Bordello? Or hospital? A visitor to Kue’s dingy boudoir may not be asking for mere fantasy play when he wants to be healed – especially not when the rest of the girls break out in gruesome, mind-eating diseases.
Here, try a sample…
“So, how long have you been working here, Kue?” It was an occasional power play, using my name when I was not allowed to know theirs. Grabbing for any little bit of control they could in this little bit of costly time, away from the electric eyes.
I lowered my lids. It made me look submissive and yielding, and it spared me any pretense of serious conversation with a boor. “Ah. Jando should have given you that information at the front, if that was important to you.”
“It is and it isn’t. But either way, I’ve paid.” There was a unmistakable First District undertone to his voice. The least of us is always more than the best of you. “Surely your talents can handle the task?”
I didn’t answer him. Instead, I took his face in my hands, laid his head in my lap. I ran my fingers across his forehead and wondered if it would go any farther than this, if he really did take me for some kind of vibal practitioner and this would be one of the rare transactions where I could sort of relax. But the tulip was painted on the wall, repeated in ink inside my left wrist. The symbol that announced to all: this one cannot refuse you.
You can choose the tulip, or the factories, they’d said, that day, as they’d pulled me from my mother’s callused hands. The steel gray of their silks were perfectly tailored business suits melted down into the robes of state, I was sure. And few are offered the tulip. I looked back into her grieving face, cadaverous, worn down from years of smoke and soldering. I knew the city would extract its piece of me, as it did from every unfortunate born into one of the Last Districts, one way or another. Through the tulip, at least some of the nights would be mine.
Thumbs soft over his eyelids, hands spread like little fans over his cheeks. Up the hairline and I brushed against something beneath the left temple. A bump. He took my hand before I could touch it again.
He moved my hand down, down, below the sash, within the folds of his robe. I closed my eyes as he swelled beneath my fingers, and I gave myself one moment. One that was mine and mine alone, that I always allowed myself, before beginning work.
This was the moment where I didn’t know yet if he was clean. He may not have washed beforehand. Some didn’t, coming in with months of grime accumulated in their underclothes, enjoying the disgust in our eyes, our attempts to camouflage repulsion with forced sensuality. I didn’t know if he would be gentle, or if he’d grab me my the hair, dig his nails into the tender skin of my belly, my breasts, my throat. I didn’t know if this would be over in the next ten minutes, or if two more hours of my life were about to turn black, disappear into the back of my mind where all the other lost hours were hiding. This was the one moment I needed to steel myself, for the all the ones that were about to happen next.
I took a deep breath. Then I pulled his sash open.
Formerly only available in print from Not One Of Us, you can now read it all in the March 2013 issue of Niteblade!