I live in a house of prostitution. My mother, the madam, blends in effortlessly with the neighborhood mothers on the block in her suburban muu-muus, hair in pink plastic rollers.
My customer, the only john I lie with, is the wicked stepfather, King of the Mountain. He takes me at will upon their expensive mahogany bed whenever the mood strikes. If I want, I can watch our intertwined reflection in the mirror of my mother’s low slung dresser. But I choose not to be a voyeur to my own shame. Nor will I look at his erection when he orders me to, and will not touch it though his anger sears my ear, and he pushes its warmth against my leg or attempts to thrust its fullness into my child-sized hand.
There is never an exchange of money, for my mother discreetly handles the financial aspects of this arrangement. I am merely the commodity by which she is able to live her dream of American middle class suburbia. When she surveys her brand new domain with its wall to wall, shiny appliances, double garage, comparing these luxuries with the poverty of her earlier years, the price of my exploitation must seem cheap indeed.
Whore though I am, I depend on The King of the Mountain to teach me all the things about sex my classmates must learn from bathroom walls and giggled whispers.
Mother keeps a very clean, respectable whorehouse. Sometimes it’s difficult believing that she is the madam. When I see her with dust cloth or broom in hand, her face devoid of make-up, I have trouble reconciling her housewifely self with this unassailable fact. She knows how to give the house a good scrub down; there are no cobwebs in the nooks and crannies, no dust-balls lazing under beds to shock sensitive sensibilities.
We, my step/half siblings and I, come to the table well-groomed. Our nails are reasonably clean, hair combed. We eat well-balanced meals based on the four food groups. My appetite is a bottomless pit. I’m my mother’s best eater. This seems to please her, and she comments on it often.
We say grace before meals, for we are a churchgoing family (except for The King of the Mountain who lolligags on the couch in his undies, watching TV, while we traipse off devotedly to a house of worship.) He frequently cracks us up in the middle of someone’s stammered prayer with a wise-ass remark. My mother gives him a stern look, her eyebrows lifting above the pointy frame of her glasses in disapproval, the same expression she gives us kids when we misbehave. (Though he is King of the Mountain, which implies that he’s top dog, he nevertheless must be kept in line. Defiling a child is one thing, snickering during prayer quite another. This Madam runs a tight ship!)
We all have our appointed chores: dishes and garbage detail. We groan and complain, all the while knowing it’s pointless to stall, but doing it just the same. This is mother’s hard won empire, and she will not tolerate a sink full of dirty dishes, or anything which smacks of disorderliness.
We’re not a happy family. We’re miserly with our affections, taking our cues from our role models. There is no passion here, except for that which takes place in the master bedroom. Joking nearly always expresses itself in the form of biting sarcasm, and cutting remarks at the expense of others. I’m often the butt of The King of the Mountain’s jokes: I’m a klutz, I’m ugly, I can’t do anything right. I’m flat-chested, my feet are too big. My mother tolerates his remarks and twisted sense of humor. After all, it is just one of the prices she pays for the privilege of living in sidewalked suburbia and driving a new car, carrying credit cards instead of cash in her leather wallet. (Besides, and this is worth noting, she is rarely the target of his caustic jokes.)
All things considered, mother doesn’t have it so bad. If she can’t bear the weight of his belly slapping against her pelvic bone, I’m there to take up the slack. I can’t bear it either, but I am too young and powerless to have a vote, and too strong and proud to let them see me cry.