Published 29 May 202029 June 2020 · Poetry Poetry | Red Velvet Suite Rose Hunter i. Which is not to say it was all red velvet or that there was nearly as much red, even, as I remember not the fancy whorehouse I was in first in Vancouver, this one a dive (my work permit had run out), why there seemed no other option than keep going, or they owe me now which you think is not the same as they own me now but it owns me now is somehow OK. I wrote about the red velvet before, partially in one of those stories, well I changed the city changed it from brothel to outcall, added a cab ride, added two men, added roofies, you know to make it not my fault it was New Year’s Eve, I kept that part but did someone say that shift was asking for crazies then, or later? Was it the girl who told me she’d worked on track and I didn’t know what that meant thought maybe a drug reference? But nodded and kept my mouth shut (so as not to look stupid, my MO, later all terms would become clear); the girl had long hair that was sometimes blonde, sometimes ginger sometimes auburn and she’d sit there hauling hair serum between flattened palms through and through, tilting her head a far-off gaze, over the top of the television, whatever reality show or police procedural was spitting out of it hair like a rusty oil slick but still she looked good, well she was a pretty girl, with a round face and wide blue eyes, I wished I looked like her, I spent a lot of time wishing such things, imagining glances and lines of dialogue, scenes, alternate eventualities, & lives that’s embarrassing/sad maybe, a sorta big waste, then again what else are you gonna do in one of these lounges big laugh too (the girl had) and if she didn’t know what something meant she’d say it often two guys would come in asking for her and if she was there they’d sit in the lounge with us leaning back, manspreading (as we didn’t call it then) one hand dangling in front of a dick, pointing at a dick advertising a dick? Or a brittle nonchalance; I never saw them take a session, hooker groupies looky-loos, dealers, or her pimps from the track? I didn’t know. Too young to be pimps (I thought) but I knew nothing about pimps in the street sense. Perched on the couch, tossing her head grabbing more hair to palm-haul talking and laughing about whatever like people who can talk and laugh about whatever do while the girl with her face glued to the mirror kept plucking, mysterious, pluck pluck, for hours (or so it seemed) how could you see to do that in here, well she did have striking brows arches, vaults and the third girl I remember ex-army, exotic/fascinating (to me) also how she’d arrive in cargo pants and shit-kicker boots, change into stilettos and a red dress, skintight over her pregnant belly. She used to date an actor-director who was getting a lot of attention at the time, I’d seen his movies artsy thrillers; I was impressed she told me about their life in California, but all I remember now is who he was. Platinum blonde with charcoal roots and dimples like rivets (her). Well, usually three other girls working nights in that place and these are three I can remember, but I don’t know if that night it was these three. At that time I didn’t go to work without the water bottle with vodka and orange or vodka and Crystal-Lite; vodka and something—but I wasn’t at that time in the habit of overdoing it (at work). Just that bit of alter I needed. Shake it now (my alter/altar) watch the granules dust-storm then settle. Lift it to my mouth. Feel the warm slow spreading like sand at the upper reaches of a wave, melt me into the foamy armchair, I miss it (right now) my old friend and never mind the rest; the moment never minds the rest that night we’d had champagne too because yippee New Year’s. 1999. That Prince song was everywhere. I don’t think I’d had a job yet when the man scattered in like a cracked spigot. One of those young-old ones with a face like a weatherboard house skin pulled tight over his cheekbones tall, skinny, jittery, speeding on something but whatever. Sketchy as fuck but whatever. No it wasn’t him but some other man who, when I went out to greet turned me around like a rotisserie and I said, Is it all there? Or: All in place? But with a smile and a laugh, as though I thought he was sweet/hot, etc. In any case that guy didn’t pick me. With the spigot man I went into the room at the end of the hall. My choice or his? (Sometimes they liked to pick that too.) Maybe there were four rooms in this brothel but I remember only this room with a futon that faced the window at the front red (faux) velvet curtains floor length. Outside the window was Hastings. I want to remember what it looked like from outside there would have been a sign (red neon let’s say) and the entrance on that street a narrow flight of stairs like a bronchus a sign then, a door, and a partial view of a partial flight of stairs, I want to say the door had one of those square windows at the top and there might have been stair lights like ticker tape missing a light every few, retroreflecting up, up, let’s say a set of eyes could go from a hypothetical car window trailing caterpillar past in the night. A couple of stores and boarded-over windows and the small grotty park to the right. What could have been seen from there was not much right (velvet don’t flutter), maybe that’s the point; from the front of the building these were the things that didn’t happen: the man wasn’t a tall hard (jittering) shadow who shut the door behind him and pushed me to the floor. And I didn’t feel the way I tumbled to be (when I remembered it) a soft cascade (the hazy edges again, and the white) (which is not how it must have been at all; it was also a floor with carpet worn rock hard as I was to put it later, in a story), and I didn’t Laugh because I always laughed, I wasn’t acting, even at that point like this was funny and I was, as usual delighted at whatever inane thing wanting to move him to the futon while keeping rapport, I wasn’t pretending then, when that didn’t work (& pretending for whom?) that nothing was happening that couldn’t be sorted out with more pretending and not overreacting but this man: like a swarm of men. My throat burned exhaust and I knew something was going wrong. I said no or please no, or no no no something like that, then not without a condom. What I didn’t know that a man could be a concrete block, a man could be a tide that I couldn’t propel myself up, or kick him away, and what he kept going? (Sorta disbelief), sorta feeling like a struggle inside my skin like my skin was a plastic bag I was trying to get out of, or a straitjacket; where were my arms? Was he holding them down, maybe he wasn’t, what was I doing with my (maybe) free arms? It took a long time, or it was relatively quick. I was a sorta (wriggling) corpse only thinking, what was happening, I mean what, actually was this, was something I thought with an almost intellectual curiosity (from way off up there/over there/somewhere else); I mean (again) what, exactly, was happening, here? I did not yell. I did not scream. ii. In which I went to a free clinic in which I got tested. In which I said I’d had unsafe sex. In which I filled out a form. In which in response to the question: Have you ever been a sex worker? I answered: Yes. In which the man pierce-glanced at me then away (those eye drills again), and I thought oh no you were supposed to lie about that right? I never knew the correct things to lie about and I knew that I never knew but knowing this didn’t make me know. Fear like an icy blanket bucket-stuffed they’ll call the cops! It was legal here but I wasn’t & in any case there were harassments or were these the easier worries to have I don’t know; worry like a scurrying burrowing rat said keep worrying yourself into the worry box where worry thought worry was a way to prevent a thing from happening (you hoped), also let the gods know you were serious; well the tests came back negative and no one came to arrest me. Crisis averted, right? In which I decided to leave the rest alone like a gravestone I never visited let the grasses and leaves and Spanish moss grow over; no cover it with more leaves and grasses, no bulldoze it, no; in which it returned to me (again again), as images that told me to figure out what they were, or because they wouldn’t stop only thing to do was figure them out; I mean try, I mean why hadn’t I fought back?/more?/what is a block what is a tide what was I doing with my (maybe?) free arms? But then I’d be thinking about things like the carpet how thick it was near those red velvet curtains, whereas in the centre of the room it was worn (rock hard), like gum on pavement and how the dust and cobwebs trailed from the seam of the curtain a jungle world in miniature, with vines creepers, lianas, epiphytes I imagined myself machete- waving, aegis-wielding slashing my way through; this seemed funny? Those images again, and why I hadn’t fought back/couldn’t?/just didn’t?/ repeat repeat repeat I told no one I worked with (had a shower? went back to the lounge? poured more champagne?). I told one person, months later but said the guy was holding me down in a later version I added a knife shame upon shame I was such a liar. I thought: if I tell it like I remember it he won’t think it was anything and I wanted him to think it was something, I wanted to tell someone what I remembered but when I tried, same thing happened as when I tried to think about it it was many years before I read that this is typical of the way trauma destroys narrative the ability to tell one that is in an A to B way, the fixation instead on fragments, images pieces of glass that just add up to more shards when you sit them together red velvet/ weatherboard face/ carpet worn rock hard/ floating, cascading, landing/ trailing curtain dust/ I put it down to my bad speaking and lack of storytelling skills then proceeded to narrate a version that fit better with popular culture depictions of what I called the r word, this made sense how? Years later too I read that many of us come up with a cover story = one we are able to tell but back then, I couldn’t understand my lies, or those parts of the story I could tell no-one iii. You can’t rape a hooker I hear that, years later I mean I would have heard it at the time too but I remember this one time I heard it probably because I wrote it in my journal it was on an episode of Law and Order SVU it was not said by a sympathetic character still, we know how lies can become truth by being repeated two out of three boyfriends also said or would have said the same. Bad taste in men sure. I knew better but I didn’t know better, you know, also fight, flight—or freeze it’s a real thing, I know (now). Let’s call that a lightbulb that took approx. two decades (to apply it to me that is) here’s another: wrenched/bitten/shoved/ lump of flesh putty/ fresh flesh putty/ & no no no/ = blah blah blah/ (a regular work day) did I think how was this so different? Of course there were differences, my (more insistent) no’s could be pointed to (point to them please I didn’t, then), but I can understand if it didn’t feel different enough to react to more decisively, or there was some sort of confusion as to whether it was different that needed processing (= time, which was not available) or that in the moment, my learned default functioning basically; let it happen I think of Seligman’s poor dogs in rubber harnesses and shocked and nothing they could do about it, then big surprise? cowering, whimpering, their floppy-eared resignation hugging the corners of parrilla-floored cages even when the doors were open wide unlocked that is, and three girls we think, in the lounge at the other end of the hall, TV noise pumping probably through thin walls, or was it just to raise my voice, even, make a fuss was something I avoided (what if you were wrong?), let alone what, eye gouge, choke hold, knee to the groin, I’d never done anything like that, how was I supposed to know how, right then? Probably fail and he’d hurt me worse (was that in my thoughts somewhere; I don’t know). Another brutal and unnecessary experiment as it turns out: regarding my passivity, relative/ total/whatever/ as a sign of weakness and culpable response requiring cover-ups, interrogation explanation, and expiation rather than a way I survived where that just means what happened to me or someone like me who was still there after, in some sense stumbling thought steps and red mud-stuck shame-struck questions circling while the one I don’t remember ever thinking to ask, why did he do it gaps in red/ velvet curtains/ peepholes of white/ light/ Rose Hunter Rose Hunter’s book of poetry, glass, was published by Five Islands Press in 2017, and her next, Anchorage, is forthcoming from Haverthorn Press (UK, 2020). More by Rose Hunter Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. 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