Yom Kippur in Amsterdam

Excerpt

Some incomprehensible magnetism navigated Jake's body through an evening crowd on main streets, then down a long deserted alley laid with cobblestones. A few minutes later he found himself strolling along a narrow, seedy canal in the company of other men, walking by themselves or in groups of two or three. A couple would occasionally flit by; Jake even spotted a family of tourists with two children, a boy and a girl dressed in yellow rain jackets. Some visitors took pictures, flashes from their cameras sinking to the bottom of the canal. On both sides of the canal stood Gothic-looking buildings, murky and narrow. Each had several glass doors. Jake was initially embarrassed to peer closely at those doors. He walked back and forth for a while, observing what seemed to be a nightly routine in this extraordinary neighborhood. He had read and heard about Amsterdam's red light district, but never imagined it to be so peaceful, so devoid of the filth and crime that he would attribute to such areas in most other cities. Some of the glass doors had screens or blinds, and burgundy red lanterns shone from behind the doors-an indication that the hostess was busy with a customer. It was chilly and dank out, so only occasionally did he see an open door and a woman in lacy lingerie standing in the doorway. For the most part, the women stood behind closed glass doors, smiling and waving, enticing the visitors. Streetlamps alongside the canal gave out yellow gassy light. Framed by the glass doors, the women's figures looked like fading old portraits. Jake identified the local business code: a light tap, the door half opens, bargaining if any, the curtain falls, and the red magic lantern comes alight, visible through the chinks in the blinds.

He could make out his own reflection on the canal: a large meaty chin, reddish stubble, aquiline nose, thick, curly eyebrows, deep-set brown eyes. He finally made his choice. The brass knob looked like it had just been polished. A good omen, Jake said to himself. He leaned against the door, licking his dry lips and wiping his perspiring forehead with a white handkerchief. Inside, from beyond the glass, a blonde woman in her mid-twenties studied her next customer. She then pursed her thin lips and unlocked the door.

"Come upstairs, it's chilly down here. I've turned the heat up."

The prostitute spoke clean English with just a residue of a Germanic accent that dulled her consonants. She wore white silk panties and a bra adorned with oxblood lace. Jake watched her ascend the stairs like a slinky Siamese cat. She had slim hips and a small, boyish behind. Her breasts were ample for her height and figure, and her hair was dyed.

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