A Marionette’s Tale
Once, I met a girl who was only in the brothel for a year. She said she was a famous writer, and she looked it in her figure-hiding leather coat and newsboy cap, leather-bound notebook hidden in a back pocket. She claimed to have her name sung on the streets of Paris; to have hung out with celebrities of all stripes.
I’d said at the time she’d make out with plenty celebrities now. She’d laughed and said those weren’t the type of celebrities she meant.
I‘ve gone out with Hollywood beauts akin to Joan Crawford. I’ve had beers with writers and artists like Faulkner and Picasso. I know politicians. Anarchists. Moderates. They’re people who won’t let fall off the radar. People who’ll look for me. People who know my name.
I’d rolled my eyes at the delusion. Dying girls would say anything to escape despair. Under the Party City Jazz Age costume was a lanky girl in a green and white striped shirt, and pink sandals that looked stolen from a toddler.
But she’d insisted.
I’m not the type to disappear easily. I don’t just vanish quiet like a tree falling in the winter brush.
She’d asked me what my name was, and I said it wasn’t important. We were all dolls here, marionettes for important men to forget about their wives and children by sleeping with the young and voiceless. She’d laughed. Said I was a funny gal and that she’d call me Mary.
She said it all in a funny French accent, like an American actor in Les Mis, but her English was truly broken like a cracked flute.
She’d made friends quickly with the younger girls. She tucked them in at night spinning stories of lost love and dashing youths; of peace and war; of worlds without wonder; of realms ruled by by dreamers and children. Stories that would never come to be in reality, but we’re addicting fantasy, like opioids.
She wasn’t pretty, so she wasn’t popular with clients. She made ‘em laugh though. She was weak, but still happy to carry off coats and hats and briefcases. She could sing. Play piano. Put on a one-girl standup. But she still wasn’t pretty, and no-one ever touched her.
She’d claimed it was because she knew the higher-ups knew she’d make good on her promise to get her “friends” involved if anyone ever did. It was a dangerous insinuation. It made the other girls, the younger girls, the broken girls, think they had a chance out of the pits. Hope poured out of her like a mobster during prohibition, and she’d kill us all with bootleg liquor.
She’d became the brothel’s dancing monkey, playing “American Pie” or “Piano Man” for the sad old men that felt like victims as they lay with teenagers yanked from the street. She was the newest little Pinocchio in the puppet show.
I wondered if she reminded them of their own daughters, the ones they would have killed a poor boy for touching. The ones important people knew existed. She was vibrant, like a spring bloom. She had a name and she made sure each of them knew it. Each time she played, she became Billy Joe or Don McLean. But she was also herself. A living puppet.
It should have been there that I realized within her tall-tales there were half-truths.
Most of us were undead marionettes, immigrants, poor, undocumented. We were the ones society forgot, and when you’re forgotten you’re exploited. Most of us didn’t even have families we could hope to save us.
But, clearly, somebody out there knew her name, a whisper in the wind. Whispers make the rumor windmill, and suddenly you’re a missing person on the front page news.
One day, she’d told me a story she’d written in French because I wanted to learn the language. Multilingualism was a useful thing in a brothel. A secret could be your golden ticket out. She’d told me many secrets then, though fully through subtext.
It was a story of a poor boy who wished to be rich. Who hated The Great Gatsby because he saw himself in the fraudster title character. Who’s name was unknown even though he sung it to the rooftops. Then one girl learned it, but she had neither name nor voice and was to be married off to a rich man to make her father richer. The boy bought the girl a train ticket and promised one day he’d be powerful enough to afford a name for both of them. It’s unknown if they ever saw each other again.
She’d asked me what I thought. I’d said the story sounded romantic. She’d laughed.
That’s just cause you can’t speak French very well.
Then a year after she came, they saved her, “they” being local FBI. The Madame came in while she was telling a story about lice to an old businessman. She had to pack up her things because she was being ransomed back to home. If she made a peep about what she saw, they’d kill her. Then she told her she had five minutes and left.
The other children were overjoyed. Her stories were true. She truly did know people in high places. How else could she escape her bondage?
But she’d pulled me aside and sobbed in my shoulder.
I’m not really a famous writer!
She’d cried. I’d never seen a girl cry so hard, especially one who was getting saved.
I’m just a teenager from Quebec, an upper-middle class moron who wouldn’t know fame if it kissed her between the eyes. I had a few stories published in some literary magazines with a few hundred followers on Instagram. Few people truly know my name.
But the right people knew it and that was enough.
I’m only here because I wanted to go to Disney World, and my mother wanted to take a taxi instead of an Uber. We went with an unmarked driver and never got to our hotel. I knew this would happen… knew when I saw his face. But he already had our luggage!
She thought she was pathetic, but she was really only pulled along for the ride.
I’ll be back for you. All of you. I just need your real name to give to the police.
I’d smiled and kissed her forehead. I’d said it was too late for me. For all of us. Said I’d soon be cast aside. Neglected. Forgotten.
You won’t be forgotten! I swear! I just need your goddamn name! Mary, please!
But what she didn’t realize was that she already knew it. The name she gave me when she first met me. It was the only name I had. The only one I knew. I don’t remember when they stole my name, but it was long enough that I was in the market for a new one. And now it’d be washed from my memories again.
But she’d remember where I’d forget. I wouldn’t be frontline news, but she’d always be on the hunt. I’d die loved. I’d die existing.
I was a whisper on the wind. Someone was searching. Would they find me?