“Guillaume! Away with you. Now!”
There was very little that the child had not seen. Electing now to protect a naïve mind, nine years in, was a patronising pretence to uphold. Particularly to Guillaume herself, who had learned early on to trust no one, to not spare any person from scepticism regardless of their beauty or wealth. And Guillaume knew that the latter tended to be the most dangerous.
“Guillaume!” the Madam barked huskily once again in a voice grinded down by tobacco and copious oral sex, “I will not tell you again. You are disturbing the gentlemen.” Guillaume blinked into consciousness from her boredom-induced coma on the stairs, alerted now to the buxom lady in green bent over a table of red faced nobles. “Yeah, piss off boy,” burbled the man boasting the puffiest face, “you’re gettin’ me soft.” Guillaume squirmed as the gent was swiftly knocked down with blunt force to the nose. Madam Liane’s fist was harder than her tits were big, and the blood splattered man now knew it. His companions cheered, and the Madam crossed the room to the child. She kneeled to her level, her voice softer now. “Please, Guillaume. To your place. I do not want you here.” The girl sulked her head down, and nodded. “Good boy”, the Madam sighed, before returning to the table. Traipsing up the wooden staircase, the child heard the familiar crunch of an unconscious man being dragged by the collar and chucked out the door. “Monseiurs!” cried the Madam, “my girls are ready!”
It is easier to get to sleep in a brothel than you’d think. When there’s nothing else you’ve known, the moans are no different than the sea to a sailor. But Guillaume did not rest easy at night. A child’s imagination is the most potent thing in existence and at night time, whilst she waited for her mother to finish, Guillaume’s mind feverishly rode upon concoctions of the dark. Here was a child born in a time of war, of revolutionaries and influential scum. And, as such, a remarkably educated mind electric with conspiracies grew in the rotting streets plagued by thieves, poverty and venereal disease. An optimist might have foreseen a bright future for the kid, but for her. The sullen girl stared at the unremarkable clothes rocking above her. It was a familiar and embarrassing sight. Guillaume’s ear pricked up as one body heaved from the creaky mattress, stumbled its inebriated heels across the room, hurled some coinage to the floor and left. Shortly after, Madam’s boots strode into the room. “Bon sang…”she muttered before calling, “Guillaume. You may come out now”. The child did. Though she never wanted to.
The sound of the name had triggered the woman splayed out on the bed. “Guillaume…my bab-baby…com’ere, Gui…”stammered the woman, like a disorientated and atrociously trashed siren. The child slid out of the wardrobe, and patted towards the drunken mess. Over the years, Mama’s vague beauty had eroded away, comparable only to the specks of crusted vomit that frequently resided in her hair. Guillaume stared bitterly at this bloody, spread-eagled mess. Mama’s hand whacked a bottle on her bedside table into her grasp, and lunged to cradle her reluctant spawn. She smushed her face to the girl’s. “You are my favourite bastard child, Gui,” she slurred before her rotting smile disfigured into a lonely grimace, “the only one who didn’t leave me”. Mama’s sentence had barely parted her lips before she smothered it with a bottle again.
Call it intuition or hope, but from what Guillaume had gathered, Mama had not chosen this lifestyle. Her past was hazed over, but one point she’d stressed to never let the child forget was that she was the only seed that took. Mama had been a troubled woman what seemed a hundred times over, but stillbirths and bloody sheets cured that. As Mama liked to remind the girl, there was no happy family to be had and they were alone together. Despite this tainted affection, it was no secret that mama had bitterly wanted a boy. And Madam knew well that there would be no hope for the child if she grew up destined to serve a life on her back, to seek profit and confirmation from men for the rest of her days. So as Guillaume was ripped scarlet and screaming, a boy’s name was thrusted upon her. There was her first truth hidden, and marked an existence scrambling for little snippets of her identity for all her nine years where she could. The most burning of all was Guillaume’s heritage. But Mama, in her crumbling state, couldn’t (or refused to) remember for the life of her. “Many ‘av sailed in me, Gui!” she’d choke in a phlegmy retort to the repetitive question. Tonight, like every other, this joke wheezed into a cough that spluttered globules of reddish brown onto the bed. By now, Mama was so fucked over by the state that no one knew exactly what was killing her and again, Madame Liane ordered the girl out of the room to protect her. Guillaume, however, was wise and cynical enough to come to her own conclusion. And plan.
Guillaume noted as she crept down the stairs that most of the oiks had gone, although some of the girls had unflatteringly propped one or two forgotten mislanded gentry against the entrance, their breeches open, with the intent of disposing of them later. The child withdrew to the bar, unhooked a key hidden behind the most expensive whiskey, and snuck to the back. Guillaume seethed as she stalked the long corridor to Madam’s office. Unbeknownst to Mama, Guillaume resented her. In this instance, the apple had been hurled far from the tree. Whilst Guillaume had hopes placed higher than the gutter she was drowning in, Mama chose to wallow like a diseased pig in the shit. She despised the way Mama’d allowed numerous men to wreck her body for a meagre pay, to spoil a path that could have led to an honest status. To the nobles and gents that discarded their frustrations within her, she was their reliable cunt. Mama could have been a Lady, she could have been loved. Though love was not the issue here, nor did Guillaume particularly care, the child was unwaveringly certain that Mama had been unjustly ripped of a destiny that could have belonged to her. The lock clicked open in the child’s hand and she entered the office.
Madam’s office was not foreign to the young girl. She’d been there both supervised and very much unsupervised, but rarely on a greater mission than ferrying crap to front of house. With youthfully sharp precision, Guillaume took to rummaging through drawers, cupboards, boxes. The Madam’s house was meticulously run, not in cleanliness or great hosting but with a mathematical eye. She knew at all times who entered her doors, which client was with whom. Her back catalogue of ledgers spanned a decade or two, kept safe in case of the well timed persuasion of anyone too big for their boots. Now all Guillaume had to do was find approximately nine months before her birth and Mama’s name. It didn’t take too long. Guillaume was fortunate to be educated enough by the Madam herself; the benefit of being the only survivor, the child supposed. Grabbing a scrap of paper from the desk, angry hazel eyes flitted from names in the ledger to the quill as a barely legible scrawl penned a list. A knot tightened in Guillaume’s stomach as she turned the ledger’s pages and her own list grew longer. Whatever she had planned, it hadn’t been this extensive.
A furious flame burst and crackled within her as the names of more scumbags, noblemen, dukes and gentlemen littered the parchment; as the trail of her bastardised paternity became fainter to follow. Guillaume scowled. It was clear to her now that there was no one man to blame for Mama’s undignified fall. One thing she could conclude. These were men of power; men more accountable for their actions. They toyed with a higher risk, one that Guillaume could take advantage of. Were they regulars? She flicked to recent months of the ledger. Some had been anomalies, it seemed, but others were patrons. She could start with them first, but that would be suspicious. And after all, she didn’t want to frighten away clientele from Madam’s earnest business. The anomalies would go first, interspersed perhaps over a few months with the disappearance of one or two of the regulars.
Content with dead-set resolve, Guillaume made her barefoot walk back to her mother’s room and into the wardrobe. As she lay that night under Mama’s cheap hanging ruffles and dresses, plots of slit throats, poisoned ales and crushed spines played out like constellations above Guillaume’s head. A new path was to be made, and the slate of nine years’ dissatisfaction with her station was to be wiped clean. Tomorrow, the world would change.