The lights in the forlorn Fietzen bar in a far-flung corner of Amsterdam seemed dimmer than usual, cigar smoke filing the room and the stench of stale beer permeating the walls.
It was sometime past 2:00 AM and most of the customers were staggering out the door, uncertain about which way they had to go. The bartender looked tired and bored, spending more time on his mobile phone rather than serving up the drinks, but like the rest of them, had to stick it out until the end of his shift.
The sultry music she was dancing to on stage helped drone out the lascivious looks and lurid remarks from the remaining customers, a mixture of pot-bellied old men in a drunken stupor who had no families to go home to. A few of them were regulars whom she knew by name, their fat fingers and greasy hairdos making her cringe each time they reached for her sequinned bikini to insert the bills. Her forced seductive smile and coquettish shrug of the shoulder was her only way of thanking them for the generous tips, since she was certainly in no position to be choosy. If it weren’t for her son’s tuition she needed to raise by next month, she would have happily kissed this Cabaret job good-bye years ago. The nightly humiliation would forever disgust her, always blaming the one and only woman she thought she could trust with her life.
Mother dearest had always been superstitious and religious at the same time, a combination that brought the family more agony than blessings over the years, ultimately driving father to the bottle and into the arms of another. A strong and beautiful woman, mother had been a celebrated beauty queen in her youth, the toast of the county with a brilliant future laid at her feet. Somewhere along the way, mother lost her fighting spirit and gave up all dreams of leaving the small town her soul was imprisoned in. The dilapidated house the family was raised in reflected her crumbling and wrinkled existence, smoothness replaced by hollowness, and the only remaining luxury she retained was her old Mustang, which allowed her to break all barriers.
The notes of the saxophone brought her back to the stage and she gripped the pole for a final dance of the night. Fate had played a cruel game on the family one summer afternoon, changing their lives forever as their innocence and countryside inexperience were preyed upon. The girls had been lured out to the big city with promises endless wealth and golden opportunities by a man they knew only as The Gardener. He showed up at their doorstep one day, pretending to be a minister recruiting young virgins to do “God’s work”. The Flowers of Paradise he had called them, and regaled them with hollow tales of other young girls who were now living la dolce vita. Mother willingly gave up her daughters to The Gardener, believing she was serving the church with the ultimate sacrifice and providing hope and future for the girls.
If anyone had tried to follow them, the trail would have gone cold by the third week. The girls were transferred from one foster home to another, never staying long enough for anyone to notice them. It wasn’t until the end of the first month that the true nature of the “journey” was revealed and the sisters were sold individually at private auctions to the highest bidder. Ten years had passed since and she had lost track of all the men who had passed through her sheets, often time not even revealing their real names. Her body was theirs to enjoy and destroy as they pleased, but nobody could Touch her soul.