Even with the events of that day being what they were, Abbie’s words didn’t mean anything to me when she said them. My father had left me behind in exchange for what seemed like almost nothing at all. I was sure it couldn’t take long to earn such a sum. Abbie had said she didn’t really think I was a virgin, but I’d never heard the word before so I didn’t know what she meant. She laughed at me when I asked if I’d be working in the kitchen.
“Honey, this look like a restaurant to you?”
I could only blink in confusion. I hadn’t really any idea what a restaurant would look like. It just seemed to me most chores were either in the kitchen or the laundry, unless you had animals, and the Velvet Inn, as I later learned it was called, didn’t seem a likely place for livestock.
Abbie shook her head. “Only buffet around here is on Thursday nights, and you’re on the menu now.”
“Menu?” I could tell my question irritated her, but I didn’t understand why.
“Ladies work for me only got one job, Toots.”
I smiled at her. This was going to be easier than I had thought, but I’m sure I just swelled at being called a lady. Abbie regarded the ignorant expression on my face and added, “Sex?”
My smile disappeared. “You’re gonna pay me to lay with men?” That was a puzzlement. I wasn’t taken back by sex as a job, having never really equated it to anything more than that. It was the thought of receiving money for something a man could just force you to do for free.
“Hold onto your panties,” Abbie said. “No one said anything about paying you. Listen, sugar, I gotta be honest. You’re not so bad on the eyes, but you’re kind of a skinny little thing. I’m not sure how much attention you’re gonna draw. I’ll keep you on until you’ve brought in what I paid for you.”
She was right. In a way we both were. Men don’t care for skinny girls, and I ended up cleaning up after liquor glasses, sweeping floors and doing laundry for a couple of weeks before that first unfortunate fellow who expected me to be a virgin. Abbie charged him extra and of course it all ended in disaster on account of me not knowing what a virgin was. Once he’d blacked my eye, it was a while yet before I was presentable again.
Sex is a funny thing. For some girls it comes all wrapped up in a mystical cloak of stigma, the way the uterus surrounds an unborn baby, protecting it and nurturing it, a little bundle of idyllic joy. Someday there will be a little bit of pain, and undoubtedly the grandest of miracles will be freed. But sex is not an infant. It’s not even cute like one.
I remember the utter look of shock on Marie’s face when I told her Daddy first took me at six years old. I might as well have told her the Confederate Army had won the war. Perhaps I should never have said. In a small way, I felt sorry for the way it must have made her feel when I laughed, but her words struck me as funny.
“My God, Kate! You were just a baby!”
I’m probably the only one sees humor in that. I wasn’t a baby though. I was six.
“You’re the woman in the house now, Kate.” That’s what Daddy said the first time. The words made me proud, and excited and scared all at once. Death is such a mystery, a perplexity to understand when you’re six. My mother took away whatever sense of family I may have had and left me alone with confusion and a frustrated man.
“The woman of the house has certain duties.” That’s just the way it was. I pictured my mother being proud of me if I did a good job. I didn’t know any better. I was so scared I was going to let her down and I don’t even know why. She was dead after all. I just didn’t know what else to feel.
My body cleared up my confusion on that straight away. It hurt really badly. I was tiny. He tore me and bruised me and I cried quietly, trying to be brave the way I imagined my mother must have been, the way she would want me to be. He couldn’t fit inside me, and I remember crying myself to sleep after he’d gone to his own bed, thinking how she must be ashamed of me from her grave.
Things actually got worse. The first time I didn’t let him down, the pain was so much it knocked me senseless. My bed was soaked in blood when I came to, but Daddy wouldn’t fetch me a doctor. He got mad at me for being scared; said women are supposed to bleed. And of course it didn’t stop him from coming back. He wasn’t very smart about some things.
Ironically, the damage he caused me was the likely reason I ended up at the Velvet Inn, working off a debt he’d incurred on my behalf. Not directly. Daddy fed me and took care of me and most nights he’d lay with me. I knew we were in a poorly way, but I did everything I was ever asked, and I thought those were signs I kept my worth. Worth, especially of a person, is something immeasurable to me, but Daddy seemed to have an exact value for everything.
One morning, not long before that day, he woke me up early in my bed. When he was finished with me, he said a storm was heading in and I should hurry out and feed and water Trissie. Winds were up and swirling about, but I made out a sound at the barn I’d never heard before. When I sorted it out, it came from a cat, crying pitifully.
I’d never seen a cat before, but I knew what it was. It reminded me of myself some, skinny with a big head. By the time Trissie had her hay and water, the first drops were falling, so I scooped the cat up and ran it back to the house.
Daddy was angry when I brought it inside, and furious when I wanted to keep it. “Just what I need, another useless mouth needs feeding,” he barked, snatching the cat out of my hands. “Damn thing could have rabies, Kate. What the hell were you thinking?” And he headed out the door.
After the storm cleared, I found the poor thing out at the edge of the property with its neck broken. It made no sense to me why he couldn’t see fit to just set it free. I fetched a shovel and buried it there where I found it. The whole time I felt like I was burying myself.
I’d been in the womanly way for more than two years, long enough it was evident I wouldn’t ever be with child. He never mentioned it, but I know he expected me to give him the sons my mother never gave him. I remembered his angry fits before she died, yelling at her that one worthless girl wasn’t going to lessen his work or increase his bounty.
It hurt my feelings that the clientele at the Velvet Inn found me undesirable. It pushed painfully into me the fact that my Daddy had found me so, and in such a way enough to leave me. The fact was that I had failed to bring him a son. I was just like that stray cat, a useless mouth to feed.
© 2012 Anne Schilde