The van comes for me at the usual time. I imagine myself as the driver must see me, a doll with matching parts, standing in front of buildings that are coated with red sand. I pull my coat around me but the cold wind climbs under and up my bare legs. I am wearing the dress that my mother saved for, the one I do not eat in, the one I keep laid out at the foot of my couch, the one that my grandmother presses formaldehyde in to keep it fresh.
Girls are crowded in, stinking of perfume. I see the usual faces and a few new ones, their nervous twitches betray them. With a years of experience, I have become old at this game. A few of the new girls chatter, hoping for handsome and rich. They lie to themselves; no one who is handsome or rich would come here for a woman. The driver jokes, and makes check marks on his pad. He tells the van where to go and it takes us to the Hotel.
Paint is curling off the plastic in the Hotel, breaking down, like all of Mars. They line us up in rows of chairs. We wait for the men. There is the clatter of breakfast dishes, the smell of baked goods. Our best reproduction of Earth food. The little oily man comes in. Heâ€™s not so bad, maybe he sleeps with a couple girls to give them front row seats, but that is their business, not mine. It doesnâ€™t matter, he isnâ€™t really bad, not as bad as what could be.
Most of the girls are smiling now, watching the middle aged men, the best dressed. I do not make eye contact. I will not act like a whore to meet a man. I do look, though, at the oldest men when they are not looking. I am watching the oldest. If he looks toward me, I will look away. Perhaps that will interest him. A few of the girls giggle and the men watch them. One girl touches her leg, another, her cheek. I hold my hands on my lap and practice stillness. On the other side of a small window I see there is sandstorm coming, red sand, whirling.
The men are looking at our profile on their data pads. I am a virgin. Some earth men like that. Some do not. I have seen the Earth women in the Interactives. Earth women are wild. Earth women will deny men. Their denied men come here.
I feel his eyes on me before I see him. He is not so old and has a soft face. He says something in his Earth tongue. I do not smile. He is too young, fat on Earth food. I look at my hands but he is staring. There are other women who are more attractive, who want him to look, but he is watching me.
I am at the edge. He mispronounces my name and the oil man, our translator, flashes a smile.
â€œStand up.â€ He says â€œTurn around.â€
I stand and turn, looking at my shoes. I am naked now, on display.
â€œBe a pretty cat.â€ Says the oil man.
The cats on Mars are starving.
I try to make eye contact with an old man, but he is looking at a young girl. I am looking out the window for signs of a red storm. Will my shoes get stained in the storm? The red can stain everything.
I try to sit but the young man grabs my arm. He points to me; his fingers are hard. The oil man motions to the other girls. I snubbed the oil man once, I did not want the front row as much as he wanted me and he has not forgotten. He is telling the young man that he has time to decide, that he should think it over.
The young man shakes his head. He has made up his mind. He will take me to Earth, to him home. He has paid his fee to the oil man, and my parents will get five percent. It is more than they make in a year.
The men break for lunch and the oil man leaves me in his office. They want me to sign papers. There are pictures of weddings here, each of them with the same background, the same fake cake and champagne, only the date changes on these photos. There are hundreds of pictures.
It is my eighth trip to the hotel and no one has chosen me.
The papers absorb my signature as I sign them and they carry the confirmation to the oil mans data pad.
Red sand beats the window in his office. The storm has arrived.