When I was eleven I watched a brothel be raided.
It was one of two brothels from my childhood. The first was a neighbour’s duplex, a tiny carpeted place in which I babysat her children. She didn’t fit my teenage view of sex work: she was thin and plain, with a hissing, scraping voice. She worked late at night while her husband was away, but what I mostly remember about her was that she tried to steal my cat.
The brothel that was raided was the other kind: a ramshackle house, partially lost to time, bedded into a big city block and draped in peppercorn trees with their skeleton hands. I would sit at my mother’s desk and watch through the venetians: the women with their hair pulled tight from their faces, their red lipstick, their thigh-highs, or that’s the way my naivety fixed them to my memory. And the men, all kinds, business men and non-business men, shirts and ties on some and others barely shod. They often perched together on the stone verandah wall and drew lines of white powder from the soft wrists of the other.
The day the brothel was raided, my mother had popped up to get something and left me in the car. It was raining, summer rain, fat drops. They thumped against the windscreen and I pushed the wiper blades back and forth. That rain came through like an angry customer – already furious, briefly shouting. I got out of the car and let the water run over me, because even at eleven I took wonder very seriously.
At first there was just one police car. A man and a woman. One or the other had a moustache, maybe a gun, a baton. The house flickered in and out of its ivy camouflage. At the porch steps, a small crowd parted, shoved its hands into its pockets. I heard the heavy boots despite the rain, watched the cops disappear into the gaping doorway.
Two more cars arrived, one a paddy wagon. An ambulance, too, unless that is a figment of time, and a person on a motorcycle. Four cops, ten cops, a river of them pouring into this decaying old house, streams of policemen and policewomen and a group of blinking men on the steps at the front with cocaine-dusted nostrils like margaritas. Women came out in single file, handcuffed, a flock of screeching eagles, hair twisted into crests and their bodies sprouting feathers and lace.
I stood in the street and the rain came down and puddles formed at my ankles. The house shrank into the dirt, diminished by the removal of these molecules, these women who created its livelihood. Police cars bulged with them. They screamed and laughed and shouted at the cops, shouted right into their faces and those cops shouted right back into them, just a chorus of anger and fear. And I stood in the rain and it dripped into my clothes and soaked through my shoes and the cars were filled with women in heels and men in checked shirts and the police took all of them, banging and railing against the paddy van window.
Then the house was empty, and the street was filled with water.
“Did you get on all right?” my mother said, and took me to my art class by the river.