One Penny Sit-up, Two Penny Hang by Karen Walker

The boy smells of straw and stretches his s’s. When he asssks my name, the gas lamp on my corner hisses do not tell him.

From Ssshropsshire, he says he is. And me? From the silver moon over this Spitalfields slum! Saucy. He smiles.

But dusk is nigh and I am weary, in haste. The boy is not. He tells me, tells me, tells me how he grooms a gentleman’s horses. Shining bays and sleek chestnuts.  Sigh.

I unbutton in a doorway, lay his shaking hands on my bosom. He will not suck like the babe that he is.

Still, he pays a penny. New, like him.

Shall I spend it tonight on the sit-up on Dudley Street?

The bench there will be hard. The boy was soft.

A plump man will prattle Proverbs, preach Deuteronomy. I remember the Bible; my papa was a parson, but not one so puffed up.

A hard matron will plod up, plod down lest a poor eye close or a heavy head droop. Kick with damnation boots because one penny does not buy so much as a drowse.

I am worn. The whoop of a cough is returning. So, shall I wait for the rag man? Add his coin—greasy like his hands—to the boy’s?

Tire me further, make me weep, will the rag man. On the drag to his rat ruin, he will bark quick. Quicker. In his shop, he will rip and ride me raw on heaps of sour fabric.

But if I spend the boy and the rag man, sleep! Two pennies will buy a hang over the rope in the room of preacher man, a drape like a skirt scrubbed or a starched petticoat. The washing I did. I was a laundress for a lady once.

Biography: Karen writes short in a low basement with a tall man and a tall dog. They offer support, bring food. She/her. @MeKawalker883.