It was a weekday afternoon and Kenneth was working in the office when the door-bell rang. Jennifer, his wife, hurried out of the kitchen, brushing her fingers through her hair, to open the front door. It was a new job for Kenneth and a new home for both husband and wife in the dormitory town of New Chaldon. They were still making new friends and acquaintances, and for Jennifer, even now, each new knock on the door brought a new surprise. Who could it be? More neighbours introducing themselves? Another local tradesman advertising his services to the newcomers in Kinship Close? Jennifer nervously brushed the traces of flour off her plastic apron and pulled open the door, perhaps a little too hasty in her eagerness, to see who was there to distract her from the tedium of her domestic chores.
"Why! Hello, dear!" said the woman at the door smiling amiably. "Is your husband home?"
"My husband?" wondered Jennifer, scrutinising her caller from top to toe. "No. He's at work. Why? What do you want?"
Jennifer wasn't sure she'd managed to disguise the hint of hostility in her voice. Who was this slut asking for her husband? And slut, she was sure, was exactly what this woman was, with her huge bosom heaving out of her tightly strapped top, almost all of her chest on display. And those clothes! No decent woman would wear such a tight short shirt, such tall tottering stiletto heels, fishnet stockings and suspenders. Nor would they sling their handbag over their shoulder in such an aggressive fashion.
The woman smiled, her red-rouged lips cracking the thick layer of make-up on her face, the eyes startlingly painted, the eyebrows plucked to the width of a pencil-line and her hair wild and bushy and pinned in place.
"Well, it's really your husband I'd like to see, dear, if you don't mind," the woman continued. "I'm sure you won't mind me saying that the services I offer are far more likely to be of interest to him than to you. Though I can assure you that the services I provide are truly of the highest quality. And I offer discounts to my regular customers. Anyway, here's my card. He can call me any time. I've got voicemail."
With that, the strange woman handed Jennifer a printed business card, smiled again, and then spun round on her teetering heels and strode off. Jennifer studied her buttocks shifting up and down in an awkwardly provocative manner as she marched along the sidewalk, past the low hedges that kept dogs off the front lawns and in front of the fire hydrant just two houses down.
Jennifer frowned and then turned the card around in her hand. "Cherry Bangle. Clean and Cheerful. What Every Man Needs to Spice Up His Life. Will Visit at Times to Suit." And at the bottom was an e-mail address and mobile phone number. At first, Jennifer was inclined to crumple the card into a ball and throw it in the waste bin, but she decided against it, and placed it instead on the long shelf that lined the hallway, just between two tiny statuettes of jolly-looking hedgehogs dressed like country yeomen.
"You'll never believe who called today!" Jennifer announced to her husband when Kenneth was seated at the dining table with his supper in front of him: steak casserole, boiled potatoes, carrots and peas, with a side salad.
At first Jennifer wasn't sure he did believe her as she recounted the story of the strange visitor, in her outrageous outfit, displaying no shame at all, the hussy, a prostitute selling her wares as if they were nothing more than vacuum cleaner attachments or Tupperware dishes.
"Door-to-door prostitution?" Kenneth mused. "I'd heard something about that at work. And you say she left a card?"
"Yes, she did!"
"And did you throw it away?"
"Well, nearly. I should have done that, I know, but I was so surprised by the cheek of it, I kept it in the hall."
"Well, let's see it, love!"
Jennifer smiled. "Of course, dear," she said, thinking this was a rum kind of joke for a married couple to share.
She wiped the corners of her mouth with a serviette, lifted herself up out of her seat, the hem of her skirt falling down below her knees, and strode into the hallway, returning with the card.
"Cherry Bangle?" Kenneth remarked. "Typical whore name. Like Kitty Sprinkle or Goldie Delight or Ember Diamond. So, what did this prostitute look like? Did she have large breasts and long legs?"
"Yes, she did," Jennifer replied, recalling her husband's taste in a woman's figure that she had no chance of rising to. Her own breasts, while not very small, were nonetheless smaller than average. Her legs were decidedly very average indeed, with thick ankles that definitely broke up the curve that traced from the top of her thigh to her toes.
Kenneth carefully placed the business card in the top pocket of his shirt.
"You aren't keeping the card, are you?" asked Jennifer in alarm.
Kenneth smiled. "I don't see why not. This Cherry Bangle sounds like a delightful woman from what you say."
"But she's nothing but a cheap tart."
"Well, I doubt whether she'll be especially cheap, Jenny, but I'm sure she'll be worth checking out. Especially if, as it says on the card, she'll spice up my life."
"She was really the commonest kind of slut you've ever seen!"
"I'm sure that's not true, love. There are some pretty common kinds of sluts plying their trade in New Chaldon, I can tell you. And anyway, if she does visit, it'll save me the trouble of going to the brothel on the other side of town." Kenneth smiled again. "Oh, Jenny! Don't look so down in the mouth! At least, you'd know who it was that I was having sex with."
Jennifer nodded, and then cleared away the plates to wash in the kitchen. This was a part of married life they'd never told her about when she was a young lady waiting for a date and Kenneth became the man in her life. Of course she knew now, as did every one of her married woman friends, that all men were like that. It was just something you had to accept. Especially if a wife wanted to maintain a happy family. At first, it had come as a shock to Jennifer when she discovered that Kenneth regularly slept with prostitutes whenever he was away on business trips. The other wives assured her this was natural for men. They were always like that. It was just what men were like. She had no choice: like it or lump it.
Up till now, there had always been some pretence of a distance between her husband's whoring, often accompanied by his work colleagues, and his domestic life, where he was a keen gardener and an enthusiastic DIY-er. But Jennifer had been told that just as one's own sex-life with one's husband became less and less regular, having become as rare an event as those bouquets he occasionally snatched from the florists by the bus station and brought back for her, so too would his liaisons with prostitutes become more frequent.
Jennifer stood by the kitchen sink, her plastic gloves protecting her fingers from the sting of the detergent, washing the dishes clean of the traces of food she'd so lovingly and dutifully prepared. It was so unfair! If she'd ever chosen to have sex with anyone other than her husband, she would instantly be shunned by her neighbours and friends, and might even face the collapse of the marriage she'd worked so hard toward making a success.
The next time she saw Cherry Bangle it was at an appointed time. Jennifer was rather disappointed to find that the girl was punctual, almost to the second. She stood by the window, watching the whore stub out with the toe of her pointed stiletto shoes the cigarette she'd been smoking before she strode up the drive.
Jennifer opened the door.
"Why hello, Mrs Jackson," the prostitute said cheerfully. "Is your husband ready?"
Jennifer nodded her head. She was too embarrassed to say anything.
"So where is the lucky man, love?"
Jennifer found her voice. "Our bedroom. Up the stairs. Top of the landing. First door on the right."
"Right! Great! Thanks, Mrs Jackson," Cherry said, passing Jennifer by in the hallway and ascending the carpeted stairs on her tottering heels, leaving coin-shaped indentations where her heels had trod. Jennifer watched the woman turn at the landing and then push open the bedroom door.
"Hello, Ken, sweetheart!" Cherry said, in far too cheery a voice for Jennifer's sensitivity. "So, what's it going to be?"
And then the door closed behind her, and Jennifer didn't hear whatever it was that her husband had answered. But as much as she wanted to blot out of her mind any awareness that her husband was currently enjoying carnal relations with a prostitute, as she sat in the living room, watching a Saturday afternoon soap opera, she could still hear the unmistakeable cries of a woman in apparent sexual ecstasy. And weren't those also the grunting, snorting sounds of her husband following a very similar rhythm? And the bed-rest was definitely thumping against the wall in a correspondingly regular fashion.
Eventually, Jennifer's hour of purgatory and Cherry's agreed duration of service were over, and she heard the prostitute descend the staircase after making her (far too amorous) goodbyes. The door closed behind her and Jennifer drew in a deep breath. At least that was over!
It was half an hour or more later when Kenneth finally made his way down to the living room. He was dressed only in his vest and white boxer shorts, his feet bare and his legs hairy. He slumped in his sofa and, without checking whatever it might be that Jennifer had been watching on television, picked up the remote and switched it over to a sports channel where a game of baseball was in full swing.
"Damn! She was good!" he exclaimed, with a broad unapologetic smile.
"Was she, dear?" asked Jennifer anxiously, rather hoping he might yet express a quite different opinion.
"She was damned good! You don't find girls as good as her at Miss Pussy's very often. If ever at all! In fact, I think even the girls at the Metropolitan aren't up to her standards!"
"Did you enjoy yourself, dear?"
"Yes, I did. And I'll make damned sure I see her again. I can see that Cherry Bangle will be a frequent guest to the Jackson household."
"Will she, dear?" asked Jennifer, who'd been rather dreading that resolve. But as she was able to observe, it had been a long time, if there had ever been a time at all, since Kenneth had expressed nearly as much enthusiasm for his lovemaking with his wife as he was now expressing for his whore.
And so it was that Cherry Bangle became a regular visitor to the household maintained by Jennifer's labours with the duster and vacuum cleaner, and paid for by the issue of her husband's labours in the office. In fact, it was every Saturday at two in the afternoon and every Wednesday at eight in the evening. These were appointments that Jennifer rather dreaded and her husband so obviously looked forward to.
Cherry would arrive, her cigarette stubbed out before opening the low front garden gate, and smile amiably at Jennifer who opened the door, before ascending the staircase to accompany Kenneth who'd be waiting impatiently for her in the bedroom. And then the two of them would have sex, noisily, undisguisedly, and sometimes for rather more than the scheduled one hour. And when Cherry finished, she'd be down the stairs, perhaps smoothing her tight skirt or adjusting the bosom just about held in place by her skimpy top, and out of the door, perhaps to see another client.
Jennifer wasn't at all sure she ever wanted any words to pass between her and this slutty whore. Those words she did say were as polite and restrained as she could let them be, but Cherry was far more affable.
"Nice weather, isn't it?" she'd say. "Are you going to do some gardening? Those geraniums you've got are fantastic!" Or she might comment on how well Jennifer had her hair cut: "You must give me the name of your hairdresser!" Or compliment her on her dress sense: "That's an Agnes B, isn't it? Or is it Christian Dior? What really? Neither of them! I wouldn't believe it possible!" Or she might remark on the care Jennifer had taken on the house: "Goodness! This place is spotless. And you do it all yourself!"
And then Cherry would continue on her way, either up the stairs to commence fucking her husband or down the garden path to where she would light her cigarette, occasionally turning her head to wave goodbye to the window of the bedroom above, where no doubt Kenneth was also watching the slut leave.
Despite the fact that Cherry's very presence was a very real affront to her, Jennifer actually found herself rather liking the girl's compliments and the way she smiled at her in such a friendly manner. Her friends, whom she might meet while shopping in town or at whose homes she might visit for an hour or so in the afternoon while their husbands were at work, were usually so tired and complaining, often taking the opportunity of their encounters merely to unload onto Jennifer a litany of the trials their children had at school or to boast about their husbands' achievements in the world of salaried professional employment. Never once would they broach the subject of the whores their husbands regularly entertained and who, for all Jennifer knew, could include Cherry Bangle. Conversation would tenderly step around the one taboo subject that caused her friends to pity her so much.
"Where are your children?" one neighbour asked once when they'd hardly got to know each other at all, sitting in the living room surrounded by plastic toys and two crawling toddlers. "Are they at school? Or do you send them to a play group?"
Jennifer lowered her head, the shame of her barrenness humiliating her. "I don't have any children," she confessed in a low voice.
"No children!" her neighbour exclaimed, studying Jennifer carefully. "Oh well! You don't want to know what a trouble they can be! Why! Jimmy here... The problem we had getting him a place at the nursery!"
But however amiable Cherry might be, Jennifer wasn't at all sure she liked to be reminded in such a regular and blunt way the extent to which Kenneth felt it was necessary to go elsewhere for the pleasures that properly a wife should provide for her husband.
"I don't like your whore visiting you here!" she bravely asserted to Kenneth one evening over supper. There! She'd said it!
Kenneth raised his head from his meal, a boiled potato pronged by his fork. "So, you'd rather I visited her? That costs more, you know. Why don't you want her to come here?"
"It's not decent! It's not right! It's not how it ought to be!"
"It's how it is with a lot of the guys at work, Jenny dear. In fact, Patrick has two or three different girls see him a week. And his wife doesn't complain."
"I don't care. This is our home. Our matrimonial home. I don't clean, dust and tidy it just for you to make love to a shameless slut. It's not decent!"
"Jenny. We don't have children. It's not as if we're trying to protect them, is it? Perhaps if you'd been able to bear children, it'd be different. But there's only the two of us. And it is a man's prerogative to have sex when he needs it. Just as it is a wife's duty to honour and obey her husband."
Jennifer lowered her head. She knew she was defeated.
"And anyway, Jenny, making love is thirsty work. I've been meaning to ask. Could you bring in a tray of wine and some biscuits about half-way through? Say about half two if it's a Saturday. Just leave the tray. It's the least we can do for our guest."
"You want me to come into the bedroom while you're... you're... having sex with another woman and leave you something to drink?"
"Just a couple of glasses, love. White will be fine. We've got some Chardonnay. That's what Don at work insists from his wife. Only, being the boor he is, he'd rather have beer than wine. Though a Bud or a Miller Lite mightn't be a bad idea on a hot day!"
Jennifer was resigned to her duty. And so it was that the coming Saturday, she drew a deep breath at the bottom of the stairs, the clock having passed the half past two mark, and ascended each step very carefully and cautiously, carrying a tray, one of their wedding presents, on which she placed two glasses of Dry White wine and a selection of twiglets in a bowl.
Each step was an agony, each step just one more towards the scaffold, while the sounds coming from the bedroom got ever louder and ever more distinct. "Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" she could hear her husband grunt. "Urrgghh! Ahhhh!" came the corresponding cries from Cherry Bangle.
Jennifer pushed open the door, mechanically strode across the bedroom and placed the tray on the dressing table on the other side of the room from where her, their, marital bed was occupied by her husband and his whore, and then, with the same mechanical efficiency, strode back out of the room.