Today I am a whore, seductive and expensive. My clothes, like my bearing, are tailored to entice rather than reveal. I stroll the sumptuous lobby of my madam's house, entertaining the guests with smiles and touches, catcalled and heckled by my permanent, imperceptible audience.
A regular walks in and examines the merchandise. He is fat and balding, even more powerful than he is rich, and as arrogant as both put together. Unlike some regulars, he prefers to sample a new girl with every visit; tonight his eye falls on me. I return his glance with a practiced smile, a smile that says he's exceptional, that he's handsome, that I'm intrigued by his gaze. It is a subtle, lying smile--a face worn as a mask over the mask that is my face.
He smiles back--an oily smirk meant to be charming--and moves in my direction, nodding to the stairs. I move with him, hanging back a little to take his offered arm. Behind us, a man with a crooked nose and a noble bearing brings his own girl upstairs. He watches our path, spots our room. Notes its place. He is ready.
I don't see him, of course. I lead my client to one of the many pillowed, curtained rooms and close the door behind us. The chorus whispers and whistles rudely, excited for the show.
My client wastes no time asserting his dominance. I remove my clothing slowly, then slower still at his vicious direction. (The audience wolf-whistles.) He takes great pleasure in causing me pain, forcing me into humiliating postures, making me say despicable things. (The audience cat-calls.) It's my job to indulge him, so I do--I am a master of the arts of deception and self-escape. (The audience laughs.) I am an actress who plays whatever role the client desires: companion, abuser, animal, slave. I am good at my job; by the time he finally throws me onto the bed and forces himself into me, he believes I am broken. Outside I am broken, but inside I am whole. Inside that, I am too broken to break.
The man with the crooked nose stands outside our door. His girl is drugged; he will be back in her bed before she wakes. My lies of pain and ecstasy mask the sound of the latch being pulled, the door being pushed. The sound of his steps. The chorus mocks my cries, cheering and laughing, their excitement at a peak. The show has begun at last.
He moves with subtlety, his aristocratic manner melting into the hushed prowl of a killer, a thief. He creeps closer as my cries grow louder, the grunts of my client more urgent. I scream as I feel my client fill me, and at the same moment the man with the crooked nose drives a dagger into his victim's heart. My client's brutal thrusts become convulsions, his grunts of pleasure turn to grunts of pain. I scream again, not yet aware he is dying.
The assassin retreats, too quickly, nervous of his kill. Quickly enough for me to spot him. A new scream, one of terror, escapes my lips. The scream is genuine, but I am an excellent actress--this scream is indistinguishable from the act.
Startled, the assassin stops, unsure. He only meant to kill one tonight. I try to scream for help, but don't. Realizing the price of his mistake, the killer moves in to finish me off. I attempt once more for a scream, but the weight of my client's body is pressing the air from my lungs and I have barely enough for a whisper before my throat flows crimson with blood.
The blood is hot, almost painful. I watch the man above the man above me clean his dagger on the sheets of our bed and retreat from our room, closing the door carefully behind him. His delay with me turns out to his advantage; a few moments sooner and he would have been spotted by another couple. He makes his way back to his bed, his girl, unnoticed. An absent absence. He will be paid handsomely for this murder.
The chorus cheers and applauds, ecstatic. This is their favorite part. The weight of the man on top of me presses the last of the air from my lungs just as my heart pumps the last of the blood from my veins. It's beating faster, desperate to keep going, unaware it is the agent of its own demise. Funny, I think, how life is strongest before it ends. My life is always ending, perhaps that is my strength. Or perhaps my life has never ended, and in the end I am the weakest of all.
Doesn't matter. Strong or weak, what matters is that I am. The voices around me, the chorus of death, repeat: I am. No. I am not. I am myself.
The chorus shrieks and surrounds me, drowning sense and self, and yet again I sink into the infinite wait.