The Lives of Whores
“I just don’t see what it matters,” one of the women chittered, her boorish red nails sprinkled in crumbs of toast. “We’re already a bucket of sluts—what’s the Madame care if we catch a little action on the side?”
Vera padded into the kitchen without announcing herself, moving to one of the counters and filling a small bowl with fruit and biscuit cookies. Knowing that they weren’t about to make room for her at the table, she leaned against the counter and popped a blueberry in her mouth.
“What’s she trying to protect? Keepin’ us all locked up like a bunch of virgins!” The same woman continued as the others ate their breakfast, not seeming terribly arrested by what she had to say. “I’m just saying—”
“—She doesn’t want us to look trashy,” Vera supplied shortly, growing instantly annoyed with the sound of Irene voice. “Though apparently it’s too much to ask of some people.”
One of the girls choked on a chunk of mango while Irene shot an incredibly ugly l“And how did Her Highness sleep last night?” The older woman asked waspishly.
“On my side, mostly.”
This time the girls started giggling, invoking another nasty look from Irene. She turned her glare back on Vera and sneered. “I assume Madame lets her precious princesse sleep with whoever she wants?”
Vera shook her head. “God, no. She needs me to look the least trashy of all.”
“What’s trashy about love?” Irene burst, turning out the palms of her hands. “Forgive me for wanting something a little fresher than the city’s oldest damn judge!”
“If we were in any position to make that choice, we wouldn’t be here,” Vera reasoned calmly, switching from biscuit to strawberry. “You said so yourself, Irene. A whore’s life isn’t a romantic one.”
This earned a Vera a particularly unhappy scowl, as well as some poorly-disguised sulking from the other girls at the table.
She supposed she could have been more sympathetic—it was a whore’s first and foremost dream to be rescued by love, to meet a man who would see fit to take her away from the brothel, to shower her in jewelry and attention. It was a silly notion, though. The men who frequented places like Fallen Angels were not the types who fell in love. Instead, they were grotesque and physical creatures, bound for a one-way ticket to one-time pleasure and absolutely airborne with the lack of responsibilities attached.
Maybe it was bitter of her, but Vera knew better than to expect that sort of thing. Especially since Madame would skin her alive if she went around wasting time and “sullying her name” by entertaining profitless men. As much liberty as she gave Vera, Mme Esmé was absolutely unmovable on that subject. She took her bowl of food and started back up to her apartment, having successfully ruined everyone’s opinion of her for the day.
Vera spent the next several hours thinking stupid thoughts. She didn’t consider herself an overly libidinous woman, but after a decade of old men and bloody daggers, she had to admit that she could use a change. Just one rendezvous, one illicit encounter with someone attractive, closer to her age. She knew better than to even think of love, but, as Irene had so eloquently pointed out, even whores deserved a decent lay every now and again. Not that Vera was actually a whore.
Vera was easily one of the most prominent women in the entire city, with her short, ashen hair and eyes like shattered ice. Every night she swam through the sharp stage lights of Fallen Angels, her skin shimmering with traces of silver powder, her small curves flashing within a cascade of leather and silk. She was ethereal and lovely, he movements lucid and graceful despite the fusion of steel and glass that had replaced several patches of her body—her left calf, her right hip, the trail of ribs below her heart. She was Glass Woman of Vapor City, and people flocked from miles around just to hear her sing. She was above the weepy drivel of the other women. She was being ridiculous. She had a show to put on, a living to make. She didn’t have time for daydreaming.
Tucked behind the curtains for the fourth time that day, Vera shook her head and adjusted her bodice. Stupid. Mme Esmé would smack her. She straightened her shoulders and fussed over her hair as an alluring strain of music silenced the tavern on the other side. Vera took her opening stance—back to the audience, arms draped sensuously in the air. She closed her eyes and collapsed into herself like a star, a breath of air whispering against her bare skin as the curtains whirled open. Applause chiseled through the air. Vera’s arms poured down like water, her hands wrapping over her waist, hip angled to one side.
“I don’t know why,” she suspired, her voice sliding into the music like delicate fingers into a fine glove. “But I’m feelin’ so sad..” She spun slowly, smoothly, her chin dipped to her shoulder. “I long to try something I’ve never had…”
It was an old song; a stupid song; but Madame insisted that it suited her voice.
“Never had no kissing…oh, what I’ve been missing…”
She traced her lip with a single nail, giving the audience furtive looks. “Lover man…where can you be?”
Whistles rained down on stage as Vera sauntered from one side to the other, making careful work of her hips, her shoulders, the glass in her legs and arms shimmering every time it slid into the light. She’d pause for a line, drop down and give one of the men crowding the stage some attention, then slither back up and continue her walking.
“The night is so cold…and I’m so alone…I’d give my soul, just to call you my own…”
Old, old, middle-aged. She tickled the jaw of a grisly-faced man, giving him a curt slap on the cheek when he reached out to touch her. “Lover man, oh where can you be?” As the continued her rounds, she expected to see the usual heads of state—balding, wrinkled, old if not completely repulsive…and was startled by something very different.
The first thing she noticed was the intensity of his eyes. Clear and incisive, deliciously dark in the drunken mood-lighting of the tavern. It nearly stopped her heart.
“…I’ve heard it said, that the thrill of romance can be like a heavenly dream…”
He was leaning back from the stage, the angles of his face covered in sharp shadows. He was younger than any of the patrons Vera was used to, somewhere in his thirties, and from what she could see, he was also infinitely more handsome. She couldn’t help herself.
“I go to bed with a prayer…” She let her eyes lock with his as she moved to the edge of the stage, a fringe of anonymous hands stretching out to assist her. She ignored them and swanned down the steps on her own, winding her way to him. He stayed very still, following her with his eyes, craning his head when she came close enough to touch. “That you’ll make love to me…” She dared to ghost a hand over his shoulders as she passed. “Strange as it seems…”
When she next saw his face, there was a devilish little smirk tugging at his mouth. She bit her lip indiscreetly and prowled back onto the stage.
“Someday we’ll meet, and you’ll dry all my tears…then whisper sweet little things in my ear…” Vera turned to make her exit and gave a chaste little shimmy of her hips. “Hugging and a’kissing…oh, what I’ve been missing…” One last look at that wolfish man gave her insides an agreeable chill. “Lover man…oh, where can you be…?”
The music trickled off, and though she’d barely shown any interest in them, the men cheered and catcalled just as they always did. She stood still while the curtains fell, and then, once she was in the clear, she gave in to an overwhelming urge to see him again. She parted the curtains ever so slightly, and saw him sitting there, perfectly still. At first she feared that he might have been unmoved by her performance, but the memory of that grin convinced her otherwise. …God, she wanted to sing again. Just for him. Maybe if she played her cards right…No. That was a very bad idea. Mme Esmé would be outraged if she knew what was going through Vera’s head. …Then again…
Perhaps, Vera thought, if she did it once—just once, then maybe this sudden frustration would subside. Maybe the experience would soften the need. Besides, what if this was the only night he was in town? What if he disappeared forever after this? She wasn’t sure she’d survive that. Those damn incinerating eyes of his had sparked something insatiable inside her, something she’d never had to grapple with before. It was infuriating.
Vera was forced out of these conflicted thoughts by Mme Esmé, who appeared backstage and deposited a kiss onto each of her cheeks. “C’était merveilleux! That was wonderful, my love!”
“Merci beaucoup, Maman.”
“Oh, what a finale! Now, about your next contract…”Vera nodded attentively as Madame spoke, but her mind was on the other side of the curtains, sufficiently distracted by that damn man. When Madame was finished, Vera stole one more peek through the curtains—and her heart went cold.
The man was gone.