by D. Allison Smith

Shelley leaned backward in the chair with the broken front-leg chewing on the stub of her finger nail. The long, twisting press-on nails on her other fingers remained, but her thumbnail had broken in her fervent itch to bite her nails as she did as a child.

Bathed in the bright white of the single bare bulb that swung from its electrical chord, she shook her head as she heard the laughs and girlish shrieks of the women outside the building who hoped to claim a wealthy trick for the night. Her own trick lay waiting, but abandoned behind the door next to her, still hoping he would see her pull away the dress that showed more skin than it hid. She did not care about the trick, though; only himand his words had mattered to her.

“He promised,” she said aloud, the tip of her finger caught in her mouth muffling her voice. He had said he loved her and, if she loved him, she needed to help him earn money the fastest way he knew.

At first, Shelley did as told and removed herself from every man he threw in her direction, knowing that he would hold her at the end of the night to tell her how brave and strong she was to lend her body to the world’s oldest profession. Yet, two weeks of the lifestyle turned into two months and every dollar gained that Shelley was told would go into the “get out of hell” jar instead bought more weed or more of whatever he had decided to pump into his veins that week. Then two months dissolved into six and then there was another girl, Lisa.

“Lisa’s just a girl,” he had said. “She needs to earn some cash to get outta here too. She’s just like us.”

Shelley never questioned him, not when she heard him “breaking in” Lisa to mark her as his or the flow of others that came after her in the following years. She loved him and she did as told because one day, as he always promised, they would leave all the filth behind them in a new life.

He had said she only had “work” until he had enough money to start his real business, but he never let on about this business and, as New Girl Number Twenty’s squeals could be heard through the dirty thin walls as she, too, was marked, clarity struck Shelley.

“Screw this shit,” she said and jumped from the chair with an invigorated spirit running through her veins. She had wasted enough time listening to his lies as he told her he loved her and that he needed to do what he needed to keep the other girls in line. She had wasted enough years waiting for the time to come when she would not have spread herself for a new man twice or three times a day. She had wasted enough of her life praying for him.

Leaving her faux-fur purse that held nothing but condoms on the table, she opened the door to leave the building that had serviced the males, and even some females, in the city for close to a decade, but hesitated. The glimmering silver baseball bat he used to chase off the “deadbeats” sat in the corner beckoning her.

Nothing would stop her leaving him that night, but Shelley knew she had to see him just once more.

She grabbed the baseball bat from its corner marched quietly toward the room where he had first told her “Please. Do this for me just one time if you love me.”

There is a short sequel, Filth