They’ve been here before, almost every night for as long as they can remember. All of the clients have cleared out of the dark red, dimly-lit rooms, the final false smiles have faded from the girls’ faces, the bead curtains have fallen still at last and their incessant reverberations have receded. The main room is full of smoke, the old threadbare couches will suffice as mates for the night. None of the girls will want to re-enter the ominous closed rooms leading down the halls from the main room, though they know that once the clients dutifully file in the next morning, they’ll have to reclaim their discarded smiles before luring the willing clients back into the rooms.
They’ve been here before. They’ve done this before. They know the requirements of the job, the moral sacrifices it requires. They’ve known the rules and the ways and the struggle since they were very young. Their naїvety disappeared long ago. In the beginning, they maintained a little innocence, attaching a small piece of their hearts to the most regular clients, but that didn’t last long.
When they were younger, they saw things in these men, these properly labelled clients, that were not present. The shine and optimism had not dissipated from the girls: so when they saw these men moving over them, they saw someone invincible, who did not have a problem in the world. Granted, in their rosy, tilted vision, each of the girls saw something different. Some saw a husband; a figure waiting at the end of a long and carpeted aisle, a hand to hold in a screaming period of labor, a source of trust. Others saw something more detached, a James Dean deity to admire; without flaws, invincible. He always took a different shape physically, as people always do – but he was always the same in their eyes.
It’s hard to explain what they saw. The best analogy that can be made for what those women saw was a pair of skates behind a shop window glass. They saw the polished shine, the laces pulled up perfectly, imagined flying past bodies. None pictured the broken knees or fingers, or the blistered curves of feet that would emerge. These women used to see golden hearts in these men. When half a shadow of decency emerged before them, they clasped their hands and marvelled at the legend of noble impossibility before them.
When they stay in that red room together, not speaking to one another, they have this in common. Those who fell foolishly for the baggy, empty suits of men have left. Their naїvety and light have drained from the world. Though some may still carry the consequences of this – scars disguised as small bundles of noise – they will never go back. Others may enter, but will soon move to the weary arms of the women before them. They will all make it to that red room full of smoke.
Cover and fiction by Ella Luna. Cover image from google images.