Created September 23, 2017
Story inspired by James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s “Symphony in White: The White Girl.”
I hate this ceiling. The bleached surface emits a purity that continues to die whenever the lights go off. It never revives when it comes back on, though. It just peals away the grime that covered it from before, foolishly thinking that maybe this time, the lights will stay on forever. But within the hour, they are off again. Most nights, like tonight, I lie on my back and stare at it with glossy eyes. I don’t know what my face looks like, but it feels flat and wounded, like a bad actress. But this pain is real. Yet, I say nothing.
My body sways in silence against the red sheets. In the dark, my hair disappears within them, and I wonder why I can’t disappear into the sheets too. My eyes won’t move, but my body feels. A stranger. This man is nuzzling his nose against my shoulder. Now my hair, breathing softly. His back arches and holds for a second before collapsing, throwing all his weight on me. I look at the clock like I have so many times. Right on time. His hour is up.
Someone knocks on the door, reiterating the ending of the session.
He peels off me, his sweat remaining. With no smile, he turns, never looking me in the eye. I’ve come to realize, only the ones who never see the woman as such – the men who only see an emotionless toy – do this. Then again, what man here ever sees the woman?
He climbs off the bed and dresses himself. Routinely, I do the same. The people in charge never give enough time to wash up when it’s busy. So, I dress in my white dress, a tight one with a V exposing cleavage I don’t have. The man walks out first, and I follow as a worker passes us to make up the bed.
I clean myself as much as I can before going back into the line-up, joining the more voluptuous women. Some with tight corsets, lifting brassieres, or just plain fat. Behind a glass, we watch the men eye us. We sit, or at least I do. The other women squirm, leaning to show off the crater between their arms or kicking a leg. Are they unaware that we are displayed like dolls? But unlike the toothpick figure of a toy, we are anything but perfect. But that doesn’t matter. Different men, different preferences. No one cares who is behind the glass. All of us are always bound to be picked, even a plain gal like me. Everyone is generically attractive, and I was below even that. But I have red hair. The color of fire. The color of desire.
I look beyond the glass to the men whose faces I will never remember. They gawk, one licking his lips. Another is scratching his neck. I hope he doesn’t pick me. Men like him are the most frightening. But most look groomed, their skin pale with stress. Why are these men married and rich? Isn’t their life good? Obviously, they don’t think so since they are here. Why was I here?
“What’s wrong with you?”
The question takes me by surprise. But it sinks in, and I purse my lips. I turn to the woman behind me. I think she goes by Taffy, but I haven’t bothered to learn her real name. The thought alone makes me hypocritical. Why see her as an individual? No one does the same for me. But I stare at her straight in the eyes. Something is burning in me. Her question, the translation being “There is something wrong with you.” Am I broken, like a clock, like a thing? Do I need to be fixed? Is that what she’s asking?
“What’s wrong with you?” I say. And for a moment, she pauses, contouring her face. I swallow. “I’m just tired.”
She nods. “Ain’t we all.”
But she didn’t understand. I was tired physically, mentally, emotionally. I was tired of this, these men. I was a testament incased, revolving in endless darkness.
I turn away from Taffy and find my eyes locking with yet another stranger. I’m used to gawking and slurs, but this man is eerie. His body is shaking under his tucked dress shirt. With lust? Drugs? I glimpse at his hand. He’s holding a glass bottle. Maybe he’s drunk? Either way, he’s not eyeing me up and down like the others. He’s staring at me. In my eyes. No one ever does that. But closer to the front, I see the scratching man’s glossy eyes point at me, and I shudder. Now, my name is called. And something pierces me to the stool.
Hesitantly, I stand and walk out the display, waiting for the man to come throw himself at me and ruin my night even more. I’m waiting, but he keeps his distance, still eyeing me.
“Excuse me.” I turn. It’s the eerie man with the gray eyes. He is looking at me, his fingers stroking his arm. His face is droopy up close. “I think I’m your next client.”
I pause for a moment. A release flies over me. But I’m stiff again. This man is strange.
I tell him to follow me and lead him down the hall to a room. I make my way in, and he trails. Inside, I sit on the edge of the bed, my hands to the side of me.
“Aren’t you going to close the door?” I say.
The man turns and quietly shuts it. But now he’s standing there, looking at the room. His head roll around until his eyes lock with me again. But this time, he averts them. Maybe this is his first time?
As if reading my mind, he says “I’ve never been . . . escorted before.”
I freeze at the word. Escorted. An elegant term for something so derogatory. Was it supposed to make this more acceptable? “Why don’t you just call it what it is?” I say. It almost came out like a hiss. I clear my throat. “Don’t be shy. I won’t bite hard.” I pat the spot next to me. In this line of work, you have to act. Roleplay. Follow these men’s dirty fantasies. Bring out the sensual voice with an alluring tongue.
He simply nods and makes his way over before sitting to the left of me. He taps his legs, never turning to me.
“Do you want something to drink?” he finally says.
“Get tipsy before the fun, right?”
He pursed his lips before holding up the bottle in his hand. He looks around the room. What he’s looking for is not in here.
“I guess we’ll just have to share the bottle.” I reach, and he hands it to me. I avoid alcohol whenever I can. When I can’t, I pretend to drink and pretend to be drunk. The men don’t know, especially when they are drunk themselves. I stopped drinking to be aware, to put myself back in reality. To feel the pain. To feel everything wrong with me.
I take a sip before pulling back. Water? I feel my brows knit. They quickly raise along with a panic. God, is he trying to roofie me? “Did you put something in the drink?”
His face contorts. “No, I would never . . .” But he cut himself off. He takes the bottle from me and starts gulping down, one, two, three giant swallows. A brisk smack sounds when the bottle parts from his lips. He whips away the water from his mouth with his sleeve before turning to me. His face is almost flushed. “Actions speak louder than words,” he says.
I look at him, daunted. “You didn’t have to do that.” I pause. “But it wouldn’t have been the first time.” I take the bottle back and gulp down the rest. It’s refreshing. I put it on the nightstand before leaning towards him. My hand instinctively rests on his chest. Other clients would have at least unzipped my dress by now. But he is edgy, rocking awkwardly. I gently push him towards the bed. But he stiffens. His gray eyes are frantic. “Just relax,” I say.
I try to push him down again, but sweat trickles from his face. His eyes don’t know where to look. Red plaster his cheeks. I take my hand away. “You came for something, right? Just tell me what you want.” He says nothing. “Why are you here? What, your girl doesn’t give you enough love?” I bite my lip. I broke a rule. Never talk about the client’s life outside the brothel.
“I don’t have a girl,” he says.
“So, you’re single?”
“As a dollar bill.”
I chuckle, though, he said it dryly. “Then why are you here?”
“I just want to talk.”
“Of course you do,” I say playfully. I grab his hand and place it on my breast. But he gently pries it from his and takes it off. I pause. “Is this a joke?”
He sits back up, forcing me to do the same. His posture is straight, but his hands are between his legs. His thumbs twiddle. It’s irritating me a little. Like a child trying to remain proper when he’s parents aren’t around.
I slap my hands on my tights after giving a defeated huff. “Ok, then what do you want to talk about?”
He pauses. “Your name?”
“You came here to talk about my name?”
“No, I just . . . What’s your name?”
I sigh. “Nora.”
“That doesn’t sound like a . . . stage name.”
He simply nods his head and sits in silence for a moment. “I’m Dylan.” I jerk when he suddenly throws his hand in my face. It feels strange, him treating me like a person. I shake it loosely. But again, he sits in silence. This time, for five minutes, analyzing the room.
My patience is thin. I stomp to my feet in my white stilettos and turn to him. “Look, I know you paid for the hour, but this is a waste of my time. I could be with other clients.”
“No no please. Please stay. I’m not trying to waste your time.”
“Then what do you want?”
He looks around frantically, trying to grasp onto anything. Any excuse to keep me. He looks up to the dreaded ceiling for answers. For a second, I wonder why we do that? But whatever his eyes latched onto seemed to deliver. He gently lowers his back onto the bed and looks up at the ceiling. “Can you lie with me?”
And I’m baffled. This man has the audacity to . . . to . . . to be different. It’s . . . not normal. I huff and drop onto the bed before throwing myself on my back next to him, our heads almost touching. And I’m back to staring up at the ceiling I hate so much. But the feeling’s unfamiliar. There’s no weight on me, and I feel no breeze along my stubby hairs.
“On my way here,” he suddenly begins, “I was standing in the middle of the street. Traffic only swerved around me, and I asked myself ‘why?’ Why not just run me down like road kill? I’m hardly ever seen, yet they saw me.”
What the hell? As if the room wasn’t already dark. But his words, he said them so casually. Why is he telling me this? I don’t care. I’m not a therapist. But of course, I don’t say that. Every night, I am ogled. People can’t help but notice the bright red target on my head. He says he is unseen, yet I saw him.
I say, “So why did you come here?”
“Because it was across the street. Well that, and the sign read ‘Raven.’ You should really get that fixed.”
This place is called Red Tavern. But the E, D, T, and R were broken for some reason.
“In a way, I guess I was following death.”
“I thought a crow was a bird for death.”
We pause. I pull my skirt down. Why did I do that?
“You won’t get any resolutions in this place if that’s what you’re looking for.”
He shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m looking for.” He pauses. “This is a beautiful room. The white walls really make it bright. But the red sheets need to be burned.”
“Enough rambling.” I prop myself on my elbows and look at him sideways. “What do you want from me?”
He says nothing.
I huff, “Why’d you pick me if you didn’t want to do anything?”
“You were the only one wearing white.”
Which was probably true. Most of the women wore BDSM gear with the thinnest leather straps a man will ever see. The popular colors were red and black. Still, what kind of excuse was that? “So, you saw a pure girl?”
He shakes his head. “More like a white rose in a red garden. And you never swayed. You just . . . sat there and stared at me. You never looked away. You stared . . . at me.” He pauses. He opens his mouth and quickly closes it. He does it again. “I thought maybe . . . you’d be a good listener.”
“You paid for me to listen?”
He pursed his lips. I stare back at the ceiling, and I can’t help but laugh. Who is this man?
“I paid to ask a question, too.” He turns to me. And I wait, still on my elbows. They’re starting to shake a little. “What’s the matter?”
I say nothing. I slowly turn away and stare at nothing before lowering to my back. What’s the matter? And it hits me. These words are foreign. I think about Taffy. What’s wrong with you? But this is different. What is the matter? What is the matter? “I’m just . . . tired.”
He nods. I look at his weary face, his dark eyes. And I know he understands.
My body begins to loosen. We stay in silence. I can hear the cars outside zipping passed the building. I can hear Dylan’s breathing. I can hear my heart beating.
“Why do you use your real name, Nora?” he asks.
Nora. Who is Nora? Why am I not Taffy, or Cherry, or Candy? I had a reason. I have a reason. A reason I don’t understand because I’m still in this room. We both still stare at the ceiling, and my eyes open, feeling a little more attentive and light. We stay there for a while, but I don’t know how long it’s been. What time is it? I don’t care. I don’t bother to look. But I notice something I hadn’t noticed before. On the ceiling, there is a thin sliver, a crack with a tiny hole in it. A small dim ray of light seeping in. I can’t help but scoff at the sight.
“Ask me again.”
He pauses for a moment, but seems to understand. “Why do you use your real name.”
I nod at his question. “So I don’t forget her.”
I stare at that ray of light until a sound jerks me out of my trance. It’s a knock at the door. Where did the time go?
Dylan slowly lifts himself to his feet. I sit up too. “Thank you,” he says.
He walks to the door and grabs the knob. At the click of the metal, something left me. Something is leaving, and he’s taking it with him, yet I don’t know what it is. But I don’t want him to leave. Please, I want him so desperately to pay an extra hour. Pay for two. Pay for the day. Pay for my release.
“Dylan.” He stops, his face still toward the door. “Do you still want to die?”
His back straightens, but his shoulders fall. For a long time, he says nothing. “I don’t know. I just want the guilt to end.”
And he leaves.
I stay on the bed, staring at the door. I want to run after him, to ask him more questions. But I’m not left alone with my thoughts for even a minute. The door opens, and a man lets himself right in. His body is twitching, his eyes bloodshot. Scratches are left on his neck, but he scrapes them like they don’t exist. My stomach recoils. My throat clogs at the sound of his panting. And for a moment, I think a dog has entered the room.
He shuts the door and locks it. In a flash, he is at the bed, shoving me down. I haven’t gotten a word out, yet my dress is torn open. He grabs my breasts tightly. I hiss, but that only seems to drive him further. He lays wet kisses on my sternum, his mouth a suction cup. This man hasn’t even taken off his jacket.
I can’t think. My mind is trying to process his wild movements, but his hands are everywhere. He tugs my hair. My skirt is to my belly button. And he flips me onto my stomach in one motion. A sharp pain is racing through, and my body is shaking. I try to rise. But his hands wrap around my neck and pin me down. “Just, relax,” he says. And a new pain shoots through me. My stomach is coiling. A hiss escapes my lips, but he continues. No cry will stop this man. And for a moment, I wonder how I came to be here in this room. Reality slaps me in the face.
I want to be on my back, with no weight on me, feeling no breeze. For once, I want to look at the white ceiling, not to have my face buried in these red sheets. I want my eyes to go red as the curls on my head. I want him to howl on the white floor with red oozing from his body. And I will do nothing but stare at the white ceiling, wondering how I never noticed the grooves and that thin ray of light.
Photo found at: Symphony in White, No. 1: The White Girl