She was new and it was painfully apparent. She didn’t have her mask up, or she just didn’t have one yet, and had the look of a startled creature, something small and cute that would fit in the palm of your hand. A hamster maybe, or a gerbil. Hell, even a mouse with how she scurried underfoot, darting and following some of the older girls around. They doted on her, tugging at the ends of her hair and dragging dulled nails across the skin of her hips playfully, but there was a banked fire in their eyes that could only be seen if you knew to look for it. A jealousy that came with the novelty of it all, dipped in competition—it only soured further through that night and the ones to follow. These women fussed over her, but it wouldn’t last.
Tamara had to give it to the new girl: she had style. She was decked out in glitter and a flirty little two piece of rainbow PVC that flared out at her hips. Her long hair was up in a high ponytail, pink extensions—obviously fake—but the contrast with her dark hair wasn’t too bad. The new lighting rig would catch on all the colours and make her glow, a good first impression, but something was still off. Someone that young looking shouldn’t know how to dress at the start of this job … but there were enough ideas online now that maybe she had done her homework. Well, good job, Baby-Girl.
Tamara felt old. This girl couldn’t be more than 18, if even that. And knowing how sketchy some of Charlie Q’s work and hiring practices were, it wouldn’t surprise her if she was just on the wrong side of being legal. Well, she’d either learn quickly, or be eaten alive.
As she tipped back her nightly Manhattan (just the one as she learned her lesson early and Trance kept a beer bottle filled with water behind the bar for her), Tamara took to the stage for her set. She was tonight’s feature, and it was a crowd of out-of-towners and frat boys trying to prove something, which meant tipping would either slide or be hard. Baby-Girl was working the floor, and Tamara swallowed her scoff as the deep bass of whatever passed for music these days came from the speakers. She was wrong, earlier. This girl was more like a baby deer. She tried to pass off a sway as seductive when Tamara could see how unsteady she was in those too-high heels. She kept locking her knees, pitching forward with every dozen-or-so steps. Tamara’s own walk was a learned thing. Slow and sensual, rolling her heels in six inches of spike, a bit of a sway to the hips.
She made sure the pole was rotating, or the friction burn on the inside of her thighs would take her out of work tomorrow. A test spin (good, it was working) and a look at Paulie in the control booth to redirect the lights. It was all routine: the feeling of the metal as it warmed against her skin, the strength in her thighs as she climbed and then leaned back in her finale, with the grace of her arms as they undulated to mimic wings. Her nipples had pebbled in the cool air—arousal from a distance—and the cheering from the tables meant her audience bought it.
Afterwards, it was watching the fetishists work, the mommy-mistresses and the debauched taking the stage, taking the floor. It was a four-hour night that would give three day’s pay to anyone else. Good tippers and a drunk stag party that took the champagne room. Even the champagne was terrible. Charlie Q charged premium for bottom-shelf vodka in reused bottles. Oh well.
Tamara was in her casual clothes, extensions tucked under a cap and feet in comfortable shoes, finally. She left through the back door only to find the back of a familiar SOB crowding Baby-Girl against the wall. The girl was still covered in glitter, shivering in the bite of the witching hour. Her eyes were glazed, clearly drinking too much, and she was in the same heels. Rookie mistakes.
Tamara debated walking by and letting the girl learn the same lesson they all had in the beginning. The costumes were just for the club, and if it meant a packet of baby wipes every night, the make-up and glitter came off before you even left through the door. Nobody’s man wanted to be reminded that he was with a dancer, especially a dancer that took an extra cut for just a little bit more (all with Charlie Q’s permission, of course). But she made a squeaking sound, small and rodent-like, and Tamara knew she couldn’t turn away.
“Hey Ricky,” she called and watched the bastard turn to her before she sent her fist into his gut. He hunched over as he struggled to breathe and smelled like the cheapest, clearest thing Trance sold before slumping to the ground. Tamara grabbed Baby-Girl’s arm and dragged her towards the nondescript silver car she drove to this job (one person tracking her home had been enough).
Baby-Girl huddled with her hands by the vents, begging for the heat that would take its sweet time to come. Tamara didn’t wait, just pulled out of the parking lot and headed west to give them some distance. When it seemed like the girl would try and speak, Tamara pointed a single coffin acrylic her way.
“I am going to give you some advice, and you are going to listen. No one will ever save you again, because you are not worth interrupting their nights or their highs. So, get smart and get quick, or don’t come back. Got it?”
Instead of waiting for a response, Tamara snapped the radio on and turned up the volume. They made it back to her place and parked in the garage. Baby-Girl was put into old sweats and pushed onto the couch, two bottles of water and a trashcan next to her head. Glitter was getting everywhere, but Tamara owned old leather couches for a reason. Too-high stilettos were placed by the front door next to a pair of purse flats Tamara bought in bulk. Another lesson learned.
The mask came off. Peeled off, more like. Hours of coy smiles and every move being watched sloughed around her as she shuffled aching feet into the kitchen. Tamara slumped at the kitchen table and dragged her nails under her extensions to release the tension on her scalp, an untouched glass of apple juice sat beside her. She will make herself drink the whole thing before bed with the hope she can finally control her dreams.
JAYMI-LYNN BUTLER is a fourth-year(ish) English and Creative Writing student who reads more than is probably healthy. When it comes to writing, there’s the old adage to write what one knows, and it just happens she knows plenty about disgruntled strippers and mental health.
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