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Damsels

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The music is loud, deafeningly so. The thrum of the bass is enough to disrupt the rhythm of your heart, creating a hazy, otherworldly feeling to the room. Dim lights, dark corners and sticky surfaces lie in contrast to the bright, friendly smiles of the women who mill about adorned in little else than strappy undergarments that barely cover the flesh between their legs. Men of all stripes fill the chairs, the bachelor parties taking up real estate along the tip rail while the rocks sit in the back sipping lukewarm soda and snaking off lap dances they didn’t pay for. The whales fill the middle of the room directly center stage; the best seats for the big spenders, waiting for the best girls to find them, and they always do.

 

The smell of booze and sweat permeate the air, punctuated by the perfume and spray-on glitter that adorns the women’s bare chests as they flit from chair to chair. They offer a dance or some time in a private room, feigning interest and attraction, locking eyes and creating the illusion of intimacy. In their head, they run through their grocery list, mentally tallying how many more dances they need to do in order to make rent. Burly men they call bird dogs stand watch with crossed arms and sharp eyes, ready to eject anyone who breaks the rules. 

 

Words can only be heard by placing mouth to ear, creating the feeling of a whisper with the volume of a shout. Things can be hidden here where shame pricks at people’s conscience and no one asks questions. They pretend to want and be wanted; to care and be cared about. In this place, it’s easy to blend in. Gaps in one’s history, dodged questions and vague answers are par for the course. There is a certain level of privacy here, not for your body but for your past and the life that waits for you on the other side of the door at 3 am. There is safety here for those who want to disappear, or reinvent, or escape from something more unbearable than the hands of a stranger on your naked hips. It’s a kind of safety you pay for with your dignity, but that’s a price many are more than willing to pay. 

 

The music fades at the end of a song and the voice of the DJ rumbles from the speakers.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Ben Jammin, live on the turntable, here to welcome the beautiful Desiree to the stage. Please, show her some love.”

 

The opening bars of “Red Light Special” replace the DJ’s voice. The wailing, sultry notes draw the attention of the recently-distracted to the stage as a petite form slinks out from behind a curtain clad in clear plastic heels and a form-fitting strapless red mini-dress. She makes her way to the pole and begins a slow twitch and roll of her hips in time with the electric guitar. stabilizing herself with one hand on the metal, she bends her knees and drops down to tease at opening her legs, only to stand back up without revealing anything. She repeats the movement a few more times, running her hands over her breasts and down her hips, curating curiosity about what lies beneath and drawing more on-lookers to the tip rail. At the right moment in the song, and with hundreds of eyes trained on her, she flicks at a clasp under her arm and the dress drops away, revealing a black thong with four straps stretched across the flesh of her pale hips on each side and a black mesh bra. 

 

The hoots and wails drown out the music as more bills litter the floor. She rolls around on them, crossing and uncrossing her legs. Crawling close to the edge of the stage, she allows a man to tuck a twenty into the strap of her thong before turning her back to him so that he may have the honors of unclasping her bra. She holds the bra to her chest as she steps back, gripping the pole with one hand and pushing off with her foot against the floor before she wraps a knee around it and lets her bra fall away as she spins, smiling to herself at the response she gets. She returns to the tip rail, undulating and grazing her hands over her breasts, making her nipples hard for their enjoyment. She pushes her ass out for them to tuck more bills into the thin straps as the bird dog watches on, ensuring that no one touches her any further than a finger grazing her hip as they insert their money. She finishes the song on the pole by folding her knees up above her head, hanging upside down and spinning as a flutter of green paper litters her periphery. Collecting her dress, she exits to the roar of applause and whooping. 

 

“Great job, Desi, you killed it out there!” A petite Asian woman says to her as she passes by.

 

“Thanks, Angel, Good luck on your set,” Desi replies as she makes her way to the dressing room. 

 

At her station, she looks at herself in the mirror. Her face is flushed from exertion and her auburn hair mussed from hanging upside down. She cleans up the charcoal eyeliner rimming her icy blue eyes and combs her hair down to pass the time before she’ll hit the floor in a few minutes. Pulling the damp bills from her underwear, she tucks them into a locking box and adds the rest of her earnings when a wiry young man brings them to her after sweeping the stage. She thinks about how quickly she got used to being called Desi, or Desiree, or even Diane; how easy it was for her to take up residence in this life. Peeking at the calendar on the wall, she calculates that it’s been five weeks since anyone called her “Scully,” or “Dana,” or “Agent.” She rises from her seat and pinches her nipples so that they stand at attention. Pulling her lips into a Cheshire Cat smile, she exits to the floor.