Authors: John Marrs
And six weeks after he came to live with us, I asked him to leave.
Los Telaros, Mexico, Twenty-One Years Earlier
April 13, 3.10pm
The pool cue snapped in half as effortlessly as a toothpick when it made contact with the old man’s spine. He grunted as it thrust him forwards and he sprawled across the table.
His attacker, as equally drunk and elderly as his victim swung one hundred and eighty degrees with the remaining half of the cue in his hand and collapsed into a disorientated heap. His counterpart fumbled around the table for a ball to smack against his assailant’s head. But one too many Bourbons made him lose his grip and the ball nosedived a few feet across the room instead, barely nudging the skirting board.
Miguel and I tried our best not to laugh at the clumsy fight before us, and then stepped in to separate the drunken pensioners. Their arms span aimlessly like hurricane-damaged windmill sails, only making contact with the smoky air around them as they fought for the attention of the same prostitute.
“They’re like this every time,” explained Miguel, as he pulled the frailer looking of the two up from the floor.
“Aren’t they friends? I saw them arrive together,” I asked, safely concealing the other behind me.
“Friends? They’re father and son!” he laughed. “They share the same taste in women. By the time you leave the whorehouse, there won’t be much of life you ain't seen.”
I hadn’t intended to look for work, and especially not in a brothel and sex was the last thing on my mind when I walked through its doors. All I required was something alcohol-based to quench my thirst from the Mexican summer and a place to rest my blistered feet.
It had taken mind over matter to rid myself of my mental and physical dependencies on narcotics. But now my system was free from impurities, and while I wasn’t always able to keep the lid on Caroline’s box, only now and again did she manage to escape. By constantly reminding myself I had no other choice, I was able to imprison the memory of our confrontation again.
I’d spent a few weeks travelling and with my nose in language books learning rudimentary Spanish. But my need for a drink became lost in translation when I mistakenly asked a fruit farmer for directions to a watering whore, not a watering hole.
Many Mexican towns I’d blown through accommodated their own Whiskerias, and sold much more than Wild Turkey in their back rooms. Their neon signs targeted long-haul truck drivers who wanted to take their minds off the endless roads ahead with female company.
But with its orange tiled roof and black wrought iron balconies scattered across the first floor fascia, the bordello in Los Telaros resembled a hotel. There was no signage or indication it was anything else. Inside, porcelain lamps on smoked glass tables discreetly illuminated purple reception walls. Glass chandeliers hung from wooden rafters above white leather sofas and a solitary reception desk. Scented candles masked cigar smoke with hints of sandalwood and vanilla. The crushed velvet curtains remained closed to prying eyes.
Its true purpose was revealed inside in the bar, where men of all ages were fussed over by attentive girls in varying states of undress.
I sat at the counter, swilling ice cubes around my glass of Jim Beam, amused by the behaviour of the clientele. The girls’ acting abilities were faultless as they pretended to desire the customers and not the pesos in their pockets.
“Can I introduce you to a young lady, senor?” a barman began behind me.
“No, I’m just here for a drink,” I replied, turning around.
“That’s what all first timers say,” he laughed as he refilled my glass. “Are you European?”
“You’re a long way from home. What brings you here?”
“I’m seeing the world, and picking up a bit of work here and there.”
“What kind?” he asked, carefully stroking his goatee beard.
“Carpentry, repairs, building work, decorating… that kind of thing.”
“You ever hit a woman?”
“Of course not!”
“Do you do drugs?”
“No.” Well, not since I’d left San Francisco.
“Do you like to fuck pretty girls?”
“What?” I laughed and stopped short of snorting whiskey through my nostrils.
“Do you like to fuck pretty girls?”
“Sometimes! But like I said, I’m only in here for a drink.”
He turned his head and shouted towards a room. “Madama! Oiga, Madama!” A middle-aged niblet of woman with grey hair swept back into a ponytail and deep-red lipstick limped quickly but awkwardly towards us.
“Cual as el problemo, Miguel?”
“I’ve found your man. What’s your name, hombre?”
“Simon,” I replied.
The woman scowled as she looked me up and down, muttered something under her breath, then grabbed my hand and bent my fingers backwards.
“Ow!” I winced, and tried to pull them back. But her grip was remarkably strong in comparison to her size.
“Don’t drink my spirits, do the jobs you’re given properly and make sure the men don’t hurt the girls,” she spat in an unidentifiable accent. “And don’t fuck the pretty ones.”
“Okay, okay,” I replied, snatching my hand back and nursing my throbbing fingers. She disappeared into a back room and I stared at Miguel, puzzled.
“What just happened there?” I asked.
“Welcome to Madame Lola’s,” he smiled, raising a shot glass. “You got yourself a job!”
August 1, 1.45pm
I was accorded a peculiar mixture of respect and envy from the male townsfolk for working in a bordello. A walk into town to pick up supplies saw me ignored by patrons if accompanied by their wives. But I was acknowledged with a nod or a knowing smile when they were alone.
I acclimatised quickly to my unusual surroundings. It became the norm to hear a leather-riding crop beating the skin of a repressed businessman from behind a closed bedroom door.
I didn’t think twice when a misplaced key meant I had to cut a naked police officer from a bedpost he’d handcuffed himself to. And I barely noticed the priest in women’s underwear being chased through the corridors by girls in French maid’s outfits, like a Mexican Benny Hill.
The brothel had stood there for as long as the village; a forty-five minute drive away from Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city. Some travelled miles for its courteous and discreet reputation and highly desirable girls.
For an area inhabited by less than ten thousand people, at least a quarter of the bordello’s clientele came from its own doorstep. Some even slipped out of their marital beds once their wives were deep in sleep and crept back a couple of hours later with a smile on their face and a non-the-wiser partner.
For me, it was a place of work and not play. Of course I had urges, but the purpose of exiting San Francisco was to leave behind all that had been faulty with Darren and I.
However, the course of my life was to change yet again when I fell in love with a whore.
October 23, 4.20pm
“You got it bad for her, don’t you, hombre?”
I almost fell off my stepladder when Miguel crept up behind me and whispered in my ear.
“She’s going to break your heart,” he laughed. “Chicas like her always do.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” I replied, lying to the both of us. I folded my ladder up and returned it to the storeroom and left the girl alone. But the truth was I was smitten.
Those who worked for Madam Lola believed themselves to be the fortunate ones. Skinny women, Oriental women, aging women, tattooed women, European women, red heads, shaven heads and one who tipped the scales at a quarter of a ton… all flavours and tastes were catered for in secure, clean premises.
Other prostitutes weren’t so lucky. It was commonplace to spot them barely-clothed and standing by roadsides, or sitting on broken plastic chairs with their knees pulled apart to attract passing trade. Others hovered in fields like worn out scarecrows.
Most men visiting Madame Lola’s brothel behaved respectfully towards the girls, but the exceptions believed they’d also paid for the right to be heavy handed if it heightened their sexual pleasure. And that’s when Miguel and I stepped in.
I’d always deplored violence, especially towards women. My mother, Dougie’s mother… both of their lives had been destroyed by the unwarranted rage of men.
Beth walked out on Dougie eight years into their marriage. I’d arrive home to find him sharing dinner with my family, desperate to avoid returning to an empty house. And when I wasn’t there to offer support, he bent your ear instead. But I’m sure there was much he hadn’t told you.
“I’ll never have what you have,” he slurred one evening, misjudging the distance between the empty can of lager and the kitchen table. You were upstairs asleep and I longed to join you.
“What do I have then?” I sighed, opening myself up for a fresh wave of self-pity.
“Someone who loves you. A family.”
“You’ll find that. You just need to meet the right person.”
“No I won’t because I’m just like my father. Sooner or later we all end up like our parents, no matter how hard we try and fight it. You will too.”
“That’s rubbish. I’m nothing like Doreen and you’re nothing like your dad.”
“Yes I am.” He stopped and rubbed his eyes before he whispered, “I hit her.”
“Who? Your mum?”
“What?” I hoped I’d heard misheard him. “Do you mean ‘hit her’ as in you did it by accident, or as in you do it a lot?”
“A lot.” He hung his head in shame. I leaned against the back of my chair, astounded and disappointed. After witnessing all Elaine had been subjected to, he’d been inclined to repeat history.
“Why would you do that?” I asked, baffled.
“I don’t know. I just get angry and frustrated all the time and then I lash out. I can’t help it.”
“Of course you can help it! You don’t just hit your wife for no reason. Why?”
He looked up at me slowly, his eyes channelling deep into mine.
“If anyone should know, it’s you…” His voice trailed off and he picked up his jacket and stumbled out of the house.
I reluctantly followed him, propping him up by his shoulders, ready for a long walk on a short journey.
I headed towards the pickup truck to drive into town and buy new electrical cables. And as I looked towards her bedroom window, her closed curtain moved ever so slightly.
February 11, 12noon
Each day, I watched her lose herself in a novel. She was loyal to the authors she chose – always novels by Dickens, Huxley, Shakespeare and Hemingway… she seemed drawn to the classics. I presumed they offered her an escape to somewhere far from the whorehouse she’d made her home.
Wherever I was carrying out maintenance work around the bordello, she would stop me in my tracks through proximity alone. Of the thirty or so women who lived or worked in the brothel, she was the only one who ground my world to a halt just by being.
It wasn’t the delicate shine from her shoulder length auburn hair, her olive skin or plump, rose pink lips. It wasn’t the silk camisoles that clung to her hips and breasts, or the brown abyss of her eyes that intoxicated me.
It was her air of complete indifference towards the peculiar juncture she circled. While other girls competed for a customers’ attention, she was aloof. And that made her an all the more attractive purchase for those with deep pockets.
Her colleagues took as many men as were willing, but she was discerning; accepting just two per day, and never at weekends. And her self-rationing put her in great demand. Her time between them was spent in Madame Lola’s office or making herself invisible in her bedroom at the back of the building.
We never spoke; we never made eye contact and as far as she was aware, I did not exist. But it didn’t matter. I was obsessed with Luciana.
“Why didn’t you tell me about Kenneth?” she began.
He paused to reflect on a decision he’d made as a thirteen-year old boy. Then she listened closely as he revealed things about himself he’d kept hidden when they were a partnership.
He explained why London had been his first destination, and how he discovered the circumstances surrounding Doreen’s death. He spoke of meeting Kenneth, but neglected to mention what he’d whispered into his ear or why his biological father branded his only son a monster.
She’d never met Doreen and only heard bits and bobs about her through the years. Naturally, she was curious about the mother of the man she loved and she’d wanted to know more. But it was obvious he’d been hurt by her more than he ever admitted. She’d never even seen a photograph of Doreen so she’d built a mental picture of her instead. She looked like Dusty Springfield. She’d told him that once and he’d laughed.
When he spoke of spending the night by Doreen’s grave so she wouldn’t be alone, it reminded her of the sensitivity he was capable of. However, his subsequent actions had all but erased any of the good he’d done in the past.
“I didn’t tell you about Kenneth because I didn’t want to acknowledge him as my father,” he admitted. “I hated the man from the moment we met and I didn’t want you to see in me, what I saw in him.”
“Yet he’s exactly what you’ve become, if not worse,” she replied. She knew it was a callous thing to say, but he hadn’t spared her feelings so she wasn’t going to pull her punches either.
“Not now,” he corrected, “but for a while, maybe, yes.”
“So if you hated him that much, why go to the trouble of trying to find him?”
“But it took you twenty-five years to offer me the same courtesy, didn’t it?”
He said nothing.
Inside she was hurt that he hadn’t trusted her with such an important secret. But she was angry he hadn’t mentioned Dougie’s violent streak towards his poor Beth. Although they weren’t close like she was with Caroline and Annie, she was sure the three of them could have helped her. And that might have changed so much that followed.