Sat, 7 November 2009 - 9:04 pm

A matter of consent

The other women in the dorm have learned Jersey’s moods, but even they misjudged just how her temper can flare, especially when she’s already in a bad mood.

Just after I got back from the infirmary last night, I saw Nadine and Mama Prusco cruising the dorm, with the elderly Lavinia in tow. Like the three wyrd sisters, looking for ingredients for their cauldron. The old cow was directing them with little words and flicks of her fingers towards particular girls, mostly those ones trying to avoid meeting the women’s gazes. I heard Lavinia say something about needing to shake up the contingent of women sent to entertain the men. They would try a roster but with monthly cycles and pregnancy pulling girls out of the running, it was just too complicated to make work.

So they have to rake through the dorm every night, grabbing women at random and shepherding them off to the part of the compound commonly referred to as the brothel rooms. We don’t use that name within the hearing of the wyrd sisters, of course, but I’ve heard it on more than one pair of lips. It’s not inaccurate, considering.

Unfortunately for the trio of madams, Lavinia directed them towards Iona. The girl was sitting crosslegged on her bed, humming to herself as she combed out a lock of her hair, teasing out one painstaking knot at a time. She looked up when the shadows fell over her bed, smiling at the faces above her without a trace of reservation.

“Flowers are for plucking, but they fade so quickly,” she told them clearly, just a little bit sad. I think she understands more than she lets on, that one.

Mama Prusco stepped in to take one of the girl’s arms to encourage her to stand up (or, more accurately, to drag her off the bed). Iona didn’t fight or struggle, or even sit there limply. She just turned to put her comb down and went about unfolding her legs so that she could stand. I thought she might resist or at least be reluctant, but she showed no signs of that. That’s when I decided to get involved and got up to go over there.

Nadine was on her other side, ready to escort her to the group of uncomfortable-looking girls waiting in the aisle, when Jersey arrived. She beat me there, crashing into the situation with all guns blazing. I’ve never seen her so furious before. She tore Iona’s arms free, rough enough to leave bruises on everyone involved. By then, I had made it around the bunk and could draw the bewildered girl away from the battleground. Iona came with me as easily as she would have gone with the madams.

Jersey, meanwhile, was laying into all of them with a heavy-laden tongue. How could they think of taking Iona off for something like that? She wasn’t capable of making such a choice. It was like taking a child – and don’t think that Jersey didn’t know the younger women had been pressured into taking part in the whoring too. Only sixteen, a couple of them, but at least they knew what was happening to them.

Nadine made the mistake of defending their actions by saying, “Why shouldn’t she pull her weight? She’ll never know what happened anyway.”

The sound of Jersey’s fist hitting Nadine’s face was a sudden, sharp slap, and the dark-haired head snapped backwards. Her body clattered against the next bunk while voices rose all around us. Mama Prusco grabbed Jersey’s arms, demanding to know what the hell she thought she was doing, and I put Iona behind me. The poor girl was covering her ears against all the noise, whimpering and curling in on herself. Jersey growled and slammed her forehead into Mama Prusco’s face. There was a howl and a spurt of blood. Jersey’s arms were free again as the big woman cupped her hands over her broken nose.

I pushed Iona onto my bunk when Jersey turned on Lavinia. The old woman was tougher than she looked but I didn’t think that smacking her would help anyone right now. So I stepped in and pulled the ex-Wolverine back before she could do any more damage. She almost punched me too but restrained herself at the last moment, her breath coming in short, sharp huffs. She was all coiled tension, ready to lash out at anyone who came close enough – I was just lucky that she classed me as a friend. Anyone else would have ended up like the two smacked madams.

I had to shout over the horrified cries to get everyone to shut up. Throwing in a few four-letter words seemed to administer enough verbal slaps to get their attention. The ragged silence sucked at us like a split lip.

“You should all be ashamed of yourselves,” I told them shortly. “Trying to force someone into this deal of yours.” I saw Nadine drawing breath to argue with me and went on before she could form words. “Forcing someone who doesn’t understand take part is wrong. She can’t consent, and that makes it rape.”

Throwing that word in stopped any rebuttals before they were formed. They can put whatever excuse they want on it, but it’s still rape. I could feel the ex-Wolverine swelling behind me and I turned to fix a glare on her. “Jersey, go cool off. Now. The rest of you, I suggest you go and do whatever it is you need to do elsewhere.”

Jersey made a great show of stomping off to the unused bathrooms out back. To my surprise, the rest of the women dispersed, taking the battered ones with them. I hadn’t actually expected them to listen to me, but I guess a loud voice with a semblance of calm is better than the wailing and the violence. I let the other girls clean up the blood on Mama Prusco’s face and put a cloth to Nadine’s rapidly-swelling eye. I had no stomach to sympathise with them anyway.

My heart was still beating way too fast when I turned around to comfort Iona. She was curled up on my bed with her hands clamped over her ears, a tiny rigid thing murmuring to herself. It took me a moment to realise that she was saying, “Too loud, too loud,” over and over.

It took some coaxing to get her to take her hands off her head, so that she could hear the lack of noise for herself. She looked up at me, and I saw a scar of trauma in her eyes. Whatever chased her wits away was noisy but didn’t leave a mark on her. It pricks at my curiosity, but I don’t have the heart to ask her about it. She’s having enough trouble healing as it is. Instead, I tried to tell her that it was all right, she could relax now. Her response was to nod and bury her face in my blanket.

 

I left her like that to go check on Jersey, believing that she was calm enough and it would be safe for me to be absent for a few moments. The pugilist was pacing in the bathroom, back and forth, as if she was waiting for the bell to ring again.

She demanded to know why I had stepped in, why I had stopped her from teaching those “fucking pimps” a lesson – wasn’t I on her side? I told her that I was, but they had enough to think about for now and we had to keep things calm if we wanted to stand a chance of getting out of here. Did she want a tagalong cutout like mine? No? Then she should stop getting into fights. Just for now. Just until we can get out of here. Iona is safe, she’s fine.

“We have to take her,” Jersey said.

I hesitated, but I couldn’t find a way to disagree with that. I dread to think about what would happen to Iona without anyone here to look out for her, to protect her. It’s best if she comes with us, even if she’s a burden to us.

I gave Jersey a rag to bind her bruised knuckles with and went back into the dorm room. Iona was sitting on my bunk, rhythmically shredding my blanket into strips with her delicate, plucking fingers. I had to bite back my frustration.

I sighed and tried not to mind, and went to see if any of us might get some sleep. It took me a while to convince Iona to fold up on her own bed, then lay down fully-clothed on mine, abandoning hope of resurrecting the blanket. Sometime during the night, I woke up to find another blanket draped over me and a small body curled up against my back. There wasn’t a lot of room but I didn’t have the heart to move her, and I was too tired for it to stop me from falling asleep again.

What’s a little stiffness in the morning between friends?

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