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Nixie’s Brothel

This week’s photo prompt is of an art installation by German artist Cornelia Konrads which she did for the Centre d’Arts ete de Nature, in Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, (France).

My great-grandmother’s house was once a grand place. She entertained governors, celebrities, and even a Prince. I was only six years old the first time I set foot on her marbled floors and took in the ornately painted, high-domed ceilings. I’d spend summers there, until I turned eighteen and left for University. Even though she was known for her lavish parties, my great-grandmother – Nixie, I called her, just as everyone did – never allowed me to attend. At times, I grew resentful. I wanted to be included in her tabloid-worthy soires. 

She knew best, however. As I got older, I began to understand more about Nixie and her ‘parties’. In the deep south, when Nixie was growing up, it was illegal to make or sell alcohol or run a brothel. Nixie did both. Her huge house was really closer to a mansion, and it was tucked away in a wooded alcove. Her driveway alone was over a mile long. She definitely valued her privacy. 

Nixie’s husband had passed away when their only child, my Gran Laurel, was only two years old. Gran was raised by Nixie’s sister, Patricia. Aunt Patsy had three children of her own, but treated Gran no differently. I guess Nixie felt guilty for not being there for her daughter, and wanted to reconcile herself for her lack of motherly instincts in the past. She got her chance when I was born to a teenage mother. My mom, Cheryl, and Gran didn’t really need the help, but Nixie insisted on being involved in my upbringing.

By the time I came along, even though the laws around prostitution and brothels were slowly changing, I knew there was always some element of the unknown about Nixie’s parties. When she got sick, I insisted on taking care of her. In the course of doing so, I uncovered old photos and letters from ‘clients’. Nixie’s legacy extended far beyond her little southern grove. Not only was she the finest Madam in the western hemisphere, she’d also been a strong player in the Underground Railroad, leading countless men, women, and children to freedom.

After she passed, Nixie left the house to Gran Laurel, who had it demolished. I was devastated. Gran may have been resentful toward her mother, but Nixie had taught me some of life’s most important lessons. That was nearly fifty years ago. Gran passed away last year, leaving the deed to the land to me.

Now, here I stand, on the ruins of that old property. I can almost feel the ghosts of the past, brushing against my shoulder as they dance where the ballroom once stood. I can nearly see the groups of hushed, frightened people being shuttled into the the cellar and through the secret tunnels under the house. The scenes play out before my eyes, as if time were merely a thinly veiled curtain. 

I take a deep breath of the dank, earthy air. Wiping rogue tears from my eyes, I continue to survey the lot. The only thing left standing of Nixie’s brothel is an ivy-covered doorframe. Nature has taken over everything else, yet, on the air I smell the scent of vanilla and lavender, and I smile, knowing Nixie’s spirit is still here.

Thanks to Miranda Kate for this #MidWeekFlash prompt!

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