Finding the Courage

Enjoy this excerpt from Death of a Circus by Chandra Prasad (pictured).

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“How may The House of Delight assist you?” she asked.

“I noticed a girl on the second floor. A redhead,” he explained, his voice low. He realized, with no small relief, that he was speaking to the madam.

The woman nodded, then noticed Lor’s tattered shoes.

“We’re glad to have your patronage, sir, but we’re an upscale house—and sometimes, beyond the means of certain people.”

Lor wasn’t troubled. He suspected that a brothel was one of the few places where all men stood on equal ground—provided they had enough money. He shook the pouch around his neck tellingly.

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“Pardon me, sir! It’s my duty to give everyone fair warning. I hope you understand.”

“Of course.”

The madam’s gaze lifted. She studied his face, eyes aglow with approval. “I’ll see if the girl you request, Cirella, is available. She’s one of our busier girls. You’ll see why, I’m sure.”

With fleshy arms outstretched she ushered him to an overstuffed chair. “Please sit,” she insisted before bustling away.

Waiting would be pure pleasure, Lor thought to himself. He watched the women flitter by, a waltz of curves and crevices, easy favors and luminous possibilities. He saw heaps of hair drawn up with tortoiseshell combs, tresses long down smooth backs.

Minutes passed, but Lor scarcely noticed. He came to attention only when Cirella arrived. Licks of fire curled about her face, the burnish of flame alighted her cheeks. He rose to greet her, but felt compelled to sit again. Something pressed him down. Perhaps it was Cirella’s balmy presence. Or maybe it was his mother’s warnings, still raging from the grave. …

“What is it?” Cirella asked him. He rose again, determined to stave off this guilty wave. She slipped her hand in his and the warmth of her skin soothed him.

“Nothing. Just nervous.”

“Never been in a place like this before?”

“Yes—of course. Well, truthfully—no.”

Cirella giggled. “Either way, we’ll see to those nerves.”

She led him upstairs to a strange red room. The red walls had tiny ridges like the texture of a washboard. Plush red furniture lounged along the walls. Even the rug was red. If he lifted a corner, Lor wondered, would the floorboards pulse crimson too?

A massive bed presided from the center. With its oak trimmings and giant pillows, it was certainly inviting. But Lor found it vulgar too. The sheer fabric over the canopy reminded him of cast-aside silk stockings. The sheets crackled with the heat of too many bodies. Cirella took her hand from his and sat at the corner of the mattress.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Lor. And yours?”

He considered sitting beside her. He imagined sliding his fingers over the delicate slope of her back. But he could scarcely manage words, never mind actions.

“Cirella.” She patted the space next to her, but he looked away sheepishly. “You look like someone who’s traveled a long way,” she told him.

“You’re looking at my shoes, aren’t you? Your madam was concerned about them too.”

“Oh, I’m not surprised. She wants to keep this place respectable—an impossible feat!”

“Have you been here long?”

“No, not very. I was in a private school. But we didn’t get along, the school and me. There were too many rules and instructors—and I had to wear a uniform. So I left. I like being on my own.”

“Me too,” Lor agreed. “Are you from New York?”

“Born and bred. New York’s a rough place, but I’m good at watching out for myself.”

“I bet you are,” he replied, finding the courage to look her in the eye.

“What about you, Lor? How do you make your living?”

He shrugged uncomfortably. “I don’t make a decent wage. I’m after something else.”


“I’ll sound funny saying—it’s just a dream.”

“Ain’t nothing wrong with dreaming.”

“Fame,” Lor said finally. “I want fame.”

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Death of a Circus by Chandra Prasad
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