The next night, after several bottles of wine, Gregory went back to the parlour and again picked Lucy from the line-up. Her skin was a pale gold. She was very erotic. Gregory was the only customer and except for the girls the parlour was empty.
Unlike the night before, this time he entered Lucy. She sat herself reverse cowgirl and reared up and down until he climaxed. She was sweet with him, yet firm and commanding, sensual and erotic. He was very drunk, very damaged.
‘There you go honey,’ she said, smiling. She was pulling up her lingerie. ‘Did you enjoy that?’
Lucy was older than Gregory by five years, with tattoos on her arms and curly blonde hair. She smelled of ivory soap.
‘Yes, thank you,’ he said.
The room they were in was decorated with purple and gold fabric. They were in an attic and above them stretched wooden rafters. There was a large double bed with netting and beside it was a red panic button. The shower was in an adjoining room. Gregory wondered how many men had been in here before.
‘What do you do during the day,’ he asked.
‘I do this,’ said Lucy. She lit a cigarette and shook the match out. ‘But I go to people’s houses. It pays more.’
He sighed. ‘It’s been a long time since I was with a woman.’
‘It’s okay, sweetie.’
Gregory was very drunk and feeling sick. There was a dull ache like a strip of pain across his lower back. He rubbed at it, kneading his fingers into his kidneys. ‘Where do you live?’ he asked.
‘In the city. I have my own place.’
‘You live alone?’
‘Do you have a boyfriend?’
She looked at the floor. ‘No.’
‘But you’re very nice,’ he told her. ‘Very nice. You should get someone.’
She was nodding her head, but only just. Outside the sounds of Christchurch drifted up through a window. The room grew hot and stuffy and Gregory, pulling at his collar, began to feel uneasy. As if sensing this, Lucy stood from the bed and put her cigarette out in the ashtray on the side.
They were both frightened.
Later that week at a different parlour, Gregory was drunk and depressed, sitting on the bed with another girl beside him. They were naked. The room was warm and smelled of lavender. Helen was very thin, young, a brunette with large brown eyes. She was quite beautiful. ‘I’ve never done that before,’ Gregory told her, slurring his words.
‘Were you a virgin?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Was I any good?’
‘You made me come,’ she lied.
Gregory chuckled. ‘I think you’re very pretty. The prettiest girl in Christchurch.’
Helen blushed. She tucked a stray hair behind an ear. Around them the air was tight and hot on their skin. The sound of the air-conditioner buzzed and clicked by the far wall.
Gregory swayed. ‘Am I pretty?’
‘You have nice skin,’ she said. She stroked his arm with her fingers. ‘Usually we get old men in here and their skin is horrible and they smell funny. I got excited when you walked in.’ She paused, glanced reluctantly at the door. ‘You’ll have to go now.’
‘I have a brain tumour,’ he told her. ‘I have six months.’
She gasped and put a hand over her mouth. ‘Oh my. Is that true? I’m so sorry.’ She was close to tears. Her arms trembled. ‘You poor thing.’
‘I have nothing to live for,’ he said.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she said again. She seemed about to get up, but remained seated next to him, looking unsure and awkward. Scared.
Gregory was drowsy and his head was spinning. ‘What did you do before you worked here?’ he asked.
Helen glanced away. All of a sudden she appeared very lost and childlike. Still in shock, and with her voice breaking, she said, ‘I was at school before I did this.’
It hit Gregory like a shot. ‘Shit.’ He began to focus. ‘This is your first job?’
She opened her mouth to speak but said nothing. Instead she closed her eyes.
Gregory stood and left her sitting naked on the bed. He had sobered up. Guilt and confusion followed him out the room. On the way out he thanked the madam, then made his way down the stairs and into the night of Christchurch, searching for the nearest bar.