Adam remembered looking over at his buddy, who began clapping with all too much vigor when the song ended. It ended abruptly when a black man came on the microphone to interrupt, and exercise his God-given, ethnic right to speak like a jackass. All Adam could do was purse his lips and perform in a fashion like that of his friend. He clapped his hands for those performers, only with much less amusement.
The MC announced something utterly inaudible over the speakers, but Adam was far past the point of straining himself to understand the language. The man spoke in mumbles that cracked like static. His words were misunderstood, but it was all well enough. Everyone knew what he was saying. Flashing lights of red, purple, and blue hopped across the room and stung Adam's eyes. He felt dizzy.
Once again, booming speakers took to their normal fashion and blasted crappy hip-hop and gangster rap melodies. Earlier in the night, the repetitious absurdity of each song would have made Adam chuckle, but three hours in the same chair had left him bored… So bored.
He touched his fingers to his eyelids; sighed deeply. “Hey Mitch,” Adam shouted. It was difficult speaking over the music. “Mitch!”
“What?” With his fixation broken, his head snapped toward his companion, absolute pleasure sewn into each of his eyes.
Cupping his mouth, Adam yelled, “You ‘bout ready to get outta here?”
At this he thought deeply; far too deep. Then he licked his lips and glanced at his watch. “Uhh… How about just a few more songs, yeah?” His pitiful words barely made it past the booming beats and gangsta bitches to reach Adam.
“Okay,” and at last, the end was in sight.
Another song ended to provoke the MC back onto the microphone. Adam was surprised when he was actually able to decipher some of his garbled, hipster lingo.
“Aight, comina neckstada stage, weegah tha beautiful ‘n tasty – Mysterious.”
Without much conscious decision, Adam's eyes moved toward the center stage, and he was surprised. Onto it walked a beautiful, blonde woman, wearing very little, but wearing it well. She caught his eyes much more than the other dancers. The pallor of her flesh lustily attractive, and her walk carried with it the lip-licking delight of hedonism. He bit down hard. He was solemn... But comfortable.
“Wow,” he said, but his glass of rum & Coke was all that heard him. She was attractive. She was so attractive to Adam, who would never know if his intense attention toward her that night was sleazy and appropriate, or if she really was beautiful in the classic sense of the word. The white light lapped against her flesh, and then reflected toward every salivating wolf in the room. She was nude, yet her body was draped in moonlit satin, always slipping off her torso to the weight of each beat.
Her golden hair was wavy and chin-length., just above a body that shook as she crossed to and fro on the stage. It was everything that beautiful and shallow dreams are made of. It was perfect, except for one flaw that had the subtle effect of devastation on Adam. As he watched her perform, his eyes moved in a critical fashion, analyzing her whole frame, seeking to discover and understand. He shifted in his chair, and his hands wiped across his head. He was sweating. “What is it about her?” he said softly to himself. “What is it?”
Adam rose from his chair, moving with acceleration to the center stage. He could just picture Mitch’s pathetically encouraging gaze as he traveled forward. Adam's eyes met hers, and they locked on to each other. Her desperately nude body breathed in awful thanks for his business as he approached. Then she drew him in.
A deep breath, and then, “Hey baby,” right into his ear. Her skin met his, and perfume seeped into him. She bounced around on her knees for simple moments, before getting to her feet, and turning her back. Adam's knees remained locked and tight as he gazed forward. He felt as though he were trying to breathe through holes in his stomach. As he closed his eyes, he was turned on: and disgusted.
When Adam opened up again, he saw it. He saw what had previously bothered him. Disturbingly dominant, it could not escape his aroused attention. She just kept dancing. It was on the side of her right leg, next to her shin. A fair-sized tattoo lay dark and deep, halfway between her knee and her ankle. It was parallel to her hip, and it was grotesquely attractive. The black ink that contrasted her milky skin affected Adam, and he swore out loud.
Before she even had the chance to finish and provocatively rob him, his money was slapped against the reflection of the plastic stage, and she saw him marching back to his table. It wasn’t the presence of the tattoo on her body that disturbed him. It was the picture. The ink swirled in his mind as he took his seat.
“Well how was it?” Mitch asked with a nervous and eager tone of voice, but Adam just shook his head.
The minutes that passed by afterward were even longer. Hands clinched tightly atop his lap, and he only stared forward. He watched his beautiful Mysterious, as she called herself, finish out her dance on the main stage and then move on. He held his breath while the dizzy lights moved across her chest on the side stage.
By the time she was preparing to exit at the end of her round, Adam got to his feet, and began his march. I want a dance existed in his mind. Then it dug into his lips. I want a dance was moist on his breath. Then it cowered against boom beats.
“I want a dance,” he shouted into her back as she reassembled her wardrobe, but she didn’t hear. “Excuse me,” he yelled even louder. Swirling around, she knocked her head about, clearing the hair from her vision. “I want a dance,” and her lips curled into a smile.
A deep and tantalizing voice burrowed inside his ears. “You got it, baby.”
What a poor sucker, Adam felt like – one of hundreds of men she’d taken advantage of. He walked, feeling like all the other fools that she'd drilled through this process with before. Layers of dirt caked onto him as he followed her, until he felt embossed in a world of seedy routines. The hand that led was soft, and made him very aware of his own body. His flesh was burning into a living, blushing tinge, and his heartbeat felt inverted and crooked, beating louder and turning inward, like a beast in its final moments.
On his way to the couch behind the side stage, Adam became lost in a world of pale pinks and blushing blondes. Hearts beat faster. Paces quickened, and yet time stood still.
She motioned Adam to sit, but he declined. “VIP,” he told her, and prompted that oddly believable smile.
“Fifty,” she said, and dared not wrap her arms around his hips. She took the money in one hand, and his fingers in her other, leading him up stairs toward one of many dimly lit, crimson rooms. Men came here, dying of dehydration, yet being pushed across a plank toward the depths of the sea. It was blissfully destructive.
Two chairs and a painting bathed in the light of a lamp with transparent cloth atop it. The painting struck Adam as ironic, simply because it was nothing more than a generic still life of an apple tree in a garden. Yet he lifted his eyes directly toward it. Here, a stunning woman led a seedy gentlemen to a handsome room in order to do gorgeous deeds. Yet the painting was the only thing that was truly beautiful. It was truly beautiful.
“Have a seat, stud.” Her voice was throaty. “You’re an eager fellow, aren’t you?” Then she climbed on him. He said nothing.
All of time ticked around her navel., and all Adam could do was sweat and look up. Look up to watch her throat bend as she slowly leaned her head back. He wanted to speak, but his heart battled his chest.
Finally, “H-hey…” She looked down. “What’s your name?” At this she smiled.
“Mysterious, baby. What’s yours?”
“No no… I mean your real name.”
Giggling now, “Who wants to know?”
“Ah, well it’s a pleasure to meet you, Adam. My real name is Natalie.” Blonde hair swept across her face, and it was comforting. She was real after all.
Then she pushed into him from all directions.
“How old are you?” he then asked.
She paused, then said, “Come on, kiddo. Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s not polite to ask a woman’s age?”
“I want to know…”
“Okay, then. I’m 22, but keep that low,” and she winked, but she was lying. Not a day under 30. For some reason, he almost felt betrayed.
The way her nose pushed into his sternum next was sweet and sensual, and Adam felt like gagging. Instead, he wrapped his palms around her hips. “Wait. Just wait, Natalie.”
She pushed back great irritation, but Adam just peered into those glassy, blue windows of hers. “Yes… Baby?”
The muffled mess of hip-hop raged on outside, yet it almost felt quiet in the room.
Finally, Adam broke her gaze and took to her right leg.
“Natalie… Do you…” He sighed. “Do you believe in God?” and what once shone like the pleasure of starlight suddenly burst into crimson. The confident woman was dealt a blow from the boy, and though she staggered to recover, she failed. Her muscles began trembling.
In unexaggerated and stuttering breaths, she managed, “What the… “ And wiped water from her face. “What the hell kinda question’s that?” Her soft knuckles and fragile fingers formed a cover for her tattoo. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“How old were you when you got that tattoo?”
She sniffed, and then bit her lips. “How could you ask me that question? Here…?”
“Well… Do you…?”
She disappeared. She went into a world that existed a long, long time ago. The adult dancer was thrown into a desperate state of relapse, and she concealed her face.
The ink showed itself again after the hand had curled away. Her leg bore a picture of two hands held together in prayer, with small, round rosary beads between them. The necklace in the picture swooped down, reaching to her ankle.
“What’s it matter to you? What in all of hell could it matter, to you?”
“Because I want to know,” Adam stammered. “Why are you doing this? Why are you here? Clearly you've known better, and experienced better than this, and I have too. When I saw you, I wanted to come find you, because I felt a connection to you. I hate myself for being here, because I know the alternative, and it is beautiful. I want to know what happened to you to make you shut yourself off from the glory that's out there.”
“Why did I get this…?” she asked of the air. “I don’t… I don’t know.” Her voice carried in it all the emotional trials and tests of living in the real world. The deep voice that she carried so sensually well, now sounded heart wrenching.
“I used to be a good kid, Adam,” she said softy. “I used to live so well.”
“It’s so easy for you to come here on a Saturday night with your buddies and ask me these kinds of questions, isn’t it? It’s easy, isn’t it…?”
Her entire frame had lost its lust, replaced with the deepest and fullest of human intensity. She didn't care now to cover her face as the flood came down. The way she removed her legs from the chair was startling. The way she sat on Adam's lap, motionless except her ribs, left him in self-loathing.
“To be young is to hold God’s green Earth in the palm of your hands, you know,” she finally said. “You have your whole youth ahead of you, Adam, and just so, you have your whole life ahead of you, too. Your young ambitions shape your future.” Her voice struggled. “My life threw me in a bad way. I wanted to be beautiful, Adam. I wanted to be so damn beautiful. But more than that, I wanted to live my life in this beautiful world, and indulge in all of God’s creations.”
Here, a scoff kicked out of her mouth. “I used to believe in God… And maybe I still do, but what difference does that make now? When I got this tattoo, I was in love with the idea of love all on its own… But life gets hard and days get short… When I got this tattoo, I wanted to live my life to the fullest. But all I want now is the option of eating breakfast in the morning…”
“Natalie,” Adam whispered one last time. “It’s not too late for you to be beautiful…”
A long pause ensued.
“Yeah… It is…”
He became hot all over.
“I wanted to be beautiful, but my circumstances wouldn’t allow it. And I know you want to live forever, and I do too, but… Time is definitely not on our side…”
“Wait a minute,” he said out loud, but she turned immediately toward him, and interrupted.
“Indulge your pleasures, Adam. Embrace your ambitions. Do it while you still can, because when the charm of your youth falls so swiftly away…” Here she looked him dead in the eye. “I’ll meet you back here… I’ll shake my shallow ass for your disappointed body… And all of our ghosts will eat us alive… Best of luck to you, baby. And may God bless you.”
With this, she ran out of the room, and Adam could only sit there in the waking unreality of the moment. He stared straight on toward the beautiful, blonde woman who wore little, but wore it well. He stared straight forward, and all he could do was sit there.
The MC spoke clearly when he came back on the microphone. “Attention security: code blue in VIP room four. Code blue in VIP room four.”
Then a hundred men with metal arms burst into the crimson room with two chairs and one painting. A hundred men with hard faces and heavy fingers blasted into that moment, and Adam could only sit there. He could only sit there, motionless beneath the still life. He could only sit there.