to be made from stars. She positively glowed from head to toe, and the audience seemed awed into silence, transfixed on the sight of the woman before them. She licked her lips almost shyly, then flashed a small smile before bringing both hands to rest on her bosom. It was clear she was being marketed differently from the other performers, who had all been gaudy, over the top, and constantly in motion. Aphrodite almost seemed shy.
Then she opened her mouth, and the sound that came forth sent a jolt through Finn’s body.
it’s been seven hours and fifteen days
Since you took your love away
He’d never heard anything like it. Her voice was sultry and steady, unwavering and strong even when soft. And when she reached the chorus and her voice rose to a belt, he could feel her words beating against his chest, forcing him to pay attention, demanding that he hear them.
He’d seen talent. The flow of hopefuls who came through the recording studio where he worked as a producer was almost endless, and he’d seen the entire gambit, from delusional boys in badly named bands to future starlets with voices smooth as silk. But he’d never heard anything like this. His fist was curling against the chair. How was this woman performing in a seedy little cabaret club when she could have been gracing the cover of every magazine in the country? How could the world have completely missed her, when hundreds of denizens flocked to The Grand Theatre every week? Introducing her to his bosses might get him on their good graces. Maybe they’d let him get a single out, at least, prove himself marketable. His heart began to race; he’d found his meal ticket, this beautiful girl with a voice of a warrior angel, who’d slain him in his seat after only a few bloody notes.
Before the song was over, he knew he had to meet her. He turned to look at Chop, jostling his shoulder.
“Wha’?” Chop whispered harshly, tearing his eyes reluctantly from the stage. “Give it a second, mate.”
“We’ve got to meet her,” Finn said. “Aphrodite. We’ve got to meet her.”
“Finn. Fuckin’ put a sock in it.”
Nothing compares to you
Nothing compares to you
The applause was thunderous, and Aphrodite gave a small, graceful curtsy, as if she’d performed a stiff waltz across stage instead of blown everyone’s minds away by singing a Sinead O'Connor song better than fucking Sinead O'Connor. Finn didn’t bother paying attention to Archibald’s closing remarks, instead leaned down into his chair with his head in his hands and wondered just how much money he’d have to part with to bribe someone into letting him meet her.
He waited until most of the patrons had started to clear out of the dining and entertainment section and into the adjoining dance floor before calling over a waitress. Chop looked at him in disbelief, but also with a bit of smugness- he’d been right of course, Finn had enjoyed himself in the end, maybe too much.
“'Scuse me,” Finn said, “But would it be at all possible to… meet Aphrodite?”
The waitress smiled with bright white teeth that contrasted sharply with her dark skin, which in turn contrasted with her thick, gold lipstick.
“I get asked that question every weekend,” she said, a touch of condescension in her tone. “Sorry, but Aphrodite doesn’t do all that.”
Finn furrowed his brow when he realized what she was insinuating. “No, um, that’s not what I meant, I just thought…” Then he paused, set his mouth in a line. “Fifty pounds. Just to meet her once. And other people can be there, whatever.”
Chop sucked in his breath behind him. The waitress raised her bedazzled eyebrows. She looked him over once, and then seemed to reconsider.
“I’ll…go ask. Be back in a minute; you stay put.”
Before her turquoise feathers were out of sight, Chop leaned over and put his arm over Finn’s shoulders.
“Love at first sight,” he sneered, one eye closed in an extended facsimile of a wink. “Told ya.”
“Nah, s'not like that at all-” Finn was protesting, but the waitress was already sauntering back, a bemused expression on her face.
“Sir,” she said, stopping some ways away from him in the center of the room. “I’m gonna need you to come over here.”
Throwing a look at Chop, Finn shrugged and walked up to her. The waitress positioned him carefully, placing her hands on his face to straighten his head. She stepped back a step, then peered out toward the stage as though waiting for something.
About thirty seconds later, a green stage light flashed three times, and suddenly Finn understood - he was being appraised.
“All right, I’ll take you to the back to meet her. Show me your cash first, though.”
Finn dug his hands into his pockets, pulling out his wallet and producing the 50 pound note. He’d withdrawn it in case of an emergency- namely, in case he drank too much and couldn’t get himself home- but this seemed to count.
The waitress seemed to find this satisfying, and set off toward the stage. Finn followed, throwing Chop a thumbs-up before he disappeared behind the curtain.
“So what’s your name?” The waitress asked as they walked down a set of stairs that Finn assumed led to the performers’ dressing rooms.
“Erm…Finn,” he responded. “Yours?”
“Samira,” she said simply. She’d unclipped the large neon feather from her hair the moment they’d stepped backstage and had been steadily removing her bobby pins, and with her hair loose and fluffy, she looked more real and less like a Grand Theatre apparition.
Samira looked at him from the corner of her eye, one perfectly penciled eye raised. "So, Finn. Love at first sight, then? Witnessed the 'lovely Aphrodite’ on our old stage and knew you’d seen your soulmate?“
It hadn’t even been ten minutes, and he’d heard that same nonsensical phrase twice. Love at first sight. What a load of bollocks. "It’s honestly nothing like that,” he insisted.
The waitress shrugged. “Wouldn’t judge you for it. She’s a beautiful woman, you wouldn’t be the first guy who wanted to get to know 'er after curtain call. She usually don’t let anyone come back though.” Her eyes flicked back to him again. “Good for you that you’re fit. If ya don’t mind me sayin’.”
She didn’t seem to be hitting on him, so Finn took the compliment graciously.
“Don’t get me wrong, Aphrodite is a good-looking woman, but I promise ya that’s not why I want to meet her.”
“Why else, then?” Samira asked. They were getting close, Finn could tell- they’d passed a number of curtains that he assumed were makeshift dressing rooms.
“I’m in the music business. And she…she’s got this incredible voice, so–”
Before Finn could continue any further, Samira whipped around to face him. Her eyebrows rose comically, and then she burst out into loud, unbridled laughter. It had been the last reaction Finn had expected, and he blinked back at her, too alarmed to be properly offended.
“Was there a joke?” He said, when she finally seemed to be catching her breath.
Samira wiped the corner of her eye, her shoulders still shaking.
“You’ve got no idea.” She jerked her thumb at the next curtain, labeled, quaintly, “Gemmel.” Then, she knocked, hard, on the narrow strip of wall separating one curtain from the next. “Chloe! Your…fan is here!”
Finn winced; Samira may as well have announced to the entire entourage cast that he was some creep. Sure enough, a few other curtains parted, and a handful of other performers surfaced from behind them, barely recognizable with half of their makeup washed away, their clothes half in disarray. He noted, bizarrely, that the peacock girl was amongst them, lounging against the wall in just her bra and panties, only recognizable for her plum lipstick and blond hair. A few feet away, he caught sight of a girl who looked rather out of place among all of the glitter and glamour- she was tall and sturdy, dressed in jeans and a band tee one wouldn’t go clubbing in. They made eye contact briefly, and she pursed her lips before glancing away sharply and disappearing down the hall.
Then, without preamble, Aphrodite…or Chloe, it seemed, stepped out of her dressing room.
She was a little taller than Finn had imagined, and though far less otherworldly in her purple bodycon dress, no less beautiful. She snuck a disapproving smile at Samira, and then scowled at their audience.
“You lot have nothing better to do with yourselves than nose about other people’s business, then? Piss off!”
Her impassioned words had exactly no effect on her costars, except to make a few of them chuckle. Finn cut his eyes away from her, not so much embarrassed to be in her company as he was to be so much under the spotlight.
“Not all of us have got fans like you,” the peacock girl said, rolling her shoulders. She looked directly at Finn and tilted her hips toward him salaciously. “'Specially not ones who look like him.”
“Piss off, Stacey,” Chloe spat at the peacock girl. Then she turned to Finn, her smile suddenly beatific. “Now, what’s your name?”
Finn introduced himself awkwardly, heat rising to his ears. “I…erm…I was blown away by your performance,” he explained. “And I wanted to ask you…if you’d ever thought about a music career, beyond the Grand Theatre?”
He sounded like a gigantic prat, and he knew it, but did they really all have to laugh at him?
Chloe’s smile wavered for a split second, and when it resurfaced, it didn’t meet her eyes.
“A music career? I…erm… I don’t know too much about that. Much more of a performer, myself.”
That made no sense; on stage, she’d done the least amount of performing. She’d quite literally stood there and let her voice and dress do the work for her. Finn furrowed his brow.
“Really?” He said, “but I heard you up there. Your voice…you sounded amazin’! And I’m not just some arsehole comin’ here to…to salivate over you or anythin’- I work at a record company.” He reached into his back pocket and produced his card, showcasing the Zero for Starters label.
Chloe turned white, barely glancing down at the card.There were snickers from the other women in the dressing room. Stacey in particular barked out a very self-satisfied “ha!”
“All right,” Finn said, exasperated. “I’m obviously missin’ somethin’. Any of you lot wanna fill me in?”
The hall went eerily silent, and even Samira, who’d been watching the whole spectacle with an entertained grin on her face, looked away bashfully.
It was Stacey who broke the silence, her lip curled spitefully.
“What if,” she sneered, “Miss Aphrodite here can’t sing a tune to save her life?”