We all do what we must.

The anesthetic dosage must be carefully monitored due to severe potential side effects. Proper dosage can be calculated using the formula….

“Hey, girl, get your head out of that damn book, the manager’s looking for you!”

Jessie didn’t have to look to know it was Lori yelling at her. The older woman walked up to stand beside. She looked up to see her pupils were dilated and her eyes bloodshot From the wobble in her stance, Jessie knew she was high again. Probably oxy she thought to herself. She couldn’t change the woman’s mind about using ‘hillbilly heroin’ to get through her day, so she didn’t try. Instead, she put her bookmark in her textbook and closed it.

“So what does he want now?”

“Customers are starting to show up! Time to get to work.”

Jessie shrugged her old jacket off, pushed her chair back, zipped up her thigh-high thick-soled boots and looked in the mirror. Her bikini looked ridiculous, but she knew the customers wanted a stripper to look this. She hated the work, but needed the money.

One more semester, just one more…then I can be the nurse I want to be.

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An unexpected story, an unexpected end.

Maybe I’ll be lucky and the third time will truly be the charm.

When I’d been here before, the door had been locked, the knob unmovable. This time, when I gave it a twist, the knob yielded and the door opened. Within was a reception area equipped with nothing more than a pair of inexpensive chairs and an equally cheap desk. Boxes were stacked everywhere. Most of them were closed, but two resting on the desk were still open. One was filled with file folders, the other office supplies. Opposite the door I had just entered was another, which stood partially open. A voice called out from behind the other door.

“Hello! I’m sorry, but the office is closed, and I’m no longer taking cases.”

“That’s alright, I’m not here to ask you to take a case, I wanted to talk to you.”

Silence, then a face appeared around the edge of the door. I’d seen a single image of that face, but like most mugshots, it didn’t do the individual justice. The young woman I saw was darkly good looking, with coal black hair hanging down past her shoulders. She stared at me, eyebrows drawn low and a frown on her face.

“What do you want?”

“I’m here to ask you about your arrest…” That was all I got to say. She stepped from behind the door and began shouting so loudly that my ears hurt.

“Get out of my office! Isn’t it enough that I’ve been arrested? Isn’t it enough that my reputation is completely ruined? What more do you want?”

I did my best to answer her questions. “I want your story, that’s what I want. Not the press releases from the cops, not the DA’s ‘unofficially’ leaked info, I want to know your side of the story.”

“Why should I talk to you?”

“Because if you don’t tell your side of the story, the only story anyone is going to hear is the one that’s out there now. So, are you willing to let the ‘official’ story be the only one anyone hears?”

“Why do you care?”

“Because I’m a reporter. Actually, I’m a writer and a reporter. When I heard your story, I couldn’t believe it, and I’ve covered some truly strange stories. So I decided to find you and find out what the truth was.”

The frown diminished, but her whole body was still tense, her doubts obvious. I decided to throw my last card down.

“I promise not to publish anything without your approval. You can even read the final piece and veto its publication. So, are you willing to talk, to tell your side of the story?”

Her eyes were still narrowed, but her posture began to relax. Then she opened the door to me.

“I’ll give you your interview, but on one condition: You agree, in writing, to publish nothing without my written consent. Agreed?”

I walked up to her and held out my hand.

“Agreed.”

*

Her office was bare, not a Spartan lack of decoration, but the look of a space stripped of everything movable. An ornate dark wood desk dominated the office, and the leather covered chair she sat down in looked like it cost more than I made in a week. I settled into one of a pair of comfortable, significantly less pretentious looking chairs opposite her. She opened a drawer, pulled out a legal pad and pen, and began to write. The agreement she drew up was a model of brevity and clarity: just three sentences long, it gave her complete power over any piece that might arise from my interview. I signed, more than willing to give her that level of control if she’d tell me her story. She took it, leaned back in her chair, and fixed me with an unwavering stare.

“So, ask away.”

I pulled my phone out, called up the recorder app, and began my interview.

“The first question I have to ask is, are the accusations true?” I expected some sort of denial or evasion, but none came.

“Of course they are.”

The admission of guilt surprised me, and I struggled to follow my mental list of questions.

“So, you’re admitting you worked as a prostitute while you were a lawyer?”

“Yes, I did. I’ve been engaged in prostitution since I was a sophomore in college.”

That bald statement knocked me completely off track. I shook myself and asked the only question that occurred to me.

“Why?”

A smile slowly spread over her face.

“You mean ‘Why would a good girl like you do something like that?’ Simple: money. My freshman year, if I wasn’t in classes or studying, I was sleeping or slaving away at some shitty minimum-wage job.”

I nodded, remembering my own struggles to make ends meet in college. She saw my agreement and nodded herself.

“You’ve been there, haven’t you? At one point, I was working three part-time jobs and barely making ends meet. One day I was working sales in Victoria’s Secrets, and a guy comes in to buy some lingerie. He starts teasing me, telling me how good I look, asking if I had a boyfriend, the usual crap guys give women. I thought it was kind of funny, I mean a guy who’s old enough to be my dad teasing me like that.”

She stopped and shook her head. When she continued, she sounded sad, like she couldn’t believe Fate could be so cruel.

“That would have been the end of it, but a couple days later, my car broke down. There was no way I’d be able to afford to get it fixed. So I was stuck catching rides with friends. Then in walks Mr. Tease. He wants some more lingerie, but in a different size than what he’d bought the last time. So right off, I know he’s seeing more than one woman. He starts teasing me again, but this time, I play along. He gets his stuff, come up to the register and flashes a pair of hundred dollar bills and asks if I could use them.”

She stopped for a second, a far-away look in her eyes, and then she focused back on me.

“I knew what he wanted. It wouldn’t get my car fixed, but it was a start, so I told him I could. He gave me his number, told me to call him if I was serious, and left. I called him as soon as I got off work. I told him why I was interested, and he proposed a simple solution: he’d pay to get my car fixed if I’d spend the upcoming weekend with him. He never said he expected me to have sex with him, he knew I understood what was expected of me. I wasn’t sure I’d go through with it until he pulled up. I got in his car without a second thought.”

A smile spread across her face, the smile of someone remembering an enjoyable moment.

“Looking back, I know I got lucky with him. He took me to a hotel, and while he seemed to want sex constantly, he never hurt me or treated me badly. And damn, did that man know how to use his tongue!”

I felt my face heating up. She must have seen me blushing, because she stopped and laughed at my embarrassment before continuing.

“What, did you think I’m some cheap street walker who’s got everything turned off below the waist? Most of the men I met didn’t do anything for me sexually. With them, it was just a matter of making the right noises at the right time, and they were happy. But every once in a while, I’d meet a man who knew about sex and didn’t mind making me feel good. Those were the ones I came to look forward to. But that first weekend, Mr. Tease got to talking about how he met other young women, the different ‘adult dating services’ and web sites where young women trolled for “’sugar daddies’”. I didn’t plan to take his advice, but when the next bill came, I knew I didn’t really have a choice. I set up a profile on some of the sites he’d mentioned, and. . . well, I just got into it.”

She stopped again, focusing in on me.

“It wasn’t a hard decision: I could see a guy for an hour, and make more money than if I’d worked a full week at one of my other jobs. Did I run into any problems? Yeah, one or two guys tried to get rough with me early on, but I got in the habit of calling the land line in my apartment and leaving a message on my answering machine. I’d always talk like I was speaking to someone, saying where I was, and they’d think someone could report them if they got too rough with me. After that, I never had any real problems.”

She stopped for a moment, and I took the opportunity to ask another question.

“Okay, I can see why you got into prostitution in college, but why keep doing it after you got your law license?”

She stared at me for a moment, then burst into laughter.

“Do you think a law license means people suddenly start standing in line, waiting to give you money? Hell no! Worse, you’ve got to rent space, buy furniture, advertise…it’s a long list. So I kept in touch with a few reliable customers, seeing them occasionally so I could afford to stay in business.” She stopped for a moment, frowning perhaps at her own naivety before continuing. “If one of my clients hadn’t been into ‘kiddie porn’ and stupid enough to keep copies of the emails we exchanged, I probably could have kept it going. But he also loved to take nude images of me. So when he got busted, the cops could identify who he was communicating with, and had everything they needed to bring charges against me. I heard there was a warrant out for me for Class X prostitution, so I decided to turn myself in. I was hoping to avoid the publicity of being arrested. . . and you know the rest.”

I only had one more question to ask.

“What will you do now?”

She didn’t respond right away. Her eyes were blank, like she was looking inside herself and not at me or anything in her office. Slowly, she focused on me again and shook her head.

“I don’t know. I’ve retained an attorney to represent me, but he knows the best I can hope for is to avoid prison time. I’m a damn good lawyer, but even if I can avoid going to prison, I doubt they’ll let me keep my law license. If I can’t be a lawyer…” She gave her head another slow shake, her face now showing nothing but sadness. “I’m not sure what I’ll do.”

The bitter edge to her voice made it clear she wanted me to leave her in peace, so I saved the audio file of the interview and closed the app. I stood to leave, but I knew I had to say something more to this young woman whose dreams were now shattered.

“You may not believe it, but I hope things work out for you. How can I get in touch with you so you can look my story over?”

That knowing smile returned to her face.

“You can come back here and ask the building manager. He knows where I live.” She must have seen my shock, because the smile became an honest grin. “Yes, he’s one of my reliables, and yes he gave me a discount on my rent.”

I couldn’t think of a reply, so I left.

*

It only took me two days to finish my story, but when I returned to the building, her office was empty and the sign had already been removed from the window. I left a message for the building manager, and he called later in the day with the address. The only problem was that when I got to her apartment, I found it too was empty.

I’d been played. I had the story of a lifetime, one that could make my reputation, and I couldn’t legally publish it. Standing there, all I could do was look up at the sky and mutter “Well, I guess she managed to screw me, and I didn’t even get the pleasure of screwing her.”

Family

Kathy hated cleaning, and she especially hated having been ‘nominated’ to help clean out her grandfather’s flat. Grandad MacKenna had always been Kathy’s favorite relative. He’d always indulged her fancies, encouraged her when she’d felt like a failure, and supported her when the rest of the family had shunned her after she’d ‘come out’. His sudden death had hit her hard, and standing here, in the middle of his possessions, brought the profound sadness she’d felt back with a vengeance.

“Damn you, you old fart, why did you have to go and die?” Kathy muttered as she drew the back of her hand across her eyes to wipe the tears she’d been fighting all morning. This had been grandad’s unofficial library cum study. The room’s walls were lined with shelves, but they were all covered, and the excess books, papers and notes lay scattered over the tables, chairs and floor. The one chair that wasn’t buried sat beside the one reading light in the room, an ancient brass thing with a shade that looked as though a stiff breeze would blow it to pieces. She had many memories of him sitting there, reading some book or clipping, and the warm, broad smile that would always spread across his face whenever he saw her. The small table that set beside it was equally clean, having only one book on it: a family Bible her grandfather had always kept close at hand. Of all the things she knew the family would want saved, Kathy knew this beat-up old book would be the first priority. She picked it up slowly, remembering the feel of it’s worn cover from all the times she’d sat in her grandfather’s lap demonstrating her latest advancement in reading. She had never presumed to open it herself, merely reading the passage or page her elder had selected. She turned it spin-down in her hand, relaxed her grip on it, and let the old book open where it would. Her father had that habit, a way, he once told her, of finding out what God wanted you to know or pay attention to. Now, rather than fall open to a passage, the book opened to reveal an envelope.

Kathy drew it out, turned the envelope over, and in her grandfather’s firm handwriting was a simple note: “How the MacKenna Family came to Glasgow”. Now intrigued, Kathy turned the envelope over again and looked at the flap. It was unsealed, so she laid the Bible down and opened it. Inside was a sealed plastic bag, and within it was a single sheet of folded paper covered in what looked like a child’s blocky printing. Kathy had to know what the paper said, so she opened the bag and drew it out. The page was of rough, obviously cheap paper, and from the way the ink on it had begun to fade, she guessed it must be extremely old. Unfolding it carefully, she found herself staring at a letter, and as she read it, one that she had trouble continuing to read. The writer must have had only a limited education, for not only was the text printed, it was riddled with misspelled words that she struggled to translate. Slowly, she worked her way through it, and found a tale of sorrow that made her own seem insignificant.

14 September, 1845

Grosse Isle, Canada

My Dear brother Kevin,

I pray to God that this letter find you still alive, and still in Ireland, for if it does, I must tell you, do NOT follow me across the Atlantic. For all the misery now in Ireland, for all the suffering and death, it is better to endure the hardships there than to attempt the voyage I have just survived.

You will remember, when last we met, how sickly our Kevin was. Through the help of kind strangers, he had shown signs of improving before we boarded the “Fair Cathline” in Galway harbor, but that did not last. Within a day of our departure, a storm overtook the ship, and all the passengers were forced to remain below in the hold. There, we learned that the “Fair Cathline” was anything but.

Even on the first day of our confinement, the hold where we were forced to reside was a nose-some place, and each passing day made those conditions worse. Water seemed to constantly leak, often jet, into the hold both through the hull around us and deck above us. The necessary functions cared not for the weather, or our confinement, so the waste of eighty confined souls mixed with the water, forming a tide of filth that swept and heaved with every motion of the ship. It was in these conditions, in a place no honest farmer would confine a swine, that Kevin passed. He died in the night, and when I awoke, he was already stiff and cold. He was a brave lad, complaining not once during the five days he lived in that hellish place, and passed as quietly. The crew, in response to our calls, opened the hold and offered help, but it was to no avail. I was on deck with Martha as the captain hurriedly read the words and Kevin was put over the side, then we were bundled below. Would that Kevin were the last, but that was not to be the case.

Within a day, three more passengers were sick, and before five days had passed, they were dead, and others were following their path. Death became so common that the crew simply came for bodies, and heaved over the side without even the hurried rites Kevin had enjoyed. Within a week, both our twin daughters, Moyra and Sarah, began to show signs of the sickness that was claiming our fellow passengers. Martha and I both labored to tend to them, but it was for naught. They passed from this world within hours of each other, just as they had entered it.

Perhaps it was seeing all her children die that broke Martha. She never demonstrated any of the signs of sickness the others exhibited, which makes me wonder if when she died, it was of grief. The why is unimportant, only the fact that she passed from this life three days after our last child was committed to the deep.

Thus I was alone now, my family dead and gone into the trackless wastes of the sea, leaving me not even a grave for me to pay my respects at. I fear, Kevin, that I gave up on life, and I have confessed to the priest here that I wished, no, I prayed for death. But for whatever reason, God did not chose to take me as he did my family. I remember little of the time after Martha’s passing. I remember praying over her body with the few passengers still strong enough to attend. I also remember the sailors coming for her, and my fervent request to them that they would take me too, but after that, my memory is blank. Mr. O’Donnell, a good man of Donegal descent and one of my fellow survivors, tells me I raved madly for several days after Martha’s death. He also tells me that one of the crew took pity on me, and perhaps from that, that the crew in general took pity on the few survivors, for they were let out of the hold and given food from the crew’s table. I was taken into the crew’s quarters and tied into a hammock. There I was fed broth by Mr. O’Donnell and the crewman who interceded on my behalf for several days until I quieted and began my recovery. It is that tight confine that is my next memory, of the ropes binding me into a swaying, swinging piece of quiet and tranquility.

The crew sighted land within a day of my faculties returning, and while the winds and storms had hampered our crossing, they now bore us swiftly up a river that seemed almost as calm as the Corrib passing through a broad meadow. So it is that I came to this place.

The English (for there are no Irish here except fellow survivors of the Atlantic) tell us that Grosse Isle is a way station, one we will be released from soon. I fear the only release for many of us will be the release of death. There is food here, and housing after a fashion, but both are in far too short supply, and many who had endured the terrible crossing have already perished on this godforsaken piece of Canada. The “Fair Cathline” landed but 23 souls out of the eighty that had left Ireland in her filthy hold, and already, five of those have been buried in the cold soil of this isle. Mr O’Donnell, the man who helped me survive, has taken ill and the doctors here are not sure he will live. He has already confessed to the priest here, and has taken the Last Rites. I do what I can for him, in debt for his efforts to save me, but he has made me promise him that I will write his family and tell them of his passing should it occur. I pray God it will not, for I have seen enough of death to last me until my own time comes.

Now you see why I write you, my dear brother. I do not know how things are in Ireland, not with so much sailing time between here and there, but I cannot imagine that things are worse than what I have endured. If they are so terrible that you must leave, please, please, me beloved brother, go to England, or even Scotland. But I pray you do not follow my path, for I fear it will bring you nothing but the misery.

I must close now, for the priest tells me Mr. O’Donnell has passed, and I promised to see him buried properly.

May God keep you and your family, and may God one day allow us to meet again, if not on this Earth, then in Heaven. Until that meeting, know you have my love and affection.

Your loving brother,

William MacKenna

Kathy slowly laid the letter down, remembering something her grandfather had once told her. After she’d announced that she was a lesbian, Kathy had come to the one person who’d always supported her. While everyone else had shunned her, Grandfather MacKenna had listened to her tale of woe, then given her a hug before telling her “Katherine (he was the only person she allowed to call her that), you are a MacKenna, and we’re made of tougher stuff than the average person. We have survived far worse than this, and I know you will too as long as you never give up.”

Kathy looked towards the ceiling, knowing beyond it lay the sky. “Grandfather, I promise: I won’t give up. I’ll make you, all the MacKennas, proud to have me as part of the family.”