Irene walked stiffly across the room, approaching the large bed pressed against the lavishly decorated wall. The room smelled of heady perfume and sex. The lights above gave off a golden glow, settling gently on Irene’s bare shoulders. She sat down on the bed, the fluffy, burgundy blanket depressing beneath her thighs, and faced her patron.

Chest out: don’t forget to show off your breasts.

Her patron was in his fifties, wrinkles having long settled into his skin and moustache tinged grey and white. The wisps that barely covered his balding head bounced when he took off his jacket, folding it before setting it on a plush chair off to the side. He loosed his bowtie and the wrinkles around his eyes squished upwards with his smile.

“I’m told you’ve been doing this for a few years.” He said, voice crackling ever so slightly with age.

Irene’s voice struggled to escape her throat, “Yes.” She lowered her shoulders, letting the straps of her dress fall over them.

Show off your shoulders, you have nice shoulders.

“I’m also told you’re not much for conversation.” He continued, removing his bowtie and setting it atop his jacket.

Irene’s mouth twisted and her heart constricted unpleasantly against her ribcage. She never had to hold a conversation with her plants. She never had to hold a conversation with the cats that wandered the alleyways or the horses that toiled beneath the will of men in the streets.

She opened her mouth to respond but the man silenced her with a wave of his hand and a smile. “No worries, my dear. I am very content in skipping the pleasantries and getting right down to business.” She could see his intentions in the way he walked towards her. Her body worked on autopilot. She fell back against the bed, baring herself to her patron. She could feel her dress inching up her legs, over her knees and allowing a peek to her thighs.

The man fell against her and her mind left the scene, her body doing the work for her. Lasting times varied. Sometimes the patron wanted to stay for a while, get in as many orgasms into a session as possible or pretend to have conversations and clever banter before the big show. Sometimes they were in and out. She hoped this man would be the latter.

Something rough brushed against her ear and brought her back to the scene before her. His moustache. He whispered something into her ear, voice crackly and low. His hands were moving up her thighs, lifting the dress away from her legs and over her belly.

Follow his lead; he’ll let you know what he wants.

She slowly fell away from the scene again, retreating back into her mind, back to her room where her books lay open and waiting, back to the fern waiting to be trimmed, back to the cat in the alleyway who would likely be coming soon in search of food again, back to anywhere but here.
You’d named the cat Agnes. She was an orange tabby with bright yellow eyes holding flecks of green around the pupil. Her fur was often covered with soot, her paws damp with muddy water that glowed faintly. The whiskers on her left cheek were singed and her right ear had been split down the middle, leaving a V-shaped gap from the tip down to the first coils of her inner ear. She came to the brothel every day at the same time, just a little after eleven o’clock. You’d feed her tuna, wipe at her sooty fur with a damp cloth, and run your hands through the matted fur of her neck and back. She would purr and nibble at your fingers, licking at the tips before rubbing her cheek against them, marking Irene as her property. There were no words needed when she was with Agnes. Agnes never asked for her body, never asked for her to show more than she was comfortable with, never asked for witty banter she was unable to give. Agnes’ language was one of silence; one of body. When she lifted her tail straight up and curled it slightly at the end, she said hello. When she rubbed her cheeks against Irene’s fingers, she said I value you, I want everyone to know that you are my friend. When she bared her belly to Irene, she said I trust you. When she slowly blinked at Irene, yellow eyes flickering in the dim light of the alleyway, she said I love you.

The patron whispered into her ear again. Irene frowned, forehead crinkling between her eyebrows. Her dress had long since been removed as well as her patron’s shirt. With the way he held himself above her, she guessed he was about ready to get started.

Don’t forget to make lots of noise. It doesn’t matter how good or bad you feel: it’s all about him.

Agnes never made her act like someone she was not. Agnes never asked her to smile when she did not want to. Agnes never asked her to go into a profession she had never wanted a part of. Agnes only ever asked for tuna and milk.

She needed to be with Agnes.

Irene pressed her hands against the patron’s shoulders.

“Stop.” Her voice was soft, timid; frail as a budding flower struggling to reach the sun beneath the earth. The man wrinkled his nose, mouth twisting into a frown.

“What?” His voice was absent of patience, absent of understanding. Agnes was patient. Agnes understood.

Irene pushed at his shoulders again, attempting to sit up. He stayed immobile, staring down at her with eyes clouding over with a strange mixture of confusion and frustration.

“I have to go.” Irene said. She looked towards the door, heart throbbing painfully. Her lips felt chapped, her tongue a piece of rubber in her mouth.
“I haven’t finished yet.” The patron pressed a hand against her chest, holding her down. “I’ve already paid to be here, you can’t just leave.”

Never anger the patron. Give him what he wants.

Agnes was waiting for her. Her fern was waiting for her. Her books were waiting for her. She wasn’t willing to push them off to the side any longer. She wasn’t willing to give men something that never belonged to them. She wasn’t willing to deal with people anymore. She was done. Done. Completely done.

“Get off!” Irene jerked her knee up into the man’s crotch. He let out a huff of air, curling in on himself and falling to the side of the bed. Irene scrambled to her feet, leaving her dress behind and running out of the room. She slammed the door closed behind her, the heavy wood rattling slightly. Eyes followed her across the brothel, up the stairs, towards her room, towards those who understood, towards those who never asked her to speak, towards those who never touched her when she didn’t want it.