My grandmother was born into wealth. Her father owned a coal mine in Germany.

She was an only child and her mother did not love her. She came from a long line of women who did not love their daughters.

When the war came, her family fled Germany. They became poor, and poor people have goats. They unlearn their love of cow’s milk and become accustomed to goat’s milk. Every day the smell of that milk permeated their cramped home like an intolerable reminder.

The goat sickened suddenly, died the next day.

In her new school my grandmother became one of the poor children. They sat away from the children from well-to-do families.

The most well-to-do was a girl named Maya. Maya was plump and well dressed, my grandmother was gaunt and shabby. My grandmother would watch Maya unwrap her school lunch every day and stuff delicacies into her pretty, plump face.

The day before school let out for the summer the nurse’s thermometer was stolen; it was found broken, the pieces stuffed into the trash. Maya became very ill, and when she returned for the next school year her cheeks had lost their plumpness and her appetite had vanished.

My grandmother almost became a doctor. In the end she didn’t; she married unhappily and birthed a daughter. Her whole life people wondered why she had squandered her talents.

My whole life people have been telling me that I am bright, that I could have done more with my life. Maybe. But this is what I did with it.

 

On the nights when I am alone, I go looking for her. It is harder to find her these days.

I’ve heard things over the years from people, about girls crying, real things you could sink your teeth into. Those days are gone, people tell me, long gone. No secrets anymore, everything gone underground.

Sometimes I search for hours. You can still find her, but when you do, It’s mostly unexpected, a wonderful surprise, happy early birthday.

When you find her, she is a self-made mess. It was her lucky day to make such a stunning amount of money in such a short period of time. I wonder what she needed the money for.

The magic moment generally comes early: The dawning realization that she is in over her head, discomfort, panic, terror even, if you are really lucky.┬áCoupled with it, another realization- that she did it to herself, orchestrated her own doom. Some stranger waved candy in your face and you followed him down the rabbit hole, silly girl. It was only what you do with boys anyway, with the eye of a camera trained on you, such a small difference. But the man with the candy isn’t like the boys at your school.

Sometimes there are two magic moments; the shock, and then the split, the girl’s eyes glazing over, the thousand-yard stare, I’m not here anymore, wake me up when it’s over. It’s hard to decide which of these moments are better.
Only exceptional videos have this quality, a kind of rightness that cannot be staged. When the rightness isn’t there, it sounds like nails on a chalkboard. I can hear that it’s not right within seconds of the video starting, but on occasion I am fooled, the girl such a consummate actress that it’s only right at the end you realize you’ve been had, the girl’s mews of distress turning into pleasure, shutting the page like you’ve been scorched, your arousal wilting.┬áSometimes I’m too tired and disappointed to try again, searching from scratch, the upward climb from disappointment to orgasm impossible to attempt.

If you find the right one you can sometimes extend your pleasure by finding her elsewhere. Often these girls are never seen again, but occasionally they dig in their heels and become stalwarts of the industry. You can track their decline by seeing the evolution of their public persona, the films they star in, the ink on their bodies. Staring defiantly at the camera, at us, hardened, each year hollowing out their eyes.

Magic.

I have seen you watching me, as I quietly go about my chores. You may think you are unnoticed, but I have been noticing everything about you, filing the facts away in my head for later, writing them down in my journal, a catalogue of your traits, a profile of you that no one knows exists.

At night, when I am alone, I parse out our interactions, examining them piece by piece, from every angle. I have seen your eyes sliding over my body, and know that you long to get away from the drudgery of the everyday: your job, your boring colleagues, your life that you keep wishing would finally begin instead of slipping away unmarked by anything but time.

I smiled sweetly at you the last time I was in your home. Did you notice? I’m fairly certain you did. I was just finishing up for the day, gathering up my belongings, and I caught you staring. I practice my smile every day, so I know it is sweetly beguiling; it used to belong to a girl I dated, but I stole it from her, so now it is mine. I have practiced it many times in front of a mirror, till it was just right, till it said everything about me that you needed to know.

People have a way of trusting you when you have a nice smile, a pretty face; they shouldn’t, but they do.

Perhaps soon you will find a way to catch me alone, off-guard. You will imply that I owe you something, that my performance has been lacking and there are only so many ways of redressing the situation.

And I wonder: when we finally meet in the dark, which girl will I be? The one who gives you what you want, or the one who takes everything away?

I was sitting having a coffee. Looking back, I can’t think why he came up to me. I don’t think I looked any different from the other women there.

How much, he said. I must have looked confused; this seemed to afford him some sort of satisfaction. He smiled, though not kindly. Spoke again: I know a whore when I see one.