Story summary: When Rosalie takes interest in you to be her 'baby's plaything ...? Run. Run for your life. Dark.
Chapter summary: 爸爸, 妈妈 this is America now! The 八仙 stayed back in 中国. Besides, what would the Immortal Lady Lotus Eater 何仙姑 want from a soiled dove like me?
"What is your name, guhl?"
I looked up at the tall, imposing woman with the severely starched shirt staring down at me, trying to understand the language that, even after having lived in this strange new land for more than two years now, was so difficult for me to hear, even as my mouth could say these strange words well enough.
I got 'name,' at least, from what she said.
So, I looked down humbly and told her my name.
"恩美" I said.
The woman looked at me impatiently. I wondered if she thought she had wasted the whole ten dollars she had spent to buy me. She even talked that down from the offered twenty dollars the matchmaker wheedled and bowed and scraped for, but the tall lady, something like "Madman," or "Madame" was her name, stuck to ten dollars and asked where they would get a better offer for me?
Of the ten dollars exchanged for me, my parents got five dollars; the matchmaker kept five.
That was my entire worth to my family. Five dollars in this new and strange country called the "Golden Mountain," ... that was anything but gold. No, it was dark, and cold, and dry, and dusty. Harsh. Just like the people here.
Harsh. Hard. Unfeeling.
The harsh woman glared down at me and demanded: "What?"
I looked at her helplessly.
"Your name, guhl! Your name! Louder, tell me your name again so I can hear it this time!"
I bit my lip.
I was told by my parents not to disgrace them anymore. To obey. To do what I was told.
I was told that I was not to fail, that if I did, I was told to slit my throat, because they would not be shamed with me coming back to them anymore.
A girl, me, in my seventeenth year, and not married, and with no prospects, either, with me having no dowry and with the Chinese Exclusion Act making an eligible match almost an impossibility to find. We were lucky to sneak through Canada to find this barren and desolate land of false promises and hatred in the eyes of every person who saw us as the 'yellow peril' with our 'chinky' eyes.
'Slants' we were called, and 'Slopes.'
That's what I was: a girl, another mouth to feed, of no use and no value to my own family, and hated and despised by everyone else.
With that in mind, ten dollars seemed a huge amount of money to spend on me, who is this useless baggage, who would earn her keep two bits at a time, with the phrase I had to learn by heart...
'Two bittee lookee, four bittee feellee, six bittee dooee!'
... so that I could prove my worth as a salable commodity. Two bits for a look-see — two bits: a whole twenty-five cents.
For four bits, or fifty cents, a man could touch me anywhere he wanted and for as long as he wanted, ... and I wasn't allowed to push him away, nor to run away, nor to cover my face in shame. I had to stand there at let him violate me with his hands, and I had to try to pretend to like it... or at least to swallow the vomit that would come from me retching from the touch of his wretched hands. Crying or puking was bad for getting repeat customers, you see.
For six bits, or three quarters, a man could bed me for as long as he wanted in one of the 'comfort' rooms here upstairs above the saloon.
I was good in math. I had figured out that it would only take fifteen or so 'johns' for Madame to make her money back. Fifteen johns ... that should be a few days, ... or nights, actually.
I wonder how much profit Madame would make off of me. That is: how long I would last after that fifteenth john before I slit my throat in shame, or ... would I had even lasted to the fifteenth john?
But here I am, a faded flower, and this is my fate. I must last as long as I can, so as not to shame my family and ancestors, as I have already done so, by being born a girl, and by not marrying into a good family.
I looked at madame humbly and repeated my name, trying to say it as the Americans said it. "恩美" I said. Then I repeated the words: "Enmei," as distinctly and with as little intonation as I could, saying it flatly, as the Americans said their words.
Madame puzzled over this, her whole face frowning, but then shrugged, simply not caring.
"Speak any English?" Madame asked, bored.
I nodded my head.
"Say something," she demanded.
I complied. "Something," saying it as best as I could.
My vision became blurred as I was blinded for a moment by a hot, red flash of light.
My cheek stung.
"You sassing me?" she roared, and slapped me across the face again.
I don't know what hurt more: her blows, or the injustice. I tried to be a good girl and do exactly as she wanted, but I was punished for it?
"You'd better think twice before you try your smart-ass comments on me again," she said angrily. "You're lucky. Any other place, they'd've ripped your tongue out. Here, you have three hots and a cot, employment, and you'll even get some pocket money and a shift off every week. You really should rethink that attitude of yours and count your lucky stars, because, these days? for a little chink guhl like you? This is the best you'll ever get."
She glared at me. "So don't blow it."
I looked down at the ground, and was shamed further when a tear escaped my eye.
Madame didn't notice. She strode right up to me, grabbed me by the ear and yanked me backwards to her large roll-top desk, pushing me into her wooden swivel chair that loudly squeaked a complaint, even as it shuddered under my tiny frame.
"Fill this out and sign it, guhl, and be quick about it!" Madame snapped angrily, "We all have work to do here!"
I looked down at the paper dead center on a desk that was overflowing with papers, notices, bills, and fines.
The paper — my 'contract' — read:
"For the sum of ($10) given to my parents on this day, I (blank), promise to prostitute my body for the term of (7) years or until death, whichever comes first. If in that time I am sick for one day, two weeks will be added onto my contract. If more than one, an additional month shall be added. If I run away, or try to escape, I am to be held as a slave for life. Signed (blank)."
I gulped as I read my fate. Then, feeling despondent, I picked up the large, heavy fountain pen and began to fill the Chinese characters of my name in the blank where it should go.
Madame snarled, snatching the paper from the desk, crinkling the contract — which I thought was odd, since was the proof of her owning me now — but then she angrily ripped it in two.
"You really are a stupid little thing!" she spat out disparagingly. "You can't even write your own name! This contract?" — she waved the ripped, crinkled paper in my face — "it doesn't grow on trees, you know. You're fined. A day's earnings."
She shoved the chair, with me in it, aside and grabbed the fountain pen from me, spilling a gob of ink on my hand in the process. She pulled out a fresh piece of paper and rewrote the words from memory — she probably did this often enough — but this time adding my name, written in English, to the contract.
"Sign it," she commanded as she pulled me in the chair back in front of her desk.
I looked at it helplessly. Would she rip this one up, too, when I signed my name in Chinese?
Madame sighed in exasperation and then grabbed my hand holding the pen and dragged it over the signature blank in two quick slashes, leaving a big 'X' for the signature.
"Good. Done." she said in brusque, businesslike tones.
She pulled the pen from my hand again, leaving another ink mark there, and pulled me out of her office.
"Sarah?" she barked loudly.
A young girl, dirty blond with ruddy cheeks and a cheerful, no-nonsense disposition, trotted up to us, eying me curiously.
Madame let go of my arm and waved disparagingly at me.
"Your new roommate," she explained. "Her name is ... 'Amy.'"
Madame struggled over my name, giving it a totally American sound.
Amy. I thought over it, and shyly thought that I ... liked it. It made me feel like I was starting to fit in this foreign land for the first time in my life.
Madame continued: "Get her cleaned up and out of that outrageous costume," — she waved disparagingly at my silk robe and sash — "and ready for work tonight."
The girl's face fell. "Oh," she said, then added a little sadly, "I was hoping it'd be that girl I was talking to earlier. She was kinda nice..."
Madame shrugged. "I offered. But apparently she's too good for us and just can't bear the thought of getting paid for what she's just giving away for free to that ..."
"'Giving away' what 'to that' what?" a celestial voice, filled with reproach, floated towards us, interrupting Madame.
We all looked in surprise to the source of the voice coming from the stairs leading down to the saloon.
Ascending them with a feral power and an unearthly grace, was ...
... Was one of the 八仙 ... one of the Eight Immortals from legend.
My parents when they came present me here — that is: sell me here — had seen her talking with Madame, and they whispered '仙,' — 'Xian:' Immortal — to each other fearfully.
And I was like...
The American in me nearly came out, and I almost answered back to my own parents. I almost said that we were in America now, and they should've left their silly superstitions back where we came from.
I mean, really! A 仙 here? They are just from stories parents tell children to scare them into obedience lest the 仙 take them to 玉皇 — Yù Huáng, the Jade Emperor — and they not be heard of again for one thousand years. This is 1934 AD, not 1934 BC when people actually believed those stories. Thanks to Science from America, people don't believe those silly myths anymore. Besides, she was just a pale white girl, talking over some business transaction with Madame. She didn't look scary at all.
But now, ... I had to reconsider my contempt, because now, with her measured, purposeful step as she glided toward us ...
... toward ... me?
But now, ... with that hungry, predatory look she gave us as she approached us? I wondered if she were 'just a pale white girl' as I had so dismissively thought at the time, much too preoccupied with my own impending consignment to squalour and servitude to think anything other than that.
Because now ...?
何仙姑 — Hé Xian Gu, or Hé, the lotus eater, the only woman of the Eight Immortals— stood before us. It was her, even thought her long, golden hair was different than those black silk strands as depicted in the paintings of her legend. It had to be her, because her skin had the perfectly blue-white glow of the 仙, and her eyes looked into the infinite, that is: they looked right through you, penetrating your heart and freezing your blood.
"Ah, Miss Rosalie," Madame feigned pleasantness to cover her nervousness, "I thought you just leaving ...?"
Golden eyes regarded us coolly. Sarah dithered uncomfortably.
"I was," the 仙 said dismissively, "but then I felt I should purchase Lizzy a little gift for, ... you know ..."
At the sound of the word 'purchase' Madame's whole disposition transformed a mixture of servility and annoyance, from that of one of trying to get rid of this interruptor so she could get on with the business of running her establishment, to that of a rapacious chiseler on the scent of making some quick, easy money.
"Oh, yes!" Madame cooed, "you did buy a rather simple slip for your ..."
"Sister," the 仙 supplied.
Madame was quick to recover, "Ah, so that's how it is in your family. So, for your ... sister, yes, but that was before you two ..." Madame smiled, conspiratorially. The 仙 regarded Madame coolly, not returning the smile. "So you were probably thinking of some more adventurous evening wear. I'd be happy to show you whatever you'd like, Miss Rosalie, and you could ..."
The 仙 called Rosalie waved Madame to silence. "Actually, Ms. Schwartz, I was thinking along an entirely different line ..."
"More toys?" Madame suggested brightly.
Rosalie looked around her, frowning at the gathering crowd of the girls nonchalantly attempting to appear interested in the dusting and cleaning and promenading about the area around us, but failing miserably to hide the fact that they were dying with curiosity to see about what this strange out-of-towner was talking to Madame. "Could we step out of this thoroughfare and discuss this in your office, please?"
"Of course, of course!" Madame agreed obsequiously, quickly opening her office door, shooing the 仙 in. She peeked her head back out to us, looking at Sarah, and growled a "Don't you have something to do?" looking significantly toward me.
Madame then slammed the door, and I heard an eager, "So, what can we do for you today, Miss Rosalie?"
Sarah looked at me with disappointment. "You speak any English?" she asked, displeasure marking her face.
We were in Sarah's room. She had shown me the common bathing room and had gone through a couple of the relevant rules of the house: eating times, sleeping times (which I gathered was ... never?), bathing times. She was also telling me strategies on actually bathing instead of being stuck in the queue when you were called to breakfast, when, not ten minutes after Madame shooed us away, Sarah's door banged open and in strided Madame, herself, looking very agitated.
"Did you break her in yet?" Madame asked Sarah, pointing toward me.
"No, Madame," Sarah answered quickly, "we just got here, but I was gonna do that in a bit, and ..."
"No!" Madame shot back.
Sarah looked at Madame, silenced.
"Okay, new plan," Madame said, and grabbed me by the arm. "Come with me!" she called to Sarah over her shoulder as she dragged me through the main hallway back to her office, snarling at the girls passing by to keep out of her way.
Madame banged open her door and flung me into the office. I landed in a pile on a couch against the far wall, and turned, facing her, wondering what I had done wrong and wondering if I should stand up. I decided not to. She might hit me again. If she wanted me up, she'd probably pick me up. I cowered on the couch.
Sarah came from running down the hallway and entered right after. Madame strode to her desk, picking up some money.
"You see this?" she asked both of us, and fanned out four five-dollar bills. "This," she said, "is money from that girl who was just here as a guarantee against both of you. Apparently she needs needs some girls to help around her house, and she picked you two. I guess she needs them young, I don't know, I don't care. So I offered her your contracts, but she says they aren't legally binding or something. She says she needs a week or so to get the paperwork together. Whatever. The thing I care about is, she's offering real money, but she says she wants that one" — pointing to me again — "untouched ..."
She waited for us to get it, and tsked impatiently.
"... a virgin, you know?" she continued, "and so I says to her, 'well, a week's a long time, and I'll be losing business!' so, bam, she puts down this money, just like that, to cover the costs."
Madame looked to see if we got the significance. Then tossed the money on her desk when she saw that we didn't.
"So, the point is," she continued angrily, lecturing us as if we were children ... which, I suppose was correct from her point of view, "this one," she indicated me with a thrust of her index finger, "is not to be touched by a man, you understand me?"
She asked this question fiercely to Sarah.
"Yes, Madame," Sarah was quick to comply.
"So, child," she turned to me, "no presenting your wares with the rest of the girls; stay out of sight and out of the line of fire, you understand me? If you see a man, put another girl between you and him ... and run and hide, got it?"
"Yes, Madame," I said humbly.
I had been sold to a whore-house to hide from men? I wanted to laugh, but Madame did not look like she was in the mood for gaiety.
"Another thing..." Madame said, glaring at us.
We waited in silence.
"I tried to off-load you, guhl, right away," she said, "because that's how it goes. A buyer is interested now, and only now. A week? She'll forget, or other things will come up, or she'll change her mind, so this is a lost sale, with only twenty dollars to show her interest, so I hope this money is painful enough for her to want to complete the deal, even at the passing of a week, but ..."
"She's rich," Madame murmured. "She's very rich, the way she throws her money around town, you wouldn't believe! And hiring servants?" Madame considered, and grimaced again. "I have my doubts. It may be just a whim of hers: buying a gift for her ward? That child has no ... anything to her. Miss Rosalie buys her a simple white slip and that's enough to bed her? And I had her in this office not an hour ago. You saw her, Sarah! I mean, the girl looks simple! So getting her servants?"
Madame's face just got grimmer and grimmer weighing the poor prospects of success in selling me off.
Sarah put in quietly, "She seemed nice to me..."
"Nice...?" This seemed to anger Madame. "That's just the problem. Miss Rosalie will say, 'oh, I got you a treat, some help around the house,' and the girl will say, 'oh, no, I can't accept!' So what happens?"
Madame glared at us.
"I'll tell you what happens: that will be that. Miss Rosalie will walk away from twenty dollars — insane as that is in these hard times! — and wash her hands of the loss."
She glared at me, as if this were my fault, this possible, probably future.
"Well, I tell you what, guhl," her tone was menacing. "She's going to spend a lot of money on you if she buys you. A lot. So here's what you have to do, you have to pray to whatever heathen gods you have that she comes back in a week and buys you, because if she doesn't ..."
I saw Madame's jaw working.
"If she doesn't, I'm going to take it out on your hide. A lot, and often. There won't be a day that I don't see you and I won't remember this, I will so ..."
She snarled, then glared at me coldly.
"I will so beat you an inch within your life, ... I might just lose it, and throw you out this window, and, oh, look, a girl trying to escape, and you will spend the rest of your very short life getting the tar beaten out of you and on your back earning every single dollar that I would've made on this deal, you hear me?"
I looked at her and saw that she meant it.
"In fact," she said, "you'd better steer clear of me this whole week, because I might just wonder what's taking you so long, starting from right this second, of you not closing this deal, so you better, until the time comes, make yourself very, very scarce, and when the time comes, you keep your trap shut and your chinky eyes big and round and sincere. Practice the 'oh, please buy me and I'll be a good little china girl and wash your laundry for you' and whatever she wants done for her, you hear me?"
"Yes, Madame," I whispered.
"And you," she rounded on Sarah. "I told her there's no possible way I could let you go, my little golden goose, but don't you put on airs. She looks determined, so I just might be able to make a pretty penny on you, too. So ... stay out of trouble this week, if you know what's good for you, and if I call you in here next week with Miss Rosalie, you agree to whatever she wants, you hear me? You know how to sell yourself to the johns, you'd better make the best sale in your life to Miss Rosalie if she really does want you, because if you screw this up ..."
Sarah was less intimidated by her Madame. "Yes, Madame," she said, "I know the score."
"Do you now?" Madame ask harshly.
"Yes, ma'am, I do." Sarah said.
Madame measured her. Sarah was ... a pretty girl. Just that. She had that American girl-next-door look: young, and pretty. But she had also that look of having been here a long time. She knew the pecking order, but she wasn't intimidated by it. Madame looked pleased that Sarah knew what's what, and who was in charge.
"Why the hell you two not out of my sight?" Madame demanded, summarily dismissing us.
I bolted from the couch, heading toward the door.
"Just a sec," Sarah said, and we both, Madame and I, turned toward her.
"What is it?" Madame demanded, looking displeased at Sarah's speaking out of turn.
Sarah pointed to me. "Where does she go during the night? She can't go down to the saloon. She can't stay out in the hall. And in my room? I'm gonna be working. What's to stop some guy grabbing the new meat? Or what if he fancies he has a taste to try Chinese? Where do I put her?"
Madame frowned. "Stuff her in the closet. She'll fit, won't she?"
Sarah looked me up and down and shrugged. "I guess so."
Madame turned back to her desk, showing us her back.
Sarah grabbed me by the arm, and we left the office.
"You're going to put me in the closet?" I asked in a shocked whisper as we walked down the hall back to her room.
"Yeah," Sarah said nonchalantly. "Try not to fall asleep, or if you do, don't snore. A guy's liable to grab his gun and shoot you for a peeping tom—..." then she looked me up and down and smirked, adding a "—...isina."
"But, ... but..." I stuttered.
"C'mon," Sarah said in annoyance. "We gotta get you out of those chink clothes."
I let Sarah, this young girl, so much more experienced in the ways of the world than I, drag me to her room, and thought: this is what 'it' is. This is what it is to be pushed around, at the whim of everybody else. Just like the life I'd left, at the whim of my family, whom I tried to serve, but never was good enough. I was a girl, so I never could be good enough. So I was sold here, precisely because I was a girl, but through some fluke, I wasn't to be on my back, spreading my legs for any man who would take me so I could lie on my bed, him on top of me.
No, I'd be spared that fate, for one week, so I could spend the week trying to stay awake all night in a closet?
It was going to be a long, long week ...
But then ... the look in 何仙姑 eyes as she sized me up, as she sized all of us up ... what would be my fate?
I'm afraid I knew that already. The legends spoke of how the 仙 would carry off a person to the Jade Emperor, never to be heard of again ... and she wanted me a virgin.
My mouth went dry. I knew what that meant.
In olden times, a village would offer a sacrifice to appease the Immortals and to bring them honor and good fortune.
I looked into the mirror in our room as Sarah selected my new American-style clothes, prattling away about things that would mean nothing for me in one week. For in one week's time I was to become a virgin sacrifice to she of the skin so white it glowed blue, to 何仙姑, the immortal Hé, the lotus eater.
I looked into the mirror and saw the eyes of a girl, soon to be dead, a sacrifice to the 仙; a girl who had to pray for that fate to come, swiftly, in a week's time.
I hope I do not shame myself.
I hope my sacrifice brings honor to my family and this village of Belle Fourche.
A/N: A side story to MSR, ... actually a 'sequel' to 'Little Red Riding Hoodlum,' which, yes, is yet to be written. I'm working on it. These 'one-shots' keep coming to me as I struggle through MSR, and then they take on a life of their own. I hope you enjoy what's to come.
Amy is ... well, a new character: 'OC,' an 'original character.' Rosalie is looking for a 'more-Bella' for her 'Bella.' But you may find that Amy has her own voice as you read through the rest of the story. Amy will find her voice, too, in this story.
The sad realities of the Old West (at the time, still the 'New West') was that there was no work for men or women, so prostitution flourished, providing women some work, until they (very quickly) died (suicide was high), and providing the men distraction. Another sad reality was that the Chinese weren't people, they were the 'yellow peril' and reformed views didn't start until the turn of the century and were very slow to catch on in legislation and in the hearts and minds of the people. Among the Chinese, women were place even much lower in the esteem of their own culture and families, so to be a Chinese woman in the Old West was doubly-hard. Amy faces this in this story.
How will she make it work? Or will she just be a poor Chinese girl, pushed around by forces of the world around her?
Soiled Doves is entirely a work of fiction. The title refers to one of the common names for prostitutes of the Old West. The main character, Amy, is based on no one particular person's story, and there are many speculative assumptions I make as an author about the conditions and habits of life at that time (the Great Depression of the 1930s) and place (the Old West). This work is historical fiction but is not particularly historically accurate.
That said, I did do research where I could. The below works have no guarantees of academic rigor nor of unbiased narratives, but I did find them helpful in writing this story and am grateful to the authors of these works for providing this information.
voices-dot-yahoo-dot-com /the-real-lives-prostitutes-old-west-23424 .html
www-dot-moondance-dot-org /1997 /summer97 /shorts /western .htm
ramblingbob-dot-wordpress-dot-com /2009 /02 /28 /old-west-prostitutes-china-girls
Random rant from geophf. Okay. Seriously? 'Unearthly' is an adjective, not an adverb? How stupid is that an 'ly'-suffixed word is an adjective. I mean: 'hardly,' 'solemnly,' 'timely,' 'truly,' 'charismatically,' 'sexily,' ... all adverbs. But 'unearthly' isn't an adverb, it's an adjective? Dumb, dumb, dumb. End random rant.