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Page 5

Jane Downing

As she was now to discover, a brothel looked nothing like that: more like a very ordinary, somewhat characterless lounge. They walked in like Jack and Jill – the bucket held between them – hats still on, faces ready for adventure.

Hello? Beatrice’s teeth whistled slightly.

A head popped up from the depths of the sofa.

Oh, hello, it purred. This being a Pussy Cat Club.

Save the wildlife? Arthur said, heading off any misunderstanding. In unison he and Beatrice rattled their bucket’s mound of coins.

The woman jumped up, pulling a light kimono around her shoulders. Of course. Come into the kitchen.

Beatrice tried not to catch Arthur’s eye. The… what were they to call them these days? The sex worker… was about the age of their youngest daughter Polly, who had three children and nightshifts at the hospital. The worker’s silhouette was not the one advertised on the glass by the door. Her kimono flapped as she walked, revealing a pair of dimpled legs.

Two other workers sat at a table in the kitchen, both playing Solitaire, together but apart. They were wearing what once had been called underclothes, but goodness, Beatrice and Arthur had seen as much flesh on sweet young girls when they picked up takeaway Chinese on Friday nights. All three sex workers foraged in plump handbags they perched on the table next to Target-Special-Offer mugs and neat lines of Kings, Queens, Jacks.

Was it Freud who said women’s purses were their vaginas? Beatrice vaguely remembered an old joke, a dirty un-PC joke, but putting Freud’s name to it made her feel less contaminated. Money came out of the purses – the hands of the sex workers covering the faces of Australian heroes.

Would you like a glass of water, you look knackered, the youngest asked after she dropped a $20 bill into the charity bucket, as her co-workers had.

Beatrice silently answered, And you look just about naked, before she realised she wasn’t the one being addressed.

Arthur nodded.

Ice collapsed in the door on the fridge unit and into a glass. A tap in the contraption also delivered cooled water.

Page 5

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