Rated R for adult themes, mild language and nudity
For months, Cheryl and I argued about her auditioning for Mitchell Brothers; given her past rape and abuse, the thought made me ill. Eventually we agreed, or more honestly—I pushed until she acquiesced for me to go instead. She lounged on the end of my bed while I showed her three dresses that might match the bikini she pressed into my hand that morning.
“I love the silver one!” she said, pointing to the short sequined dress that I wore to prom last year. She jumped up with smile and snatched it from the hanger, then rolled it tight and shoved it into my backpack along with the wig we bought. “Makeup?”
“Plenty,” I said.
Nodding, she smelled of buttered rice in the spring as she leaned over and kissed my cheek. I closed my eyes and remembered the last time she struggled with her vow to God, and yearned for her to falter again.
“You’re going to do great!”
“Not if they card me—” I murmured picturing odd fat men sitting in sparkling chairs while judging my naked body.
The bouncer opened the door and a tall blond, with the same taunting breasts as the other girls, waved us toward a room upstairs.
“You auditioning too?” The man asked looking Cheryl over.
“No, she’s with me.”
He moved his head from side to side and she blushed. “You should reconsider.”
My smile flattened, and she followed me into the small dirty room. A paper, tacked above the pay phone, had breasts doodled in blue ink above a phone number for both a plastic surgeon and a Vietnamese restaurant. The long mirror was smeared with prints, and spilled face powder dusted the counter. There were five other girls in various states of undress. Forcing my eyes forward, I wished for blinders and felt my face flush.
I slipped into my dress and applied my garish mask, then pushed the mascara wand over my lashes.
“Lighten up,” Cheryl said.
When I leaned back to inspect my work, she placed a tissue between my lips and I blotted the red tint.
I looked at her in the filthy reflection. “Not enough for you,” I said. She cast her eyes from me, but I could see her furrowed eyebrows.
“Okay, girls! Music please, and make sure it’s labeled.” A short man with oiled hair stood at the threshold and clapped his hands twice.
We walked through the club like a line Montessori preschoolers. Regulars leaned against the halls; and when we passed a green room, two men were lounging on couches watching three girls have sex in a mirrored pit. Swallowing the bile in my throat, my stomach contracted; but Cheryl was self-destructive, so I kept walking.
When the DJ collected my ID, I was thankful for his laziness and the dark light. Four months shy of eighteen, I trembled with each girl that left the stage feeling a door slam shut. An urge to run fought my senses, but the job was more important than peace. Another lanky brunette danced, and I inhaled. You can’t take this back, I thought. Cheryl needs me. My chest filled with warmth for the small boy that shared her smile.
“It’s all you babe,” the DJ said, and he handed me a disk to make sure my music was correct. A tiny blond left the stage and started shaking once she was behind the curtain. My stomach dropped with a pressing need to pee.
“And next, we have the lovely Rio!” The announcer said and slow jazz erupted from the speakers followed by the first bars of The Sweetest Taboo. Taking a step on the wood stage, I saw a man, no more than forty-five sitting in the front row. I strode under the lights and prayed for my too tall shoes to hold me. Another man, older and balding, sat farther back with two Asian girls rubbing against him in tiny bikinis. I blinked and looked at the man in the front row.
He faded into my Daddy Long Legs, and the music crept inside me holding memories of a night in an old truck by the ocean. I shed my dress, and the audience grew through the fog of my skin. I forgot my too small breasts that looked more like something in National Geographic than Play Boy. I forgot my young boyfriends with big cocks and fumbling fingers. Even thoughts of my mother disappeared into the ether. I laid on the stage and untangled my panties from a heel. Then grabbing the pole, I tested it and swung. Hot lights melted my lotion, and the room became a talent show from long ago until Daddy Long Legs became her; my Cheryl.
Cheryl pushed the heavy velvet drapes open, “You looked amazing out there.”
I didn’t look at her and no words came.
“And the 1st runner up is… Rio!” Applause erupted in my ears.
“Good job out there.” The manager said. “Rio and Stacy, you stay. Everyone else, get changed and I want to thank you for participating.” Three ghosts drifted to the dressing room in silence.
“Stacey—would you like to be a Mitchell Girl?” She bounced in her heels and he pointed her to the office.
The man turned to me next, “You looked great out there. I want to hire you but we have too many black girls on the roster. Come back next month.” I nodded and parted the curtain.
“Hey, don’t forget your trophy.” He said, handing me a small plastic statuette. I read the plaque and smiled.
I read A Night Under Lights by Maya Goode ala @quotidianlight.