There was a quote from the undercover police officer who arrested the johns, talking about how one person came up to her and just wanted a kiss, and how sad that was, that he felt that starved for affection that he would go to a whore.
So I wrote this.
It was a grimy night, the city streets slick with old rainwater and rainbow gasoline, the halogen street lamps buzzing with an orange glow. The neon lights in the windows of shops cast the passers-by with a demonic hue, a surreal symphony of light and dark that smelled like stale cigarette smoke and urban clichés.
The women walked the streets in short skirts and tall boots, their upper arms dimpling with the autumn chill, their bodies brazenly displayed. Cigarette butts gathered like fireflies at the street corners, winking flirtatiously.
Sherri stepped out of a car, her dark hair teased into a flurry of curls, and took up her post at an empty street corner. It’s just a job, she reminded herself, tugging the hem of her skirt down and trying not to feel undressed. She watched the car veer around the corner and heard the engine quit as it parked. Just a job she’d done so many times before, it was nothing to feel so ashamed about.
She leaned against the lamppost, crossing her legs at the ankle and surveying the street. Another woman joined her there at the corner, but was soon taken away by a middle-aged man with a growing paunch and a creepy leer. She repressed a shudder, and looked at her newly manicured nails, pretending to be engrossed by a hangnail.
She knew the John was from out of town long before he approached her. She saw him walking up the street, hands in his pockets and eyes turned upward, staring at the tall buildings. He was obviously a country boy, even though he tried to act experienced and cool when he approached her.
“Hey, baby.” He hesitated, and then put his hand against the cold metal of the lamppost, near her head.
“What’s going on tonight?”
“Oh, nothin’ much here,” she answered, setting one hand on her hip. “How ‘bout you?”
“Oh, nothin’ here either.” He struggled for a moment, trying to say something he couldn’t. He fiddled nervously with his shirt buttons.
“What’s on your mind, John?” Sherri asked when she could stand the silence no longer.
“Look, I’m new at this,” he admitted, running his hand through his stiff blonde hair and setting it on end.
Sherri noticed suddenly how young he was, probably just out of high school. His face was still marred by pimples, and his ears stuck out uncomfortably far.
“I’m not from here,” he continued explaining, “And I don’t really want… I mean, how much is it?”
“Eighty bucks. Up front.”
“I thought it’d be more.”
“It’s a competitive world. The crack whores go for ten.”
He flinched when she said the word.
“Look, somebody put you up to this?” she demanded, stepping away from him. “One of your friends? Don’t be dumb, kid, if you’re gonna do it, just go for it. If you got moral problems with it, go to church instead. I’m sure there’s some open at this time.”
“Nobody put me up to this,” he said, following her step away from him. “Nobody. I just don’t want sex, that’s all.”
“Why’d you wanna know how much it was, then?”
“I… I just want a kiss,” he admitted, staring down at the tops of his ragged sneakers. “I’ve never been kissed.”
Sherri could’ve sworn his ears were turning red. Poor kid. “Yeah, sure. You know how many boys tell their girlfriends that in high school? Just want a little kiss, just a little sugar. Then the girl gets pregnant and the guy says it’s not his fault. He just wanted a kiss, and things got out of control. It’ll be full price, and up front, John.”
“I know, I’m not going to short you,” he agreed, already reaching towards his back pocket for his wallet. “My name’s not John. It’s Henry.”
“You’re all Johns,” Sherri answered, shaking her head. “When you’re in this business, you learn that names don’t mean a thing. You’re all Johns, and you’re all the same.”
“But my name’s Henry,” he insisted, putting his wallet back into his pocket. “My friends call me Harry. And I’m not the same. What’s your name?”
“Sherri. And if you’re looking for romance, like I said, go to church. Or a bar. Get a girl drunk enough and she won’t notice your ears. This is business.”
He ducked his head. “I tried church, and I tried bars, and I’ve gotten a few numbers, and a couple of dates, but that’s all. Girls always say I’m a nice guy, but they’re not interested. I remind them of their brothers, they tell me. That’s the excuse, anyway.” His voice rang with a bitter note. “And I don’t want romance. I just want a kiss.”
“Then pay for it.”
Again, he took out his wallet, but hesitated. “Does it have to be here? On the street?”
“Unless you’ve got somewhere else to go, like a hotel room. It’s not like I take the Johns home.”
He opened his wallet and fingered the bills inside. “How’d you get into this business, anyway?”
“Long story. I don’t get paid for conversation, though, so either pay up or get going. I can’t get customers while you’re standing here yapping.” Sherri tried to look intimidating. This wasn’t what she was here for, and it was making her uncomfortable. She tugged on the hem of her skirt again. It kept riding up, and it was going to bother her all night.
He counted out four twenties and stood there, looking at them and looking at her. “Is it my ears, then?” he asked. “Is that it? Are looks all that girls care about? Or is there more?”
Sherri sighed. “You’ve got big ears. It’ll take a while, but girls’ll get over it. Once they hit twenty-three or twenty-four they’ll figure out that they just want a good guy, and maybe you’re it even though you haven’t got the looks they’ve been dreaming about since they were twelve. Take some advice, John. It’s not worth eighty dollars. You’ll get kissed eventually, and it might actually mean something then. No need to hurry.”
“All my old high school friends have already gotten laid. My roommates call me Galahad. You know, the pure.”
“So? You’re what, twenty-one?”
“Twenty-two this week.”
“Some birthday present you’re giving yourself. Forking up eighty bucks you could spend on something nice to get your first kiss from a whore. Go home, John.”
His shoulders slumped, like he was receiving a lecture from his mother, and he scuffed the sole of his shoe against the sidewalk. “I guess so. This was a dumb idea in the first place.” He put his wallet back in his pocket and began walking away, turning up the collar of his jacket against the cold.
He stopped, and turned around, looking at Sherri with surprise. She walked up to him and kissed him on the cheek. “That’s for free. Now get lost. I don’t want to see a nice boy like you in this part of town again, you hear?”
He blushed. “Yeah, I hear you. Good-bye, Sherri.” He touched a curl of her hair wistfully, and then turned and walked away.
Sherri was relieved. She didn’t know what she was going to say when her boyfriend asked her how work was, but she felt like she’d done some good, at least. She walked around the corner, finding the dark car that had dropped her off, and opened the door.
“No business yet tonight?” The man sitting in the front seat looked up, and tossed her a dark blue jacket.
“Nope,” Sherri said, tugging on the jacket and buttoning it over her flimsy blouse. She sat down in the passenger’s seat, and closed the car door behind her. “Geez, I miss being in uniform. I’d rather be taking traffic tickets than this. Can’t the guys at headquarters reassign me? I can’t even wear heels for my boyfriend anymore. It feels too much like work.”
“Tough luck, Sherri,” her partner answered. “You’re the best-looking girl in the department. And how else would we catch these guys? Somebody’s gotta watch this district.”
“I just wish it wasn’t me.” Sherri looked out the window. “Anyways, I’m hungry. Let’s go get some fast food. Nothing’s happening out there tonight.”
Her partner laughed, and started the car. As they drove off, Sherri watched the cigarette butts gather at the street corners, like fireflies, and wondered at the women who held them, wearing short skirts and high heels on this cold and dreary autumn night. It’s just a job. It’s just a job, but nobody ever said it was a good one.
I wish I were creative. Blah.