All things become ugly over time.
I remember how my mother always whispered that phrase to me in her times of anger. It was her attempt of condoning for the chaos of certain events — to her seemingly oblivious child — at the time. I always felt that, in a sense, she found it as a way of dealing with her emotions surrounding my father’s drinking and his own transformation into the ugly abyss that became his life. It’s like she was talking to herself through me, as if by convincing me, she could alter time and change her current horrible place in the situation. But it wasn’t only my father who proved the ugliness to her, it was the entire world. Even change itself took on the same characteristics as her ugly targets. Nothing could escape her judgmental eye of and for the inevitable. Work, our home, relatives, even my own brother, all would someday succumb to Father Time, be overtaken by fate, and morph to the worst capable outcome. Everything and everyone, except me, it seemed. I, her Robin Red, would stay beautiful and pure forever.
That’s never how I saw it. I grew up seeing all beauty in the world — sometimes to a fault — in everything but myself. In an ultimate defiance to my mother’s time warped ideals, I sought out the hidden intricacies of the mundane and taboo, transforming all hypothetical moths into butterflies. Rainy days will always bring flowers and rainbows, stubbed toes are nothing close to a broken foot, and sex is always making love, even if forced. Bad can somehow be better, but even with the cup half full, there is still an empty space waiting to be filled.
Whenever I looked in the mirror, my clear vision on life became a blur of discontent. From a young age, something was always off. My red hair was too frizzy; it would never be long, straight, and perfect like all my other friends’. My spotted freckles made my pale skin appear mismatched and blotched, like the moon’s surface on the clearest of nights. My face was too thin, but at least matched the rest of my body, still curvy in all the wanted places. I felt as if my nose were too masculine, whatever that means, but felt lucky that my cheekbones and feminine chin balanced it out. There was always an imperfection that needed fixing. The only thing that seemed right was my pretty green eyes that went with all of the clothes that I wore. I felt ugly from the get-go, determined to become beautiful.
Nothing changed as I grew older, and when I view my reflection now, I can hear my mother’s whispers ring clear, etched into memory like any and all childhood traumas. She meant no harm, of course, and she had no idea what I had thought of myself or what would become of it. Like all true trauma, there is that post-stress that builds throughout time and becomes a part of who you are, even the parts that are self-induced. I am only a victim to myself. I am my own ugly predator.
— — —
I had gotten up out of bed this morning and gone through my usual routine, showering and priming myself up for the day, making myself as attractive as I could without overdoing it. Work requires that I put my hair up in a bun, which I hate, but it’s a rule I abide by anyway. A collared shirt and slacks are the other norm for me, which I donned and pulled over my sleek, white legs. Men tell me it’s what they like most about me, usually as they run their finger up and down them, knowing damn well that it tickles. I prefer the simple brush of the hand through my hair as they tell me how pretty I look, but a touch is a touch, and I’ll take whatever makes them happy.
After dressing, I turn to the mess of my apartment, beginning with the dishes from the night before. It has been forever since I have brought anyone back here, so I only keep it clean enough to match my standards, which aren’t very high. Clothes are generally tossed about without a care and papers are scattered; it’s nothing too bad. My sole pieces of furniture are my couch and coffee table, with my computer set up on a corner desk. I glance at it and notice that I left the camera rolling from the night before last, turned on for a late night video chat with Bill. I step over the wires and switch it off, cursing myself for wasting energy.
Money has been tight lately, and growing rent prices in Seattle aren’t helping with my already tight budget. My job as a telemarketer pays only minimum wage plus commission, which barely gets me by. I mostly rely on my supplemental income for savings, but even with that, financial trouble still lingers month to month.
The phone rings, and I run over and pick it up. “Hey Robin,” says the voice of my brother.
“Hey Chuck. I’m about to leave for work. What’s going on?”
“Just checking to see if we’re still on for tonight,” he says, sparking my memory. I had completely forgotten our restaurant plans. Chuck lives on the other side of town and still likes to keep a close eye on me, always requesting dinner dates as an excuse to keep tabs. He plays the older brother role to a T. This dinner was different though, and I can’t believe that I forgot about it. We planned it every year.
My silence gave me away. “You forgot, didn’t you?” he asks.
“Maybe, maybe not,” I lie. “I sort of, planned something with someone.” I couldn’t cancel this date with Bill. He’d never forgive me. My brother could. “Can we reschedule, just this year? How about seafood tomorrow?”
“Another date?” he asks, and I cringe at his emphasis. “This is the third one in two weeks, isn’t it?”
I hate how he knows everything. “I’ll catch you up tomorrow. Thanks for understanding.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Chuck. I gotta run.”
“It’s her birthday, Robin,” he says. “But whatever, fine. It better at least be the same person.”
“Of course it is,” I say. Another lie.
“Tomorrow then. You better explain it all.”
“Don’t go falling in love, Robin,” he continues, “especially not without them meeting the family first. I know how you are.”
“Jesus,” I say, having heard the spiel a hundred times. “Talk to you later. Bye.” I hang up the phone, more frustrated than I should be. There are things that my brother just wouldn’t understand about my relationships, nevertheless, his advice never goes unheard. I value him, and am glad he is still a part of my life, especially as my protector, even if I say differently. Mom is gone, and Dad is not far behind, so Chuck and his family are about all I have left.
My computer beeps to remind me of an unread email, and my heart jumps. I rush over and sit down quickly and open up the internet, only to be let down. “Damn it,” I say aloud to no one but the disappointing spam mail staring back at me. I hadn’t really been expecting a response from my new post so soon, but my hopes are always high. At least my job and my date with Bill tonight will distract me for the time being. I reread an old email from him, which makes me smile; if only he knew how his words tickle my heart. Then I get up and leave to start the day.
The city is booming with racket, per usual. Living on the west side of town is perfect for me — cheap and out of the way. I never have liked the rush-rush sensation of being directly in the downtown area, but if I need to make a run there, it is only ten minutes from my apartment.
Work isn’t too far either, and I arrive and take my post at my desk right away. Working in a cubicle has never been my dream — nor should it be anyone’s — especially with having to make dreaded cold-calls all day long to people who have absolutely no desire to talk to you. They respond to my voice as if I’ve just crammed beet juice down their throats. For now, the job would have to do.
As a child, I had a farfetched dream of being a model one day, or some sort of fashion guru, but of course those all went by the wayside when real life struck around age twelve. They don’t warn you when you’re ten that puberty could be the death of you, especially with a complex mind like mine. As I got older, I realized that I wasn’t smart enough for college. Plus, by that time, my dad had lost his job, left my mom to fend for herself, and then, like dominos, life and its inherent ugliness took and toppled over one event after another. I ran out on the situation as soon as I had the money saved; ugliness has no place in the life around me anymore.
I dial my first number of the day and run through my spiel. This routine gets old, but I’ve gotten better at it through the years. I’ve learned how to keep a person interested by telling them what they don’t know about what they need. Selling my personality is a part of the game, both in this job and in life, and I think I’ve mastered it. People are much easier to talk to and deal with over the phone, all of them just faceless players in a sucker’s game, and I, the unseen puppet-master pulling all the strings. It’s probably why I always prefer emails and texts, but Bill always reaches for the video chat, which just adds new rules to communication that can easily muddy life with facial expressions and emotions. I comply, for him only, because I don’t mind him making the rules. But work is a different game altogether. Here, I am in control.
After the first call, autopilot gets triggered and the day ends up going by in a flash. For the entire day, I find myself wondering what Bill has planned tonight, if anything at all. Some dates of ours go quickly, due to his work at the hospital, but there are the others, the ones I dream about, where his phone will never beep and he stays with me for hours, looking at me like he truly cares, holding me tightly like something in his mind forbids him to let go. Those nights are the greatest.
I call him from the car as soon as my shift ends and he answers on the first ring. “Hello you,” he says in the voice that echoes in my thoughts throughout the day without end. I can hear the city’s wind blowing into the receiver, slightly distorting what I make out as a childish, gleeful tone.
“Hey Bill,” I say. “I’m just getting off work. We’re still on for tonight, right?” I try not to sound too eager, but know my tone spoke out “need” on all levels.
“Absolutely. You know I would never miss out. Same place, same time?”
“I’ll be there,” I say. “See you soon.”
“Wait,” he says quickly. “What will you be wearing?” He always likes to know what to expect, even going as far as to buy me outfits he likes; something always sophisticated yet sexy.
“I’ll surprise you,” I say. “Just look for the beautiful redhead.” I laugh, mostly due to my own disbelief of my words, but he takes it as playful banter.
“I know that’s right,” he boasts. “See you Robin.” He hangs up, leaving me to the silence of my car. I try to remember if he had told me about him having to work tonight, but then tell myself that I would worry about it if and when it came to that. For now, I should just be happy.
I pass the strip mall near my apartment then pull into the complex, parking in the community garage. After I make my way upstairs, I jump onto the computer right away.
Still no new messages, which is odd.
I ignore my blank inbox and make my way to the shower to start to get ready. After spending plenty of time shaving my legs and getting my hair perfect, I get out to put on the makeup I know he likes as I look into the mirror for the third time of the day. I finish and smile — I finally am looking back at something that I can approve on, if only just slightly. “There you are,” I say to myself. I turn my head left, then right, making sure everything is just right, then make my way to the closet.
The clothes I kept for special nights like this with Bill were all on the right side, hanging up and color-coded, just like my mother had taught me. I had planned on wearing a short skirt with no panties as a surprise, but I instead opt for the red dress that he had bought me for another occasion. I remember him saying how he had seen it and how it had reminded him of my crimson-red hair. I put it on then go to make myself a drink; something stiff to get me sparked. Although I love to get all dolled up, I simply abhor going out into public like this. There’s always men who can’t help but stare with their wondering eyes, going through who knows what in their pubescent minds. No matter what you look like — gorgeous, ugly, or otherwise — people will remain judgmental until the end of time. I’d rather just avoid it altogether.
It is about fifteen to eight when I step out, hoping not to return again for the night back to the loneliness of my apartment. When I enter the garage I notice my neighbor, Mike, struggling to pack his car full of suitcases. Must be leaving for a trip, I think to myself, and I hurry my steps to avoid being seen. Mike is the kind of man who has the knack to corner a person into long conversations at inconvenient times, and right now is certainly one of those times. I hear him struggling, and he must have heard my hurried steps because the next thing I know, behind me I hear, “Uh, excuse me miss.”
I act as if I don’t hear him, quickening my steps like a frightened animal. “Miss, miss! I could use a little–” I dive into my car and start it instantly, feeling guilty and ashamed. He didn’t even recognize you, it’s okay, I begin to think, but as I drive off and look into the rearview back at him, I can see an exasperated, confused look on his face. When I realize that he will obviously notice the car I entered, it is too late to turn around for damage control. Besides, Bill is expecting me, and I don’t want to miss an opportunity with him, no matter what the cost.
I make my way downtown to where Bill likes to meet me. I park on the corner of 12thand Jackson, the International District of town, also a known area for drugs and prostitution. I hate this part of his game, but he loves me to play the part, and I need to abide by his rules in order to get what I need.
I park near the corner Asian mart and get out of the car. The air has cleared some, no longer foggy and full of dew, but the wind still blows up my dress and chills me with its cold, fingerless touch. There is a mass of people at the bus stops on the other three corners of the intersection, all too busy with their conversations to notice me. I make my way to the corner where I stand, right in front of the recreational marijuana shop. From behind me I hear a couple of whistles and cat-calls, both of which having sadly become part of the norm, but still have no effect. I take my spot on the corner and wait for Bill’s truck to appear.
It takes six minutes for the first stranger to pull up. The car is a silver Ford Focus with a “Baby on Board” sticker on the back window, announcing and verifying that the services for which they sought out for tonight was favored by no particular patron. The window rolls down and the man leans towards me, smiling a nervous grin. “Working tonight?” he asks.
“Not for you asshole,” I say, sounding as blunt and brute as possible.
He looks at me, visibly shocked and irritated, and says, “Fucking crazy,” then drives off to continue his search. Right, I’m the crazy one, I think. Go home to your kids.
The next car is nearly the same, instead with two black men looking for “a good time.” They want to pay me five hundred to have them both, which, I’m not going to lie, almost sounds easy and enticing, but whorrish nonetheless. When I tell them off, their reaction is the same as the last, and they drive off and turn the corner in search of their next target.
My heart begins to pound with impatience, and when I finally spot Bill’s truck I let out a sigh so loud that I’m surprised it’s not visible. He pulls up in front of me and rolls his window down, then leans over and gives me his most genuine smile and says, “How’s is going, sugar?”
This was part of his own spiel, and I went along, turning up the sexy in my voice. “I’m fine, honey. Looking for some action?” I lean into his window and bat my green eyes his way.
“I might be,” he trails off, then adds, “for the right price.”
“We can work that out baby, as long as you treat me right.”
“By the way you look,” he says as his eyes scan my face then down to the red dress that drapes over my shoulders perfectly, “we can make that happen.” He starts to look around nervously, scanning the area. “Hurry, get in.” I reach for the handle, eager to please my chosen John.
Although we had met from one of my posts, Bill had explained his fetish to me right off the bat, mentioning how he loved the rush of feeling like he were picking up a street girl. It was a new one for me, but after our first night, I found the thrill in it also. He drives us quickly to a motel and I begin to think that he may have to work tonight, but he always likes for me to stick to the part of the clueless hooker, so I held back on asking him about personal details of his day.
When we arrive, we make our way to the room he no doubt paid for in advance. He opens the door for me like the gentleman that he is and then closes it and locks the safety lock behind him. I turn to him and wait.
He always looks so tall to me, but never too tall. His hair is jet black and spiked in the front, always looking like gel had just been applied. Tonight he wore a grey collared shirt, short sleeved to show off his arms, and with the top unbuttoned to show off his upper chest. His face is always clean-shaven because he says that it is required for work, but I like to tell myself it is because he likes to feel his skin touch to mine. I watch as he makes his way around the room, checking on particulars that will no longer matter in mere moments, and keeping me in suspense on whatever was to come. When all is apparently to his liking, he turns his broad shoulders to me and explores my body once again with his eyes. “You look amazing,” he says.
I try not to giggle but one slightly escapes my lips. “Thank you,” I say, which are the only words that come to my distracted mind. Then, “It’s all for you.”
At that he smiles, steps two short steps in my direction and stands right against me. He lingers for a moment as his hands rise to the back of my head, which he then grabs in one swift motion and presses my lips to his own. He tastes of stale gum, but I don’t mind it; I don’t mind it at all. I welcome his tongue with my own as his hands begin to explore where his eyes had gazed, and soon we were in the bed, entangled in desire.
“Tell me what you want,” I whisper into his ear when we finally release each other’s lips to breathe. He begins to move down my neck then continues lower towards the beyond.
He reaches his hand between my legs in response, and I spread them eagerly to let him know of my need, of the wants of my own. “You know what I crave,” he says, and I give in with a moan and provide it.
“Is this what is feels like to be in love?” I ask.
“I hope so,” he says, but I have no clue if the response was real or part of the game. He had taken his time with me but we finished quickly, and now both lay spent in blissful embrace. His finger slowly made its way down my body, then back up again, as if he were etching my figure into memory. “You know I have to work tonight,” he says, almost ruining the moment with unwanted words.
“No, I didn’t,” I say with a sigh. The gig was up and my part was over. “Do you have to leave soon?”
“Yeah, I think I got about,” he rolled over and grabbed his phone, “twenty minutes. I’ll have to drop you off then go straight there. People don’t quit getting sick just because I must have my fun, you know.”
“I know, I know.” I purposefully sound disappointed. He rolls himself off the bed, leaving me feeling naked a vulnerable, and walks to grab his pants which had somehow ended up across the room.
I watch as he digs into his pocket and fetches his wallet. “Same amount?” he says, raising his eyebrows towards me.
The words still stab through my heart like a fatal bullet. “You know I don’t charge you by the hour like the rest,” I say. The part had been played, but business was still business.
“I’ll put two hundred in your purse.”
“It felt special tonight.”
It was, and I tell him that I felt it too. I know deep down that he feels bad about having to leave, and the extra payment could be his way of making up for it. “Will I see you soon?” I ask.
“I hope so,” he says. “Scheduling’s tight these days, but I’ll do what I can.”
I get out of bed and go to him, putting my hands on his chest to feel for his heartbeat, and say, “I know you will.”
He grabs my hands and pulls me away slightly to look me in the eyes. “You never told me what you’re saving money for. We started the conversation but never ended it.”
It catches me off guard, and I reply, “It’s — it’s a surprise.”
“My little Robin Red, you know I hate surprises.”
“Did I ever tell you that my mother called me that? And who said the surprise was for you?” I say as I push him away playfully.
He laughs and looks at me teasingly. “Come on babe, let’s get you home before you get me going again.” We dress quickly and he drops me off at the same corner that it felt like I was just standing on. He promises to call me soon and drives away in a hurry, so I get in my car and drive back to my lonely home.