I’m doing the pole, the metal cold between my breasts and my g-string riding uncomfortably up my ass – I’ll never get used to that horrible article of clothing - when I spot him standing in the back of the room. Even though my body parallels the ground, giving me a slanted view of the few pathetic, middle-aged men in the first few rows of our manager’s so called “theater style” seating area, I know it’s him. He looks uncomfortable, too much weight on one foot, one hand holding an empty plastic cup, the other unsure of what to do. I hold back a “fuck you” scream as my feet land on the stage, the g-string lying casually behind me, my shaved and smooth pubic area now on full display. “All nude” was the big selling point for this place and a major hesitation when I’d applied, but, Ivy, the senior member of our troupe who’d been in my interview for this godforsaken job, had assured me in her Jamaican mama drawl - one that she never shows customers - that it was for the best. “Chile, better fa dem mens to see dat thing without no drink den fa dem drunk ones to try and get at it.” Only later, did I understand what she meant – all nude meant no booze and every girl who’d worked at places with full bars backed up Ivy’s claim. The horrible techno / rap mixture hits its high note, a signal that my display has only a minute left. In a push up position, I dry hump the floor, almost smelling the finger grease on the few dollar bills which litter the front of the stage area. Straining my neck, I see him turn to leave. Motherfucker, he doesn’t even have the balls to stay for my next act. Clad in the cheapest of cheap lingerie, I’ll work the room, shaking a healthy dose of T and A, enticing the lonely bastards to pay for a lap dance. 20 bucks gets you one on a sad leather couch in a well-lit room. But for 75, I’ll give a guy five dances in our “intimate” area, a much darker room with separated booths. Although it’s the best way to really make some cash in this place, I never sell these too hard. Guys always expect much more than is on the menu, and twice I’ve had to call security when it got to a point I couldn’t handle. I’d take him back there though, just to glare at him. We’d kissed last week, really kissed. And he has no idea how few guys I’ve done that with. I’d felt something. Really felt something. Irony, my English 101 teacher would say, the stripper who sells sex in public but knows so little about it in private. If I had the guts, I’d write my final essay on it. But no way. That’s a different life. A life I’ll enter in a few hours, I think as I leave the spotlight, Bob, our stage manager, a kind man with bad skin and, tonight, a ridiculous Santa hat atop his head, unceremoniously sweeping up the few dollars bills I’d earned for my virtuoso performance. In ten hours, I’ll walk into my morning class with Professor Marshall, who’s always upbeat, encouraging, and excited about the literature she shares with us. She’ll push us to think harder and write more, talking to us as if we’re on the first step of the journey, as if community college is only the beginning of our path. She’s fit too; I bet she’s a runner though I’m too shy to ask her. I see my legs in hers, I think, as I put on a red bra and matching panties, red to go with the Christmas theme I suppose. I was a runner too. High school track, a virtual lifetime, but, in reality, only a few years ago. At the University City meet, I’d gone behind the bleachers with Mark Gammon and allowed him to stick his tongue in my mouth and grab my ass. But I’d felt nothing, just silliness and the lingering taste of Hot Cheetos. But with Jordan, I thought it was different. I’d told him about my mom and Jack and my small college fund sunk into the shithole of the fourplex of apartments they’d bought. Jack, my mom’s first boyfriend in years, who convinced her that real estate was the way up. Jack, who’d made a call for me about this job, our secret from my mom. At least he has the decency never to show up here. I almost jump at the sensation of fingers on my hip, it’s as if I’m sleepwalking across the floor. Maybe that’d be a good way to do this job. I turn, smile, and instinctively thrust out my chest – I’d thought I might not get the job as I’m pretty small up top. It’s Walter, a regular here, he’s stuffing a few dollars beneath the elastic of my panties. He smiles at me, Coke in hand, he probably drinks ten a night, his collared shirt buttoned all the way up as usual. I smile back at Walter and exhale, he wants nothing more, a harmless guy who chooses to spend his time here for reasons I can’t imagine. I continue to work the room, noticing for the first time, a string of holiday lights on the snack bar. I smirk to myself that no one had even taken the initiative to hang the lights, instead they lie limply on the counter; Professor Marshall would surely find a metaphor there. By now I’ve circled the room, collected six single dollar bills and found no takers for a lap dance, not that I’ve tried very hard. I’m sure Ivy would be okay with me clocking out early, I need to try to get up early as I’m a chapter behind in our current novel whose title somehow escapes me. I pass through the flimsy curtain toward the dressing area and think of Jordan again. On stage I was composing the angry text in my head. Now, I’m not so sure. Sadness battles with anger. What could I have expected? We met, not even two weeks ago, just a few blocks from here, he’d given me a ride home in the middle of the night. Offered me coffee even. Then two dinners at his condo then the kiss. I’d been aroused. I was sure of that. I thought it was real. But perhaps not. I go to my locker and see Bob across the room taking his break on the stool in the corner. He’s reading Popular Mechanics as usual. I want to go over and move the tip of his Santa hat which dangles in front of his face. How can it not be annoying him? I resist the impulse and pull out my jeans. My phone drops from the back pocket and clangs against the floor. This happens so frequently that Bob doesn’t look up and I can only smile. I pick it up and push a button. The screen illuminates - no messages. I type out a quick text to Jordan, just “Fuck you”. But I don’t send it. I’m not convinced it will feel good. And I need to feel something.
Francois Bereaud is a husband, dad, full time math professor, mentor in the San Diego Congolese refugee community, and mediocre hockey player. His stories and essays have been published online and in print and have earned Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations. He serves as an editor at Roi Fainéant Press and Porcupine Literary. The Counter Pharma-Terrorist & The Rebound Queen is his published chapbook. In 2024, Cowboy Jamboree Press will publish his first full manuscript, San Diego Stories, which is the realization of a dream Links to his writing at francoisbereaud.com.