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Temple of Ill-Repute
A Guest Quarters story
You might expect a guy like me to hang around a porn store. I don't look like a low-life or anything—I got short tightly curled hair, I shave, and I'm almost average height. I usually wear my green cargo jacket so I have lots of pamphlets ready for people who seem open to my message. I got a sweet face when I smile, but deep down, I know I belong on Fannin Street.
But after Easter, I was there all the time. Looking for converts and spreading the word. Waiting for that glint in some stranger's eye, that said they wished there was something more sacred in all this sexual communication besides cheap, vulgar profanity.
People want more than airbrushed glossy magazines, with no texture or scent, and girls trapped behind glass walls or twice removed on film. More than some purchase from the Pleasure Chest paid for in cash, never with a card with their name, carried out in a paper bag and smuggled past a wife or a neighbor, as if there was some great shame in sexual feelings and we didn't all have them. People want to feel like that whole slick parade of sex has some meaning again, that pleasure and lust and kink could also be connection, a deeply human desire and release that connects us to the divine, as much as it connects us to each other.
I know they crave it because I craved it, too. I didn't even know how lost I was until Easter found me.
I had that itch again. You know the one. Jenny was out of town, and she'd kicked me out after last time anyway, cuz I rolled over when I was finished but before she was. I wondered if Lila still had the same number, but then I remembered she'd gotten married a couple months back. Figures. Just when a guy needs to scratch his itch, he looks around and all the women have vanished. I just hoped the Fannin Street girls wouldn't get the memo and know to split, cuz Mickey was comin'.
I cleared all the crap outta the back of my car. It had a big backseat, long brown vinyl bench that was plenty wide for two to get cooking. The vinyl was ripped in a coupla places, which could be itchy on bare skin, so as an afterthought I grabbed a clean towel and covered it. Nobody could ever say Mickey don't have his gentlemanly moments.
Fannin Street was hoppin'. Cars creeping by at a snail's pace, near the two most popular places. First was the Pleasure Chest—adult videos, magazines, silicon or hard plastic or battery-operated toys of every variety, and peep shows with rotating girls every hour. Across the way hunkered the Happy Hour Bar, an all-service strip joint where the better strippers don't have knife scars or grandchildren. The streetlights were shot out but some red and yellow glow pooled around the doorways, and the pink neon strobed the street. You could see the girls alright if you were close, but it was dim enough you didn't have to see them too good, maybe for the best.
I passed a couple of obvious junkies, rings around their eyes and sores in their mouths, and some who were already high, not even bothering to get up from sitting on the sidewalk and leaning on the brick walls of a warehouse. Trust me—a girl like that's hardly any fun.
I turned the corner by the Pleasure Chest, so I could turn around and cruise the other side of the street. But some bastard walked out in front of my car and I had to slam on the brakes not to hit him. Before I recovered he was at my window, waving some papers under my face and holding onto my door.
"Have you heard the word of Our Lord and Savior? Do you know of the redemption Jesus Christ can offer all of us sinners?" The guy's breath stung my eyes, it was so minty. He looked like he must've just got to this part of town, or his shirt and tie wouldn't be so tidy.
"What? Of course I've heard about Jesus, you old fool. Get outta my face!"
"It's not too late for you, my son. Turn away from this palace of lust. It's nothing but sin inside there. SIN!"
He seemed really excited to have someone actually acknowledge Jesus existed and wasn't a figment of his imagination. I didn't want to hurt his feelings but I had to get away from him. This wasn't getting me any closer to getting laid.
I noticed the sidewalk here was deserted; all the action was behind us.
"Why are you over here, anyway? Wouldn't you have more luck catching sinners by the main door?"
He stood up straight, taking his hand off my car and his pamphlets out from under my nose. The theatrics went out of his voice. "I've been by the main entrance, and there are women of ill-repute over there. They kicked me out. They're mean!"
"Hey," I said, taking advantage of his hands being free, pointing behind him. "Isn't that the Pope?" He turned and I hit the gas with a laugh, back toward those women of ill-repute.
The moths around the glow of Happy Hour Bar (no sign out front, windows painted black or replaced with cardboard) seemed promising. This black chick in a yellow halter top and hot pants was super skinny, and the blonde nearby had huge knockers going for her. But as I rolled up, they stepped aside and suddenly I saw her.
Black hair, braided on both sides, light brown skin like Hispanic or Indian or something. A hellzapoppin red dress, flowing over every luscious curve and line and swaying around her thighs. She wasn't all that skinny, more curvy I guess, and her boobs were nothing to write home about. But man! I couldn't take my eyes off her. Suddenly I wanted to leap out of my car so no one else would get her first.
The black-and-yellow honey and Blonde Boobs leaned over and smiled at me when I stopped the car. Then they saw I was looking at Luscious Red. Both scoffed and turned away in disgust.
She stood there silhouetted in the doorway, looking at me. It was like she was sizing me up. I thought I better do something or she'd disappear inside Happy Hour and I'd lose her forever.
"I need you. I love you. I want you, baby. Damn! I swear I'll never look at another woman twice if you just give me tonight." I smiled my best Mickey-loves-you smile as I leaned over my long front seat to call her out the window.
She smiled then, just a little, the yellow glow turning her hair golden in places. And she walked over to my car and got in.
"Thank you, baby, I really need this tonight. I was afraid for a second there that you weren't interested."
She turned big eyes of golden fire on me. She had a small mouth, pointy chin, and a tiny birthmark on her cheek like a torn fingernail. "I need this tonight, too. I had to decide if you were worthy." Her voice was higher than I expected, but then she was kind of small.
I was puzzled by a working girl being so choosey, but I didn't want to do anything to scare her off. She smelled of honey and lavender and some kind of musky perfume. It filled up my car in an instant, overpowering its usual funk, and it was heavenly. "I'm glad you chose me. So what'll it take to, uh, complete the transaction?"
"I don't suppose you have any gold coins of the realm?"
"Gold? What kinda person carries gold coins?" I fished in my pockets, thinking of a George Washington dollar coin I had last week. Then I stopped. It might be a hooker trick. I've been played before. They say something to make you pull out your money, see how much you've got, and then tell you what it costs.
"Nope, fresh outta gold, I'm afraid. But I got—how about fifty? That sound good to you?"
She thought about it a moment, looking me over as I tried to look sweet but well-hung, her little hands clasped in her lap on top of the silky red fabric. She wore a bracelet with a bunch of egg-shaped charms, made of some pink stone, and on a chain around her neck, she had a crescent moon with two stars hanging down. None of it looked cheap and I almost wondered why she was hooking. "Yes, fifty will do, to complete the transaction."
"Great. Is there someplace I should pull over my car? I cleaned out the back."
She glanced at the fresh towel-covered backseat. "How considerate. But I have a place we can go." She gave me directions.
"Where're you from?" She looked Middle-Eastern, not at all Hispanic, now she was sitting beside me.
"Huh." I thought about that for a minute, then laughed when I got it. "That's a good one. I'm Mickey. What's your name, baby?"
"You can call me Easter."
"Ester?" I said, not sure I heard her right over the engine and the blood already thrumming in my ears. "I knew a girl named Ester once, worked with her at the Conoco."
"Easter, not Ester. As in rabbits and eggs. Stop here, it's this door."
We got outta the car and she headed up a couple steps to a green door in an old brick building. I caught her before she opened it, pressed her against the wall and kissed her quick. She tasted even better than she smelled.
"Does 'at mean we're gonna do it like bunny rabbits?" I said, to show her I was funny.
"Sure," said Easter, touching my lips with her warm, polished fingertip in a flick. "Soon. Come on."
She led me up some stairs and pulled out a key for an upstairs flat. I wondered if this was her place, or just someplace she brought her guys. I hoped again that it wasn't some trick and I wasn't about to be shook down or nothing.
But Easter opened the door and flicked a light switch, and this whole one-room apartment was lit up in tiny white Christmas lights, like candlelight everywhere. All kinds of red fabric hung from the ceiling, covered the walls, and swirled around on the floor, like a fabric store exploded in there and this was what was left of the carnage. There was hardly any furniture but a lot of cushions piled everywhere, a couple of small tables and a trunk. In the center of the room was a huge bed with four posts and no headboard. A carved lion looked at me from the middle of one post and a dove flew away from me on another. The whole frame was draped in golden fringe. Its wood looked ancient. I don't know how it ever fit up those stairs. It stood on a rug the shape of an egg, all red and gold and I could see it was really plush by where the heavy feet sank in.
This freaked me out more than a pimp with a gun would have. "I'm not about to be on TV or something, am I?" My voice wavered a little but I was scared enough not to care. "Cuz I got this minor warrant out for my arrest, and I wasn't signing up for anything fancy. I just wanted a little action tonight, is all."
"Nothing like that," said Easter calmly, as she shut the door and came up behind me. "It's my rite. I'm initiated here tonight, a once-in-a-lifetime sacrament. I don't want to go back out there and find someone else." She laid a hand on my neck and stepped around in front of me, trailing her hand around my shoulder to my chest. "I want you, here, tonight, within me."
I looked around the room and not at her. "But what is this place?" I asked in a whisper.
"You can think of it as a temple if you like. Here I will treat you as a god, and I am the goddess. We will worship each other until we are both spent. Won't you stay, to take pleasure in my body?"
My brain was screaming, "Get out of there man, just go. This is fucked up and next thing you know she's gonna be converting you to her alien cult and you'll be praying to the Great Kozar with a dish towel on your head." But she was standing right up against me looking up with these golden eyes, both her arms on my neck now. That honey-musky-flowery scent was comin' out of her skin like fog, and that silky red thing she wore was so thin I could see her nipples get hard as she talked about worshipping with our bodies, and the way she held her arms pushed her tits together, which—now that I got a good look at them—weren't so bad after all and before you know it I'm mumbling "uh, huh, worship" and tumbling in her arms onto the golden bed.
Our clothes were off in a flurry and she reached for something in the trunk beside the bed, while I got to know her hips and belly.
"You don't mind if I anoint you, do you?"
"Hmm-mm," I mumbled, mouth busy. I felt her fingertip, wet and oily, touch the sides of my forehead and the center of my chest, and the sharp tang of cinnamon was layered on top of the scent of Easter.
There's a buzzing in my ears and a vibration in my chest after that. Easter put her brown little hand over my heart and I realized I was humming. Not a tune or anything but like a low throttle of an engine. When I took a breath, I heard Easter humming, too, a slightly higher note than mine. Together we made a harmony. She pushed me onto my back and climbed aboard.
It's like Christmas-fucking-morning, and the best birthday blow job, and my Giants winning the Super Bowl, and Miss Harlow in the seventh grade in her white cashmere dropping a folder, and that first home-made biscuit smothered in real sausage gravy with mounds of pepper after I got outta jail, all rolled into one. Easter was my goddess, and I worshipped her until my mouth was salty and dry. She worshipped me until my balls were empty, nobody home. Our shouts and moans and whispered requests stayed close, held in by the red and gold fabric all around us, soaked up by the soft carpet. I paid for my pleasure but it was returned many times over.
At one point I floated out of the mist of ecstasy and saw her above me. The braids suddenly made sense, cuz for all our thrashing she wasn't a mess. For the first time I noticed a slender gold wire going around her head like a crown. Her eyes were closed and her mouth open. I don't know, now I think about it maybe it was the golden fringe around those bed posts, or the thousands of little white lights strung everywhere. But for a couple minutes, after hours of this lustful sweetness, I saw a golden glow around her. Easter shone like a beacon, like she really was a goddess and had magical powers to show me the heart of all true things about being human.
"Astarte, Bellili, Ishtar, Ostara," she said, low and under her breath like the humming had been. She wasn't talking to me. "Come to me, my Easter, in this holy union of your sisterhood. Bellili with your sacred priestesses, Ostara with the many temples, Ishtar daughter of Venus, Astarte of the moon, the morning star and evening star. I am the Whore of Babylon, in thy name. Astarte, Bellili, Ishtar, Ostara...."
The golden glow got brighter and I came again. If it was the last time in my life, it was enough. She glowed white now with specs of sparkling gold flying out of her. She threw her head back and opened her mouth wide and a let out a roar that erupted from her throat in a red flame and fired bolts down into me.
I woke up in my car at the far end of Fannin Street. My watch said 7:13 but it was dark out, so was it the next morning, or was it night again? Weird that my stomach didn't tell me. I hadn't eaten since dinner, so shouldn't I be hungry by now, whenever it was?
Thinking of dinner made me think of that night, and of Easter. I still wasn't sure I could believe all of what I remembered. Two fingers down my pants told me I was whole, but Little Mickey was down for the count, out cold at the moment. So some parts at least must be true.
I checked my wallet. I was fifty bucks lighter, but the rest of my money was there. I started the car. Just for the hell of it, drove back up Fannin Street instead of home right away. I passed Happy Hour, now empty with lights out, the warehouse where a couple junkies still sat around over a flame and spoon, shooting last night's money.
I turned where I thought I'd get to her place. Her temple. Did she live there? I didn't see how, since there wasn't anything in the place but the temple. Maybe it had other rooms, with couches and a TV.
I think I missed a turn or something because I was thinking of Easter as an ordinary girl, what might be in her closet, what kind of shampoo she uses, stuff like that, but every time I'd wonder something about her, I'd suddenly be thinking of something else. Her small mouth moving across my stomach. The little white lights flashing as her black braid swung back and forth. The red from the ceiling fabric flowing into the red from her dress into the red-hot bolts through my groin at the end.
I turned the car around, backtracking, going down a street one way, slowly, then the other way, just as slow. Every time I thought I might be close, another half-remembered, half-dreamed image washed over me and I was lost again.
I never did find that green door where she led me up to paradise.
I finally had to go home, because I was too confused to find the place. I slept for a day and a half. Then I went back.
Back to Fannin Street, the red-light district, the Pleasure Chest and the Happy Hour. Nobody knew who Easter was. They remembered her, sure, but she wasn't a stripper and didn't usually work that block. They hadn't seen her before or since the night I met her.
I came out of the Happy Hour, no sign of her for the fifth night in a row. High heels clacked past me and I recognized the black honey from that night. She'd been working the same block. "Hey!"
She whirled around on one stiff heel. She was in silver sequins tonight, and they covered almost nothing. She smiled when she saw me. "You looking for a date?" She walked closer, a gold earring of a crescent moon and two stars swinging to flash in the light.
"I'm looking for Easter. Do you know where I can find her?"
Her smile went a little flat at the corners, but didn't vanish entirely. "Well, you found her, baby. Easter's right here, this is her street. She is right there," she pointed across the street at the XXX sign, "right there," at the doorway of Happy Hour, "and right here." She twirled both index fingers at herself near her hips. "This is her temple, darling, so you come to the right place to worship."
"No, I mean a girl named Easter. I met her here, six nights ago. You were standing right next to her. About so tall, black hair in braids, red dress. She took me to a temple and we ... um, we worshipped."
She tugged her earring and looked down, smirking more now. Apparently I was amusing. She took the last step up to be close enough to whisper, "One night, devoted to the goddess, that's what she gave. It's what you got. Easter isn't her name. It's the goddess of sexuality, fertility and connection, the goddess of passion and lust. The girl you met served the goddess one night in her life, as a rite of passage, and now she's gone, baby, gone. Back to her real life."
She looked me in the eye, mischief shining in hers. "You should consider yourself lucky. Not every man gets to lie with a goddess. Some of us," she flicked her earring as she let it go, swinging the stars, "we worship our whole lives, because once we feel Her presence, we cannot give it up."
I'm speechless with the loss of Easter, consumed with the thought I'll never touch her again, never smell her scent, never lose myself in a sacred golden fire.
I feel as if I'd died, and what was left would never stop mourning the life that was over.
I touched the woman on the arm, coming back to the here and now. "Thank you. I know what I've got to do."
It took a couple of days and all the cash I had, but I wrote these pamphlets. I know, me Mickey, write something? But it all came in a rush, like the Goddess was whispering in my ear. I wrote everything down about Easter, what she said about the Goddess, and stuff I learned when I googled her different names. I wrote about Her temple, where sacred prostitutes served as the Goddess, invoking the sacredness of physical human connection. About how some people still did this, acted as the Whore of Babylon, which is what the Goddess was reduced to when people stopped worshipping her directly.
I put it all into this one-sheet tri-fold and printed a thousand copies at Kinko's. I stood by the doors of the pleasure palaces, Ishtar's unofficial temples, and pushed fliers into strangers' hands. I preached to the hookers and the junkies, tried to give their lives meaning again, to bring them back to the sacredness of the profession. I got into a tremendous fist-fight with that Jesus freak and kicked him out of the neighborhood for good.
The manager of the Pleasure Chest was so grateful I got rid of that guy, he gave me a job as a clerk. Now I can spread the word about Her from the inside, to the people who want to find Her, the people who are looking, but don't know for what.
I haven't lain with a woman since Easter. I keep hoping she'll come back, that she'll find me here and know I understand. I saw that her sacrifice was not wasted on some idiot who didn't get it. I whack off thinking of her sometimes, in my apartment above the porn store. I wait for the phone to ring, for a knock on the door. Someone who saw my flier has to get it. If it's not her, then some other initiate, some other young woman, serving the Goddess, serving as the Goddess, will call the number on my flier, and I can finally touch the golden fire again.
Until then, I serve Her by spreading the word to every lost soul on Fannin Street.
Elizabeth Aronoff is a writer in Missoula, Montana, a place many artsy people love but she considers just a friend. Her favorite kinds of fantasy and sci-fi are the ones where the thin veneer over the everyday world starts to peel up at the edge. She was creator and editor extraordinaire of a literary magazine for 2 years, and received Honorary Mention in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future Contest in 2009 with an undead story. She writes speculative fiction, comedic fantasy, steampunk romance, and children's books, along with software manuals in a spare 40 hours a week. Her novel, The Flight of the Starling: A Fairy Tale, is a beloved PDF among her friends. She knows myriad fifty-cent words but whimsically makes up her own when these do not suffice. Follow her blog on writing, culture, motherhood, literary Brussels sprouts, and kitchen sinks at www.nothingbugs.com.
Story by Elizabeth Aronoff, Copyright 2011
Image by Amber Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2011