[Place de la Révolution, 1793]
They called me the Austrian woman, because it sounded like the ostrich bitch, L’autruche chienne. The French love their puns. But puns are not facts. They merely seem so when they are spouted from the puckered lips of court ladies, or enlivened by the engraver’s arts. Twenty years of libelles, illustrating me with the distinct anatomy of the ostrich, rutting like a bitch dog in heat, with the portly figure of the King, My husband, wearing his cuckold horns, produced a rather unsavory family portrait.
A picture is not worth a thousand words, if what we want from words is TRUTH! But a picture is worth a thousand pounds in the purses of the printers who allowed scandalous, slanderous salacious pamphlets to escape their shops, like so many evils of Pandora’s Box. They blasted the eyeballs of my illiterate subjects with thousands of images of me, their queen, romping in thickets, with prince lord or simple gentleman, or lesboing it up in nymphet grottos. Or worst of all, with those Indiscrete Jewels emerging from my nether regions. That damned Diamond Necklace Affair was our undoing. I thought my innocence would protect me HA! Innocence unillustrated is worthless
Admittedly, when young, I glutted on feathers and jewels. I indulged in elaborate theatrical spectacles and, God forgive me, rather large redecorating projects. But what had I to do when for seven years my darling, waffling irresolute beast of a husband would not consummate our marriage? We were so inept. For seven long years I remained childless. When we finally figured it out and started making our royal babies, it was too late. There was already too much anger. In those last years at Versailles, our gaze turned inward to tend our first prince, born so sickly and to mourn our last baby, born to die.
We clung to the two that remained. We did not see the dangers coming. Those dreadful years of cold and famine turned the fishwives’ knives on us. I gave to the poor. It was never enough. I am not callous. I never said, “Let them eat cake,” that was some old Spanish princess. Or perhaps she too was a victim of slander?
If regret means anything with one’s neck on the chopping block, I regret not taking seriously those lies, rumors and pornography that smoldered and sparked flames in the hearts of my poor people. Now my darling children will have to make their way in a world that despises them. How sad to be a prince or princess these days.
Better, much better perhaps, to be born blind in an Age that seeks to give you Light. Ah, you should have seen those little blind children Reading from their enormous engraved books. Their sweet voices rivaled the very birds of Versailles! Their radiant faces made the gaudy flowers hang their heads in shame
If only they, whose blade here hangs above my head, had turned their energy to philanthropic revolutions: food for the hungry, letters for the blind. But that was another revolution and it died with the philosophes.
Had we run away to the New World when we had the chance, we could have bought a farm, where my children could roam free. My Petit Chou could tend his little garden without armed guards patrolling its perimeter. And my Mousseline Sérieuse could play shepherdess with her little lamb in blue ribbons and tinkling bells—I can’t see my children!
With this hood on I am blind.
They have taken everything from me.
EXCEPT MY HEAD.
Nothing can hurt me now.
*First published at Quail Bell Magazine*