A Whore in Tyre

A Reading from
The Acts of Simon Magus in the First Century AD
by Glendenning Cram

In his capacity as Great Power Of God, Simon has agreed to pimp the spirit of Helen of Troy to the merchant Faustos…
 

I slept most of the way. We arrived at Tyre's gates after sunup, and I hurried to Fint's. He looked different: older, tireder, even a little thinner, but eager as ever to do a deal.

"Look no further!" he cried. "Friend Fint can satisfy all needs!"

He led me upstairs, and this time he led me left to introduce me to his stable. Sadly, his current collection was a sorry one: five or six village and farm girls gone astray, for whom the most expert application of paint and scent could do little to conceal their rustic origins. They simpered and leered most charmingly, but I feared they just would not do. I turned to Fint.

"I'm sorry. I had in mind something more, how can I say it, exotic?"

His disappointment was well-concealed.

"Naturally. For a man of your standards, only one establishment in our great city can suffice. And by a happy coincidence, that same House finds itself under the excellent direction of my own dear sister Arrh, a formidable woman whose taste and sophistication is equalled only by your own."

He removed from a drawer a small token of electrum.

"Present this at the Red House in the Ishtar Road. You will not be disappointed."

I took it with thanks, and went in search of the redoubtable Arrh. She was not difficult to locate; the first passer-by of whom I made enquiries, a young Phoenix of perhaps seven years, was delighted to lead me directly to the very spot. The place was well named: a large marble villa in the Corinthian style, whose formerly pristine facade was now daubed a startling scarlet. The intricate writhings carved on the front door read Arrh's Academy of Love. Painted scrolls in lurid colours on the walls proposed obscene variants on well-known adages, of which the common theme was "Arrh's is the one, if you're looking for some fun!"

I raised my hand to knock, when I felt a tug at my robe. It was the urchin, holding out his hand for a tip. I gave him my boot instead and sent him on his way. He could claim his commission from those within.

I went to knock again, but before I could make my presence known, the door opened and a black hand emerged, also palm up. I placed in it Fint's token. The door closed again, then flew open.

There in the archway was a truly enormous woman. I had thought Fint fat, but his sister would have made two, perhaps three of him. She led me into the villa, and the door slammed shut.

We came into the main hall. It was brightly lit, and censers of fragrant oils filled the air with intoxicating fumes. Tapestries on the walls depicted, it seemed, every possible means in which two or more persons might combine to their mutual pleasure. Lounging about on soft divans were Arrh's women. They had been gathered from all over: ivory Gaels with startling red and yellow hair; ebony Up-Nilers, tight black curls dripping with butter; almond-eyed island girls from east of the Indies. And everywhere the brothel brats ran about laughing and swinging from the wall-hangings, each a new race, combining the seed of visitors to this town with the women of all lands who had received it here.

Two or three seemed to fulfil my requirements, and treated me most courteously in a friendly competitions for my pouch-strings, while the serving slaves plied me with exotic drink and pipes of aromatic dream-herb. But before I could choose, I am ashamed to say that I passed out piss-drunk and remember no more of that night until I awoke later that night in the back alley.

 

I tried to rise to my feet, head pounding. But it cleared in an instant as a pot of shit from the roof above emptied on my head, and I roared a curse that, under the proper circumstances, would have instantly consigned its victim to several aeons of torment in the Upper Aerial Realm. "Oh Gods!" somebody cried from the roof above. "Is somebody there?"

The thrower was a woman, though at that moment I could determine no more than that, for her features were totally obscured by several layers of white grease, broken only by two flaming spots of crimson that blazed on her cheeks, and another smeared about her mouth. She peered down at me in consternation.

"Sorry."

She burst out laughing. Again I tried to stand, but could not.

"Just a minute," she said, still giggling. I sank back down into the muck, and then she was squatting beside me. I extended a swilly hand; she took it without hesitation and pulled me to my feet.

"Come on inside."

She dragged me to a shadowy gateway, surmounted by a crude Priapus, where a burly gentleman dozily collected entrance fees. He reached out his hand without looking up:

"Half a D, thank you sir. Remember please, only look. You make deal, then you touch. OK?—Paugh!"

He looked up at me with a grunt of disgust and held his nose. She ran up to him and whispered in his ear. He jerked his head inward.

 

And in we go, into a dimly torchlit alley, divided on each side by wooden partitions into narrow cubicles. About half of these are in various degrees of active use; in front of the others stand women, winking and waving at the prospective clients who ogle their assets. These are not Arrh's moneyed patrons, however, but those who serve them; soldiers and sailors from every corner of Imperium, waving their purses in wild abandon and performing their business in full view of their cheering fellows. While in the shadows the local man, incognito in his hood, insists upon a screen.

She pulls me through the narrow lane, greeting her fellows as we pass. As I look around, it reminds me of the oar-room on Kronos. I don't think this ship is getting anywhere, though, as each bench strokes to its own personal rhythm.

We arrive at her place. It is, like the others, about four feet wide and eight deep. It backs on the alley wall, bounded on either side by thin wooden walls. Straw covers the floor; a screen on the roof provides shelter, and privacy if required.

Once inside, she stripped off her ragged frock, revealing a quite magnificent body, lay down on the floor and spread her legs wide.

"Come on, baby. No charge."

I wiped away the filth still dripping into my eyes and looked at her in amazement.

"Forgive me, but I am in no condition for love at the moment. If I may just have a bucket of water..."

"Fuck the water." Her voice was suddenly hard. "Just fuck me, shitty-man, then fuck off."

She closed her eyes tight. Her body stiffened, her hands clenched as if bracing for a blow. I came closer and looked at her appraisingly. Beneath the paint, I perceived that she was in fact quite lovely, beautiful in fact. Surely this was the woman I sought: a Jew's vision of a Greek Demigoddess, the ultimate in forbidden fruit. Her perfect shape was marred by cuts and bruises, but I had ointments that would take care of these. In addition, she could perhaps do with some instruction in the social graces. But the role I had in mind for her required little in the way of speaking.

I bent close to look at her face. Suddenly she opened her eyes.

"What are you waiting for? Get on or get out. I've got paying customers waiting."

I replied by pulling out my purse (miraculously, it had survived the night's merriment) and pouring onto the bed therefrom several silver denarii. She sat up, eyes wide.

"Will they," I asked, "pay in such coin as this?"

A perfect hand made a quick snatch for the money, but I was quicker, scooping it back up and into the purse. She glared at me. I took out a single coin and held it up before her.

"This," I said, "is for that bucket of water, if and when it finds itself forthcoming. The rest is contingent upon thy response to a proposal I shall presently make, when I have regained some of my lost dignity."

The speed with which the coin disappeared would have put my own sleights-of-hand to shame. Bucket and wash-cloths appeared with the same celerity, and I was soon restored to a semblance of myself.

I made known my proposition: she should play Helen in my little charade, and any such future roles as may be required. She stared at me in disbelief.

"I? But I am hideous! Who would take me for a penny, let alone Helen? Whoever the Hell she is. You're just making fun of me. Get out!"

I looked at her surprised. I have many spells and elixirs designed to make the ugly feel attractive; here, it seemed, was an enchantment to the opposite effect. It should not be difficult to discover its nature and break it. In the meantime...

"Let us say that the one I represent has particular requirements, and that thou correspondest in every way to his specifications. No accounting for taste, eh? But tell me. How didst find thy way to thy present station?"

She looked at me suspiciously, breathed deep, and started talking. She came, it seemed, from Chaldaea, a merchant's daughter...

"When I was born, Mother nearly died, and the midwitch said she mustn't bear again. Father was enraged that he would never have a son, and treated her most cruelly, though he never laid a hand on me while she lived.

"But when I was six, she died for real and Father took another wife, who gave him the son he craved. She was a widow with two older daughters, and all of them delighted in degrading me. I was as a slave in that house, forced to submit to whatever vile whims took them. By night they locked me in the stable out back, the beasts and bugs my only companions.

"About this time, Father's business began going badly, and he took to toadstools to forget his troubles. My jealous stepmother said I was a witch, and had cursed his affairs. In his weakness he believed her, and began to beat and torture me. One night, he came home in a rage and, I am sure at her instigation, raped me. And every night after that, I would lie awake in dread and wait for him, or one of his drunken friends, to come and take me in the night. Sometimes that bitch and her pups looked on too, and jeered at my humiliation and pain.

"But I had a secret. For even as I lay there weeping, pinned to the shitty straw, I had only to close my eyes, and the hairy brute panting atop me disappeared, and Mama Ishtar came to me in her glory. She smiled at me, and dried my tears, and touched me with her serpent rod, and changed the filthy rags on me to silks of purest purple, and I flew away on silver wings to palaces of gold, where I danced with the Princes and the Powers of the World, and all were enchanted by my beauty and my charms.

"But all too soon, the palace would fade; my partner of the moment would reach for me in vain, and the dark walls of the stable hemmed me in again, and I would be alone.

"One night when I was ten, Father came home drunk and tried to fuck me, but he wasn't up to it, so he started beating me with his fists. But I got away and grabbed his sword and paf! stabbed him in the belly once, twice and down he went and I kicked him in the face and he was groaning like please daughter, stop, I love thee, don't... and one more kick, felt his nose fucking cave right in and then out the window and down the road, never to return. When I got here I met him"—jerking her head at the entrance—"and well, here I am."

She fell silent.

"A sad tale, to be sure. It is difficult to credit such villainy. I almost wish thou hadstn't told me."

"You don't like my story? Most men do, you know. It makes them feel like they're doing me a favour. But if you like, I have a happier one, where I was the pampered, bored daughter of devout Hebrews, taking up Ishtar's trade just to piss them off. Or the only woman in a caveful of holy warriors..."

"What?"

"...or for the ladies, a bittersweet tale of a mysterious lover, a secret promise, and a pact betrayed. Or perhaps..."

"How about the true one."

She laughed.

"You wouldn't believe that one."

"Try me."

She turned away. Then she looked back at me.

"Promise not to tell?"

"Of course."

She hesitated, then made up her mind.

"I'm your Mother."

I burst out laughing. She looked hurt.

"No, really. But it's a secret, right? I've hardly told anyone. Look."

She rose from the floor and went to the entrance. She looked out for a moment. Then she pulled down the screen and turned. I gasped in shock.

She was not the woman she had been. I mean the face, the hair, the body were the same. But they clothed Another, at once regal and maternal, smiling at me sadly, and shining forth with the shining of a Goddess.

"Hello, man. Dost know Me?"

Here in Tyre, only One would ask such a question. I fell to the floor.

"My Lady."

Mother Ishtar (or Astarte, as She is known hereabouts) looked down at me for a moment, and said, "Get up."

I leapt to my feet.

"Sit down."

I sat on the straw. She flopped down beside me wearily.

"The poor child," She said. "I always wonder. Am I her saviour, providing her a wonderful escape from the evils inflicted upon her, all the while taking and feeling upon myself every thrust, every blow in her place? Or am I her destroyer: have those same evils been visited on her solely to facilitate my punishment for my great sin?"

"What sin would that be, Lady?"

Ishtar looked at me despairingly.

"I cannot say, I cannot remember—how often have I tried!—but it must have been horrible! So horrible that Father Marduk had to cast me away from Him, down to this wicked place, to suffer the basest indignities at the hands of the brutes that inhabit it. He didn't want to, I know. But He had to, don't you see? I was wicked, full of weakness. I must suffer before I can be clean and worthy of His affection once more."

She raised her eyes Skyward and moaned piteously.

"Father, O Father, when will it end? When will You love me again?"

I watched the Goddess wail out her grief, somewhat embarrassed, though hardly sympathetic. The sins of mortal man are great; how much more so those of the Gods? I didn't doubt she deserved her fate. But something she had said struck me.

"So that story was true."

She composed herself.

"True enough, though she doesn't believe it herself. For her, it's just another tale of woe to titillate the tricks. I have, mercifully I hope, blurred her true memory of that sad time, and given her limited access to my own. When she, rarely, attempts to recall a life prior to her present state, she receives vague images of God-castles in Sky, smiles to herself, and does not pursue the matter. Thou wishest to employ her in some criminal scheme?"

"If Your Lady permits. May I also point out that the guilt and opprobrium associated with such a venture can only add to the sufferings You have endured on our plane, albeit in a relatively pleasant manner, thus hastening Your ultimate redemption. I dare suggest You might even find the commission amusing."

She thought it over.

"Very well. She will be ready to leave at first light. Thou'lt have to work it out with the boss, though."

I still had reservations.

"I had thought," I ventured, "to perhaps enrol her at Arrh's Academy for a week or so before proceeding. She seems remarkably unskilled in the arts of love."

"And Who is Mother of those arts? Listen, just as I feel her pain, I also receive, and give, the pleasure. Hadst thou succumbed to her offer, shit and all, thou'dst found the experience a memorable one. Don't worry, she will be well able to play any part requiring My talents. In any case, Arrh won't have her. She has already made the effort, and declared her hopeless. Knowing me, this plan of thine will probably end in disaster too. But why not? Let's do it!"

She waved her arm imperiously.

"Now leave us. This body needs rest."

She rolled over and curled up in a tight ball. I stood and went to leave, when a small voice came from the floor.

"Daddy?"

I stopped and looked around the room. This might complicate things. She had not mentioned a child.

"You didn't give me a kiss!"

It was she! I approached her. Whore and Goddess, both were gone; the eyes of a little girl shone from that beautiful woman's face. She stared at me accusingly with the bold-faced innocence of one who knows for a fact that every other person in the whole wide world has been placed there for a single purpose: to cherish and love her, and tell her she's wonderful, and, at the end of the day, give her a big kiss goodnight.

She sat up and held out her arms. I came near and bent down; she flung them around me and kissed my cheek.

"Goodnight, Daddy," she said. Then she closed her eyes and went fast asleep, arms still tight around my neck.

I tried to disengage, but she murmured and held on tighter. So, feeling a sudden fatigue, I laid us both down and slept myself.

 

Sometime later, a blinding light awoke me. It was the proprietor, torch in hand, peering into the cubicle. When he saw me, he grunted and made a tick on a slate, then disappeared into the dark. I sat up and fell back, head splitting.

"Hey!" I called.

The torch returned.

"I want to buy her."

"500 D."

"What? 150."

"450. Look at her."

"170. She's possessed."

"So? She's a great fuck. 425.

"200. I dislike her knees."

"400, and that's it," he said. "She may be nuts, but some likes that; including you, seems to me. I get good tips from that one."

"250," said I. "unless... she does have papers?"

"350," said he. "No papers. Take it or blow."

I took it and left, to spend a more comfortable morning in my bed at Fint's.

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