The Church Street Harlot

Closing Time on Church Street

The clouds rumbled ominously in the distance. Mary tugged roughly at her bonnet and prayed it would not rain. Tonight was cold, as expected, for a night this late in December. Cracked window panes, damascened with frost, looked outwards with blank eyes on Church Street, although Mary had the most awkward suspicion that someone was watching her. The houses were empty, their occupants long gone into the night, leaving behind lonely linings of tinsel or a wrath or two.

She was an unusual woman; a little too fleshy to be slender but with a nagging, waif like demeanour. Her lacy bonnet gave her an ironic air of innocence, but she was ungraceful and rough beneath her delicate, flimsy clothing. Any sane woman would be dressed up in several layers and an overcoat, she reflected, but any sane woman would be tucked up in bed at this hour. Certainly, they would not be standing on this barren street corner, in a flimsy dress and a bodice that was too tight to be respectable, trying to woo passers by. Then again, not every woman held such a vulgar occupation as Mary.

Behind her, the wooden doors of the public house suddenly swung open. A burst of light, warmth and merriness washed over her for a brief moment. A tottering old man, sweat profusely coursing down his dour brown overcoat, staggered towards her.

"Care for some company, good sir?" she called, with a salacious flash of her teeth. Her crimson stained lips curved in a slight grimace. Instinctively, she ruffled her curled hair.

"Ah, no, m'lady, I haven't got a penny to spare. It’s all gone on the whiskey, you see. 'tis the demon, I till you, the demon," he spluttered. His breath, indeed, stank of 'the demon' and he looked up at her with glazed eyes.

"Be on your way, Sir," laughed Mary. Quickly losing interest with this babbling drunkard, Mary turned her eyes to the starless vault above. Of course, it would have been nice for a little extra money, but it was somewhat of a relief not to be groped and mauled by such an odious creature.

No stars tonight, although the moon was shining. A fat orb hung lower than normal over London, bathing the night sky with a silver pallor. It seemed almost ethereal. Closing time would soon chime on Church Street and the pavements would be awash with ungraceful men looking for more drink, or a whore, or both. Mary knew this, for she was a regular on this street, and so she waited. Perhaps it was just the moonlight, but Mary could not rid herself of the feeling something was about to happen.

The, she heard footsteps. A young man turned the corner and began to walk along the pavement towards Mary. He simply looked expensive; his clothing no doubt tailored by the City's finest. A long black overcoat fluttered lightly in the wind. Mary quickly shifted her dress, so she was no longer revealing so much bare flesh. If her cheeks had not been heavily doused in rouge, they would have paled.

As he drew closer, she caught her first glimpse of his face. Not quite carved by angels, although his features were splendid, but he carried a hint of darkness in his expression that no seraph could command. Although, not a darkness purely evil, but a darkness that reminded Mary of something delightful and forbidden. Eyes, cobalt blue, seemed to coast right past Mary as he raised his head, with an assured arrogance. He shook long, lustrous locks of dark hair from those penetrating eyes. He did not look windswept at all, and he did not look cold either. Even the elements seemed unable to touch him.

In a dreamlike state, Mary watched him round the corner and disappear from view. She did not dare make one of her usual risqué comments. Beauty as she had never seen before had turned the corner without even looking at her. Comes with the job, she remarked to herself. His exquisite hands would never be imbrued by a scarlet woman such as herself. She re-adjusted her bonnet, took a minute to compose herself, and looked up again to the sky. It might have been the cold, but her eyes stung a little. Closing time on Church Street would come soon enough.