I haven't worked in a week. I have a sore throat that won't go away. It's never bad enough to see a doctor, and never good enough to make intimate conversation at a high yell over bar music in a smoky room for eight hours.
Last time I worked, I sat with Mr. K. He asked me if I'd seen Rose, his other long-time favorite. He hadn't heard from her in more than a month and wondered if she was OK.
I saw her a few weeks ago. We were back in the dressing room and she was looking at herself in the mirror, pulling her dress flat and turning sideways to see if her belly was sticking out. It wasn't. She is built slim and strong and fine all over, like a British racecar. Her abortion was on Tuesday, she said. She looked tired without her make-up on, but generally OK.
I told Mr. K. I had seen her. She seemed fine, busy.
Good, he said. He had hoped she was just busy. He hoped nothing bad had happened. Last time he'd seen her it had been such good news.
I remember that. A couple of months ago she got engaged to her out-of-town boyfriend, and making plans to move out of state. She would have told K. this. He knows she has a boyfriend. He comes in twice a month like clockwork like he has for years and spends several hundred dollars on whichever of us happens to be there. Whatever illusions he has about dating the girls, he keeps to himself.
So I say, yeah, great news. She seems really happy. I'm sure she just has a lot going on.
Rose was putting lotion on her face when she told me about the abortion. She was brief and matter-of-fact. Maybe I was supposed to ask more questions. The dressing room is not a tearful-hugs-sisterhood rah-rah-girlfriends kind of place. It's a zone of suspended emotion, mostly. It's where you go to get out of the whole chatty, google-eyed gushing sex kitten thing that you do out on the floor all the time. Even the girls on their cellphones breaking up with their boyfriends every day during shift change sound clinical and practiced. The only real raw emotion there is from girls who aren't making money, crouched by their lockers hissing curses into little piles of singles.
Rose and I sat in front of the mirror and put our powder on. It seemed quiet, although it never actually is, with the stage music piped back here and the DJ on the mic hawking five-dollar you-call-em shots. Some people would be saying things right now, because some people show how much they care by saying things. Some people would want to know if she was still with her boyfriend and what does he think and are you OK and where are you getting it done? And maybe those people would be better than me in situations like this. I tend to try to show how much I care by saying as little as possible.
I wish I could let her know just by the quality of the silence that if she needs anything from me it's hers. We're not best friends or anything. Sometimes we sell dances together. Men like to see us entertwined, her slim frame and and spectacular breasts, my pale skin and substantial hips. I love the warmth of her skin and the light gold freckles she's powdering over now so meticulously.
On the floor, she is silly and bewitching, daffy smile and clownish gestures set off against the essential elegance of her -- her classical face, that serious lode of smoky black hair. She seduces me again and again, like she seduces everyone. I love Rose. But of course, there is no Rose. I don't really know this girl next to me, the girl who's legal name is in my phone. If I knew her, I would say more.
We lean into the mirror, examining the specimens of ourselves. We are the same age, born within a month we once discovered. We both have to put the powder on just so, so it covers up the tiny, forming lines without caking up in them and catching the shadows on our foreheads and the corners of our eyes in ways that make us look a million years older than we are.
Are you OK? I ask this finally, and our eyes meet in the mirror. The lights make our skin look green. I'm OK, she says. I'm not going to do a big stage show tonight. I'm just going to take it easy.
She's a pole-trick girl, the best in the club by far. She is an acrobat up there, slowly winding down upside down fixed in a blue spotlight.
OK, I say. Take care of yourself. Let me know if you need anything.
In the mirror, she makes an exaggerated mascara-drying blink. OK, she says. Thanks.
I tell Mr. K that Rose is fine, that he should call her. She and I were just talking about him the last time we saw each other, and she misses him and she would really love to see him. I hope he calls her. He is pleasant and gentle, and she could probably use the money.