by Kylee Webb
Bottle-red hair curtains across my face as she undulates on top of my lap. I reluctantly came to Rocky’s Cabaret to celebrate Mikey’s birthday, and now here I am receiving what seems to be a quality lap dance. I wouldn’t know—this is my first one. The corner of her lip turns up like it’s suddenly waking. I’m trembling, gripping onto the round smoothness of the leather booth.
I keep telling myself that I need to seem less awkward. So I try to make conversation, ask her something interesting while trying to scream over “Doing It to Death” by The Kills blaring over the speakers.
“So what’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you here?” I ask.
“Well, one time a man pulled out my tampon.”
I wonder whether it happened on accident or on purpose. I instinctually take a peep at her crotch area to see if there are any strings loose. There are not. This whole situation makes me ponder the strings loose about me. I wonder if people can actively see me fraying like the peeling wallpaper or a child’s worn blanket. Can they tell that I’m threadbare goods? Maybe she can, and that’s why she’s smirking so much. Or, she’s doing that because it’s considered sexy.
Sexy must be the way she manipulates her body like a snake in heat. In a way, it’s enchanting. Everyone else thinks so too. Mikey is looking at the scene with an enraptured expression.
“Damn, Sylvia, it’s nice to see you out like this! I mean, who would’ve thought Sylvia from accounting would be at a strip club? I sure as hell didn’t think you would come!”
He doesn’t stop saying remarks like that all night. He says something to that effect again as I get lightly slapped in the face with one of her bare breasts. My brain immediately jumps to feeding. It’s the one-year anniversary of the day of when I picked up my greatest love only to find him to be ice cold. That solid little block of ice became like my ex-husband, who was a glacier himself.
“If you want another, that’ll be twenty dollars more,” she tells me.
I snap out of my trance. Mikey looks at me with his eyebrows raised and his teeth bared like a chimpanzee. The other guys look just as ravenous, licking their lips like pack animals. But I find myself unable to speak. Everything feels so sudden, so raw and present. I’m the opposite of present, always have been.
“I’ll buy you another, Sylvie. I’m having too much fun watching this.”
I knew Mikey was a pervert. He has the worst HR record in the office, according to Rebecca in HR. But I didn’t know he was this blatant about it. Still, I don’t have the wherewithal to refuse. By “refuse,” I mean refuse anything. I didn’t refuse his invitation (which he may have given as a joke), nor am I going to refuse the inevitable fingering in the bathroom later. So I nod my head and say “Okay” to both him and the stripper whose fake name is “Scarlet.”
She commences her next dance. I realize I’m still clutching the edge of the booth. I loosen my grip and wipe my sweaty palms onto it, slickening the black leather. As her hips gyrate in precise circles, I trace my fingers along the raised studs on the side of the booth with one hand. I used to trace circles around my engorged belly button during the pregnancy. It all looked so alien, but my body executed it naturally, as if I was simply made to expand. She moves like she was made for expansion too. She’s everywhere at once and yet so concentrated.
I feel a foreign object come into the mix. Something utterly unbelonging. It turns out to be a hand. It grasps my thigh and kneads it. I don’t say no but I want it to end. Lucky for me, it does end. But then, it reaches up and changes its trajectory to her ass. He grabs it like a baby crushes play dough. Scarlet immediately whips around and halts what she’s doing.
“Touch me again and you lose your fucking hand, got it?” she tells Mikey in a frighteningly calm voice.
Mikey raises his hands jokingly like he’s being accosted by the police. He laughs a greasy little laugh. I don’t laugh along. She narrows her shark-like eyes at him, then picks up her orange juice and storms off. I get up too.
“Hey, where you going?” he calls after me.
I look toward anywhere. I see poles and the bar with all the chipped wood, curves on the women and flatness on the men. I feel the Moscow mules kicking around in my stomach and inching up my throat.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” I say.
I bet he gives me a look that suggests that he will follow suit any moment now, but I don’t look behind to check. I barrel through a door littered with rock-show fliers and find myself in a bathroom so poorly lit it’s blue-hued. There’s also only one stall. I bolt toward it, lurching from intoxication. I end up having to stop myself, holding onto both sides of the doorway with a grip that could choke someone to death.
The door is open but the stall appears to be occupied. I want to groan out loud, but then I notice a crimson head retching into the toilet. It’s a sound I’m all too familiar with from my first trimester. There is no way she’s drunk—she was drinking only orange juice from a can, and I don’t think the club allows the dancers to drink on the job. I swallow burgeoning vomit then bend down next to her. I sweep away scarlet hair from the side of her face and hold it with one hand at the back of her head as she spills her guts out into the porcelain bowl.
I don’t have much to do but wait. So I look at her—really look at her. She has scattered tattoos of horror movie characters down her back. I heard her mention to one of the guys that she sometimes gives herself tattoos. I use my other hand to lightly stroke her back, just like my mother used to do when I would sleep on her lap. I run my hand along a hyper-detailed rendering of Ghostface from Scream as she coughs up more chunks. Nice.
She slowly lifts her head out of the bowl and looks at me. Her hair is still clutched in my hand.
She clears her throat and says, “Thanks for that, but you weren’t supposed to touch me.”
I immediately let go of her hair and woozily stand up. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand and stands up herself. With heeled boots on, she’s easily a foot taller than me. If she wanted to, she could probably snap me in half. She pulls me into an embrace and begins to lightly cry. I allow it to happen. Her tears seep into my hairline and I swear that they are burrowing into my brain. They plant into my head one question that I’ve been aching to ask.
“When are you due?”
She grips me tighter and I feel acrylics digging into my back.
“July 24th,” she whispers.
A Leo baby. My ex-husband was a Leo. Proud and arrogant. Losing Gabe hurt him because he was losing a part of himself. We had a blowout fight after the SIDS swept Gabe away from us. He kept on screaming several “me” and “my” phrases. It may seem like I’m being too harsh on him—after all, when we grieve, we mostly think of ourselves. But Jonathan was another beast altogether. After we discovered Gabe freezing in his crib, Jonathan’s eyes bore into mine with the clearest message he had ever sent me: I had killed “his” son. That’s when the frostbite set in. Soon, we were amputated from each other. Sort of like how I want to amputate Mikey’s hand.
“I’m really sorry about my friend back there. He actually really isn’t a friend, but anyway, I’m just incredibly sorry.”
She releases me from the hug and then wipes away the tears and smudged mascara from under her eyes, except it makes the smudging worse.
“You’re all good. I’ve dealt with assholes much worse than him. Like, you should see what goes on in VIP.”
“There’s a VIP section?”
“Yeah, you want me to show you?”
She gives me a half-smile. I return it sloppily. She then grabs my hand and leads me out of the bathroom. I sincerely hope she’s not repulsed by my damp hands. Judging by her now full smile, she doesn’t seem to mind. She leads me past gawking drunken vultures and other dancers looking to make their next buck. I briefly make eye contact across the room with Mikey, who is being danced upon. His look implies that he wants me next. I immediately look away and allow myself to be tugged along by Scarlet. We go past a ruby-colored velvet rope into what appears to be the birthing canal of Rocky’s Cabaret. The lighting is soft and pink; it shines lovingly on the walls littered with old band posters. I feel like I am being enveloped by the building. The walls appear to be closing in. We make a right and it becomes even more labyrinthine. We finally dip into one of the smaller rooms, which opens up and swallows us whole.
I begin to sway to the muffled music. The alcohol that once felt offensive now feels like a warm hug. She tells me to sit down on the booth against the wall. I obey. Then she tells me something I barely understand but I hand her four hundred dollars anyway. She takes the money and counts it with a hungry grin. A security guard comes skulking by and she hands him a twenty. She then slips the rest of the money into a tiny, glittery purse.
“So, you get thirty minutes in here. You’re allowed to touch anywhere but here.” She gestures to between her legs. “And no mouth stuff. Make sense?”
I nod and then gulp loudly, my mouth suddenly as dry as my hands aren’t. She nods back and then does some light stretches. I feel the need to make conversation again even though my dehydrated mouth protests.
“How did you get your start doing this?”
She cracks her neck a couple of times then sits on my lap with a flourish.
“My ex-husband hated strippers, so I became one.”
Jonathan pops into my mind like an annoying jack-in-the-box. I think about whether or not he hated strippers. I suppose he would’ve looked down on them like he did with most people. I remember the first time we met, he made a negging comment about my name. Something about how I should also stick my head in an oven. I bet he thought it was clever. At the time, maybe I did too. I thought he was the smartest man I had ever met. I felt privileged that he wanted to spend even a millisecond with me.
She turns her back to me and then places my hands on her hips. She grinds on top of my lap at a measured pace. My hands migrate to hold her stomach. Her dancing gradually halts. We just sit there for a moment while I lay against her back, holding her tummy like it’s a priceless glass egg. Within this moment, I feel the kicking of a tiny bloom of life. The fetus isn’t nearly developed enough to kick yet, but something kicks for me. The belly expands underneath my hands and I realize I know the gender. I know she—we—are going to have a bouncing baby boy. His name is going to be Caspian, and he will have blond curls and a giggle that sounds like the canned children’s laughter on TV shows. I picture us all walking—Scarlet and I each holding one of his hands as we cross the street going god knows where. We will love him even when he litters the floor with Cheerios and they crunch underneath Scarlet’s eight-inch heels. Caspian. The universe will open up before him and he will possess the keys to the world. Maybe even Gabe will be completely a thing of the past, his tiny ghost no longer haunting me. Jonathan will barely even register in my memory. They will both be faint blips on my radar until they fade into obscurity.
“Our time is up.”
Nobody knew that I didn’t actually want to be a mother. Maybe that’s why Jonathan blamed me for Gabe’s death. Maybe he thought that I willed it to happen. Perhaps I did. Who knows anymore? All I know is that when I did become a mother, I’ve never felt a more intense love in my life. So fuck Jonathan! If only they both could see how fantastic a mother I will be to little Caspian.
“Hey, our time is up.”
Her stomach is flattened again. Her back is soaked from what seems to be my tears. She disembarks from my lap and I am left feeling frigid. But I let go. I flit my eyes back up to her and she looks back at me expectantly. I feel as if she is telepathically willing me to get up and leave. Once again, I obey, following her out of the room and back into the club.
“I’ll catch up with you later,” she tells me and then disappears into the crowd of polo shirts and cheap cologne.
The musk of it all begins to choke me and dulls my buzz. I realize I need some fresh air immediately. I dodge my way around men who have their eyes tucked in the G-string of the dancer on stage. When I finally make it out to the parking lot, I empty the contents of my stomach. I hear the bouncer groan in disgust, but I ignore it. I ignore it all. I feel a hand sweeping my hair away from my face and then holding it back while I vomit my guts out. I look to the side and see the generic khakis I’d recognize anywhere.
“That’s right, Sylvie, let it all out. Then we can have some fun.”
I decide to change trajectory and heave all over his shoes.
“What the fuck, Sylvie?” He yelps then hops away from the growing pile of puke.
I take a deep breath and watch him worm away back into the club. I glance at the empty street before me and note all the fancy cars in the parking lot. It is littered with Teslas and broken glass. I crunch a piece beneath my work heels. I imagine I’m crushing the whole world beneath me and that it becomes teeny-tiny clear pieces of nothing. I think about what had once been the whole world to me. I wonder if Gabe’s father really was the love of my life. Can such a loveless man be capable of receiving all the love I gave? It’s been a while since the divorce, and yet it still pains me that I’m going to be going back to my sarcophagus of an apartment.
I step toward the street, hoping to be recognizable for the Uber. I immediately stumble and nearly fall on my face after tripping on a beer can. The clunking aluminum taunts me as the can skitters away.
I hear childlike laughter behind me and whip my head around.
“Caspian?” I call out.
“Who the fuck is Caspian?” a familiar voice replies coolly.
I realize that I am face-to-face with Scarlet smoking a cigarette.
“Virginia,” she utters after taking a long drag, the tip as red as her hair.
“Virginia. That’s my real name.”
I nod. I didn’t expect that, but then again, I don’t know what I was expecting. Out of the blue, I get hit with a wave of recollection. Embarrassment grows from my pores like a fungus.
“Sorry about what happened in there. I have no idea what came over me.”
She shrugs. I realize that she is wearing normal clothes. Well, whatever “normal” is.
“You apologize a lot.”
I find myself wanting to apologize for that too.
“I guess so.”
She laughs lightly then drops the cigarette and crushes it with her boot.
“I’m quitting tomorrow,” she remarks.
“Hey,” she leans in closer to me, her smoky breath dancing across my nose, “can I ask you something?”
I look up and try to appear as confident as possible even though I am visibly shaking.
“Yeah, ask me anything,” I cough out.
That was certainly confident enough.
She looks around to see if anyone is listening and then she leans back in.
“Can you please co-sign the loan on my car?”
The audacity of it all makes my brain halt like a record scratch. Could she be serious? I hear the Uber driver honk at me and I almost turn around to go. But then I notice her hand and where it’s placed. I look down at it then into algae-colored eyes. I give her an answer.
One thing leads to another and I find myself laughing in an Uber while she plays with her two-inch-long nails. I laugh out the window and I wheeze at the stoplights that change to green just for me. The sublimity of it all burrows within my chest and impregnates my heart. Thick tears spring from my eyes like amniotic fluid. A cough begins to infiltrate my throat, but I don’t give a damn if I choke. I’ll have the entire world shoved down my throat. I’ll swallow the whole thing and then birth it anew. I look at her mid-cough. She looks back and gives me a faint smile then stares back out the window. I catch both of us reflected in that window and see a third face. My smile grows wider and I allow myself to drift away as the passing streetlights bathe my skin.
Kylee Webb (she/her) is editor-in-chief of Last Resort Literary Review. She’s a member of Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude with a major in English from Arizona State University and a double minor in Spanish and political science. She’s primarily interested in absurdist, surrealist, and feminist works, and enjoys the films of David Lynch, Ari Aster, Luis Buñuel, and literally any feminist director. Her work has appeared in volume three of Allegory Ridge’s Archipelago fiction anthology, Maudlin House, Tangled Locks Journal, On the Run, and Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, and will be appearing at Drunk Monkeys. You can find her on Twitter @KyleeNikole13.