She walks in a kind of trance, eyes fixed dumbly on the road ahead of her. Fighting to keep her balance, the woman almost stumbles over her own sandals. Her mind is numb, yet strangely clear. She’s made up her mind. Clasping the precious vial in her hands, knuckles whitened by her desperate grip, she strides through the village until she finds the imposing limestone house.

It’s a big one. Nearly as big as the entire brothel. As she approaches, the sounds of a party teases her ears — laughter, tinkling of cups, hearty conversation. The house is full. Full of religious bigots, of secret customers who enjoy her skin behind closed doors. Crowded with even more pious high society souls that sniff at her down their crooked, self righteous noses every time they see her working her street corner.

She tries to mount a counter-judgement in her fragile mind, but she’s not strong enough. A smothering shame settles on her skull, tingling her scalp to signal its arrival. Like an awful spider, it creeps down her face, flushing her cheeks. The spider becomes like tar oozing down her shoulders, tracing her bosom with angst. The vial around her neck seems to burst into flame with pure guilt as the shame blankets her, coating her head to foot in rot. She is dirty. Unclean. Unworthy.

What is she thinking? She shouldn’t be here. She isn’t wanted. She never will be.

Her blushed cheeks drain of all color, go white like ice. She is sure that even her lips, usually supple and sensual, are now pasty and limp. A ragged tremor begins in her chest, a fearful trembling that claims her, shakes her, nearly drops her to her knees. But somehow she manages to keep walking, shuffling one step at a time.

Before she knows it, she’s at the door.