Clink, clink, clink, just the sound loosens the giant knot in my stomach. Inside my small tin mint box several razorblades slid back and forth across the bottom. I sat on the toilet; the cool lid raised the tiny hairs on my arms. I opened the box. The single light bulb that dangled from the popcorned ceiling glinted on a single blade as if shining a spotlight on the winner. That’s the one I’ll use, I thought.
The pressure in my chest is was getting greater by the second, it’s almost enough to make me do something irrational but instead I slice into my skin, which to most does not seem rational but opposed to what else I’m thinking, this is the more rational choice. Picking up the razor made my heart feel like it had sprouted wings and was now trying to escape from my chest.
The pressure I put on the blade is slight; I don’t cut deep, just enough to feel again and to see blood. That’s important, seeing the blood. It’s getting harder and harder to bleed like I used to. The blood just doesn’t come as quickly anymore. I don’t know why but it’s frustrating, like my skin is resisting the cuts, refusing to enable my bad habits any longer. But today the skin splits easily, exposing red meat.
Ah, euphoria, I thought as the blood rushes to the surface and down my skin. The pressure is immediately gone. The fluttering has stopped. The elephant that was sitting on my chest jumped off. I’m so happy now I’m almost giddy. Maybe that’s an overstatement but I am better now, able to cope with life. My mind isn’t numb anymore and now my brain starts to work again. No, things aren’t as bad as I thought. Everything will be ok now. All I have to do is go out there and sing to myself until it’s over. I’ll be ok. It’ll be over as soon as my two three-minute songs are over.
Small red beads drip down to the floor between my toes. Most girls here shoot meth or heroin between their toes, (in our line of work you have to hide your needle marks, or in my case, scars). Not me, my drug choice is natural endorphins and not illegal, frowned upon, but not illegal.
I move my foot and watch the blood forms a line, like a crimson river flowing down and around the curve of my foot. It mesmerizes me. The color is the brightest red I’ve ever seen. I wonder what that means. Maybe I need more iron.
“Eden, you’re up,” Sweetz says through the bathroom door. The people who work here know better than to just open a door. Who knows what they’ll see on the other side, let alone how the person on the other side will react.
I sopped up the blood with toilet paper. Liquid bandages to the rescue. I slipped my super tall stilettos on my already aching feet. The six inch heels lift my butt and make my calves look stronger than they are and they tend to turn the men on all while killing my ankles. I’d gladly punch the bastard who created these stupid shoes, even if he was wearing glasses, over fifty years old and in a wheelchair.
Behind the rhinestone covered curtain I hear the end of Sheba’s set, her usual song, “Shake that Ass for me” was about to end. I waited behind that curtain, stomach knotted, until Sheba continued to dance even though her song had ended.
I waited. I was more courteous than most (or more patient). Staying under the radar was my goal, next to making enough money to support my family and leaving each night with all my teeth.
“Pour Some Sugar on Me”, that’s my song. I rip open the curtain. Now nothing separates me from the hungry eyes waiting to envelop my body, but not my mind, not my soul.
Sheba bumped into me on her way off the stage. One hand clenched dollar bills and one held her clothes. Sheba, who really thought of herself as a queen, smiled at me, showing her over-whitened teeth, as she waved to the crowd.
“Sorry sugar, they love me tonight,” she said in sweet southern drawl.
“No problem,” I replied and moved past her onto the stage. Having a confrontation with her or any of the girls would have been pointless. Not only could the tall, muscular, black woman kill me with her pinky, I didn’t like the drama.
Don’t get me wrong; most of the girls are pretty nice. Sweetz is just here putting herself through college. Sheba is supporting her mother whom is dying of cancer (which spun her into drug abuse). Before her mom was sick she was a librarian (she uses that to her advantage on the stage). Kandy Kane was another story. She had been a dancer, a ballerina for one of those big ballet companies whose name I never remember, but she blew out her knee. Needless to say, she no longer had a career in ballet with chronic knee problems. This is the only place that would hire her as a dancer after her surgery. Kitten and Heaven, they just love to dance and love the attention they get from the customers. Of course this is what we tell ourselves, the truth is we all have daddy issues. Some are aware of it and some aren’t. I am aware.
Not all the girls are friendly and here to make ends meet. We get a lot of one-nighters, girls who want to try stripping to fulfill some guy’s fantasy or trying to get enough money to score more dope. Extasy is a crack whore, literally. She brags about blowing her drug dealer for crack. Then there are girls like Nina and Dina, the twins. They are ridiculous. I’m sure in their day, twins probably brought in a lot of money but now they were older and neither had teeth from cocaine use and both gave five-dollar gummers in the parking lot (usually at the same time, gross). If I even made eye contact with their regulars, they would flip their wig. I dodged both of them when possible (and I made sure it was possible 99% of the time).
The floor vibrated under my stilettoed feet as I skipped onto stage in my schoolgirl outfit complete with pigtails, phallic shaped lollipop and librarian style glasses (my ode to pre-shaved head Brittney Spears).
The stage floor is a mirror so the customers can get the money shot for free. I’m smarter than that. I make sure they don’t see anything until I’ve seen some green. On my left and right are low countertops called tip rails. Smack dead center in front of me, the spinning pole. Our pole is twelve feet tall, which is nice. It gives us plenty of room to do tricks on the pole (which are fun if you know how to do tricks without hurting yourself, or other).
I looked out into the group of people, men and women, in the club. Men sit on stools at cocktail tables all around me and stare. A few women sat next to their boyfriends or husbands because they are trying to fulfill their man’s threesome fantasy or because they were gay or bi and weren’t ready to come out of the closet.
Some customers stared at me while I wiped the pole with an alcohol soaked rag (who knows what kind of diseases these girls have) for a few seconds. Some stare at the other girls working the floor, eye wide open and practically drooling. Some stare into their cocktail, too ashamed to look at anyone.
I always watch what’s going on around me. It’s good to know when trouble may be coming (and it came frequently here). Sheba was hustling a drink from a trucker and Kandy Kane was trying, with little success, to convince a guy to get a lap dance. She’s new. She’ll either learn the ropes quick or quit.
I toss the rag aside when Joe Elliott starts to sing. This song has a specific set of moves. First I swing my hips to the music’s beat, side-to-side and then gyrate them around. A man in the crowd howls. Most girls don’t choreograph each song like I do, but I get sick of doing the same typical stripper stuff over and over and so do my customers (at least I think so, I’ve never done a survey or anything).
Jason, a CPA and a regular of mine at The Beaver Dam winked and threw a dollar on my tip rail. That was my cue to shake something in his face. I smiled at him as I strode over and climbed up on the sticky surface. Please let it be spilt drinks instead of something organic.
After a few gyrations, I leapt from the counter to the pole and spun downward like a figure skater. I only closed my eyes for a second.
Suddenly, I was eight again, on the swings by the park. My legs were tired from pumping so hard to swing so high. Mom and Harry watched from the bench with baby Luca in Harry’s arms. He smiled so wide that it made me laugh. The fresh spring air hit my face and the sun warmed me inside and out. I was free.
As my feet hit the floor, I came back to the present. Harry’s face lingered though. How can someone go from that smile to abandoning his baby girl, his girlfriend, and his potential stepdaughter? It made my heart ache even now.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man who wasn’t like the other sweaty truck drivers. His face was piglet pink and his eyes stared down at the floor as though he were embarrassed. The man turned away from Extasy as she tried to get his attention. His suit was undoubtedly high fashion, in a suit that was a little too fashionable to belong to a straight guy.
The end of the song was nearing and I was getting dirty looks from my boss (who was drooling in the back) because there was no nudity yet so I ripped off my Oxford shirt, exposing my natural c’s.
The man stared at the ground, sweating through his baby blue Ralph Lauren shirt.
And even though there are two empty chairs in front of him, he remained standing and sweating an amount that worried me.
Buckcherry’s “Crazy Bitch”, came on and I sang to myself while I teasingly tugged at the flap on my schoolgirl skirt. The Velcro ripped and it dropped to the ground. I gyrated my thonged bottom and again climbed the pole.
Down and down I twirled. That’s my favorite part.
People clapped (which always makes me blush) and I hurriedly collected the stray bills off the floor like a kid scurrying for candy out of a broken piñata. Then I tried to scoot to the back, my safe haven, before the next dancer came out.
“Excuse me, are you Lidy Stratton?” The nervous man asked in a high-pitched squeak.
“No,” I turned away from him. The last thing I needed is for customers to know my real name.
His forehead crinkled.
“But that man back there said that you are Lidy Stratton.” He pointed to Pig, who was sitting on a high barstool now focused on Sweetz as she climbed the pole.
I jumped up on top of the tip rail to the applause of some customers, and still mostly nude. Apparently a stripper beating up a customer is a turn on, who knew?
“What do you want?” I snapped, ready to kick him in the head if need be. You never know when or why some jerk is going to try something undesirable.
“My name is Meredith Klein. I’m an attorney,” he looked at the billfold in his hand and fumbled with it as he pulled out a business card. I felt my cheeks flush when I realized I was standing there topless with some attorney and scurried to put my shirt and skirt on.
‘Meredith Klein, Esq.
Burns, Hartman and McGraw
Attorneys at Law’
“What’s this about?” I am not doing another ‘convention’ for a bunch of uptight cheapskates like I did for the AMA (yeah doctors and lawyers are cheap bastards when it comes to spending money on something other than themselves).
“Your father, Louis Tucker, he passed away. He died.”
I jumped down and sat in one of the empty chairs. I felt like the air was being sucked from my lungs. Tears didn’t flow, instead a feeling of heaviness, like when I broke my ankle and the x-ray tech put the lead apron on me and it pushed down on my chest. Meredith Klein, Esq. looked from me to the floor. No wonder he was uncomfortable.
“What did he die from?” My voice unintentionally came out like a frog’s.
“Cancer, it started in his pancreas and spread quickly.”
“Ok, well, thanks for letting me know.” I spun to head to the back room, I could feel the pressure building again. I could hear the razors clinking against their tin box in my mind.
The disc jockey was pointing at the den mother who was headed my way. It was his way of warning me. Crap. I moved to the left but Sweetz was in the way.
She had a scowl that made me cringe (and a jiggly ass made my stomach turn). Silky was her stage name and that was fine, in her younger days, but now most of the girls called her Botox. Every inch of her had wrinkles (and I worked in a strip club- I have seen every inch).
“Eden, a word please,” a mesh mini skirt showed the cottage cheese jiggle that she got for her fiftieth birthday. Her cheeks sagged and wrinkled (she got those for her sixtieth birthday) in the middle as if Gravity himself was pushing down on a once firm posterior. (You know Gravity’s got to be a man. Surely a woman wouldn’t deprive us of perky tits and ass).
“You do your lap dance and move on. We are not here to idly chit chat.” I looked at Silky, really looked at her. I seriously considered having a mini-meltdown but decided against it. Then I looked around the club, two other girls were sitting at the bar, idly chit chatting with Kenny, the bouncer. And where were the twins? Why was she coming after me?
Silky crossed her arms and stared down from her stiletto enhanced six-foot-four height. If I hadn’t seen it myself I’d never guess she was a stripper. Her personality was more like a Catholic School nun.
“He’s not a customer, he’s a lawyer.”
“Why are you conducting personal business here?” Her eyes bugged out and she grabbed my arm to pull me away from Meredith who was just standing there with his mouth open (he had probably never been in a strip club). “And why do you need a lawyer?” She whispered as she again crossed her arms. Her arms were spotted like a Dalmatian. She was the sole reason I don’t go tanning. Her sun damaged skin bunched up. It was worse in her cleavage. Why doesn’t she Botox that?
“My father died. He just came to tell me the news.” It was hard but somehow I managed to keep my face neutral when really I wanted to punch something (or someone). Why was she bothering me when at least two girls were in the parking lot giving five-dollar head instead of dancing?
“Oh, my,” she said trying to steady herself against my news, “well you can’t leave now. A bachelor party is coming in,” she leaned in, “friends of Pig’s.”
Pig, a large, sweaty, red-faced man, sat in the back by the bar smoking a cigar and sipping bourbon. He owned the club just so he could sit on his ass all night and watch the show (which he did. Every night). I always thought it was ironic that someone whose actual last name was Pig would grow up to own a strip club.
“Try to keep it together,” she said and then Silky a.k.a. Botox did something I never expected, she hugged me. I stood stiff, not returning the unwanted affection and silently counted the seconds until it would end.
After a few (14) awkward seconds (awkward to me anyway), she released me and stalked off behind the curtain.
My attention turned back to Meredith Klein, Esq. who stood perfectly still, eyes actively roaming the popcorn textured ceiling. He looked down at me as sweat rolled down his forehead. He took out his handkerchief (yes, an actual silk pocket square type thing) and wiped his brow.
“Did you tell Breck yet?” I asked. I haven’t seen Breck, my younger half-brother, in years and didn’t really want to. His rebellious personality has not just been a teenage phase but a continuous lifestyle since the womb (he came late, he lit the couch on fire when he was three, he cut Lou’s hair one night while Lou slept (I particularly liked that one) and the biggie was when he was fourteen he unsuccessfully robbed a shoe store, yes, a shoe store).
“Um, no, I was told to tell you and you would take care of your brother and everything else.” Meredith pushed up his glasses just in time for Sweetz to wink at him. He looked at the floor again and didn’t lift his head again.
“Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no, I am not taking care of anything. Man, he has balls.” I looked at Meredith. He gawked. “I mean he had balls. I can’t believe this. How is it he can abandon me at the age of four and now I get stuck paying for his funeral?”`
“I think you misunderstood me. He’s already been buried. The funeral was paid for. He was laid to rest at Oak Park Cemetery.”
I just stood there. I didn’t know what to say.
Meredith finally spoke.
“Ms. Stratton?” He said.
“Yeah, sorry.” I replied. “This is just a lot to take in.”
“Hey there handsome, you want a private dance?” Kandy Kane stroked the pleat in the arm of Meredith Klein’s shirtsleeve.
“Not now,” I said in a non-confrontational manner. Under the radar, make nice with the girls, leave every night with my teeth (in my mouth). These were my goals.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were working him.” She winked. Kandy Kane twirled her long, natural hair in her fingers (a move guys seemed to enjoy though I couldn’t understand why). She leaned in close to my ear and whispered, “You want to double on him?”
“No, thanks,” I said.
She shrugged, ruffled Meredith’s perfect hair and walked on to another victim.
Meredith jumped a little and then immediately smoothed his formerly perfectly coiffed hair and pulled an envelope out of his briefcase. He turned around and made sure Kandy Kane was away from him and then spoke.
“Here, this explains everything.” Meredith handed me the envelope with Lou’s sloppy handwriting on the front, ‘Lidy’.
Paper bits flew through the smoke filled air (it is illegal to smoke indoors here in Illinois but many establishments, much like this one, choose to ignore this rule) like confetti as I ripped the envelope open.
I wronged you but I won’t say I’m sorry because it’s made you a strong person. I know what you do for a living and I don’t like it but I think I know why you do it.
Now talk to Meredith about Breck.
I looked up at Meredith and didn’t say a word. What could I say? Lou had been out of my life and out of my mind for so long. Now Lou’s thrown back into my life and I can’t even tell him off. And what right does he have to judge what I do? Furthermore, how can he possibly know why I do anything? He doesn’t know me at all, (the self-righteous bastard).
“Breck gets nothing but if he wants to go to rehab, you have to pay for it.” Meredith looked around. The girls were swarming like bees to nectar, moving in fast on the attorney. “I have to go,” he said as they smiled devilishly at him.
“You can’t just,” I started to protest but he put his hand up.
“Your father said the rest of the estate goes to you.” He said quickly, a little too quickly. “Meet me tomorrow.”
The girls circled us. Nina and Dina leaned in and touched Meredith’s well-toned arms while Sheba rubbed his neck and shoulders.
“Wait a minute,” I said as he inched toward the exit.
“Please just meet me tomorrow and we will discuss the estate,” he said looking longingly at the front door.
I’m sure most people are sad when they hear a relative died and then are thrilled when they hear they inherited the entire estate. I was not one of those people.
“Estate, my father doesn’t have an estate.” I smirked. How did Lou con a lawyer?
“Louis Tucker left you a houseboat, a 2001 Mercedes, a 1978 Corvette, black, rather nice actually. I’m not really a car guy but…”
“That’s nice. Have you actually seen these things?”
“Of course, I recommended he get an insurance policy, life insurance. I assisted him in setting it up. Here,” he handed me a stack of photos. The Mercedes, the Corvette, the houseboat were all captured on film.
“I can’t believe it,” I mumbled under my breath.
All the girls leaned in and looked at the photos will I sifted through them.
“Girl, you’re rich now.” Sheba said.
“Would you like a lap dance?” Kandy Kane asked me and then all the girls then turned their attention to me, potentially the riches person in the room, depending on how much Meredith Klein, Esq. made.
Meredith started walking toward the door, smiling now that the girls’ attention was no longer on him. “His private investigation agency and $73,000 plus the life insurance policy. It’s worth five hundred thousand dollars.”
No words came out of my gapping mouth. What do I say? What do I do? I should tell him to shove it. He can’t buy my affection now. He’s dead. I’ll tell Meredith to shove it. Wait, what am I crazy?
I laughed out loud. Lou owed me, turning down all that would be stupid. I looked up to see Meredith looking at me.
“How do I get it?” I heard how I sounded and thought better of it. “I meant, what do I need to do?”
“Come to my office tomorrow, nine a.m.” He looked around and looked at his watch. It was three a.m. “Maybe afternoon would be better?”
“Nine is fine.”