This is all true....

It's a warm night. Several cars come around. Every time a pair of headlights, long reflected shimmers in the wet street, approaches, my heart speeds up. The girls stand in a little grove, smoking, joking, tugging at their skirts. They poke fun at me, the kid- but not nearly as much as they would if Mandy weren't standing beside me with her hand resting purposefully on my shoulder. I'm Mandy's girl. No one fucks with Mandy's girl.

The first three johns pick out Camille, Kisha, and Buffy, in that order. The fourth guy asks for me but Mandy won't let me go with him. She whispers in my ear, her breath softened, but not yet slurred, with cheap wine, "That guy's a fucking scumbag. Crazy motherfucker. I'm gonna let you have a gentle first time, sugar pea."

Mandy likes to mother me. I like to be mothered. Living on the streets, girls like us form strange families. We crave love and echo the dysfunctions of the families we left behind. Sometimes late at night, if she's in a good mood and I can't sleep, she sings to me. Her voice was probably very good once, long ago, but now it's gravelly with cigarettes and years of sickness. Sings soft country songs, pats my hair, rubs my back. I trust Mandy, even though I should know better than to trust anybody by now. I trust her because I remember what it was like to have a mother, if only vaguely, and those were the nicest days of my life.

Oh, we could get deep into the whole messy background of Mandy and me and the life we're living, and how it got to this point that she's selling me and I'm letting her, but it's a long story and it goes back much deeper than anything I'm prepared to get into right now, back to the day I was born.

I'm waiting for a car. I'm trying not to let her see how scared I am. Or for that matter, that I'm a little aroused about it all. She'd hate me for that. I smoke one cigarette after another and shift my weight back and forth between my feet. Cindy with the ridiculous fake nails is telling us about this guy who she saw set himself on fire.

A car pulls up. Beige and not too old, squarish and respectable looking- I don't know cars, that's all I can tell you. He rolls his window down and Mandy saunters up, bending low and leaning against the window frame. They stay like that for a moment, chatting, Mandy laughing coyly, laying it on thick- he's a regular, and she knows how to treat good customers. Mandy has an uncanny sense for this work. I have a feeling that this is the only thing she's ever been good at in her life- it's written on her face, the spidercracks that run through it, the meticulousness of her garish makeup, the way her eyes twinkle when she's pimping, the way they go out like discarded cigarettes when we're alone. It's her life. Reading creepy men. Giving them what they want. Knowing that the men who come to us are all so desperate to feel special, to have a girl all to themselves for just a minute.

I watched Mandy at the car and I wonder if this is it. I somehow know it is. My head feels strangely light and clear.

Mandy steps back to the curb and grabs my arm, pulls me up beside her at the window. I look down at the man. He looks up at me. He's middle-aged, white, fat, wears glasses. Dark hair, looks bland, almost nice.

"How much?"

"Thirty a shot, straight sex only. And be a gentleman or you'll be sorry."

He counts out three crisp tens. I stare at the money until it disappears into Mandy's bra.

The car door opens. I climb in. The seats are gray and threadbare. It smells like airfreshener. I cannot fucking believe I'm doing this.

When we're situated in the back seat, in an alley down the block, he doesn't make a move. Nothing. Nada. Silence. Sits there and stares at me. I've never done this before, and to tell you the truth, I'm not sure how to do it. My stomach is full of butterflies, it's like the first day of school. I sit there, chewing on my lower lip, wondering what I'm supposed to do. I keep thinking I'm fucking this up. One more thing to fuck up iin my life. Should I kiss him? Should I say something? How does this work? I'm eager to get this started, get this over with. Fuck. What do I do? Fuck, fuck, fuck.

He finally speaks. My savior. "How old are you, kid?"

"Eighteen." I try to keep a straight face.

He laughs. "Fuck you are. Tell me really."

"Fifteen." This is almost true. My birthday is next month. He looks me up and down, eyes my tiny ripples of breasts and hips, and I get the feeling he doesn't quite believe me. What does he think he's doing? Paying to fuck a twelve-year-old? How sick is this guy? I'm getting squeamish. What am I doing?

"Yeah, okay, what's your name?"

"Mary," I say, the first thing that comes to mind.

"Mary. Hi Mary." He doesn't quite say this to me, but to himself, softly. And then he gives me this look, like he almost pities me, and I think maybe he's really a nice guy. I want to think he's a nice guy, I want so badly to like doing this, so I can do this every night and make money and Mandy and I can be happy together.

"Okay Mary," he says, decisively, "let's do this." He lunges towards me, suddenly a hulking figure thrown up against the feeble light coming through the window, grabs me and pushes me down onto the car seat. Rough. It scares the hell out of me and I almost scream, biting my lip to keep from crying out. I can't look scared, I tell myself. I have to do this right. But still I've got this dreadful sense of how much smaller and weaker than him I am. Of what he could do to me if he wanted to. Whores get murdered. They get strangled, beaten, tortured, raped... and no one cares much when it happens. Whores are disposable.

As he unzips his pants I realize that I'm not going to like doing this. Ever. But that doesn't really matter, does it? It'll be just like it was with my father. I'll divide out the digits of pi or daydream about being a famous artist and it'll be fine. Just fine.

He hitches my skirt up around my waist and pulls my underwear to the side. Doesn't even take it off, just stretches it away from my cunt.

I'm just fine, I'm just fine. My heart is pounding. I tell myself I'm not going to cry and I don't. I'm fine.

He's heavy on top of me, his sweat dripping onto my face when he thrusts. Plop, plop, plop, plop, and then his body goes rigid and he's done. It's over so quickly. A snap. He kisses my cheek chastely and zips up.

I sit up. I can't believe it's over just like that. Just like that and I'm a whore. I smooth out my skirt, my tussled hair. My heart has not stopped beating. He pulls the car back around to our little patch of pavement. It's ready to break free of my chest. I look at his expressionless face, reflected a thin slash in the rearview mirror. I have this horrible sinking feeling, watching him and Mandy waiting up ahead on the curb, that no one really loves me. And no one ever really will. And I'm a whore now, isn't that just perfect? Unlovable, disposable, whore. "See you next time, Mary." I smile shyly at the man I just fucked and open the door.

When I step up onto the curb beside the other girls I stumble a little, dizzily. Mandy grabs my arm and pulls me up. The girls stop what they're doing, start to laugh and applaud me. They slap me on the ass, they crack jokes, they wink at me, and it's like I'm one of them now, I've passed my initiation. I'm grinning. I feel tough, I feel accepted. I almost throw up but I keep on grinning.

So what happens next? After that night it goes on and on. I keep whoring myself. I get as used to it as I'll ever be. Mandy keeps drinking and pimping me. A month later I break down. Just fall apart, have a full-blown psychotic episode, my very first. I spend several months in a mental hospital. I recuperate. I turn myself around.

I don't know how all the other prostitutes out there do it. It ate away at me. Tore me apart, and the longer I pretended it didn't the more it did. I had no self-esteem left and I was constantly reliving the nightmare of my father's abuse. Maybe there are confident, happy women out there who prostitute for a living and like it. I wasn't one of them. I doubt they're the type to be out walking the mean streets at night. Frankly, I don't know how they do it.

I never see Mandy again, or any of the other girls. They're still out there, I guess. Doing their thing. I could never go back.