Horizontal Lives

True Tales of the Infamous Courtesan: Persephone N. Hades and her Horizontal Life underground. How she got there, her mis-adventures and her struggle to re-surface.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

"Beware the slippery slope."--Part Two

Obviously, I did go back.

When I arrived at seven, the door was answered by a woman I thought was Tina, as she looked exactly like Tina, in entirety: ashtray and cigarette in hand, although wearing different clothes than earlier. However, this Tina didn’t seem to recognize me. She gave me a quizzical "Yes? Can I help you look?" I reminded her I was the girl she had hired this afternoon. She informed me Linda wasn’t here yet and to just take a seat on the sofa.

She, in fact, was not Tina but rather Jessie, Tina’s twin.

I sat primly on the edge of the couch in a space not taken. The hollow darkened apartment of this afternoon, had transformed into what resembled an all-girl slumber party. Women of every color, shape and size were sprawled everywhere doing everything: reading magazines, putting on make-up, sorting through their stocking collection pulling their hands inside looking for runs, and chatting. Keeping myself tight in a small posture-perfect package, my hands clasped in my lap, I smiled a lot at what were to be my co-workers, as most people do on the first day at a new job. No one spoke to me.

So these are hookers, eh? They looked like normal people. Like regular women. From the conversations, they didn’t seem particularly well educated or classy, but they didn’t sound ‘street’ either. No one was gorgeous, but no one was ugly either.

It felt odd to me, their ability to be doing such mundane things. One girl, was sitting on her knees, eating take-out food off of the coffee table. How bizarre that looked. How could she eat before she goes to work to have sex with someone? It seemed like such a normal thing to do—so routine and casual as if nothing unusual were happening here. In that moment, I wouldn’t have been able to eat even if I hadn’t for days, which in my life at this time, was often the case. This moment, this thing I was about to do, was so out of the realm of anything I could imagine in my life that I couldn’t seem to place any of the usual life’s goings-on in this setting. It was like being in an actor’s nightmare where you find yourself on stage not knowing any of the lines, except in this case, I was the only one who knew there was a play about to open. I was the leading lady in a melodrama while everyone else was still in rehearsal.

A key turned the lock of the apartment door and the girls suddenly scattered like pigeons, falling silent, collecting themselves and their things into nice, neat areas around themselves. Through the door came a tiny woman, about five feet tall and ninety pounds, with a light brown page boy hair cut, round wire spectacles, wearing an elegant pantsuit, surrounded by an aura of lightening and thunder. She reminded me of a Chihuahua. Dividing the room with her stride, she gave a glance that silently recorded, like numbers on a balance sheet, every girl present. Before she entered the bedroom-turned-office, she stopped dead at the door, and looked at me. Her eyes shot flames from my toes to my head and back again. She then snarled, turned, crossed the threshold, slammed the door to the office and barked,

"What the hell ugly piece of shit is that sitting on the sofa?"

Heat rushed to my face, water to my eyes, my bones trembled in my ribcage as I fought to keep a limp smile on my face, and pretend not to have heard it. The air was still. No one moved. A slightly plump Irish girl with red hair, enormous breasts and a pretty face, sitting next to me, leaned over and whispered in a lilting brogue,

"Don’t let it worry you none. Linda hates everyone at first."

"Oh. That’s good." I replied weakly. "Why?"

Before the Irish girl could answer, the door flew back open. Linda, the Madam, the owner, the boss, the Chihuahua came to sit by me. The Irish girl jumped up giving her space and the interview with Linda, who was to change my life forever, began.

"What perfume is that?" she demanded, eagle-eyeing my application on her lap.

"Paloma Picasso. It’s my favorite."

"You stink. You’re wearing too much. Men don’t want their apartments to smell of other women. Basic. Go wash it off."

I started to get up.

"Not now. Later." She scanned my body. "What are you wearing?"

"You mean clothes?" I wasn’t sure what she meant.

"Go shopping. You look like you came from Salvation Army."

"I did." I said, attempting a joke. It wasn’t funny. I would soon learn, Linda took fashion seriously, Armani being her god of choice.

"I can’t really afford it right now."

Her unblinking eyes exhaled dry ice. She took in a deep breath and continued,

"You need two names. We have two categories of girls. Two hundred an hour and three hundred an hour. One is girl-next-door, one is model/actress. Give me two names."

"Rebecca?" I attempted.

"We have a Rebecca."

"Tony?" I tried again.

"That’s a man’s name."

"Well, sometimes it’s a cute nick-name for girls."

Linda rolled her eyes and hollered to Jessie. "Jessie! Bring me a lit cigarette. The Newport."

She tapped my application with her pen. "No, the Marlborough."

Jessie scurried in with the lit cigarette and scurried back to the office.

"Jessie!" Linda yelled again. "Do we have a Tasha?"

Jessie answered that they did not and so my three hundred dollar name was to be Tasha.

"How about Gwenivere?" I ventured, getting into the romantic spirit of this new name thing.

"Too long. Men don’t want long names. Jessie? Do we have a Gwen?"

Again Jessie answered they did not and thus Gwen became my two hundred dollar name.

"You have too much make-up on." She took the deepest drag of the cigarette that I’ve ever seen anyone take, starred at me again and finally gave a smoky exasperated exhale.

"Cait." She said to the Irish girl. "Give me your purse."

Cait immediately handed it over. Linda held it in front of me.

"Imagine this is my purse. And if this is my purse," she said pulling out Cait’s wallet, "What is this?"

"That would be your wallet." I said timidly, not wanting to give the wrong answer.

"Right. Now if you go into this wallet and take out the money here," she demonstrated by removing some bills from Cait’s wallet, "what would that be called?"

"Stealing?" I said hesitantly.

"Smart girl." She answered, giving me my first semi-compliment of the night. "Listen carefully. This is my business. My business is my wallet. If you give your phone number or any contact information of yours to a client of mine, that is like taking money out of my wallet. Am I right girls?" she suddenly turned and gave a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing-smile to the girls around the room. The girls muttered affirmatively. "If you steal from me, you will never work in this business again."

"I read it in the memo on the board." I said, kissing ass a bit.

"Any questions?" She asked in a way that I knew I shouldn’t ask, so I shook my head. She studied my application.

"You’re 26? From now on you’re 21. Right?"

I nodded.

"When you get to a call, you call in to us first. You say your name and we start your time. Exactly an hour later we’ll call for you. You leave A.S.A.P. then, quick like a bunny, you come here and drop off the money and wait for another call. Did you give Jessie your schedule for the week?"

"No."

"Doesn’t matter yet. I can’t guarantee you’ll work out. But we’ll see. I can never account for men’s taste." She was finished. She shut herself back into the office with the phones now ringing insistently.

The girls, who, throughout my interview, had their heads down, busying themselves with nothing, now all looked at one another from under heavy lids, smirking and smiling. Had all been through a similar speech before?

Cait sat back next to me again. She smelled like warm bread.

"Now what?" I asked her.

She finished biting a loose cuticle off her index finger and shrugged. "Now we wait", she said.

I was imploding with questions I was afraid to ask; questions I was terrified to hear the answers to. Questions I almost sure now, that anyone in my position might have been desperate to ask.

With the office door closed, the chatter began again until the room was thumping with conversation and high-pitched squeals.

"Shut-Up!" Linda’s bellow, louder than the room of thirty girls, muzzled the noise in one fell swoop.

It was hard for me to understand the non-chalantness these girls exuded. Cait applied an outer trace of lip liner to her mouth looking in her hand mirror. The take-out eater resumed her gobbling. A lovely, dark-skinned, anorexically thin girl next to Cait counted the bills in her purse.

After a few moments of uncharacteristic silence, the murmuring began again. I was so nervous—so freaked out I had to ask. I had to know. I had more questions than I could keep a rein on.

"Do you think she’ll send me out tonight?" I whispered to the room in general. I got shrugs in reply.

No matter how scared I was, the promise of financial rescue had won me over. I was going to do this. Even if only for tonight. I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to fail because I didn’t know what I would do if this didn’t work out. I didn’t want to fail because I hate to fail in general. And I didn’t want to fail at being a prostitute because that seemed like a surreal thing to have to face. I was going to try it. At least once.

Once I opened my mouth to ask, it was like a dam breaking and a river of questions poured, unbridled from my lips: So how did you get into this? Were you scared? Aren’t you afraid of AIDS? What do you do to ask for the money? What do you do when you get there? How do you act on ‘a call’? (This was the term I had quickly picked up on for what they say when they send you out to meet someone.) How do you know what name you’re supposed to be? What if he doesn’t give you the money or the right amount of money? Do you have to have sex? Do you like what you do? Do you usually get a lot of calls in a night? What if the guy doesn’t like you when you get there? Has anyone ever hurt you? Aren’t you scared of AIDS? (I think I asked that one a few times.) The girls went on primping, eating, drinking sodas, whispering, reading magazines as if I hadn’t uttered a word. I didn’t know yet that it was forbidden to tell anything to a new girl, as she might be a police officer.

Around 8 o’clock, bookings began and the room slowly emptied out. One by one, a name would be called, the girl would go into the office, come out with a small, square, blue piece of paper with a name and address on it, head to the bathroom for a final touch up and hurry out the door.

By 9 o’clock there was just four of us left: Cait, the skinny black girl, the eater and me. Now I was more nervous about not being sent out than actually being sent out. What if I couldn’t even be a Prostitute? This was my last option. And if I couldn’t even cut it as a hooker, what did that say about me? Was I that ugly? That unappealing?

The phones kept ringing and the high-pitched selling chatter from the other room yielded no calls to us in the living room. To distract myself from the nervous bile that ran up my throat and back as I kept gulping it down, I carefully pulled out the "How to Make Love to a Man" book, secretively covering the title on the cover with my palm. It would be too embarrassing for anyone to see what I was reading. I tried to peruse it, seeing words like tongue, lick, cock, butterfly motion, orgasm, but I couldn’t focus. I put it away.

Cait lit a cigarette with a Zippo lighter that had a naked woman on it. I surmised she couldn’t have been older than 21.

"Want one?" She offered.

I had quit smoking years ago, which was why I now carried ten extra pounds even though I worked out and rarely got to eat. I took it, letting the dizziness from the first inhale distract me from my nerves.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"Belfast." She flicked her ash in the ashtray and took another drag. "Came to America to become an au pair." She exhaled the blue smoke. "No money in it. So." She tilted her hand with the cigarette to indicate the room. "You Catholic?"

Her question took me by surprise. "No. Jewish."
We take simultaneous drags.

"I guess I should be feeling guilty right about now, huh?" I asked with a smirk.

We both flick our ashes.

"Oh sure." She laughs. "And I am sooo ashamed."

"Are you though? I mean, do you feel a little weird about this?"

"So", she says, thickening her brogue, "A nice young girl leaves Ireland and goes to America to make her fortune. She becomes an au pair, but thar ain’t no money in it. So she decides to become a prostitute. And she makes some money and she buys some nice clothes and some presents for her Mar and her Par and she flies back home to Ireland. And when she steps off the plane, thar at the airport waiting for her is her dear Mar. And her Mar runs up to her with her hands at her mouth in astonishment."

Cait is acting the whole thing out: hands, eyes, and different voices for each character.

"And she says to her, ‘Oh me darlin’! You look so fine in your fancy clothes…tell me…tell your Mar, what did ya do when ya were in America?’ ‘Oh why Mar" the girl says with wide innocent eyes, ‘when ee was in America, ee became a Prostitute.’ Well her Mar, she faints dead away. They have to revive her and all. Finally she sits up and says, ‘No. No. Darlin’ ee don’t think ee heard ya right…say it again for me. What did you do when you were in America?’ Eyes open even wider, the girl replies, ‘Why Mar, Ee said. When ee was in America, ee became a prostitute.’ Her Mar’s mouth is open; disbelieving what she is hearin’. (Playing the mother, Cait puts her fingers in her ears as if to clear them out.) ‘No darlin’, ee think ee’m goin’ deaf ya know? One more time. What did ya do?’ Louder this time and slower, the girl spells it out. "Mar, ee said, when ee was in America ee became a prostitute.’ ‘A Pro—sti—tute?" the mother says slowly back, confirming. ‘Ya Mar’ the girl nods. Her Mar crosses herself, looking sky ward and finally replies: ‘Oh thank God! Ee thought you said Protestant, ya know!’

I guffawed, actually snorting diet Pepsi out of my nose. That made Cait double over. Suddenly and thank god, I had a comrade.

"Shannon!" Linda called from the office. Cait jumped.

I guessed that ‘Shannon’ must be Cait’s working name.

"Gwen and Dawn!" My heart began to bang against my chest. The beautiful black girl next to me rose.

"Call for the three of you together. Cait, you come in and get the info. Dawn, Gwen , get ready."

It was here. It was time.

My first time.

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