Clink, clink, clink, just the sound loosened the giant knot in my stomach. Inside my small tin mint box, several razor blades 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 is the one I’ll use, I thought.
The pressure in my chest was getting greater by the second, it’s almost enough to make me do something irrational but instead, I sliced into my skin, which to most does not seem rational but opposed to what else I was thinking, this was 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 was slight; I didn’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 split easily, exposing the red meat.
Ah, euphoria, I thought as the blood rushed to the surface and down my skin. The pressure was gone immediately. The fluttering stopped. The elephant that was sitting on my chest jumped off. I was so happy, almost giddy. Maybe that’s an overstatement but I was much better, able to cope with life again. My mind wasn’t numb anymore and now my brain starts to work again. No, things weren’t as bad as I thought. Everything is ok. All I have to do is go out there and sing to myself until it’s over. I will be ok, it’ll be over as soon as my two three-minute songs are over.
Small red beads dripped 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 of choice is natural endorphins and not illegal, frowned upon, yes, but not illegal.
I moved my foot and watched the blood form a line, like a crimson river flowing down and around the curve of my foot. It mesmerized me. The color is the brightest red I had ever seen. I wondered what that meant. Maybe I needed more iron.
“Eden, you’re up,” Sweetz said 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 made 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 heard the end of Sheba’s set, her usual song, “Shake that Ass for Me” was about to end. I waited behind the curtain, stomach knotted but Sheba continued to dance even though her song had ended.
I waited. I was more courteous than most and 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” started. I ripped 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, a slutty Egyptian queen costume. Sheba, who thought of herself as an actual queen, smiled at me, showing her over-whitened teeth, as she waved to the crowd.
“Sorry sugar, they love me tonight,” she said in her 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 to put herself through college. Sheba was supporting her mother who is dying of cancer. 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 are not. 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 dope. Extasy is a crack whore, literally. She brags about blowing her drugs dealer for crack. Then there are girls like Nina and Dina, the twins. They were ridiculous. I was sure in their day, twins probably brought in a lot of money but now they were older and neither had teeth anymore from cocaine use and both gave five dollar gummers in the parking lot. 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 ninety-nine percent of the time.
The floor vibrated under my stilettoed feet as I skipped onto the stage in my schoolgirl outfit complete with pigtails, phallic shaped lollipop and librarian style glasses ala Brittney Spears circa 1999.
The stage floor was a mirror so the customers could get the money shot for free. I was smarter than that. I made sure they didn’t see anything until I’d seen some green. On my left and right were low countertops called tip rails. Smack dead center in front of me was the spinning pole. Our pole was twelve feet tall, which was nice. It gave us plenty of room to do tricks on the pole. Tricks are fun until someone gets hurt. Yes, that happens.
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 yet.
Some customers stared at me while I wiped the pole with an alcohol soaked rag to wipe away who knows what off of the pole before I touch it. Some stared at the other girls working the floor, eyes wide open and practically drooling. Some stared into their cocktail, too ashamed to look at anyone.
I always watched what’s going on around me. It’s good to know when trouble may be coming and it frequently came 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 tossed the rag aside when Joe Elliot started to sing. This song had a specific set of moves. First I swung my hips to the music’s beat, side-to-side and then gyrate them around. A man in the crowd howls. Most girls didn’t choreograph each song like I did, but I get sick of doing the same typical stripper stuff over and over and so do my customers, at least I thought so not that I’ve ever 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 split drinks instead of something organic.
After a few gyrations, I leaped from the counter to the pole and spun downward like a figure skater, spinning down the pole. I only closed my eyes for a second.
Suddenly, I was eight years old again, on the swings at 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 could 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 by rubbing up against him. His suit was undoubtedly high fashion, it was 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 because there was no nudity yet so I ripped off my Oxford shirt and exposed my natural c cups.
The well-dressed man stared at the ground, sweating through his baby blue shirt and even though there were two empty chairs in front of him, he remained standing and sweating.
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 was my favorite part.
People clapped and I hurriedly collected my clothes as the song ended. I scooped up the stray bills off the floor like a kid scurrying for candy out of a broken pinata. 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 well-dressed man asked in a high-pitched squeak.
“No,” I turned away. The last thing I needed was for customers to know my real name.
His forehead crinkled.
“but the man back there said that you are Lidy Stratton.” He pointed to Pig, my boss, who was sitting on a high barstool focused on Sweetz as she climbed the pole.
I jumped up on top of the tip rail to the applause of some customers and while still mostly nude. Apparently, a stripper beating up a customer was a turn on, who knew?
“What do you want?” I snapped, ready to kick him in the head if he provoked me.
“My name is Meredith Klein, I’m an attorney,” 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.
“What is this about?” I wasn’t about to do 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.” Meredith Klein sopped up the sweat running down his face with a napkin from his pocket.
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 croak.
“Cancer, it started in his pancreas and spread quickly.”
“Oh, ok, well thanks for letting me know.” I spun to head to the back room, 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.
The den mother had a scowl that made me cringe. 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. We worked in a strip club. I’ve 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, which happened for her sixtieth. It was as if Gravity himself was pushing down on a once firm posterior (you know Gravity has to be a man. Surely a woman wouldn’t deprive us of perky tits and asses).
“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 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. “And why do you need a lawyer?” She crossed her Dalmation like arms. Her skin was the sole reason I didn’t go tanning. All that sun exposure caused her cleavage to bunch up. Why didn’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.
“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 and whispered, “friends of Pig’s.”
Pig, the large, sweaty red-faced owner of the club sat in the back by the bar smoking a cigar and sipping bourbon. I always thought it was ironic that someone who’s actual last name was Pig would grow up to own a strip club.
“Try to keep it together,” she said and then Silky a.ka. 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 (fourteen) awkward seconds, she released me and stalked off behind the curtain.
My attention turned back to Meredith Klein who stood perfectly still, his eyes actively roaming the popcorn textured ceiling. He looked down at me as sweat rolled down his forehead.
“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 was born late, lit the couch on fire when he was three and cut Lou’s hair one night while Lou slept. The biggie was when he was fourteen he unsuccessfully robbed a shoe store.
“Um, no. I was told to tell you and you would take care of Breck and everything else.” Meredith pushed up his glasses just in time for Sweetz to wink at him. His eyes immediately went back to the floor and he didn’t lift his head again.
“Oh no, no, no, no, no. I am not taking care of anything. Man, he has balls.” I looked at Meredith. He gawked at my callous nature. “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 Cemetary.”
I 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’s shirtsleeve.
“Not now,” I said in a non-confrontational manner. Under the radar, make nice with the girls, leave with all my teeth preferably 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 perfectly coiffed hair and walked on to another victim. Meredith jumped a little and then immediately smoothed his hair before pulling an envelope out of his briefcase. He turned around to make 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 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 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 he’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? The self-righteous bastard doesn’t know me at all.”
“Breck gets nothing but if 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 poor guy. “I have to go,” he said as they smiled devilishly at him.
“You can’t just-” I started to protest but he put a 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 begged and then looked longingly at the front door.
I’m sure most people are sad when they hear a relative died and they are thrilled to 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 all 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. All the girls leaned in and looked at the photos as 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 turned their attention to me, potentially the richest person in the room, depending on how much Meredith made.
Meredith walked toward the door, smiling now that the girls’ attention was no longer on him. “His private investigation agency and seventy-three thousand plus life insurance. It’s worth about five hundred thousand dollars.”
No words came out of my gaping mouth. What do I say? What should 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 owned me, turning down all that would be stupid and I was not a stupid woman. 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.”