For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Tara Roberts challenged me with "'If I had a dollar bill for all the things I've done, there'd be a mountain of money piled up to my chin...' Annie Lennox" and I challenged Shelley with "'When you meet someone, you can get something out of him like when you first look at a painting.' -Gary Oldman"
I took it all out, laying it on the hard brown vinyl of the broken down couch in what we called the "locker room." It was no such thing, of course. People did change in here, and there was a tiny grimy toliet and sink that got some use, and a dirtier shower that mostly didn't, but that was the only way it resembled a locker room. I laid the bills out in front of me, the wrinkled and folded and sweaty ones, and fives, and tens and twenties, and a lone fifty. I knew paper money was filthy- years of biology classes had taught me that nearly everything was, and a hung over morning watching the Dr. Oz show confirmed that money itself was pretty gross, generally speaking.
But these bills looked especially dingy. Part of it, I knew, was where they had been. They had gone from sweaty Levis pockets into my cleavage, or underneath a strap on my hip, or in between my toes. I knew that when I looked at them, and that made them feel especially dirty. I organized them compulsively, in order by denomination, all facing the same way, then folded over. Not bad, so far- after paying everyone I had to pay, I'd go home with a full car payment, which wasn't bad for a night's work. The place was still half full, although I was getting the sense that most of the big dogs had gone home. The guys that were out there were the hangdog regulars, just staring at the nudity, putting off going home for one more hour. You could get a couple of bucks out of them if you tried, but they looked tapped out.
I folded the stack, returning it to my tiny, clear purse. You didn't leave anything of value in this room, I had learned early on. So ID, car key and phone came with me in this little plastic bag, while the small duffel that stayed in here contained a few changes of underwear, an extra pair of heels, and a pair of flats and a change of clothes to go home in. You were supposed to do a turn on the pole every 15 minutes, but as the night went on, they stopped really caring. As long as someone was up there, they were happy. And if they were happy, you kept being asked back. So you keep the bosses happy, you keep the parade of men happy, and your little bag fills up with cash.
I stood up, feeling the strain as my legs and back adjusted to being up in my heels. I thanked my years of basketball and track in high school that let me stand up to the pounding. I checked my face in the cracked mirror, tossed my hair around a bit, and headed back out. It can't hurt to take a shot- maybe there's a 20 year old kid who just got paid out there. The music turned from a dull throb into a banging, loud maelstrom as I entered the showroom. It smelled like beer, perfume, sweat, and desperation. A painfully skinny Eastern European girl was dancing now, her bony thighs almost a parody of femininity. There were maybe 10 guys in the room, and 5 other dancers, all milling about in the psychedelic strobes and flashes. I saw Roger, one of what I would call, for lack of a better word, my regulars, sitting down at the bar with a brunette I didn't recognize.
Roger had been coming in about once a month or so. If I was around, he would usually gesture me over and ask for a private dance. He was relatively polite, followed the rules, and was kind, so I was happy to see him. He was looking my way, so I made my way over, approaching him from the side away from the woman. He talked about a wife now and then, but you never knew. His name might not even be Roger. Mine certainly wasn't Mandy. I made my way in close, letting him put his arm around my bare waist.
"Hey, you!," he said jovially into my ear. You had to talk like that to be heard.
"Hey," I said back. "Is this your wife?" She was looking at me through cat's eye glasses, betraying nothing. She was dressed relatively plainly, a shapeless sweater and dark jeans and simple flat shoes. Mom clothes. I could tell her body was nothing too special. If this was who he had to go home to, it was no wonder he'd spend a couple of hundred dollars to look at me with nothing on.
"Sure is," he said, "Meet," and then he said her name. It could be Marie, or Mary, or Maureen. It didn't matter.
I leaned over him, intentionally pressing against him, and introduced myself.
"Nice to finally meet you," she said in a clipped voice.
"We had a talk about my coming here," Roger said. "She said she wanted to see what it's like."
I leaned over him again, my breast brushing his chest. "So what do you think?," I said to her.
"It's loud," she said. She forced a smile, like she was meeting me at a cocktail party. You bitch, I thought. You know your husband thinks about me when you fuck him, and it's killing you, isn't it?
"So do we have to pay double for both of us?," he said quickly. I could sense his eagerness.
"Afraid so," I told him. It was one of the iron clad rules. Along with no touching, a rule that could be circumvented, the boss said you could have as many viewers as you want in the tiny little sin studios, but everybody in there pays- $30 per 5 minutes.
He leaned over to tell this to her. I stayed close, watching her face register the news. She leaned in to speak to him, and then he spoke to her again. I wondered if she would share this story on a girl's night out, describing over a glass of Merlot how pathetically ugly we all were. Tell it right, I told her silently. Tell your little friends that we give your pathetic husbands something you never could.
"She wants to go by herself," Roger told me. I could tell he was disappointed.
"Fine with me," I said. Some girls wouldn't dream of giving another woman a dance. I wasn't like that. She probably just wanted to tell me to keep away from her man, or something, which was fine. Roger was cute enough, in his way, and he was nice, but there was no way I wanted to get in the middle of that-I just wanted his money. The wives never had any idea how simple their men really were.
She took a long pull from her beer and stood up, coming around the back of Roger's chair. I took her hand, which felt clammy, and led her down to the back of the room. Up a short flight of stairs was one of the bouncers, watching a series of video screens that showed what was going on in the private rooms. "Three," Charlie, an enormously fat man with a beard but no mustache, said in between bites of a tuna sub, and I led her into Room 3, the bass from the stereo fading to a rumble as I shut the door.
She looked me up and down. I was about 6 inches taller than her before the shoes. I knew I was prettier than she was, with a much better body, and I could feel the waves of fear and resentment coming from her.
"I don't know what the, uh, etiquette is...," she said gently.
"It's simple," I said. "It's $30 every five minutes. Charlie will say over the intercom when the time is up, and you can stay longer for another thirty, or we can stop. Totally up to you. As for what happens, again, it's up to you. I can just do what I usually do, or we can talk, or we can do nothing at all. It's totally your call."
I stepped out of my shoes, feeling the relief of being flat footed again. Some people wanted me to keep them on, and I was willing to oblige. But it was nice to be out of them for a few minutes, and it reduced the chance of turning an ankle.
"Do I, um...," she said.
"You don't have to do anything," I said. "You can stand, sit, lie down, whatever you like. The only rule is no touching, but they turn a blind eye to it unless I complain. Anything you feel like doing is OK by me, pretty much."
"Have you had...have other women... have they...done this?" I undid my top, watching her eyes as my breasts emerged. I was naturally big, but I had gotten some surgery a couple of years ago when gravity started to take a toll. They were pretty damn nice, even if I do say so myself. She stared, which was something I was used to.
"Sure. We get more than you probably think," I said. "Wives, like you. Some college kids. A few actual gay women. Not many." Maybe 1 out of 10 were sexually interested, but the majority were college students doing research, or religious crazies wanting to convert us, or various other agendas other than the single minded parade of men. It didn't matter to me. If they wanted to pay, they could read me Marcus Aurelius for all I cared.
Her knees were together, prim and proper. Now that she was alone, I could see she had a better body than I gave her credit for. She was still trim, which was impressive if she had kids, which most of them did. I looked at her tiny ankles, up her jeans, to her hips and her waist, her hands folded in her lap, and to her breasts, which looked a little more impressive when she sat up straight. Her eyes were locked on me, taking in my half nakedness. I stepped forward, putting one foot on either side of her tiny shoes. I leaned in, being sure to brush against her. I brought my lips to her ear.
"Just relax," I whispered. "Tell me what you want." She shivered.
I started doing my usual routine, rubbing, brushing, grinding. She was paying real money, so she'd get a real show, until she said something. I watched her watch me, because I was genuinely curious about her motives. If she got turned on, that was fine, and if she didn't, that was fine, but it was like playing an opponent you hadn't scouted- you wanted to know if they preferred to shoot outside, so you could try to prevent them from doing what they wanted. Her eyes were wide open, but she didn't make any sounds. I could feel her shift in her seat now and then, but she certainly didn't appear to want me to stop. It was harder to tell with her, but I thought she was liking it.
She put her hands on my thighs as I was facing away from her, and I covered her hands with my own, gently pushing them higher. I wondered how far she wanted to go, and it was pleasant, feeling a woman's touch, so much gentler than a man's aggressive one. I turned my head, whispering into her ear again.
"It's okay," I said. She didn't say anything. I felt her exhale heavily.
"What makes you...do this?," she said. Her voice was breathy, soft, the kind of voice you have when you're congested.
The truth tumbled out before I could stop it. "An ex boyfriend signed me up for a bunch of loans and credit cards for the business he wanted to start. Then he skipped out. I owe about 75 grand."
"Men," she said, in that tone that implied we women were all in this together. It was something my sister said too.
"Why not go bankrupt?," she continued, her voice still soft. I guided her hands a little higher. She wasn't resisting, but she didn't seem to be getting the hint either. A tiny part of me wanted her to want me.
"I don't think that's right," I said. "Plus I probably wouldn't be able to get into grad school if I did that. Once I pay that money off, I'm going to finish my degree." I don't know why I was telling her this. I didn't have to justify myself to her, or to anyone. I did the same thing she did- I gave my body away for money. The difference was I got paid in cash and didn't get pregnant.
Her fingers were finally on top of the tiny fabric triangle that separated me from a prostitute. I held her in place with my hand and pushed down, arching my pelvis from underneath. I felt some genuine arousal from inside me. I promised myself I would revisit this encounter inside my head later this morning when I was trying to get to sleep. This was getting interesting. After a couple of long thrusts against her hand, I turned over again, bringing my body up close to her sweater covered breasts. I felt her squirm again, and I let her brush her breasts against me. I looked at her eyes behind her glasses, and they were starting to cloud and lose focus. She half closed them, exhaling again. I came in close, my nose buried in the nape of her neck. I felt her body underneath me, pressing up. It felt just like it did with the men. I had her. I turned and buried my face on the other side of her neck, giving her a tiny kiss there. Her arms found the back of my neck, and she let me run a hand gently between her thighs. She gasped softly when I pressed against her, her back arching. She made a soft sound, high in her throat. I moaned gently, too, and I was only half pretending.
I picked my head up to look at her again, our noses centimeters apart. Her eyes were swimming with tears. It took me aback. I stopped moving and just stared. Her mouth started to move, and then stopped. Her lip quivered slightly. I felt a stab of alarm. I thought she was enjoying this.
"Are you okay?," I started to say.
"I have to go-," she said, the short, bitchy tone returning. I pushed myself up to my feet.
"I can stop," I said. "We don't have to-"
"No, no," she interrupted. "No, you're fine. You're great. That was so amazing. It was great. I just...," she said. Her voice was breaking along the edges. It reminded me of my 3 year old niece. You knew it was naptime when her voice started to get shrill like this.
"I have to go," she said again. She was standing up now, her hand digging in one pocket of her tight jeans. Her body was really a lot better than I thought. She threw a folded bill onto the cheap couch.
"I'm sorry-" I tried.
"No," she said again. "You're fine. It was great. Really. I enjoyed it."
"You can sit here, and-"
"No, I have to go, really."
She opened the door and was gone, her shoes making little click clack sounds on the floor. I looked at the bill, which I now saw was a fifty. I wanted to run after her, to ask what had happened, what had changed, what was wrong. I reached down and unfolded the bill. It was greasy, like the others, probably from the sweat of her thigh. Charlie watched me impassively through the open door as I put my top back on and slid the bill into my bag. I put my heels back on, gave Charlie a shrug in reply, and walked back onto the floor again.