“No Jail!”

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Madam Fannie Porter

Sadie threw her hands over her ears and rocked back and forth. “Just no jail, no jail, no jail …”

When  tears tumbled down Sadie’s cheeks, I caught Louis’s look of compassion—the same as Meta’s, the same as Reba’s. The same as mine.

“I won’t let you go to jail, Sadie. That’s what this is all about,” John said, his voice softer. “But you need to do what we suggest. I have a plan. But we have to find you a hide-away, some place safe other than here.”

Silence slithered around the frank, yet well-meaning posse while the irony struck me as funny. Over the years, the surrounding walls had safely protected politicians, successful businessmen, and Notorious train robbers. Now, they weren’t strong enough to protect my hard working and best girl who felt more like kin.

Reba thumped the settee’s armrest gathering our attention. “Fannie, what  we ain’t gonna do is snap a fine branch off this family tree and throw it to the fire. If she gotta leave, it better be a damn good place so’s she can come home when time’s right.”

A moment passed and I felt the soft squeeze of Meta’s hand.

“I might know a place,” she said.

 

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Daily Word Prompt: Notorious

Fighting for rights

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A man, close to the front, pumped his fist. “My wife don’t have time for more learning. We got six kids needing supper on the table.”

A melee of querulous male voices erupted from the crowd.

“Why do women prostitute themselves to the abnormal passion of man?” Miss Fisher continued. “Because they are poverty-stricken, destitute above temptation and driven by necessity. They sell themselves, in marriage or out, for bread and shelter, for the necessities of life. How can we blame them? They have no other recourse but to live in a society that dictates what they, we, can and cannot do. To solve this problem, we demand that women be allowed to exercise their inherent, personal, citizen’s right to be a voice in the government, municipal, state, and national. Then, women will have the power to protect themselves.”

“We men protect our women just fine,” a voice shouted. Other men shouted their agreement.

Mayor Hicks stepped to the podium, his lips pursed. “Enough of your heckling. Save your disagreements for editorials in the newspapers. She has a right to free speech.”

“So do we,” someone boomed back.

The mayor banged a fist on the podium. “These women are invited guests. By God, we will show them our southern Hospitality.”

The raw egg came from nowhere. It narrowly missed the Mayor’s head before landing on the bandstand floor. He squinted, searching the crowd.

Poor Mrs. Fenwick held a shaky hand over her mouth.

Miss Fisher reached below the dais and pulled out a speaking trumpet. “The true relation of the sexes can never be attained until women are free and equal with man,” she continued, her determination thundering above the chaos.

The second egg hit the podium dead center.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

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Pursing God

Moved to a room full of cots, women lay moaning, talking to themselves, soiling their sheets. Some chained to their beds, others forced into straight jackets before bedtime. Most stared up at the flaking, gray ceiling.

Everything existed in a different time and place. I had one thing in common with those women. We all stunk of fear and hatred, the odor I couldn’t place when I first arrived.

I wondered, if they ever let me out, what I would do when I next faced my mother. No, I wouldn’t slap her again. But that evening amidst the mournful sorrows of the women around me, I squeezed the fingers of my right hand into a tight fist—opening, closing, opening, closing. I felt my feet revving up to charge the witch into hell to await her appointment with the Devil.

Finally allowed to go outside, attendants surrounded the crazies. Me, now one of them. For the most part, the sky remained clear. The few scattered clouds resembled claw marks as if God—if there was one—was trying to scratch his way in to find me. I knew better. The claw marks were mine, attempting to slash my way out.

From The Last Bordello, a historical novel set in 1901.

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Daily Prompt: Pursue

Inching toward the red doors

 

 

With one glance at the oversized house, I knew it wasn’t the right address. I flashed him a cold smile. “That remains to be seen.”

“Everybody knows it’s The Boarding House. Just what you asked for. Owner’s a nice lady, too.” He smirked. “Well, I’ll be off then.” He set the luggage down, shuffled his feet, and glared at me. When I stared back, he turned with a mischievous grin. Then, the loose soles of his shoes flapped as he cull-umped away.

I neared the front door and stopped to read the sign. Madam Fannie Porter’s Boarding House. The term “madam” did not escape me. Nor did the sparsely dressed and licentious female “boarders” I spotted through the slightly parted curtains.

I sat on the curb, too tired to cry.

A thick raindrop thumped my hat; the second thudded my skirt. A lightning bolt forced me to stand.

I glanced back at the grand house of ill fame, swallowed the Bitter taste of doubt, and inched toward the red doors.

Excerpt from:

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Meta pretends she’s a prostitute

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His lips mashed together into a thin line. “Hey, wait just a confounded minute. Did you say…? They didn’t hire you to, you know…”

Retaliation. “Yes! I got a job there, and I know I will love it. The clients can be quite challenging. Last night, when I had to explain that I wasn’t warmed up yet—”

“I don’t want to hear more. Hell, I might be street-smart, but I haven’t even turned fifteen yet. Porca miseria!

“Porca what?”

“Just practicing on not saying ‘shit’ all the time. Ma doesn’t like it, and my little sister thumps me between the eyes when I say it. It’s a little Italian cuss word that means pig misery. Like saying ‘damn.’ Where you off to, anyhow?”

“My Aunt Amelia’s. Would you care to accompany me, Mr. Scallywag? I found a job because of you, did I not?”

He tore the cap off his head and rubbed his greasy black curls of hair. “Stop saying that. I had nothing to do with you getting that job!” He pointed his finger eastward and accelerated his pace.

“Oh, but you did,” I said, hurrying to catch up. “If it hadn’t been for you, I wouldn’t be tingling with avidity for this evening to arrive. That’s why I’m going to visit Aunt Amelia, to tell her the good news.”

“What’s avidity mean? Wait, you’re going to tell your great-aunt about your new job? At Fannie Porter’s?”

“Of course. She’ll be thrilled for me. Besides, she knows I’m good at it. I’ve been doing it for years now.” I muzzled the smile aching to form.

His eyes widened into a dumbfounded glare.

“And avidity means eager, like being Avid about something.”

“I gotta go,” he said, turning away.

One more chance at deception. “Giovanni? You said you were fourteen?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“Well, you are too young to be entertained at Miss Fannie’s. However, I’ll ask her if you can watch me perform sometime.”

His jaw dropped, his dander standing taller than his five-foot-five stature. “You want me to…watch?”

“Ah, we’re here. Thanks for the company.” I trotted off with the last laugh.

From The Last Bordello, historical fiction set in 1901

 

 

 

A cranky prostitute

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Sadie threw her arms around me and buried her face in my shoulder. “I’m so grateful you’re here. Maybe it’s time for me to go out. I think Miss Fannie won’t mind as long as I’m with you. I could take you to Brackenridge Park. It’s supposed to be beautiful. It’s named after one of our citizens, George Brackenridge. You know, the waterworks magnate?”

George Brackenridge, Mary Eleanor’s brother.

“I can’t today, Sadie. I’m going to visit Aunt Amelia. Another time, perhaps?”

Sadie withdrew her hug and narrowed her eyes. “I thought you just saw her. Truly, Meta? A visit every day?”

Her sarcastic wrath unwarranted, I clenched my hands into fists. “She is the reason I came here, Sadie. Did you forget?”

Sadie took a step back and glared at me. “I’ve changed my mind about going downstairs. You don’t like me because I’m a prostitute. I know that now. You’re only here so you can play your precious piano.”

“Sadie—”

“Please, do go down without me.”

Veins pulsed in my neck. “And you are only using me to ameliorate your guilt. Your insouciance for others is heartless.”

“You realize, don’t you, that you rely on your big words to puff yourself up. It’s unbecoming.”

Thoughts of Uncle Dirk reappeared. Why? Because Sadie had spoken to me with arrogance and superiority? Because she questioned my intelligence? My stomach churned.

“Let me know if I should move into Etta’s room.” Bitterness dripped from my tongue. I felt happy to descend the stairs alone.

Excerpt from The Last Bordello

Cranky