Winnie's Journey through life as a young prostitute in late prohibition era New Orleans. She copes in the way that she knows how and learns new things along the way.
South Mississippi 1928
She was not a pretty girl. She was not quite plain, but almost. She looked at herself in the mirror and caked on more of the awful makeup.
More rouge? More lipstick? More everything? Winnie thought.
At the age of 13, the awkwardness of childhood was still upon her, but that really didn't amount to diddly squat in her Ma's opinion. 13 was old enough to earn your room and board.
The red sequined costume that Winnie was wearing didn't fit like used to. She was as tall as her older sister now, but not nearly as pretty. The growth spurt was all together awkward. Now her legs were showing entirely to much.
"Winnie! You are on in 3!" she heard the stage hand yell. She did not get nervous. This was not new.
She walked up the stairs in the high heels with all of the grace she could muster. She sang her number and smiled at the audience. It was always the same thing. She was consistent if nothing else.
Winnie had a great talent for "performance". In all reality she could hide all semblances of her own thoughts or emotions and do what was necessary. She was good at it. It had helped her get this far.
She finished her number and did the general smile and wink then took advantage of the situation as she always did.
Her Ma was the one running this whole operation. She ran the performance hall and served drinks down stairs. These drinks usually contained gin that Ma made in her bath tub. Winnie's Ma did all of this plus brought up her 7 children alone. Mrs. Thomas could get quite distracted at times. Her 2nd oldest daughter was not at the top of her priority list as of the moment. The bathtub full of gin was just part of life.
Winnie sometimes wished she had been born with some talent that could have been more useful to mother. She wasn't beautiful like her older sister. Penny was easily married off. Winnie was nothing more than a burden.
Winnie could use her Ma's distraction to her advantage. She would sneak into her mothers room or sometimes at late hours after the hall was closed she would sneak into the bar and steal gin. She would drink as much gin as she could as fast as she could. It helps she rationalizes the theft and lies. She wasn't going to get into the fact gin was illegal.
Of course she had seen what liquor could do. A few years ago Pa was run out of town at gun point due in part to liquor. Winnie rationalized this too.
Liquor only makes you more of what you already are.
While all of this was going on, Ma pretended not to notice. She was very good at overlooking things. At least that was what Winnie thought.
Ma overlooked the beatings we all took until those men ran Pa off...
Winnie wouldn't have thought something so awful about her own mother during daylight hours.
The next day was just the same as all other days, tending to little brothers and sisters by day, back up those stairs and on with the show night.
She couldn't help but let her eyes wander to the audience. A woman was sitting there. This person was definitely from out of town. Winnie knew everyone from in town. It was a really small town. The woman looked to Winnie to be nearly 100 years old and scary as blue blazes. Maybe the grim reaper himself was scared of this old woman. The woman was dressed in grand fashion. Rings on every finger so-to-speak. She was wearing some kind of wig. It couldn't have been her hair.
If Winnie had been allowed to have feelings she would have been quite terrified or maybe even... curious?
Here we go. Smile. Wink. Stairs. BACKSTAGE.
Soon she was looking in her mirror removing the giant rhinestone earrings from her ears. From out of nowhere the fearsome old woman shows up in Winnie's mirror. She hid her shock, mostly at least.
Like water on a ducks back, Winnie, Let it roll off.
"Good evening Ma'am. Enjoyed the show?" Winnie said. She was composed and all smiles.
When can this be over?
"Yes darling. I came to talk with you about your performance." The crone said slowly. The slowness was fitting. It would be hard to imagine anyone this old doing anything quickly.
"I have a few questions for you if you don't mind." The woman continues.
"Certainly" Winnie was confused as to who exactly this woman was and what on earth she wanted with her.
"Your name dear?"
"Winifred Thomas "
"And your age?"
"13 ma'am. I'll be 14 in February"
"Good. I have heard you are the daughter of the woman who runs this club?"
"I trust you are still intact."
"I beg your pardon ma'am?"
"You are still a virgin?"
What the hell did this old hag want to know about my virginity for? This is not only strange it is terrifying. Who walks into a night club and asks some girl if she is "intact"? This makes no sense.
All of this raced through Winnie's mind while she only appeared mildly confused.
"Yes ma'am. Ma'am may I ask what it is you came here to talk with me about?" LIES LIES LIES Winnie thought. She knew she had lost her virginity somewhere along the way. Apparently she had found it 30 seconds ago.
All in a day...
"I came to talk to you about your future. I would like to employ you. You will have room and board. You will be working for me. I run an establishment in New Orleans"
It all came together in Winnie's head. It made sense now. It made way to much sense. This was her future? In a whorehouse in New Orleans?
How much worse does it get?
Like a slap in the face (which Winnie was all to familiar with) the strange woman continued
"You will take a burden off of your mother, who I understand is a very busy woman"
These words rang true in Winnie's ears.
I need to get out on my own. Make my own way. 13 is a woman. I can do this.
"Yes?" said the thousands year old woman.
"Where should I meet you? Also, may I have your name?"
"You will meet my driver at midnight tonight outside the post office down the road. Bring whatever you find absolutely necessary. You may call me Madame Grey"