Concentrate Marise, she thought, as she slithered up the pole staring at the cracked ceiling. If I count the water spots on the wall, I can forget about the numerous eyes staring at my body. I can pretend the thick smoke from cigars and cigarettes is fog. If only could tune out the thundering bass of this song, I will get through this. If only I could tune out everything. She slid down the pole with her eyes closed. Marise James tried to ignore the leering patrons of Harem Adult Bar and Club, the seediest, most despicable strip club in the city. She tried to audition at the higher end clubs, where bikini tops were required. Tucked away in the warehouse district of downtown, Marise prayed that no one would ever see her opening the bright red door to the strip club. Every day, as she walked the blocks from her normal, respectable day job as a secretary, she prayed no one would find out about her second ‘job’
As the tempo of the song increased, Marise rotated her hips in time to the music.
“It’s just you and the music, keep it together.” She muttered to herself, sashaying down the long rectangular stage. The red, blue, and white lights lining the edges of the stage blinded her. She would never complain about the lights in her eyes. She knew what those lights kept her from seeing. They protected her from seeing one of the strippers giving a customer a blowjob in the dark corner by the bar. The lights shielded her from seeing the details of the faces of all those men that were staring at her half-naked body.
Even as the music blared from the speakers tucked in the four corners of compact club, she could still hear the drunken blabbering of the regulars, screaming at her to ‘show some tits’. It had taken months to learn to ignore the catcalls and whistles of the pimps, old men, young college boys, and lesbians. Her skin still crawled at the shouts to “take it all off”.
Marise snorted to herself. She knew better now. At her audition eight months ago, she paid too close attention to the howls and whistles. Listening to the lecherous requests of the regulars, Marise had nervously pulled off the top to the red bikini and exposed her breast. The house-mother and retired stripper stomped on the black lacquer stage, and yanked Marise off by her elbow. Marise’s brown eyes glazed over as the women berated her for being so ignorant. The state would shut them down if they knew they served alcohol and naked women were parading around. Marise did not know that serving alcohol meant absolutely no full nudity. Even as she wiped away the tears from being rebuked, Marise knew needed this job. She begged for a chance and apologized for her ignorance, even though she was internally grateful that there was no full nudity. Marise would take whatever grace she could get.
She reminded herself every night of this self-imposed sentence was her choice. The nagging notion that it was her only option always made her pause. Song after song, night after night for eight long months, she endured this humiliation to save her husband. If she didn’t come up with the rest of the money soon, Lenny would cut off Darryl’s hands. She didn’t want an amputee for a husband if she could prevent it.
Marise shook the self-pitying thoughts from her head. Darryl had been good to her in their five years of marriage, and now, she was just trying to be good to him. His gambling problem may have gotten them into this, she thought as she twirled and slid into a split, she knew this was the way to get them out of it. I only need a little more money to pay back all the money that Darryl had borrowed from Lenny.
The song stopped, the last notes lost in the banging of glasses and high-pitched whistles. Marise bent to pick up the bills tossed on the stage. A few five-dollar bills and a lot of singles did not amount too much for a song.
Just as Marise was doing a mental tally of the amount of cash she just made, a twenty dollar bill, folded neatly down the center, stared at her the end of the stage. What? Who tips a twenty for a stage dance? Marise thought. Even as Marise pushed a lock of the red wig from her eyes, she hoped she was not mistaken that a twenty lay on the stage. A high tipper, great! She would be able to pay her cab fare and still have enough left over for the jar at home. Marise crawled on her hands and knees to the end of the stage, carefully dodging the roaming hands trying to touch her legs and breasts. The cool smooth stage felt like ice on her heated skin. Although Marise’s mind was not there, she could not control her traitorous nipples from peaking at the touch of the cold lacquer. Stifling an inward groan at her body’s misleading reaction, she picked up the twenty. As she was tucking the crisp bill into her cleavage, she heard a low, primal growl. She knew it wasn’t her, her growls were only saved for those getting too close without paying.
Slowly, she looked up, afraid that some type of dog was on the loose. As her pupils adjusted to staring beyond the red bulb in front of her, saw two tan hands in front of her, pressed so hard on the stage the knuckles were white. Her gaze traveled upward, past the sleeves of a suit jacket, and Marise tried to ignore the sinking feeling in her stomach. She knew something was wrong before she saw the thing she feared. She was staring into the cold blue eyes of her other boss.