The lights played a strange chromatic melody on the stage that made him a little anxious, like his vision wasn't quite right, as though he watched a television show and the signal was off just enough to create a vague disquieting feeling while watching, but not quite enough that a man would be willing to risk adjustment to the screen for fear the footballs would disappear, the Indian's arrows wouldn't fly true, or the plastic smiles the vacuous news anchors offered would be knocked out of place. He sipped his drink -- cheap well vodka, a triple with just enough lime juice to distract the tongue and the throat from the harshness of the spirits, like this place, a distraction, the lime juice and not the vodka.
He'd had the vodka. Hell, he was vodka central. Not the club, but the women, a long list of mouths, legs, hands, breasts -- he'd stopped seeing faces a long time ago and spent his nights at clubs with names like Cowgirl Classic and Beachside Dreams but signs that said words like Girls!, Hot!, Fully Nude, Live, and Topless. He'd step into a club with hundreds of dollars in ones and fives and would spend hours staring and tipping and eventually he would get a hotel room and call in a girl, who would show up in short order because he was a good customer for all the agencies. After her arrival, the blonde or brunette or redhead with the white or tan or brown or black or olive skin on the thick or thin or hard or soft or tall or short or pert or curvy body would set him at ease as she'd been taught and he'd let her direct the evening for a while but would invariably end it with her facing away, watching her short or long or medium curly or straight or wavy hair, loose or pony tailed, move as he finished. Then, he would tip her well, tell her the room was paid for until the morning, and leave.
He'd just watched a supposed college coed gyrate against the pole as though she were posing for a camera, and the effect was similar because she'd left him with a two-dimensional image -- he'd had her before and he'd had her over and over in different hotel rooms and different cities so that now she was really just one of his habits, a cigarette he smoked for the nicotine, to have it in his hands, to feel it in his lips, in his lungs; not because there was any joy left in tobacco but because its lack created an emptiness worse than the emptiness of its absent minded presence. He needed a cigarette now, and he stood and walked past the bouncer just as a young girl with skin the color of cocoa took the stage, walking on improbably high heels, her hips swaying in an approximation of seduction that held none for him, and he nodded at the cashier to ensure he'd avoid the awkward mild confrontation upon returning to be accosted for a second cover charge, and he stepped into the night, immediately reaching into his breast pocket for his pack and lighter.
He hadn't found her. He knew he was searching for her, had admitted it to himself a few months prior. Of course, at first he'd tricked himself into believing he was searching for someone new, someone to replace her, to become what he'd prevented her from becoming with his clinging need for the reassurance of her love and his certainty that she lived a life of dissatisfaction, anticipating the opportunity to leave him, and eventually she had to leave him, if for no other reason than to escape the inevitability of failure that characterized his adoration, his worship -- hell, his every interaction with her. He felt the smoke burning in his lungs. He remembered her. God.
She had walked on stage with thigh high black boots, almost insubstantial black lace bra and panties -- panties cut so high they made it seem like her legs ended at her waist -- and all of it was black against her skin, her perfect skin, colored only slightly and uniformly by the sun -- her hair lovely and cut in that wild-looking style that suggests the woman wearing it is untamable; and she'd added to the picture with half gloves that left her fingertips and palms bare, and she'd framed the picture with a white faux fur coat with tiger stripes. He was pretty sure in retrospect that he must have breathed during her four minutes on stage, but he couldn't recollect doing so.
He lit his second cigarette, drawing the smoke in deeply.
He remembered the strong-arming he'd faced from bouncers and managers. Months after they met, months after he held her for the first time, months after they rented the apartment and furnished it with boring department store furniture and sundries, months after the ceremony in Vegas, and months after they'd planned for the decades they'd spend together; months after her protectors would still mistake his devotion for derangement or obsession, and he couldn't hold them accountable. Perhaps above all -- most certainly above all -- they were incredulous that this girl, this dancer with the kind of a body that pains even perfect men that it will never be for them, that she would be with him. They didn't believe it; how could they? But she would see them and stop them and kiss him in front of them, long and passionate, meant to remove any of their doubts and especially his fears, but still all were left wondering at the lesser being's fortune to be graced in such a way by the greater. She had a mind, too, not that it mattered to the club owners or the bouncers who had worked with flesh for so long that for them it was reduced to a commodity, a product for which the customers paid a cover charge of ten dollars (five dollars before four o'clock and three dollars on Tuesdays) and about twenty-five percent more than the market price for the low quality, watered down drinks pushed by girls in cocktail lingerie, girls just passable in the dim light, but not attractive enough for the stage.
He crushed his cigarette out and lit another. One of the girls stepped out through the side employee entrance in jeans, an oversized shirt, and a bulky windbreaker, her hair pulled back under a baseball cap as she headed for her car. She waved at him and smiled at him. They all knew him here and at all of the clubs because he was a tipper, the kind who got the pats, the smiles, the batting eyelashes (like anyone who gave them a bill) but also because he gave enough they let their lips linger on his skin as they kissed his cheek and some would whisper that they were available for more. It had been three years. Three years, dammit! The cigarette smoke stung his eyes and they welled up, and he felt them, but he let them water for a moment, thinking about her neck, her breasts, her legs and arms and hands around him; and her mind, the dark and beautiful poetry she wrote to exorcise her own demons, to rage against the unfulfilled promise that left her a dancer and not a movie star.
He threw the spent cigarette on the asphalt, lit another, walked to his car, got in, and drove to a motor inn next to a liquor store. He bought a pint before he checked in, walked to his room, sat on his bed, and picked up the phone. He dialed a number from memory and gave his location and his room number as he filled a paper cup. He hung up the phone. Then he lit another cigarette and sipped his drink, filling his room with the smoke and his body with the vodka, waiting for Not Her to arrive.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, WJ Rosser. All rights reserved.