Books

Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

Whore

by Nelly Arcan

“A rhapsody of self-deprecation with notes of anger, defiance, and pragmatism mixed in . . . This is a provocative and mesmerizing story.” –Lisa Nussbaum, Library Journal

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 176
  • Publication Date January 15, 2005
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-7002-6
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $12.00

About The Book

Magnetic prose reveals the mind of one woman who sells her body in what André Rollin of Le Canard Enchaîné calls “one hell of a book.

In Whore, Cynthia describes how a childhood among Catholic nuns, with an unforgiving father and a mother she despises, led her to become a prostitute working in Montreal. Cynthia never glamorizes her life–contempt, anger, and resignation ring out from the pages–but her descriptions are engrossing and her prose incisive.

Cynthia recounts how she suffered anorexia as a teenager, her conflicted feelings for her father, and her contempt for her mother’s weakness. She ponders her decision not to clean her room, to remind her customers of the many others who have also been there. When Cynthia talks about picking up the condoms of customers she also reflects on the endless parade of johns.

And then there are the men: Young, athletic Mathieu, who makes Cynthia realize that the wrinkles of her other customers make her feel young. There is “Jean the Hungarian,” who has only one arm, the other a stump that neither of them mentions. There is Michael, dubbed “the Blackbird of Sabbath” because of his somber demeanor, whose visits lead Cynthia to reflect on the whores of the Bible.

Disarmingly poetic, Whore is an engrossing and troubling look inside the mind of one woman who makes her living selling her body.

Tags Literary

Praise

“A rhapsody of self-deprecation with notes of anger, defiance, and pragmatism mixed in . . . This is a provocative and mesmerizing story.” –Lisa Nussbaum, Library Journal

Whore: the title sounds like an insult and a challenge. There is no complacency here, but the torment of a paradoxically accepted condition: misery here is not social or moral. It is personal. . . . The book’s power is real.” –Patrick Kéchichian, Le Monde des Livres

“No off-color naturalism. Nelly Arcan . . . instead evokes the body in pieces. . . . Her alienation finds its true expression in her style, and this first novel has the form of a long litany over which are scattered brilliant rhetorical flourishes.” –Éric Loret, Libération

Excerpt

Chapter 1

When I speak, it’s usually not to others, which is why there’s nothing to hold me back, and so I can say without terrifying you that I was born in a country village near the Canadian border with Maine, that my education was religious, and that my teachers were all dried-up nuns, fanatic about the sacrifice they were making of their lives, women I had to call mothers and who’d had to choose fake names, like Sister Jeanne for Julie or Sister Anne for Andrée, sister-mothers who taught me that parents were powerless when it came to naming their children, that they were inadequate at defining them in relation to God, and what else would you like to know, that I was altogether normal, rather a gifted student, that in this fervently Catholic country where I grew up they sent schizophrenics to be exorcised by the priests, that life here could be quite beautiful if you didn’t want much, had faith.

And what else? My studying twelve years of piano and like everybody else wanting to leave the country for the city, and then after I stopped touching the piano ending up as a barmaid, then a whore, to escape every shred of my past identity, so I could prove to others that you really could pursue your studies, dream about being a writer, hope for a future and throw your life away here and there all at the same time, sacrifice yourself just like the sisters in my elementary school did to serve their congregation.

Sometimes at night I dream about that elementary school, go back there again and again for my piano exams, and it’s always the same thing, I can’t find my piano and my sheet music is missing a page, I go back there knowing that I haven’t played a note for years and that being there again at my age as if it were no big deal is ridiculous, and something tells me that it would be better to turn back and avoid the humiliation of no longer knowing how to play in front of the Mother Superior, that anyway she couldn’t care less whether I play since it’s no big news that I’ll never be a pianist, that I’ll never do anything but tinkle, and in that little redbrick schoolhouse where every clearing of a throat thundered in the corners, you had to form lines to go from one class to another, with the smallest first and the tallest last, and I had to be the smallest, I don’t know why but that was what we had to do, the smallest took the lead and wasn’t squeezed in between the smaller ones and the taller ones, and when school started and it was time for the sister to set up the marching order for the year, I’d bend my knees under my dress just to be sure, because yes, I was small, but it wasn’t absolutely certain that I was the smallest, I needed to put a little more into it, scrunch down to make sure I got first place, and then I disliked grown-ups, one word from them was enough to make me cry, which explains why I didn’t want to have anything to do with any part of them but their bellies, since bellies can’t speak or ask for anything, especially the sisters’ perfect round balloons that you had the impulse to bounce with your fist. Though today I’m way past this need to be small, for several years I’ve even worn platform shoes to make me taller, not too tall, just enough to look my clients in the face.

Actually, I had too many mothers, too many sanctimonious models reduced to a reinvented name, and maybe they really didn’t believe in their God who was so thirsty for names, at least not to the end, maybe they were just looking for a pretext to separate from their family, free themselves from the act that had brought them into the world, as if God didn’t know that they’d come from a father and mother, as if he couldn’t see that they were trying to hide those inappropriate names their parents had chosen under their Jeannes and their Annes, I had too many of that kind of mother and not enough of my mother, a mother who didn’t say my name because she needed to sleep too much, and in her sleep she left my father in charge of me.

I remember the shape of her body under the sheets and her head poking only halfway out like a cat balled on the pillow, a wreck of a mother who was slowly flattening out, nothing left but hair to show that she was there, to distinguish her from the sheets, and the time of the hair seemed to last three, maybe four years, until for me it became the time of Sleeping Beauty, my mother treating herself to some underground old age, although I wasn’t really a child anymore, and not yet a teenager, although I was suspended in that intermediary zone where the hair starts to change color, two or three black hairs suddenly sprouting in the downy gold of the crotch, and I knew that she wasn’t totally asleep, just halfway there, you could see it in her stiffness under the too-blue sheets, which were too straight in her too-sunny room, with its four large windows that surrounded her bed throwing bright rectangular shafts of light on her head, and anyway, how can you sleep with light shining in your face, and what’s the use of having so much sun in a room where you’re sleeping? It was easy enough to see she wasn’t sleeping by the way she’d jolt suddenly in bed and moan without warning for some unknown reason hidden with her under the sheets.

And then my father: who didn’t sleep and who believed in God, that was all he did, believe in God, pray to God, speak to God, predict the worst for everybody and prepare himself for the Last Judgment, denounce the human race during the six o’clock news at supper, Here’s the Third World dying of hunger, he’d always say, and how shameful this easy life is, living high on the hog, my father whom I loved and who loved me in return, who loved enough for two or three, loved me so much that loving myself would have been too much, too ungrateful, in the face of that gushing coming from outside, but luckily there was God and the Third World to protect me from him, channel his forces into a faraway paradise, and one Sunday in church, as both of us sat on the same wooden bench while my mother stayed in bed, as I sat with him on a bench in the first row and watched daylight come through the stained-glass windows and ricochet off the ­altar in constantly rectangular shafts, I kept the host I was supposed to swallow in my hands, it ended up in my pocket to end up in my room, between the pages of a book I was hiding under the bed, and every evening I’d open the book to be sure it was still there, a fragile white circle that I suspected of not containing anything at all, why would God lower himself to reside in that, what a flattening out, and next Sunday, before leaving for mass, I showed it to my father to let him in on the secret, look what I did, Daddy, take a good look at what I didn’t do, and I swear, he almost hit me, It’s a sacrilege, he told me, and that was the day I understood that I could be with men, men who had to be renounced, I understood that this was where I had to stay.

And I also have a sister, an older sister I’ve never known because she died a year before I was born, her name was Cynthia and she never had a real personality because she died too young, according to my father, who said at eight months you can’t have a real personality, individual characteristics need time, a particular way of smiling and saying Mama, you need at least four or five years to feel the influence of your parents, to take your turn shouting in the school yard, to shout the way they do to have the last word, my sister’s been dead forever but still floats above the family table, she grew up there without anybody mentioning it and settled into the silence of our meals, she’s my father’s Third World, my older sister who’s taken over everything I didn’t become, death has let her have everything, any future at all, yes, she could have been this or that, been a doctor or singer, the most beautiful woman in the village, become anything you want since she died so young, free of any possible defining mark one way or another, dead without any tastes or attitudes, and if she’d lived, I wouldn’t have been born, that’s the conclusion I’ve had to reach, her death gave me life, but if some miracle had made both of us survive my parents’ goal of having only one child, I definitely would have resembled her, been like her, since she would have been older, and a year is enough to establish a hierarchy. I never talk about Cynthia because there’s nothing to say, but as a whore I use her name, and not just by chance, since each time a client uses it, it’s her he’s calling back from the dead.

Then there was my life, which has nothing to do with all that, with my mother, father, or sister, there’s my teenage years and the friends I had, music, pangs of love, trendy haircuts, crying jags about the results and fears of this being too fat, that too small, having a friend who’s prettier, ten years of turmoil leading to the beginning of adulthood, the big city, college. For the first time in my life, I found myself alone in an apartment, with a Siamese cat given to me by my parents to keep me from being lonely, so that we’d make the best of each other, no doubt, they figured we’d share the same bed and develop a routine, an ecosystem of fondling and minor needs, and she was the one stable element in a universe fraught with newness, her drowsy consistency taught me that you can suffer from too many possibilities, from too many trains to change in the subway, her name was Zazou and she had blue cross-eyes that made them look bluer, like mine, and I was always hitting her just because she was in the way, and my father had gone to the trouble of putting a crucifix in every room of the apartment after having made sure to have them all blessed, They absolutely have to be blessed, he’d say, because if they aren’t, they could get emptied of God and become carcasses, too many people wear the cross without believing in it, just for the look, because these days people only think about prettying things up, cars, religion, and the reason he put crucifixes all over my apartment was to keep me under surveillance and to let visitors know he was there, Nothing said that I don’t hear, nothing done that I don’t see, by this emaciated body of Christ, but I never understood how you could have a dead person for a god.

My father never stopped voicing his horror of the big city, there was too much to denounce, the whores and homosexuals, the rich people and celebrities, the booming economy and the law of the strongest, the disaster of things that aren’t intelligible anymore, a cacophony of languages and architecture, spring’s muck and the ugliness of modern buildings, And how can the facade of a church serve as the entrance to a university, he’d exclaim indignantly as if it had something to do with me, a church stunted as an unblessed crucifix, emptied of God, and how could the halls of the university lead right out to peepshows, where are we going when there’s just a step from education to prostitution? And what he said was true, scientifically verifiable, a church’s facade was the entrance to the building where I had most of my classes, a facade that had been preserved and restored for the patrimony because it looked pretty, and a lot of the windows of the classrooms looked out over bars with nude dancers, the pink neons of the feminine principle, I spent whole classes with a bird’s-eye view of droves of sex workers, and that’s quite a turn of phrase, you can see some recognition in it for the world’s oldest profession, the oldest of its social functions, I like the idea of working sex like you work pastry dough, pleasure as labor that can be wrung out of something, that demands effort and merits a salary, restrictions, standards. And most students found nothing wrong in this cohabitation with whores, that’s the most striking part, you quickly get used to something you can’t escape, when it overflows from the other side of the street onto your class notes, but the nearness of it had an effect on me, it sent me toppling over to the other side of the street, how could a theory hold water in the face of so much pleasure? Yet nobody knew me anyway, and spring went well, it pushes you to act, to put the rope around your neck, it gave me the opportunity to slip out of my hick’s clothing, and I was thrilled about that.

Prostituting myself was easy, since I’d always known I belonged to others, to a community that would take the responsibility of finding me a name, regulate my comings and goings, give me a master who’d tell me what to do and how, what to say and not say, I’d always known how to be the smallest, the sexiest, and by then I was already working in a bar as a waitress, whores were already on one side and customers on the other, customers who tipped me a little more than necessary and who expected a little more attention than necessary, ambiguity settled in very gently and naturally, we used each other for several months before I made up my mind to go for what strongly attracted me, and thinking about it today, it seems as if I didn’t have a choice, I’d already been appointed a whore, I was a whore before I was one, all I needed was to leaf through the anglophone daily, the Gazette, and find the escort agencies page, all I needed was to dial a number, the number of Montreal’s most prestigious agency, and according to the ad, the agency hired only the best escorts and accepted only the best clientele, meaning the youngest women and the richest men, the two have always gone together, everybody knows that, and since I was very young, they were eager to hire me, they came to pluck me out of my home and stick me right away in a room where I had five or six clients in a row, beginners are always so popular, they explained, they don’t even need to be pretty, just one day in that room was enough to convince me that I’d done it all my life. I grew old in a single stroke, but I also made a lot of money, I made friends with whomever it was possible, and even frighteningly apt, to have a rapport, since we shared a common hatred, a hatred of the clients, but as soon as we left the circle of prostitution, we became normal social women again, enemies.

And I grew older at top speed, I had to do something to stop kneeling like this before one client after another, in that room where I spent all my time, so I went into analysis with a man who didn’t speak, what an idea: wanting to lie down on a couch while I had to spend all day lying in bed with men who were his age, men who could have been my father, and since analysis was leading nowhere, since I couldn’t manage to speak, muzzled as I was by his silence and by fear of an inability to express what I wanted to say, I wanted to end my sessions with him and write what I’d been so strongly kept from saying, to finally say what was hiding behind my need to seduce that wouldn’t loosen its hold on me and had thrown me into the excess of prostitution, the need to be what others wanted me to be, and if my need to please always wins out when I write, it’s because you have to carefully clothe with words what’s lurking behind them and because a few words read by others are enough to become the wrong words. What should have put an end to things ended up taking on more power as I wrote, what should have been unraveled tightened more and more until the knot was all there was, and out of this knot emerged the fundamental, tireless, and alienated subject of my writing, my struggle to survive a sleeping mother and a father waiting for the end of the world.

That’s why this book is made up completely of associations, leading to dwellings without any progression, to its shockingly intimate dimension. The words have nothing but the space of my head to run through, and there aren’t many of them, just my father, my mother, and my phantom sister, my many clients whom I’m forced to reduce to a single cock to keep from getting lost in it all. But if this is about the most intimate part of me, there’s also something universal, archaic, and all-pervasive about it, for aren’t all of us booby-trapped by two or three figures, various combinations of two or three tyrannies repeating themselves and cropping up everywhere they have no place being, where they aren’t wanted?

I’m often told that my dread of women is worrisome, that it’s always the same old song, why not offer them a nice smile and congratulate them when they manage to make the crowds hot, I mean, aren’t I a woman, too, a whore, in fact, can’t I give them a break? I admit it, I’m living proof that misogyny isn’t strictly a male affair, and if I say that they’re worms, Smurfettes, whores, it’s really because they scare me, because they don’t want my sex and I don’t have anything else to offer them, because they never show up without threatening to put me in my place, back in the ranks where I don’t want to be. And if I don’t like other women’s writing, it’s because reading it gives me the feeling of hearing myself speak, because it can’t distract me from myself, maybe I’m too close to these women to see something they have that I don’t detest right off the bat, that I can’t associate with myself from the start. And what I do envy is that they can call themselves writers, I’d like to think of them as all alike, think about them the way I think about myself, as Smurfettes, whores.

But don’t worry about me, I’ll write until I finally grow up, catch up with those whom I don’t dare read.

Yes, life’s gone right through me, I didn’t dream these thousands of men in my bed, my mouth, didn’t invent their sperm all over me, in my face, my eyes, I’ve seen it all and still do every day, or almost, tips of men, only their cocks, tip ends of cocks turned on by I don’t know what, since it isn’t me they’re getting hard for, never has been, it’s my whoredom, the fact that I’m there for that, to suck them over and over, gulping down these cocks one after another as if I were going to empty them once and for all, finally get what they have to say out of them, but anyway, I’m nothing when it comes to all this gushing out, it could just as well be somebody else, not even another whore but some doll made of air, a piece of some spun-sugar image, a mouth positioned at a leaking point that opens as they come from the idea that they have what it takes to make you come, as they get it on in the sheets, causing a face, hard nipples, a wet, quivering slit to materialize, as they try to believe that these bits of women were made for them and that they’re the only ones who know how to get them off, the only ones who can make them bend to the desire they have to see them bend to.

And it isn’t my life making me act, it’s theirs every time, each time my body starts moving, somebody else has ordained it, shaken it, someone else has made me take on that way of acting, kneeling like a little dog or wide open, on my back, my body reduced to a site of resonance, and the sounds coming from my mouth aren’t mine, I know because they’re a response to an expectation, the wanting of my voice as a turn-on, my slit made audible enough for cocks to founder in, so that they get lost in my dog’s whines deliberately dropped into the hollow of their ear, and sometimes I get into it, I can’t say I don’t, I always do when my voice succeeds in convincing me, when something natural, spontaneous, pierces my cries now and then, a song meeting something like a well-placed slap, a thought at exactly the right moment, the feeling of being there for real, for good, for my fathers, teachers, my versions of knowing why/how to do/live, of being there to get off my prophets as they shoot through my whore’s body and give me back mine.

And I wouldn’t know how to say what these men see when they see me, I look for it in the mirror every day but don’t find it, and what they see isn’t me, it can’t be, it can only be somebody else, a vague, transitory form taking on the color of the wall, nor do I know whether I’m beautiful nor to what degree, if I’m still young or already too old, obviously they see me the way a woman is seen, in the strongest sense, breasts, curves, and a way of lowering the eyes, but a woman is never a woman except when compared to another, except among others, so they must be fucking an entire army of women when they fuck me, and I get lost in that display of women, that’s where I find my place as a lost woman.

And during this period of giving myself away for pay, I think about what makes me a woman, about that femininity I have a reputation for, actually, that’s all I do, and when it comes to that I can claim to be winning, and this isn’t so much the result of a practice or a technique but a kind of infinite fluidity I have, and it swallows me up whenever it’s not supported by slaps or fondling, yes, I say that femininity is a fluidity that’s never over and done with, and it exhausts itself by dint of not being able to sustain itself, and if I always crumble everywhere, in the most diverse situations, crumble into apprehension, joy, boredom, it’s because even sitting or lying down, I’ll never be fluid enough to come to the end of my fall, I’d have to fall below my chair, below my bed, the ground would have to open so I can hurtle infinitely into the depths of the earth, even farther down, down leaving my arms, legs, head behind, all those parts that, tangled together, knot me into a woman, and at the end all that would be left would be the heart of a princess freed of her swaddling clothes, a tip of a world chasing its own trajectory in the hope of coming out onto a sky that men don’t know about. Yes, I can already imagine such a heart beating about itself, for itself, with nothing to hold on to, a heart that’s useless but full to the brim.

And to become a habit, all it takes is a few days, then several months, whoring here and there with Mr. Everybody in a building on rue Dr. Penfield where I go every morning, or almost, just two or three clients to understand that this is it, it’s over, life will never be the same, once was enough to trap me in the repetition of a stiff cock against which I’m still butting, in this room, a little mechanical soldier who has no notion of the walls, who keeps marching toward death even when she falls on her side, feet in the air, but what tenacity and conviction as I pursue the chattering in my head, in my griefless tears sliding onto cocks rummaging in my throat, as I wait for orgasm and even after, as I taste the bitterness of the sperm that I didn’t know how not to take in my mouth, I simply have to do my work, and besides, usually nothing hints at the discharge, they play dead, act as if there’s nothing more to come, as if they’ve renounced it for a more lasting pleasure, and during these dead moments is when it always happens, when they’re dead, noiselessly and without any jerking, which I’m thrilled to see since it’s over, that’s the end of everything, the gymnastics, the faking, the tears, the fluidity, and sometimes I have to do it a second time, more likely sodomy, so they caress me with their fingertips or their tongue to get me ready, and all I can do is give in, since neither the prospect of pain nor the disgust could overcome their certainty of how much I like it, and I say no and they say yes, and I say it hurts and they say I’ll do it gently, you’ll see, it feels good, but it’s true, it does feel good, it hurts only a bit, and how much can that near-­painfulness mean in comparison with their joy, what is it to hurt when you’re me, what is it to want, think, or decide when you’re hanging from every neck and cock, your feet in the air, your body riding that force that makes me live and kills me at the same time, and if I don’t know how to scream or gesture outside of bed, outside of it being asked for, then maybe there are words, these words full of my scream that can strike out at all of them, and more than that, the whole world, even at women, too, because my whoredom is my way of renouncing humankind itself, my father, my mother, and my children if I had any, if I could have any, but I almost forgot that I’m sterile, burned out, that all the sperm in the world couldn’t rouse anything at all in me.

And for the time being I’m perfection at twenty, with blue eyes, curves, and disingenuous looks, my blond hair, so blond it’s almost white, but that’s not enough to make a life, so how do you walk without foundering under those piercing looks, looks that send me back to what I can’t seem to see in the mirror, those mirrors that hound you in stores and caf’s everywhere, offering you more presence, and me no longer existing among them, people milling around me without seeing me, my sex doesn’t stand out clearly enough, I’m a woman who’s not made up enough, no, I need to get dolled up, a second layer added to what I wouldn’t know how to be naturally, and everybody can easily see that I’m a woman, but I have to show it again so that nobody makes a mistake, so that what’s not dressed up won’t ever be seen, the body stripped raw, stripped of what makes it the body of a real woman, a body that tries to turn you on because of the brands it’s wearing, because of the clothes that bare it, because of a lipsticked mouth that opens and closes, the breasts about to spill from their bodice, hair with upswept curls that never stop sweeping upward since the moment they stopped you’d forget about what they were covering, shoulders and a back that offer the promise of what’s on the other side, a corseted chest endlessly postponing its next popping out.

And my way of looking at women has already been pointed out to me, my male way, that breathlessness, the dwelling on it, and if I’m wild about every detail, it’s got to be because I’m trying to find in them what I lack, something I can’t seem to see and don’t have, I’ve got to find something wrong with them, some minuscule fault that always disappoints me, since others’ faults are often so charming and exciting, almost beautiful, you have to become fond of them in order to humanize them, to strip them of what they have more of, better of, and they, of course, can look at me in the same male way, so I can be looking at a woman who is looking back at me, which stings your eyes when it happens, we have that way of greeting each other, our race of blind witches and jealous stepmothers, mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all, well, it isn’t me, it can’t be me, I know because they’re only talking to me about somebody else when they talk to me, my person isn’t enough to cover all the conversations, that’s what all the clients talk to me about, ­others, they tell me how they do it and what their waist size is, details about their chest and mouth, hair that reaches all the way to the ass and legs that go on forever, and when I’m by myself I look for that waist and legs on me, I look but don’t find anything that’s been approved, noticed, praised, which might mean I’m inadequate, indefinable, so that the mirrors no longer reflect anything but a stand-in without any wants, who’s no longer looking for anything or so little, except proof of being seen, I’m scenery that gets dismantled when you turn your back, and when that happens, I scream with I don’t know what organ, since I don’t manage to scream with a living voice, to cry out spontaneously at the back of an alley in the middle of the night when your life depends on it, because let’s not forget that screaming requires training, too, it’s as feminizing as wiggling your ass on the subway platform, as dabbing the corner of your eye with a handkerchief at the movies when the hero leaves his heroine to conquer the world.

And to tell about those one, two, three thousand times when men have had me can only be done with a sense of loss and not with any sense of buildup, what’s more, you’re already familiar with the 120 days of Sodom, you read it without being able to get to the end, but I’m on the 121st day, and all by the book, and it’s still going on, 122, 123, mornings you have to call the agency to reserve a place, call early to get permission to be there that day, on the day’s menu, can I work for you today, may I have permission to prostitute myself at your place, in your rooms, and sorry about yesterday, about not showing up, you see I was having my period, but today it’s gone, well almost, and I’ve thought of everything, the sponges and red shoes, the ne­g­ligee and massage oil, and after that first morning call, when the boss gives the okay to be there, I have to get to Dr. Penfield pretty fast since it seems the clients are waiting outside already, in line, waiting for the whore of the day to come and soothe them before their business meetings in the office buildings downtown, and they do want to begin the day on the right foot, everybody knows sex reduces stress, at least that’s what the magazines say, as well as the sexperts and doctors, so I’ve got to get there fast, to a room at the very back of a gigantic brown building, standing there in all its medium-priced ugliness, you might call it a mega-hive riddled with little musty cells, then the sheets have to be changed if they weren’t the night before, and the wastebaskets emptied if they haven’t been, makeup put on, and then you wait, do anything you want as long as you’re discreet about it, as long as it stays inside the rooms, you have to wait for the telephone to ring announcing the arrival of the first client, wait for him to knock on the door, enter, pay, undress, suck, suck some more, get sucked, with contact limited to a minimum, that’s the way I want it, or should I say that wanting is more or less that: limiting. And then the fucking, me on top and then on the bottom and finally doggie-style, the way I prefer since only the genitals touch, I can make the kind of faces I think I should, also sob a bit and even secretly come, and everything has to be done six, seven, eight times in a row with six, seven, eight different clients, by eight it’s understood that I can leave, for where, you’re thinking, home, well no, since I don’t want to go home, I just want to die as quickly as possible but not here, in this room, what with the police and the investigation and my parents suddenly implicated in it all, the questions, the agony, and everything else, the end of my pursuit of suffering by way of my parents, all my shenanigans discovered including my whoredom, my one very own special gift, pure and simple, well, not so pure, but not even that, since there are a lot of whores of every type, especially my type, a whole species of prematurely aged young women whose chattering thoughts have become deafening, as they weep behind their eyes so that only the perfect image of a whore gets thrown down there, done up in high heels and sardonic smiles, unfurling her legs to challenge the visitor with her inexhaustible fluidity.

And you should see the room where I wait for clients, you’ve got to see it to understand something about this life of waiting for a man to knock on the door, you should see the bed, night table, and armchair arranged in a triangle, they’ve been staring at one another since they were placed there, in their lonely role of serving everybody and belonging to no one, getting traces of wear without having a soul, like station benches on which people wait impatiently, checking their watch every fifteen minutes, you should see the only lamp with a yellow light, which makes it seem like it’s night during the day, the white particleboard bed with the clients’ body hairs accumulated around its foot, little clumps that go rolling when the door is opened, crossing the room like gray balls of fluff pushed by currents of air, clumps I never ever pick up, I leave them scudding about because I want them to be seen, as signs of my relations with the clients, I don’t want them to be too at ease, I want them to know that they’re not alone in this room, that there’s a little bit of the others left behind, that they’re only a stray item in a series of men passing through and that one day they’ll find themselves in that undifferentiated pile on the floor, I want them to under­stand that this isn’t my room and so many people use it that its upkeep isn’t worth the trouble, and anyway, somebody else is coming soon, better do it quickly, get dressed as soon as you’re finished and get out of here so that you don’t run into the next one on his way in, and you should see how fast they get dressed, hear them dash off into the hallway back to the elevator, imagine their way of acting like it’s nothing, nothing at all, as if paying a woman for sex was unthinkable only if you ran into a witness, and of course there’s the pile of magazines that I don’t read, bought by the agency and put there on the night table to amuse the whores, magazines expressly for me, though I don’t know why, scrutinizing half- naked teenagers who look at me with parted lips page after page doesn’t entertain me, it frightens me, better to turn them facedown, or tear off the cover showing the top Smurfette coming at you with arched back, the employee of the month framed by stupid copy that’s always the same, special on sex, everything about sex, as if doing it all the time weren’t enough, you also need to talk about it, then talk about it some more, label it, hand it out, ten foolproof tricks for seducing men, ten dresses to make heads turn, how to lean forward without being obvious to turn on the boss, they should be ripped to bits one by one, swept under the bed with the condom wrappers that were thrown there because the waste­basket was out of reach or full, but that wouldn’t accom­plish anything because there are too many of them, there’ll be other magazines stacked in the same place next week, other Smurfettes challenging me to rip them to shreds, there’s nothing you can do against something that starts again ­every week, so I have to leave them to their fifteen years and their perfectly parted lips, their world of horrifying poses.

And it’s always dark in this room because you can’t open the curtains, you have to leave them closed so you won’t attract the attention of the neighbors who at any moment could look out their kitchen window while washing a dish or cutting onions, neighbors who mustn’t know what’s going on here and have probably known all about it for a long time, I can imagine them washing a dish or cutting onions and noticing that the curtains of the apartment opposite have stayed stubbornly closed for over a year, that now and then a woman’s hand sneaks through to open the window without ever opening the curtains, I can imagine them thinking how peculiar people are, it’s a nutty world, the neighbors are paranoid, but maybe they’re clients, too, who knows, clients to whom they’ve boasted about my talents as a whore, promoting my body over the telephone, thirty-six, twenty-four, thirty-six, twenty with blue eyes, yes sir, she’s very pretty and knows how to service, she can do it for you several times in a row, her sucking’s out of this world, for a little cash she takes it from behind, too, just a little extra, check out the Internet, there are photos with her showing her breasts, whatever it takes to get you hard, and while you’re at it, take a look at what they’ve said about her in the discussion forums, go to Canada’s Best, where people from all over North America come together to keep you up to date on her exploits, she’s tops, the star of the agency, everybody adores her since she really gets into it, goes all the way, you’ll ask for her again, and that’s how they do my publicity, in exchange for which I give them half of what I earn, my agency puts ads in anglophone papers, You’ve reached the right number, they answer in English, and this agency accepts in calls, no need to rent a room, they rent it to you, which also means you don’t have to approach a woman in the street since she’ll already be waiting for you, her cute little button of a face trembling with impatience under the sheets, and I’m an escort for those who don’t want to think that I’m a whore, well, not completely, that I have class and education, that I go out with men rather than sleep with them, that I suck them only if I want to, that I can choose, say no, I don’t like that one, he’s too fat or too old, his feet are dirty, all I really want to do is discuss the new government budget cuts, eat caviar, and drink champagne, I’m an escort because I don’t do the street, well, not yet, and I do it for fifty dollars for a half hour and seventy-five for an hour, that’s all, the clients pay me a hundred or a hundred and fifty but I keep only fifty or seventy-five, which times seven or eight clients a day comes to almost five hundred dollars, more than enough to buy myself a new wardrobe every week, and I’m a whore who loves to be called one, likes the clients to talk about their family, are they married, any children, and what would they say if their wife and daughter were whores, what would they think if they were like me, waiting for their clients while tossing condom wrappers under the bed and letting body hairs from the last few days run across the floor, to which they answer that I’m not a whore, I’m an escort, and that in any case I’m the kind of person who certainly ought to have another occupation, go to college, for example, but actually, I do go to college, I’m a whore who studies, and isn’t it great that they have the shelter of a family to go to while they’re whoring with students, and because they’re embarrassed, they change the subject, talk about drugs in school, what a blight, a scandal, ruining the lives of young children with such substances, but I go back inevitably to their wife and children, I’m a whore with some continuity to her thinking, do they still sleep with their wife, are they satisfied with married life, to which they answer that since having children, their wives don’t want it anymore, they’ve lost their desire for it, for cocks and for children, that they’re self-sufficient, and then they move on to me, to the youthfulness of my body, behind which appears the corpse of their wife, they say I shouldn’t do this work too long because I could age, become an old whore, and there’s nothing worse, nothing more miserable than an old bag who keeps trying to be pleasing to men and is nervy enough to expect to be paid for it, that’s what they say to me, that you have to be beautiful to prostitute yourself and even more beautiful to be an escort, to earn your living discussing new films that are playing and drinking champagne, but especially, you have to be young, not more than twenty, since after that age women start to get flabby, Like your wife, and soon your daughter, I want to scream, both of them flabby and wrinkled, just like you, like your cock that droops and gets lost in the gray hair as soon as I let go of it, and that’s the reason why men who are getting old turn away from women who are getting old, so that the women will take on their impotence, give them an excuse for why they can’t get hard anymore.

©2001 by Editions du Seuil.
English Translation ©2005 by Bruce Benderson.
Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.