*hustle* Peek into a keyhole, search in a fragmented mirror, crack open a tinted door that could lead to a naked body –a collection of secrets & memories from Marlowe, a former stripper.
From Indiana to Florida, chasing boys since I was a sprout, I follow yet another one.
Boxes filled with photos and other first love tokens are left to melt in the Florida heat. Two weeks of no eating; I shrivel under the pressure of being alone. And now, I have the entire bed to myself.
Except I can’t sleep. Not a wink.
This is what happens when I break up with my boyfriend.
I don’t break up with stripping. Not yet. If anything, I work harder. I go from one box to another via a box with wheels. Days, entire days, days upon days, weeks, I spend inside the box; they call it the day shift, but it could be the night shift for no one sees light –except the rays that cut the darkness when someone holds the door open for too long. The eye’s adjustment to the box.
My life is night. I only see the sun when I’m putting on my night face and even then it’s such an illusion; I call it transitioning.
I have more cash in my pocket than before. Yet while everything swells, I retreat.
At one point, I convince myself that it will only be a few more years. Me, living in this pinprick of a universe, wilting and shrinking to a squeak, squishing a prick into a pin, then taking freshly drawn bills from the hand of a wrinkled person. Time treads softly and without much indication. Time is a she because I say so. Time is a she because of fickleness. She has done so. Tricked me, that is; she twirls like ice-skaters and ballerinas and circus tricks. Spinning –I bite down so hard on the bit to keep from falling atop the crowd, mouths agape. The height, a reminder of the pain of falling.
During the day-shift, the crack of the main door the only gauge of time. There’s always a door before the door. It’s like a story within a story; a box within a box. If the day shift is murky, then the night shift is an obscure abyss; a box so dark lives are conceived in shade like belladonna. The night shift girls deal with another class of drunks, night crawlers, and freaks –they leave a trail of mucus or some other wet gooeyness behind. Slug-like they move, slug-like they feel, slug-like they live.
On a few occasions, I have braved the pit, the writhing after hours. But the thought of wasting my days sleeping, tucked away inside another box, the real vampire life –well, I don’t have it in me. I leave it to them. Those experienced box-dwellers.
Night strippers deserve respect beyond their creature of the night status; those girls outhustle hustlers. They tentacle money from clients. They lie like breathing. They origami bodies. They perform physical tricks that would shame any fitness instructor; more flexible than most professional dancers. They balance matches on erect nipples and light them on fire, they hang themselves with bondage gear and burn bald vaginas with candle wax, they do headstands, upside-down, backwards splits. In comparison, I am pathetic. The twinkling lights inside my head –the only lights I can hold onto -are my guide. They illuminate the slowest, calmest beat. The only respite I have in this life, my moment on stage, naked in front of strangers.
I move deliberately because, duh, high heels, too. Despite sturdy legs, I wobble. Tragic is the naked girl who falls in stilettos.
Balancing on things, I make money and tuck all those bills into a box under my bed. Later, stacks of bills will go into a bank deposit box with a key; a drug-dealing boyfriend will steal that box from me. Cliché, I know.
Moving between boxes, I am the roundest thing I know.
When I am in the back of the black box putting on my face and getting ready, I notice the faces, all the other ones. They are huddled around, closer each time –studying me; from my moves to my facial gestures, from my gait to my tongue. They box me in sometimes, asking me questions –the faces. They want to know my story. Who I am. Where I come from. What I’m doing here. When I’ll leave. Will I ever leave? They pick at me. They prod. They lift an arm, a hair tendril, an eyelid. They are searching for something they might not ever find. They are them. They are also me. We are me. I feel the panic, the sheer terror as I pencil in an eyebrow. This face is the only face I know –the others long gone, missing, or forgotten. This stripper face is me and will always be me. She will always be there –shading eyelids, drawing lips, fluffing hair. She is going to follow me into my 20s and 30s, she is going to laugh at me like a real bitch when I hit 50. She will cry when I turn 70. At 80 she will tell vulgar stories. One day she will forget me, or perhaps she’ll merely pretend she’s forgotten just to fit into a new box, that bitch. My last day on earth when I’ve learned, finally, how to put on my night face and release myself from a formative, box-like state into a new black box, eternal.
WORDS BY: Jacklyn Janeksela