Defending Prostitution (or attempting to)

 

Aunt Amelia winked. “And Meta? Will you still be joining me for the meeting on Friday night?”

“Of course, Aunt Amelia. I’m looking forward to it.” How could I forget one of the main reasons I came to San Antonio?

“What meeting?” Giovanni asked.

I turned toward Giovanni. “Aunt Amelia is a member of the Women’s Club of San Antonio. There’s a public forum—”

Sadie clamped a hand over my wrist. “Wait. What? I thought …”

“I hear it’s going to be a humdinger,” Giovanni interrupted. “A few of those gals arrived by train last night.”

I patted Sadie’s hand to reassure her. “It’s okay. I’ve already asked for the day off. Miss Fannie gave me permission.”

“No, I mean,” Sadie’s breath hitched. “Her club invited the Women’s Temperance Union. They want to force any place that sells liquor to close down.”

Aunt Amelia leaned forward. “I sincerely doubt they have that power, my dear. Remember, Texas voted a majority against prohibition in ‘87.”

“But they also think alcohol adds to social problems like …” Sadie hesitated and dropped her chin, “prostitution.”

“My organization only wants women to have better opportunities, Sadie, including the right to vote.” Aunt Amelia’s voice remained calm, self-assured.

Sadie shifted her upper torso and shook her head. “But that’s not what the Temperance women want. Why did you invite them?”

“Board decision. Perhaps the Temperance Union can be instrumental in helping us get the right to vote.”

Sadie cleared her throat. “Excuse me, Amelia. But I seem to recall Miss Fannie telling us of a woman named Susan Anthony is pushing for our right to vote yet also attacks prostitution as a social evil.”

“I’m not saying I want to be a part of the Temperance Union,” Aunt Amelia continued, her head tipped back in confidence. “But I would like to hear what they have to say. I can’t minimize their efforts without first listening.”

My heart sank as the seams of new acquaintances unraveled.

“In my case, Amelia, I chose to work at Miss Fannie’s. I chose my profession.”

Mrs. Carver returned and brought in a tray of coffee and scurried back outside to Mr. Davis. I longed to join them for a breath of fresh air.

Aunt Amelia sipped her coffee then returned the cup gently to its saucer. “You were saying?”

“I told you I chose my profession.” Sadie’s tone came out biting and abrasive.

Aunt Amelia caught my eye then turned a Polished focus to Sadie. “Some benighted women don’t have a choice. Many young women are taken unwillingly and sold into white slavery. Their rights have been taken and, in my opinion, that is a horrific injustice.”

Sadie’s face flushed. She closed her eyes and puffed out her bosoms. “But you don’t mind Meta staying at the bordello? Sleeping in my bed?”

“And I will keep Meta safe,” Sadie said.

Sadie’s overprotective and presumptuous emphasis set me on edge. The gathering no longer seemed a good idea.

 

The room settled into an irksome silence. The only thing audible came from Mr. Davis’ cursing in the backyard. “… And you ain’t no goddamn Florence Nightingale neither.”

I kissed Aunt Amelia goodbye and was first out the door.

Standing at the curb, I thought of Miss Reba. I reached into my purse and pulled out the cleanly scrubbed cloth, remembering to return it. Sadie grabbed it from my hands, blew her nose, and flung it onto the dusty street.

 

Daily Word Prompt: Polish

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