The initiation to life as a whore was something of a ceremony. It was a virgin wedding, but for a whore. There was some kind of auction. Then there was the "upstairs" part. All of this was tradition from the Storyville days. Storyville was talked about. It was only about 10 years ago when they shut it down and they made prostitution illegal in the City of New Orleans.
The ceremonies were the same. The difference was it was all conducted underground. It was at the same time beautiful and terrifying. The mahogany stairs that had once been so closely liked with Storyville were off somewhere else. These plain stairs would work just fine.
The auction first made her think of live stock. She was going to be paraded in front of a bunch of a bunch of old men reeking of whiskey. The men would decide what she is worth and bid on her. She was quickly reminded that livestock rarely wears makeup and "virgins don't run cheap" by the older whores who were caking makeup onto Winnie's face.
The other women were older and more sophisticated. They managed to wear enough rouge to sink a ship and still look good. Winnie wished she could do that. She felt ridiculous most of the time. She hoped that she didn't look as ridiculous as she felt.
Do they feel ridiculous too?
It was really everything she expected except with more frills attached. Winnie remembered the words of kindness Dotty gave her on her first evening.
"Think of yourself like a work of art. First they'll paint you up real pretty, then men will come and admire you, after that they will bid to see who gets to take you upstairs." Dotty said with a smile.
Maybe it would be easier if I did think of myself as a work of art.
It would be easier. It wouldn't be realistic, taking into account what was about to happen. Winnie went into it like a brave soldier, a brave very drunk soldier.
The older whores and madams dressed her up in white lace with ribbon. They tried their hardest to make something attractive out of Winnie's usually flat ashy colored hair. After hours of coaching on what to say and how to act to the "gentleman" who would bring her upstairs.
She didn't feel pretty or like a piece of art. She really didn't feel anything. No surprises there. Winnie tried so hard to see things in a practical light. In a practical light she was a drunken whore in a dumb looking dress waiting to be paraded up the stairs, quite literally, to her new profession. Winnie was not a beautiful work of art.
It was an affair to write home about if she was actually going to write home, which she wasn't and if she was going to have any more than a vague recollection of these events.
Soon Winnie had been bought by some old man with bad teeth. She thinks he paid something like 50 dollars for her virginity, which completely beyond the shadow of a doubt was "intact".
She gave her best drunk whore-virgin-bride performance for Mr. bad teeth. She learned that all the gentlemen who came to the whorehouse were called "John".
She didn't scream or cry or really do anything more than was necessary. She did what she was instructed to do, which was to act whorish in the most virginal way possible.
Thankfully Mr. bad teeth did not stick around.
What a relief. It's over.
After the initial relief of Mr. Bad teeth leaving, Winnie was absolutely numb, some of that was due to drunkenness but a lot due to shock. This had been a very shocking experience.
This is life now, get used to it.
Before passing out, Winnie took out a flask she had stolen from one of the other women thief . Winnie wanted to make sure that if anyone checked the white sheets for blood that there would be proof of how "intact" she was. The day before, she made a cut at the bottom of her foot with a kitchen knife. She saved the blood in the stolen flask. Winnie poured the blood onto the white sheets where she had been.
It was good that Winnie thought about this in the days before.
Now would be a good time to pass out.