By Reece Pye
The next thing he remembers, after the bitch spat in his eye, is face planting on the footpath. There is a dull ringing in his left ear, which faces up at the implacable black sky. He listens faintly to the surrounding rush of cars and all the other far less experienced drunks crying out merrily to one another from across the street. Had this been the first time, then he would have made the effort to get up a lot sooner; this was now just another piece of the never-ending cycle he has since established for himself, he sees no reason to be in a hurry.
He feels around the inside of his mouth with his tongue to see if any of his teeth have come loose, or he can taste any blood, which he cannot. Then he presses his grazed hands into the concrete and gradually eases himself up to his knees. He already knows his suit had been ruined from the landing, – but what he hasn’t yet considered is whether the two men who dragged him out the door are already finished with him and aren’t merely waiting to see if he is stupid enough to try and hold his ground.
In his half-blind daze, he knows they are still standing behind him. Perhaps they are waiting impatiently for him to stagger off or watch him try to keep himself from losing his balance as he attempts – with deft incompetence – to beckon them any further away from the door than the bottommost stair leading up to The Scarlet Palace. Even in spite of his untimely removal, he always liked to think of it as the finest establishment one could find anywhere along King Street, because whenever he went to any of the others whose names he’d long forgotten, it was usually he who turned himself away upon discovering how unnervingly placid most of the girls were.
But as he turns to face the two smiling enforcers who guarded him from the only thing that attracted him to this side of the city, he sees that the largest of the two is already stepping aside, giving way to a third man he has never seen prior to tonight. He is dressed in a well-tailored suit that he thinks is at least as expensive as his own, but clean. His single tuft of grey hair is wisely combed off to the side to mask his receding hairline, though before he has the chance to inspect the man’s face in greater detail, already knowing he is younger than himself and most likely of European descent (they nearly all were, he’d come to learn) the man points at him directly, so that he has no chance of pretending that he isn’t responsible for his own degeneracy.
‘You listen here, you sick fuck,’ he says sharply, ‘if you ever come back here again, you’re gonna wish we called the cops tonight, ya understand?’
Vaguely, but yes, he understands well enough and this is the only thing that concerns him.‘I…I’m really sorry, mate,’ he sighs. ‘But I swear, last time I was here, she didn’t have a problem with it at all.’
The man folds his arms, cocking an eyebrow. ‘Wait, so you’re telling me she’s let you do that shit to her before?’ Then he turns away and chuckles under his breath, shaking his head at the guard standing to his right.
‘Yeah,’ he replies, waiting until the man is facing him again before continuing. ‘She didn’t have a problem with it, mate.’
The man gives a dry scoff. ‘So, if I was to go back in there and ask her–’
‘She’d just lie to you,’ he overrides, ignorant to how much he is slurring. ‘C’mon, you know what they’re like.’
This is followed by a moment of silence – excluding the surrounding ruckus of cars and inebriated shouting – as the man turns to each of the guards standing off to either side of him with a look of utter bewilderment. Then, ever so slowly, he returns his gaze to the delinquent before him.
‘Just get the fuck outta here. Ya wanna pull dirty shit like that, there’s girls all around here who’ll do it for a hell of a lot cheaper, ya hear me?’
Before he has the chance to respond, the man suddenly turns away and makes his way back into the building, leaving him to exchange hard glances with the two men left to guard the door like roided brutes. Knowing he has no reason to provoke them, much as he wants nothing more than to curb stomp both the pricks into the gutter, he is already well aware – despite how blackly drunk he is – that there isn’t enough man in him for anything like that. So he turns away from them, doing his best not to stagger as he ambles off down the footpath and into the familiar unknown.
Funny how he never really had the taste for any of it when he was younger, so committed was he to setting himself up for the rest of his working life that there really wasn’t any time for much else. Yes, he’d once upon a time had friends who did their best to drag him along to every fleeting gathering or innocuous event that meant about as much to him as they did. Until they eventually saw no other recourse but to give up on him entirely.
As he blindly crosses the road amidst a flurry of horns and infuriated voices, he thinks of his ex-wife. Not so much her but the taste of her; his very first taste of woman. That was when he knew there was no going back – because how could he once he’d finally experienced the flesh for himself?
It was only in the ensuing years when they were living together just out of the city and were having their first and only child together – a surprise neither of them were upfront about – that her selfish, ever-growing refusal to let him touch her inspired him to stay out after work a little later than usual most nights. At first it was just for a drink so that he could try and cleanse his mind of the dispute they’d gotten into that very morning, but on the night he finally decided it was time to go home after his seventh pint of ale, he’d already spotted the sign across the street: a harsh pink outline of what was unmistakably a woman and he hadn’t the time to even decide before finding himself drawn to it – almost against his will.
Like a moth to some fatal, artificial light.
And that was how it went for the next few years. Not every night of the week, for he knew he had to be home to be with his little girl, who he did love more than he knew he had any right to. But even she wasn’t enough to keep him away from the lure of all those neon lights that stretched the entire length of King Street and when Janette finally did grow suspicious of how much money he was spending on a weekly basis, even then he was unable to put a stop to it – and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
The only thing that saved him at first was the fact that lying seemed to come just as naturally to him as the urges; those same repulsive instincts that fuel him as he now makes his down Bourke Street. The feeling of not knowing where he is headed or where he will end up, because that has also become part of the rush that he craves. The way his glassy eyes automatically shift from one to the next as they pass by him, systematically undressing them like they’re nothing but animals. It’s like he’s skinning them alive and the thought of this alone is enough to make him hard in spite of all the drink he’s had.
But he already knows the risk of taking them off the street and so he carries on aimlessly, until he comes to a wide alley up ahead, which is not an alley but a narrow side street and as he drunkenly manoeuvres around the corner and is already unzipping his fly to piss, his eyes are immediately seized by it. Further up on the left side of the laneway, high above the inconspicuous doorway that he otherwise wouldn’t have known was there, is the radiant purple outline of what looks to be a flower of some kind. Even as he unleashes his stream against the wall, ignoring the few who watch in in disgust as they come and go along the mouth of what he still thinks is an alley, he doesn’t take his eyes away from it.
Because he can’t, you see.
Once he’s done, he buttons his pants but forgets to zip his fly as he makes his sluggish approach, savouring the lavish beauty of it until he’s nearing the doorway and the name beneath the sign finally reveals itself to him. The Violet Roseand so dazzling are both the name and the sign in tandem that he doesn’t even think before making his way inside, feigning sobriety in a way that he has never done before.
The woman at the reception desk greets him with the warmest of smiles, he returns it as best he can, wondering if she’s aware that he’s ogling her bosom as he approaches.
‘What can I do for you, hun?’ she asks him through a tight, red-lipped smile.
He considers this as he inspects the foyer, the marble floor and the purple walls, all in different shades, trying to make sense of where he is and how this is only his first time here. Then he tells her that he has no particular type, which is a lie, and her smile widens as she tells him about the admittance fee,. After paying it, she points him towards the adjacent hallway. He thanks her absentmindedly as he starts off down the hall, at the end of which is a doorway where sparkling drapes are suspended on either side and upon walking through it, he is met first with a lone man standing off against the near wall, who he knows is security.
And then he surveys the wider room and sees that there are only three girls, two of them sitting at the bar on the far side chatting to the bartender, while one is alone in the opposite corner directly across from him, eyes already upon him. Mid-twenties at most, dark-haired, slim-figured and fair-chested, her nipples almost visible through her cotton lingerie, he keeps his eyes fixed to her as he slowly makes his way over, scrutinising every visible inch of her flesh before coming to a halt.
‘Hi,’ he says dully. ‘Can I get you a drink or something?’
She surveys him up and down like the intruder he is, bearing only the vaguest trace of a smile as she uncrosses her legs. ‘I’m alright, babe,’ she tells him. ‘But you can get yourself a drink.’
Glancing over at the bar, he sees that the bartender and the two other girls are watching him and he quickly looks away, back to her. ‘Is there somewhere else we can go?’
There is a pause, as the girl seems rather taken aback. ‘You don’t want to tell me your name first, or ask me what mine is?’
After a brief silence, he tells her his name, but doesn’t ask her for hers. The girl glances cursorily over at the bar, then slowly stands up, taking him by the hand. As she leads him away, past the guard standing against the wall and the curtained doorway, down the narrow hallway,he gazes at the purple walls in silence. She takes him into the last room at the end of the hall, which is dimly lit – as they invariably are. Without her prompting him,he sits down at the end of the single bed, and waits for her to join him.
‘So, do you need me to explain the pricing before we get started?’ she asks as she sits down beside him, caressing his back with her hand.
Without saying anything, he reaches behind him and retrieves his wallet, handing her three one hundred-dollar bills. She eyes him intently for a second before taking the bills from him, relocating them to some secret pocket that is hidden in the waist of her transparent pantyhose. Then she turns to him, placing her hands on his shoulders as she begins to ease him down on the bed, though he quickly brushes her hands away from him.
‘No,’ he says and the two of them look plainly into each other’s eyes for a moment.
‘Okay, then what?’ she asks, putting on a smile.
He sits bolt upright, slowly spreading his legs, and when she immediately lowers herself down to the floor on her knees, he shakes his head. ‘Stand up and turn around,’ he tells her.
She obeys him reluctantly and shivers only a little as she feels his hands closing around her hips, slowly yet forcefully pulling her down towards him, until she is sitting not on his lap, but between his legs. She remains silent as he runs his hands smoothly up her back and over her shoulders and remains silent still as he loosens the straps of her bra, letting it fall to her lap, then feels his way down her back again and around her ribcage, softly cupping her hanging breasts and kneading them gently – mostly with his thumbs.
At the same time, she feels him breathing against her neck as he slowly leans forward, kissing along her spine. ‘Talk to me,’ he whispers to her.
But she doesn’t know what to say at first; if she even can say anything. ‘What do you want me to do to you?’ she says in a low voice.
‘Nothing,’ he replies, as he continues massaging her breasts. ‘I want you to tell me who you are. Don’t tell me your name or anything, just tell me who you are.’
Without even thinking, she closes her eyes and leans back so that he is able to feel at ease with her – because she already knows how to numb herself to it all by now.
‘What do you want to know?’ she asks him.
‘Whatever you want to tell me.’
She takes a deep breath then and he can sense her trepidation. ‘Tell me about your parents,’ he says. ‘Do they know you’re in this line of work?’
‘My mum does,’ she answers in a low voice.
‘What about your father?’
She lets out an awkward chuckle. ‘Listen, do we really have to do this?’
‘I’m just curious, sweetie. Let me get to know you before we do anything else. So can you tell me about your father?’
There is another extended pause. ‘I don’t know, my mum left him when I was really young.’
He pauses a moment to consider this. ‘Why?’
‘I don’t know. Does it really matter?’
He ignores the question and kisses the nape of her neck. ‘How old were you when he left?’
She exerts a sigh. ‘I dunno. Four, I think. I don’t remember.’
It’s here that he removes his hands from her breasts and lowers them to the bed. ‘And do you remember anything about him?’ he asks.
‘Not really. Just things my mum told me.’
‘And what did she tell you about him?’
‘Why?’ she asks as she turns to face him, the two of them holding each other’s eyes in the faint glow casted by the light above.
‘Because I want to know.’
She scoffs. ‘Look, to be honest I’m really not comfortable with any of this.’
He eyes her intently. ‘What’s your name?’
A momentary silence. ‘Candice,’ she tells him.
‘No,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘Your real name.’
This is followed by another brief pause. ‘That is my real name.’
‘No, it isn’t.’ He turns away from her then and takes a deep breath.
At this, she stands up. ‘Look, I think you should probably go. You can keep your money.’
Returning his gaze to her, he sees that she is already retrieving the three bills from the insert on her hip and immediately looks up at her. ‘What’s your name?’
But she doesn’t answer him, only hands him the money, which he ignores.
‘Just take it and go.’
‘Tell me your name first.’
It’s not so much his insistence as it is the knowingness in his voice and the fear it stirs inside that makes her answer him. And when he hears her name, he has nothing else to say to her, because already he is standing up and making his way out of the room, blind to all but the path directly ahead of him, leading to nowhere but that same starless void he has been a pawn to for so many years – of which he knows nothing else.
And as he returns to that familiar warmth of the winter night he has come to know so well after these many forgotten years, he is only fleetingly aware of his tears, because already he is moving on, endlessly on to wherever it is that he seldom knows he must go next.