"Just take a deep breath. Relax. Shhhh."
We are back in the Champagne Room and you have me on your lap, my head clamped into your shoulder in a manner intended to be comforting.
I am not, in point of fact, sad. I am not relaxed either, although as requested I do take a deep breath and let it out slow. Inevitably, physiologically, this does cause my heart rate to lower and my muscle tension to soften. I do not like this at all. In this close proximity to a stranger's armpit, in this near darkness, I would prefer to retain a bit of tension.
"There you go," you say. "You needed that, didn't you? Just imagine we're alone, somewhere far away from here. Imagine we're in bed together, OK? Just us, just laying together. Are you imagining that?"
It hard not to. You are holding my head and whispering into my ear, and the music is not loud enough back here which is something I've started to hate about the Champagne Room because you have to talk and these days I am sick of talking.
In my imagination, we are underneath a sweaty wool blanket and everything smell like beer and farts. Your hairy belly threatens to pour over me like one of those smotheration dreams where I am drowning, sinking, muffled in impenetrable, unrelenting softness and I throw my arms out and kick and wake up thrashing in my sheets.
"Just be yourself," you say.
I am being my self. Which is to say, I am being a stripper, which is what I am. As a stripper, I am giving you what you want, which is my body to hold and my hair to stroke, my ear to whisper into and an imaginary construct of an ego that you can comfort for its imaginary sadness. For my tragic childhood, my crushed dreams and abusive skinhead boyfriends and pill addictions and whatever else you are making up for me in there.
Go ahead: This imaginary personality is safe to toy with and torment however you like, unlike my actual self, which is not a toy. This is as real as you and I will ever get.
"Talk to me," you say. "Tell me what you want me to do to you."
Which, lucky for both of us, turns out to mean "listen to me tell you what I want to do to you" and you describe for me all the delights you will bring to my body and how happy I will be.
Sure. Sure. I wish I had a cigarette. I want a cigarette so bad, but you don't smoke and besides you are still holding my head and your breath on my ear is unpleasantly moist and warm. I bet if I said I was going to the bathroom somebody in the dressing room would give me drag. It's a slow night. Everybody's back there smoking and cussing and reading Texas Adult Guide to see if we recognize any of the girls in the escort agency ads.
"Don't be afraid," you say.
I'm not afraid.
"Look at me."
You release my head and I straighten up. My neck is getting stiff. I look at you. You are a bald, fat guy. You are somewhere in your late thirties, I'm guessing. You have glasses. And a tiny, beaky nose, like a little owl. Your eyes are pleading with me. You are sad and afraid, but I don't have any answers for you. Sorry. I only know what works for me and you and I are pretty different.
"You need this, don't you?" you ask.
Our hour is almost over. In a few minutes the waitress will come and kick us out and I will go back in the dressing room and smoke a cigarette and you will go god knows where. Home to a good apartment in a nice part of town where you live with ghosts and imaginary people and ghosts of imaginary people, which is what I'll be when you remember me, after you're done with me, if you remember me.
"You needed this. You know you can always be yourself with me," you say. "You know you can tell me anything. I like you just the way you are."