Ted scraped the dirt and sand off his spurred boots, tugged the wide brim of Stetson to keep the sun out of his eyes and walked up the rickety wooden stairs to the brothel.
He was nervous. He had never been to one of those kind of places before, but enough men he’d meet on the trails swore by them and enough cold, lonely nights in tents and rented beds finally broke him. Climbing the last of the steps, he pushed the front door open and trudged into a dimly lit room.
A heavy set middle aged woman beamed at him from a stuffed armchair.
“Hello, sir,” she exclaimed, her voice disarmingly elegant and unaccented for a small,
western, oil town such as this. “Are you here purchase some pleasure for the evening?”
Ted scratched the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Yes,” he said, taking the leap. “Yes I am.”
“Excellent,” said the woman, her smile revealing large, yellowing teeth. “That’ll be ten dollars, fifteen if you were hoping to spend the night.”
Trying not to show his shock at the price, Ted dug a trio of five-dollar bills of his dirty jeans. He was just passing through this town and had nowhere else to stay.
The portrait of late union general George Henry Thomas regarded him solemnly as the money changed hands and vanished in the folds of the madame’s long dress.
“Ms. Sally is free at the moment. I think she’ll like you,” she said handing him a key, her smile never wavering. “Third door on the left when you go upstairs. Please knock before ya enter.”
“You lock the girls in their rooms?” asked Ted, aghast.
“Goodness, no!” exclaimed the madame. “They can undo the lock from inside and leave whenever they wish. The locks ain’t to keep the girls in, they’re to keep any unwanted fellers out.”
Not sure what to say to that, Ted tipped his Stetson to the madame and headed up the stairs.
When he reached the third door on the left, Ted knocked as instructed. “Ms. Sally?” he asked, his palms sweating.
“Come in,” said a woman’s voice on the other side. Her voice was cool and sweet, with just the right amount of weathered roughness.
His fingers trembling slightly, Ted buried the brass key into the keyhole. The lock clicked on the third time he tried turning the key, and he gently swung the door open and walked in.
“Hey there, sugar,” said Sally, laying sprawled on the bed. “It’s always nice when Madame Johnston sending me a looker like yourself.”
Ted felt his blood boil in his ears. His cheeks flushed and his knees grew numb.
Sally was absolutely gorgeous. Thick, blonde curls hung down to her milky bare shoulders, exposed by the thin nightgown she was draped in.
He drifted towards her, feeling like a phantom in a dream. She locked onto him with cold, blue eyes.
“What do you want me to do to ya, sugar?” she cued.
“Everything,” gasped, the word spilling from his mouth like air from a tire.
Sally smiled at him.
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
She rose from the bed and strode across the little room to an oak shelf, from which she pulled a thick, red book. Ted stared at it dumbly. He had never learned how to read and was aware that he did not entirely understand the nature of books, but he was pretty certain that they had no tangible use in the bedroom.
Sally opened the book to its beginning, and began combing her lanky, index finger down the page. He watched her a moment, feeling the situation below his belt reluctantly calm down, then asked, “What’s that book?”
“It’s a Webster’s Dictionary, 1828 Edition. A bit out of date now, but it’s the only one I got. Used to be my mama’s.”
Ted was surprised to realize that he actually knew what a dictionary was.
“But what do you need it for?” he asked.
“Everything is a lot for a girl to remember off the top of her head, so it helps to have one of these things around for when gentlemen like you come along.”
The meaning of her words then dawned on him.
“You’re going to do every word in the dictionary to me?”
“Only the verbs. I’m not sure how exactly I would go around aardvarking you. When a fella asks for everything, I open this dictionary up at page one, do the first verb I come across then keep reading on down the page until I come across the next one, then do that to him and so on.”
“Oh,” said Ted, scratching the back of his neck. “When I said everything, I meant more…”
Sally grabbed him by his collar, catching him off balance and sending him tumbling onto the lumpy mattress. She landed on top of him, her pale face less an inch away from his.
This close, her face was a sweet, bulbous thing that filled his entire vision and distorted before his gaze. He could feel her breathing against his chest and the bitter odors of her breath and sweat washed over him. It had been a long time since he had held anyone this
“No,” she whispered to him, “I know what you think you meant, but I also know what you really meant. I know what all them boys really mean when they come into my room asking me to do everything to them. When you said you wanted me to do everything to you, what you really meant was everything. That’s what you really want in your heart of hearts, every little thing
imaginable from me. Am I right?”
“Yes,” he sighed.
She leaned in even closer, the warm corners of his flesh sliding against his. Ted puckered his lips in anticipation, barely even registering the cool metal wrapping itself around his wrist or the soft click that followed. Just as Ted began to feel the ghost of her lips upon his own, she withdrew from him completely, jerking back and rising out of the bed.
Ted reached out but found himself tethered to the heavy, double bed by a handcuff around his right wrist. He grasped for her again, but Sally was out of reach. A pitiful sense of bereavement flooded him, its waves icy cold.
Without another word, Sally walked straight out the door, leaving him alone and trapped.
Ted lay there for hours, alternating between feeling scared, angry and lonely. He wondered if she would ever return. He wondered if he was about to robbed, murdered, or simply left until he rotted away all on his own.
Eventually Sally returned, cheerfully strolling through the doorway with that same mischievous smile on her face that she wore earlier.
“What was that all about?” Ted demanded, ignoring his parched throat.
“Just doing what you wanted, sugar.”
“Like hell you were! I didn’t…”
Sally shushed him, and Ted was surprised to find himself comply.
She lifted the big, red dictionary and traced his index finger down it’s opening page.
“Abandon,” she read aloud. “Verb, transitive. To forsake or relinquish entirely.”
She turned to regard him again with her icy eyes.
“Honey, I told you this is what you wanted. You wanted me to do everything to you. The good and the bad. Being abandoned maybe wasn’t much fun while it was happening, but wasn’t it its own kinda sweetness when I came back and it was over?”
Ted had to admit it was.
Sally traced her finger down the page a little further, but not much. “Now, I’m going to abase you, sugar.”
And abase him she did, hurling cruel and disarmingly astute criticisms at him. She insulted his character, his intelligence and his body. His masculinity, his genitalia and his life decisions all came under the fire of her hateful words. When the barrage was finally over, the absence of her insults hanging in the air was a beauty so intense that Ted felt drawn closer to tears than by anything Sally had told him.
After abasing him she moved onto abashing him, which in practice, was a rather similar experience but with its own distinctive twist. Sally proceeded to run her finger down the pages of her thick dictionary, acting out each new verb onto Ted as they arrived at it.
She suggested he get up and stroll down the hall to stretch his legs. On his return to her room she leapt out at him from a shadow and pinned a thin blade
to his throat, ambushing him. She dug that same knife
into the bare flesh on his back, bisecting him with a fluid
stroke of the blade, but not killing or splitting him. She
stroked his curly, knotted hair and whispered syrupy
words into his ear, cherishing him as he had never been
And so they progressed their way through the alphabet, Sally enacted every verb she came across in the dictionary onto Ted’s complying person. As the pair worked their way through the letter F, he finally got to feel himself inside of her when they arrived on the word “fuck”, the only activity they engaged in that he had actually anticipated beforehand.
The word itself was too vulgar to be included in The Webster’s Dictionary but Sally remembered its existence on her own, fucking him right after she set a contained fire in the middle of the room, pulled Ted’s pants down and held him over it, frying his exposed buttocks.
After they finished fucking, they continued to next verb in the dictionary and Sally fuddled him with some tough brain teasers. In the scope of everything, fucking was nothing special, even for a prostitute.
She yanked open the fresh wound she had inflicted on his back, lapping at the spilling blood with her tongue, guzzling him. She pressed a pillow over his mouth, muffling him as he gasped for air. She bowed and prayed to him and made small offerings of trinkets, worshipping him.
Finally, and a bit anticlimactically, Sally divided his body into different sections with an ink nub, zoning him. She shut the dictionary with a loud smack and set it on top of her dresser.
Ted lay back on the bed, gasping and spent. He was covered in blood, burns, sweat, ink and other fluids whose nature he was not entirely sure of. His body ached, it stung, it howled.
He was completely satisfied.
She had done everything in the English language to him. Ted could speak no other, so there were no verbs left that he knew. In a horrible moment of clarity, Ted realized that there was nothing left for him. Sally had done everything to him.
There was no experience remaining. Nothing that would be completely new if it were to happen to him.
Nothing left to really live for.
“So that’s it?” he asked meekly as she collapsed beside him on the bed. She was as exhausted as he was. Ted had just experienced everything, but Sally was the one who had actually done it all.
“There’s nothing left?”
“Well,” said Sally, catching her breath, “there is one thing left.”
Ted perked up immediately. “There is?”
Sally nodded. She rose from the bed and walked towards her dresser, pulling open a drawer.
“It’s the one thing that I couldn’t do when we arrived on it alphabetically,” she said. “It would have made it impossible to finish all the other things left to do. But we can do it now that they’re all done.”
She withdrew a Colt revolver from the drawer and fed a bullet into its spinning chamber. She strode back to Ted and rested the loaded barrel against his temple.
“I skipped over killing you,” she whispered.
The happiest tears of his life leaked from Ted’s eyes.
Here it was, the last sensation left for him to experience, done to him by the most beautiful woman he’d ever known.
Ted smiled as Sally pulled the trigger.