Red light pools around me, spilling from windows, seeping under doors. For a brief moment, it feels like my life blood; slowly draining, spreading in sheets, leaving me withered and empty.
“Come on, Rosa.” I try and scold myself into action. “Climb those stairs and get to work.” Lady Jayne’s Parlour looms above me, a checkerboard of grey walls and red windows.
The front doors creak open and Ebony and Dusk brush past me, giggling as they set out to walk the streets. Their skirts are too short, their tops too low and I wonder for the millionth time why I keep coming back here.
“One step at a time, Rosa. You need the money. Just go inside and report for duty.” I move a few inches before turning to look down the street. It’s alive with neon; shapes spinnng and whirling in giddy dances. Dark cars prowl slowly, looking for prey.
I jump as someone comes up next to me. It’s a middle-aged woman and she looks way out of place. The dull red light smears her jeans and shirt, turning them rusty maroon.
“I’m Sally.” She puts a hand out.
“Rosa.” I ignore the hand and turn back towards Lady Jayne’s Parlour.
Her voice is insistent, gentle. “You look sad, Rosa. Would you like to come and have a coffee with me?”
The idea is ludicrous. I’m dressed in tight satin and fish nets with way too much makeup on. Why would she ask me such a thing?
She persists as though reading my mind. “We’ve got a coffee shop across the street there.”
I turn out of curiosity and see she’s pointing to the building on the corner. I’d heard some religious freaks had bought it and turned it into a church. A guttural laugh surges up. “I don’t think so, honey. My type doesn’t fit in there.”
Sally places her hand on my arm. “Are you happy, Rosa? At least let me pray for you.”
She takes my indecision as a yes and words start pouring from her lips. “Jesus, I pray that You make Yourself real to Rosa tonight. Show her that You can wash the stains from her heart. That Your blood was shed for her to make her clean inside.”
I turn and march up the steps. Nothing can make me clean inside. My heart feels like a whorehouse, red and full of shame. I accept the next three clients that walk in as proof of that. The strange thing is, I can’t get her words out of my mind. How can blood remove stains? Especially old stains like mine.
The fourth client I accept is a rough biker-type, oozing alcohol and curses. I realise I’ve made a mistake as he drags me out of his car and into a derelict building. Pain floods my torso as heavy boots kick and he rams my body into the wall. You deserve it, Rosa. You’re beyond help.
It’s as though my earlier thoughts have come to life. Blood spills and seeps like red light, draining through dusty floorboards, salty mouthfuls choking my airway.
Sally’s words come back to me again as consciousness fades. I hope God hears as I pray silently. “Jesus, I’m in deep trouble here. Please wash my heart with your blood.”
It’s like an explosion on the inside. An all consuming purity that obliterates the redness and shame. As my body slams into the wall one last time, I hear a voice whispering, tenderly and gently. “For though your sins be as scarlet, I will wash them whiter than snow.”
I close my eyes and surrender to the light that fills my being.
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