After it was over, Evelyn liked to sit on the edge of the bed with one knee hugged to her chest, slender fingers tracing the skin of her leg, and talk. She would ask him how work was going, how was his mother, his brother, his best friend? She remembered names, and spoke them in that velvety North Carolina lilt that made them sound nostalgic even when they were utterly ordinary. She would ask questions and listen as the white sheet edged down her back, her eyes occasionally turning from the floor to his face.
Sometimes he wouldn’t know what to say at first, but not for long. She had a knack for making people feel comfortable. She would glance up again, this time into the mirror on the opposite wall, and would watch them as they spoke to each other. Her figure was soft, slight, and pale like Southern spring days given from his grandfather’s memory. He would smile at her as he rested against the headboard, still trying to catch his breath.
He had gone fifteen minutes past his time, but she didn’t mind. He was a regular. “Well I’m glad you two are getting along better,” she said, glancing at him over her shoulder with a smile. “I call my brother everyday. Family’s important. They remind you who you are and where you come from.”
He was bent over, searching under the bed for his clothes, but he looked up to grin at her. “That’s awfully wise.” He leaned down again and grabbed his trousers. “So you got a brother?” he asked, stepping into them. “What’s his name? Where'd you say you were from?”
She reached down towards the floor, her fingers groping around for her robe. “Where’d my dressing gown go...”
He picked it up and handed it to her. They didn’t speak for a moment as he buttoned his shirt and she watched him.
“Alright.” Tying her robe at the waist, she backed up towards the door, resting her hand on the knob. "Got everything?”
“Think so.”“Wonderful. Thank you for coming, honey.”
She cracked the door open behind her and kissed his cheek. Catching sight of her image reflected in his glasses, she smiled at herself. He smiled back.
When the door clicked shut behind him, she lay back on the bed, gazing up at the ceiling, counting the tiny dangling crystals on the chandelier. She sat up and looked at the mirror. Under her breath, in a North Carolina-coated whisper, she repeated the client’s brother’s name a few times as her eyes ran the length of the figure in the glass. Her robe was made of silk and sprinkled with roses. She whispered her own name.
“Evelyn Flowers. Evelyn Flowers.”
She was in the middle of remaking the bed when the next client came through the door, several hours later. She greeted him, smoothing the bedclothes and smiling over her shoulder.
He gave a slight nod in reply, taking off his hat and setting it on the dresser. He was very tall and very thin, with dark hair slicked back off his forehead. His black eyes had a dull gunmetal shine and looked right over her.
Her own eyes were fixed on him. She leaned against the wall and folded her hands behind her back. “How are you this evening? Have you had a nice day? The weather was lovely, wasn’t it, a little too hot, but that’s New Orleans for you.” She smiled brightly.
His brow creased. At first she thought he didn’t understand, maybe didn’t speak English, until she realized that if his face was capable of humor he’d be smirking. She was bewildered. “What’s wrong?”
“Let’s just get on with it.”
He had yet to look at her for more than a second. “I have to be somewhere by 11.”
He didn’t like the accent. She could tell from the way his lip twitched slightly when she spoke, the way he seemed almost impatient when she whispered and cried out in bed. That was it. He didn’t like the accent.
He glanced at his watch. “I’ve gotta go,” he said, leaning over to snatch up his shirt.
Her eyes followed him as he slid out of bed. “You can rest for a minute if you’d like.” She grabbed her robe from the bedpost and tied it around her.
“It’s fine.” His back faced her as he fumbled with the buttons on his shirt.
She wished he would look at her. “Some folks stay and talk a bit.” He had left his tie hanging over the other bedpost. She picked it up and ran the cold silk between her fingers.
He rolled up his shirt cuffs. “That’s not really what I came here for.”
She looked away and didn’t answer. Her words hung on her tongue like a dense coat of honey. If she spoke they would ooze towards the back of her throat and choke her. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and looked at the mirror.
“Shit,” he muttered under his breath. He passed in front of her, stopping to check his watch. His reflection blocked out hers. She felt dull panic rising in her chest. “Gonna miss the bus.”
He moved past, heading towards the door. Her image reappeared in the glass. There was a strange feeling growing under her skin, thick and oily and uncomfortable. Her gaze remained on the mirror.
He glanced at her and she stopped, afraid to finish. He turned back to the door and reached out to grab the knob, then stopped, putting his hand to his neck. “Dammit. Forgot my tie.” He turned around and saw it clutched in her fingers. “I need that.” He took a few steps toward her, extending his hand. She remained still.
“ Hey . I need that. I have to go.”“I’m not just some whore, you know.” She watched herself wince at the word. He furrowed his brow. “Okay?”“I’m not.”
“I mean, I did just pay you money to have sex with me, but I understand if you prefer a different term. Prostitute? Working girl? Lady of the night? Courtesan?” He was mocking her. She wanted to wail but kept her mouth shut. “Call it whatever you want, it doesn’t matter. Give me my tie.”
She refused to look at him.He let out a long, low, impatient sigh. “If you don’t give it to me right now, I’m telling your procuress out there . Do you understand me?” She said nothing.
“For fuck’s sake-” He grabbed for the tie, wrapping his long, thin fingers around the loose end. She tightened her fist, keeping her eyes fixed on the mirror, hiding her amazement at the strength of her grip. His incredulity was not so well hidden. He gave his end of the tie a jerk. The force briefly lifted her off the bed, but she held on and floated back down.
“What are you- Are you insane ? You’re gonna make me super fucking late!” Now he gave it a real pull, yanking her to her feet. Her fingers clenched violently around the crumpled bundle of fabric. He wrenched her arm to the right, then the left, then back again. Still she held on.
A sound escaped his throat – a laugh distorted by disbelief and rage. In one swift move he shoved her up against the wall, his hand pinning down her arm just above the elbow. She couldn’t see the mirror and tried to crane her neck towards it, but he grabbed her at the throat and held her head in place.
“Let. Go.” His voice was low and filled with ice.
She stared up at his face, looming over hers. She couldn’t see anything in the dull gunmetal shine of his eyes. No reflection, no rose-sprinkled robe, no smile, no soft pale skin, no North Carolina-coated whispers, no Southern spring days, and certainly no Evelyn Flowers. Nothing. There was nothing.
“Give me my fucking tie, you CRAZY WHORE-”
She opened her fist and dropped it. As he released her arm and leaned down to pick up the tie, she gouged her fingers into his eyes. His head lurched backward, but she dug in, holding him in place, again amazed at her own strength and the sharpness of her fingernails. His screams sounded distant, much farther away than his words had been a moment ago. She smiled and held on.
Now there really was nothing. And so it didn’t matter.