Shaniece Rattler: Russian Love Song
It's the last day. We've switched from tampons to pads. The blood is starting to come out in that weird rusty color. Thank God.
I thought Blaine would beat the shit out of her if we missed another day of pay. Or he would've made her drink flour-water every two hours to stop the bleeding long enough for her to make him half a grand.
Her pimp comes closer. Reaches down under her skirt and pushes a gloved finger into us. Then another. He feels around. Checks me for any bumps, warts, asks if it hurts where he touches. I only feel alone and exploited.
He doesn't look like a pimp. He's just a white kid with a nice haircut, who wears plain white t-shirts and has no tattoos. He's skinnier than her. He's not that bad. He's careful with me, which makes her trust him, because so many others haven't been. Not even her, and she's supposed to protect me. But we aren't from here and we want to stay in this country, no matter how we got here.
Ahnka's a fighter.
Back when she had us on the streets, back when I was turning at least four a night, alone, before Blaine, she kept a .22 right down the front of her thong. That was the closest I've come to feeling safe. And every time she switched down the block I didn't even care if the hammer rubbed against my lips.
After he's checked us, Blaine sends Ahnka to see his family's personal doctor. He does this twice a month. He keeps his product running smooth.
He also keeps Ahnka and I in mint condition. After the appointment with the doctor, who has stuck a swab up me and tested it with a solution meant to light or flare if any infection is present, we are released and told further results will be disclosed by phone in up to three business days. But we know that I am fine. I'd burn or itch, or feel some kind of wrong if I wasn't. I feel fine. I'm a healthy amount of moist. The discharge I produce is clear and stretchy, very healthy. I almost feel happy. I become surprisingly wet before our next appointment.
After seeing the doctor, it's time to clean me up a bit. Blaine has an unknown driver take Ahnka to the strip mall uptown to have me waxed. Even though the hairs are growing back thinner, Blaine says too many clients prefer no grass on the field. Ahnka has no opinion. I wish she wouldn't strip me of my natural protection against bacteria and debris.
The process lasts approximately thirty minutes. The Asian woman is small and works fast, her little hands ripping at the white sheets like lightning. Thin red dots appear over my vulva—blood from where the hair has been yanked too hard too fast. The lady grins knowingly and slathers the sensitive area with a soothing cream.
Her smile is cold and wide.
The John is nervous. He puts three hundred bucks on the table, slides his wedding ring off, and pushes it into the right pocket of his khakis.
"I'm not used to this kind of thing," he says.
Ahnka waits. Listens as she pulls down her stockings.
"You don't have to go so fast."
She starts to unbutton her blouse. “What's your name?"
Ahnka stands still. Doesn't make a noise. She watches his motions carefully. He's just rubbing his hands together. Anxious about what to do with them. She moves closer and places his palms against both of her breasts.
"It's good?" she asks.
"Yes. Oh, God, yes! Of course, of course. I just . . . I thought maybe . . . maybe we can talk a little."
Ahnka checks him up and down with her eyes. She runs a red fingernail across his chest, feels no wires.
He doesn't look like a cop. He looks like a sad dad. He's balding a little, right in the middle of his head. If she wasn't taller than him, Ahnka may not have even noticed. The John doesn’t have the shape of a man who jogs around a field or jumps to high five his friends. He wears plain beige socks and underwear. A plump gut suggests he drinks beer regularly, and it shows a lack of vitality. The body of a man who no longer fucks his wife.
"I like to sing." Ahnka starts, her thick accent dripping through her voice. I get just a little drier. There's no need to be readied. We know this kind of John. The kind that just wants to "talk." The kind who is probably afraid to get up inside me. The kind I'll have to work. Why? We don't even speak the same language.
"I sing about what it's like to be a whore," she says, in her quiet and unbothered tone. "Can I sing for you?"
Ahnka parts her lips into a fuchsia-colored smile. Her voice fills up the space in the room, louder than either of them expects.
Ехали на тройке с бубенцами
А вдали мелькали огоньки
Мне б сейчас, соколики, за Вами
Душу бы развеять от тоски
Riding on the troika with the tinklers, wow
And afar were flickering the lights
I would like, my falcons, to follow you now
From the sadness clear the soul I might
At The House Ahnka has her own room. The other girls share. Ahnka thinks this makes her Blaine's bottom bitch. This, however, has never been spoken aloud. We bring in the most profits. We are for sale 24/7.
I am never not working. I am on call.
Ahnka strays into Shelly and Bianca's room. She shuffles through Shelly's red purse with the gold chain. She's looking for a needle. Blaine has already instructed all of the girls to never, never, never, share needles. If one of them gets fucked, and they're sharing, they all get fucked. If they get fucked, he's fucked.
Ahnka is not a shit person. She sterilizes the needle before and after each use. She lays in bed and watches cartoons to practice her English. Sesame Street. Big Bird. She's learning numbers with the Count. His teeth are sharp. She laughs. One balloon, two balloons, three. . . .
Next week, the John rings again. He has yet to touch me. Hasn't even seen me all done up, waxed smooth, in crotchless panties.
“My favorites,” Ahnka says as she approaches him on the bed.
The John is sitting, fully clothed. I'm becoming moist just because we've looked at him. This is unusual. This doesn't even happen with Blaine.
“Favorite. No ‘s’ at the end.”
Ahnka repeats the word without the ‘s’ and the John smiles.
Ahnka sits beside him and takes his hand in hers.
“What will we do this hour? Will I sing for you?”
He watches Ahnka, helpless.
“Or will you touch?” She presses his hand against me, lets him feel my wetness. But he only pulls away. He stands up.
“I thought, this time, maybe I could play along with you.” The John walks over to his briefcase, and amidst the papers that come shooting out in all directions, there is a miniature keyboard.
Ahnka looks at the instrument strangely.
“They're bigger in my country.”
The John laughs.
“They're bigger here too.” He fiddles with the pink and white keys. The notes come out in light, little tones, quieter than Ahnka had hoped for.
“It's actually my daughter's. It was my daughter's.”
Ahnka doesn't need any explanation. There is no language barrier between pain.
Дорогой длинною, да ночью лунною
Да с песней той, что вдаль летит звеня
И с той старинною с той семиструнною
Что по ночам так мучала меня
Так живя без радости, без муки
Помню я ушедшие года
И твои серебряные руки
В тройке, улетевшей навсегда
With the road long and steep, with the night so light—moonlit
And with the song, that in the distance rings and flies
And with that old dear thing, with that seven string
That had tormented me during the nights
So I live without joy and torment
I remember bygone years and days
And you’re all in silver moonlit hands
In the troika, forever flown away
“Who uses my needles!” Shelly's shrill voice screeches through the hallway. Ahnka struts past, tossing her purse onto the living room couch. She reaches into her bra and hands Blaine seventy-five percent of her earnings for the night. He stands propped against a kitchen stool, counts the money slowly.
Shelly's eyes are sunken. She shakes her hand in the air and the row of fake gold bracelets on her arm jingle like bells. Her wrist is so thin, Ahnka considers stealing all of her needles, considers stealing her stash, too. But Ahnka can't think about that now. Right now Ahnka is experiencing a feeling she hasn't known in years. Happiness.
“It's nee-dle. No ‘s.’ Who USED your nee-dle.” Ahnka corrects Shelly and prances into her room. Blaine watches suspiciously. I am not moist or dry. I am throbbing, beating my way up to the heart, in tandem.
Later Blaine comes into Ahnka's room. He lays in the bed with her. Feeds her mint candies. They watch Sesame Street together.
“Is that how you learned about plurals versus singular?” Blaine watches her face. Ahnka adjusts herself in the bed. She turns from the television into Blaine's arms, away from the light shining through the thin sheet he's nailed to the window in place of a curtain.
“I learn from Big Bird,” Ahnka says with radiance, and Blaine, a new insecurity crossing his face, touches me. He drills his fingers inside of me and parts Ahnka's legs. Blaine doesn't use a condom. He humps on top of her brutishly. He plummets himself into me with all the force he has to offer. Opening the door into me and roaming inside as if I'd been unlocked this entire time. Slowly, pacing this way and that, lingering restlessly. Tilting my universe and then returning it to peace. He finishes in minutes, leaving Ahnka to watch her children's educational programs alone.
Ahnka meets the John at their usual room. He has not faded into the background of a list of humdrum clients.
“Hello, Fav-o-rite.” Ahnka pronounces the word slowly to avoid adding the unnecessary ‘s.’
The John is very excited.
“You're brilliant, you know that?”
Ahnka places her purse on the countertop next to the little microwave.
“Brilliant.” She repeats the word perfectly.
The John kisses her hand in a loveless, platonic manner that makes her feel human.
“You could apply for a visa to stay here in America. You're smart, and I know you sing beautifully. I have a friend who owns this little lounge downtown. I . . . I really think they could use some fresh entertainment.”
Ahnka looks worried. She has been very cautious not to become too engulfed in her own happiness. It can only last one hour.
Ahnka avoids the John's statement.
She hums to herself and then begins to sing.
Дни бегут, печали умножая
Мне так трудно прошлое забыть
Как-нибудь однажды, дорогая
Вы меня свезете хоронить
Days are running, sadness multiplying
It's so hard for me to forget the past
Somehow, one day, my darling
You will take me for a ride, my last.
“Will you play for me?”
She walks over to the nervous man's briefcase and pulls out the tiny keyboard, her long nails tapping against the keys playfully. The John's face becomes panicked.
“Give that to me.”
“I will. I will. First, I try?”
“No. You can't.”
Something dark begins to stir in Ahnka's belly. A warning.
“Why not?” Her voice deepens. Her dark, sharp blue eyes narrow. She grips the keyboard harder and two mismatched notes play at once in an ugly tone.
The John jumps up.
“Because you're a whore! I can't let you touch her things!” His voice is all but a squeak by the time he finishes the sentence, both of their faces clouded by shock.
Ahnka feels a twinge. Something in her head begins to crack. Her heart breaks. And she let's go of the keyboard in instant obedience.
The little pink and white toy crashes to the floor.
Double-A batteries spill from its backside. One of the keys springs loose, and another pops out and falls to the murky carpet.
I am afraid he will hurt us. I imagine him shoving the broken shards of the object inside of me, stuffing me with my own ignorance. I think we deserve it. I think thank you, thank you, thank you.
“I'm sorry," she cries. Her mouth is wet with worry and disgust. A spit bubble pops, making her apology appear like a cruel magician's joke. Her saliva, tears, and blurred mascara, give the illusion of sadness that suddenly turns into a round crystal ball bursting from a pretty, foreign girl's lips shocking us all. I am quiet and still, hiding between her legs, which she keeps crossed tightly.
I want to help her. I want to invite him in, calm him, relax him, squeeze him until he's rung and spent, a limp dog tired with age, done playing for the day. But he is so furious, for a moment I do not exist. And she is so terrified, that for a moment I am no longer a factor in the situation's urgency. I am something below the both of them. I am not as real as this. I can do nothing for her.
The John never calls again. I have never received the John. I will never take the John inside of me.
Ahnka checks the room every once in a while. She's only met by customers and other girls. Ahnka ponders every decision she's ever made. Every path not taken; every turn swerved left. Ahnka does not know that the word in English for what she has done is “mistake.”