This came to me in a dream one night. Don't try to steal it because you'll never be able to finish it-this is not another fabio cover romance novel.
Though Betty’s mother was herself a whore, she always told her daughter that she wasn’t going to be one. “We’re going to get you married,” she would say, when she was in her cups as the genteel said it, or as Betty put it, smashed out of her mind, “to a nice man, a rich man.”
Rich didn’t mean very much to Betty as a concept. The Swathhawks (well her mother had been a Swathhawk, she herself was of dubious parentage and her mother was fast approaching the age where her hard living forced herself into retirement with the nice respectable name of Smith) had always been dirt poor, living in the cheapest rooms they could rent, with every extra penny going to Mrs. Swathhawks gin. Betty would fetch the liquor, smelling of what she assumed where pine trees though she had never seen one herself, while her mother was working. Though many of the children who were sent on such errands partook of the potent drink themselves, Betty was forbidden on pain of a beating. “It will ruin your teeth” her mother had told her, displaying her own blackening mouth as evidence, “and then who will marry you?”
Truth be told Betty had little faith that her mothers dream would come true. All children in similar situations as hers, the children of the “women of the night” be they male of female worked as their parents did to supplement the household income. Betty had herself received more than a few offers since she had turned twelve and developed into what resembled small, beautiful and innocent looking women. Like her mother she had dark hair (though again on the threat of a beating she was forced to wash hers occasionally) and light eyes (though hers were unlined and not so full of misery clouded by alcohol.) She had been told she was beautiful but was skeptical of this comment, being as it was always made by men in search of something or her mother when she was going on about her grand plans. There wasn’t much Betty did believe that anyone told her-she was mistrustful by nature and had found nothing in the world to change that particular aspect of herself. Though her mother was a lapsed catholic Betty herself had been instructed at a very early age (by a particularly nice University math professor who saw her mother twice a week and always brought sweets for Betty) in the art of probability. The man had told her that the particular chances of her even existing where beyond human comprehension, that the chances that he, her mother and she would ever be in the same room at the same time where even larger. For a brief shining moment the four year old Betty had the giddy sense that anything at all was possible, and then the man had said like followed like. So she knew, for the prothaltizing her mother did, what course her life would take. She would be a whore, unnoticed and uncared for until she too was used up and no longer desirable even to the seediest of customers.
Only it didn’t happen like that.
Later, when she was older and had acquired more “book knowledge” to augment her street smarts Betty had thought through the chances that she would meet Rick at the particular time she did, that he would be in need of a wife when they meet, and that she herself would appeal to him. She concluded that the fact that they both existed was beyond her comprehension and the rest must have been some odd quirk of fate, a mix up in the perfect logic that probability offered.
Rick Sherwood himself was a sailor, and as such was superstitious and a believer in destiny. It wasn’t safe to be on the seas and not believe in the forces that governed them-not when you where in a wooden ship that could be swallowed up by any chance storm like it had never existed. If he had ever met Betty’s math professor and learned about the probability of life he would have called it destiny-he was meant to exists, meant to sail safely, meant for everything that happened in his life. Road bumps, sea squalls, thy happened, sure, but there were ways to get around them and back to destiny.
Betty was one such way.
Rick was an American, the only son of a wealthy man who had owned a fleet of ships that did trade to the most exotic ports. From an early age he had lived on ships, and then captained them, running the business from the practical side. He had always assumed this was enough for him, or rather enough for his father. But when the old man, who had sat behind a desk and ordered trips and purchased cargo and traded from afar, finally died Rick learned his life was apparently not sufficient to be named the sole heir of his father’s business. His father wanted him to settle down, he had known that, to marry, have children and run the business rather than just participate in it.
Annoyingly this was in his will. Rick had to marry, or he would not have sole control of the business, the massive inheritance he had always seen as his destiny.
And so he got to the business of picking a wife. There was his mistress, Matilda, a complicated woman who reminded him of the wind or a pirate in personality (changeable and dangerous) and traveled with him aboard his ship-but she was unsuitable and unwilling in any case to commit to him forever.
And so it happened that Rick was in the docks of
, pulling in and a non-exotic and by his standards uninteresting port to repair a mast broken by a recent storm, when he was Betty. London
She was on a gin run, he was exploring. Having been traveling for most of his life he was restless by nature, and anyway he was pondering the question of his inheritance. He had absolutely no desire to marry, and a competing desire to not be poor or be ruled by anyone other than the wind and the tides.
Making the most of his time off ship he set out to find a cheap tavern. Waltzing in the door to this first one he found (“The Pewter Mug” which would have been more aptly named “The Rusty Mug”) he bumped start into Betty, slamming her into the bar, which spilled the gin she was buying all over her.
“Fuck!” Betty exclaimed, rounding on whoever had caused her to waste such precious money. The man behind her looked apologetic and slightly bewildered to be so confronted. Betty was only fourteen but looked older and years of putting off men who had assumed she worked like her mother had made her formidable in a rage.
“I’m sorry” Rick said, being polite though the woman was obviously below his station and probably a prostitute, “I’ll buy you more” he wrinkled his nose at the overpowering smell of juniper berries emanating from Betty’s clothing, “Gin.”
“It wasn’t mine” Betty explained angrily, brushing off her clothing which only succeed in getting the sent on her hands, “and I don’t except money from men.”
At this everyone in the bar hooted. Choruses of “she’s thinks she’s too good for us” and “maybe you try your luck elsewhere” came from the dark, dank recess of the tavern.
Betty glowered at the people shouting and pushed past Rick out into the relative sunshine of the street. He followed her.
“Didn’t you hear them?” She asked, turning to face him again, “I’m no whore, so back off!”
“I’m sorry” Rick said again, because he had been raised in the south and women were treated with respect there, “I didn’t think you where” he added for good measure, not sure he believed his own words.
“Of course you did” Betty retorted, turning her back and walking away so he had followed her to hear, “what else would I be doing buying Gin?” Rick opened his mouth to speak but she went on talking, “Unless I was just a drunk of course in which case I could probably be persuaded to be a whore for the right price.”
Rick, who was not completely sure why he was following this Gin soaked women down the street decided to get a word in edgewise. “I don’t understand” he said, “do you mean…”
But before he could get another word out she was on him again, staring at him with eyes the color of old snow. “That I might be a whore?” she finished his sentence. “Not really, but you could check back next week.”
The first thing that came to mind blew out of Rick’s mouth. “I won’t be here next week” he said, and as she gazed contemptuously at him he continued, “and anyway, I don’t…I mean…I just want to pay you for what I spilled.”
“I guess that’s one way of putting it.” The woman said. “But the answer is still no.”
“That’s not what I meant.” Rick said, angry now. Usually he didn’t have this much trouble getting his point across. He was charming, everyone said so, but this woman would not be charmed.
Betty stopped long enough to do a once over on the man. She spoke out loud her observations, as was the norm when she and mother accessed people from their solitary window. “Young, relatively good looking, American (this word was said with some contempt) defiantly a sailor….but” she scrutinized him more closely, “too well dressed and taken care to be just a sailor. My guess is you’re the captain, and you have a mistress on board. You’re too young to have really earned that so must mean you own the ship.”
‘I did earn it” Rick said, “but you’re right, I do own the ship.”
Betty looked triumphant. She knew she was good at accessing people. She had long been able to tell her mother which men to stay away from.” Then what” she asked, gesturing around at the dirty and squalid neighborhood, “are you doing here?”