A fact about angels is that they’re always twirling. Legs crossed and grinding, chafing, dreaming about how there’s no wetness in space. I close my eyes against the glaring neon pink and red lights spelling out GIRLS GIRLS GIRLSpulsing behind my eyes. I find the image of a black hole spitting out a star, your hands trailing up my neck, covered in my drool. You smelling my skin, dripping spit pooling on the bottom of my lip. I drop to the floor in a split before the crisp bills smack under the string of my thong; then against my heels. Ask me how to spell humiliating by heart. I can’t. They’re all foaming by the mouth, me, waxy and unfeeling; teary eyed asking for more.
Champagne tastes like piss and my regulars are spilling into the room again. I understand everything is very formulaic as I blow kisses before turning my attention back to the one promising me VIP. Just a few more words, angels have secrets to tell too, and everyone in the club is desperate to find them all. Maybe that’s why they trail you to the trains after every shift.
There’s a new man in the room and his presence growing stronger by the second. I’ve felt his eyes on me since he walked in and he’s been sending me free drinks from across the bar. I trust anyone with the same routine as myself, never stopping until you’ve terrified everyone. A man that won’t approach a dancer is the type you run from. I can’t feel my face after my sixth glass of champagne, plopped on a sofa, counting my blisters from the pole as I pretend to listen to a man in a grey suit tell me how his wife’s pussy hasn’t been the same since she’s bared his third child.
“It’s just unfair to me. I miss the feeling of a youthful girl.” His hands are sliding up my thighs, telling me he deals in disasters. Gaping mouths don’t make me cry anymore but a foaming one stirs me. I excuse myself from my seat to throw up the heartbreak of a woman I’ve never met. There’s a redhead in the bathroom sniffing her nose, wiping it on the back of her hand. She wipes my wet eyes with the crunchy paper towels and tells me to give it all I’ve got. We’re all just here to give the audience what they need.
“Don’t think about who you’re performing for,” She coos behind her glitter filled eyelids.
We’ve all been programed to read our customers before they realize we’re watching them. I’m on stage again, watching the man paying my drink tab prowl closer towards the stage. I think of injured animals limping, dragging their carcasses like my slow movements in my stilettos. He’s in a flannel and jeans, unlike the rest of the men in here, tidied up in their suits and dress shoes. He calls me in with his eyes as I get off stage, allowing me to approach him as he pulls out a wad of bills from his pocket. Like a dog with a bone, my eyes are centered on it so he knows my purpose.
“A girl like you doesn’t belong here.” His eyes are stern but he pushes a twenty into my hands. Just like every other vapid man that enters this bar, straightening their backs and speaking from a knowledge that doesn’t exist.
“Oh, yeah? A girl like what?”
I want to tell him that paradise is sopping wet. Soaking on the couch, sitting grossly in front of the AC, covered in a sweat that isn’t mine, a tongue in my ear. I sit down and cross my legs instead. Everything here is very formulaic. I don’t want to hear that I’m too soft. You move like an angel, twisting and grinding and chaffing on the pole.
He tells me the same thing they all do. I divert the conversation to thank him for the drinks, scratching at a curling cuticle on my finger tip. It’s never safe to assume, but it’s fulfilling to be paid. I couldn’t see his face clearly in the dark room except for when the neon lights would flash. He seemed scruffy with a dirty thick beard, and either a hard worker or a father based off how deep the wrinkles were set on his face.
“Will you tell me why you’re here?” He asks, changing the subject right back again. Brushing my hair behind my shoulder, I leaned in, cupping my hands around his. He hadn’t moved towards me at all but all I could think of was the wad of money fisted in his palm.
“To dance,” I imagine in the distance that my voice came out cruel, stabbing him with a sharp tongue. It left my mouth as a moan.
“I don’t want a dance from you,” He tells me, but places a hand on my knee before I can stand up and go. “But I’ll pay to hear your story. What’s a girl as pretty as you doing in a place like this?”
I cross my legs and narrow my eyes at the new customer. I think about how I shot out of bed three times last night, woken from my own screams. Then wiped sweat off my forehead, looked around the house like trembling prey to see if anyone was there and then laid back down. Everything is very formulaic. Something about the creases around his eyes reminds me of big macs. Maybe because you cry yourself to sleep after work every night eating one, and wake up crying again. I want to go home early tonight but I open my palm in front of him.
The ten crisp hundreds he handed me took me by surprise, especially for someone who didn’t want a dance. I wasn’t used to my words being valued over my body, and with a dance here costing only fifteen dollars, my stomach flipped at the pressure of putting on a good show. My mind began to race to make up a story to tell him. Telling a customer a truth about yourself screamed danger. We had fake names, so why not also have a fake life?
I straightened my back and offered to get on his lap. He refused and took his hand on my thigh away, almost seeming disgusted at the idea. Confused and babbling with now dry eyes, I crafted a story.
As I tell him about parents I’ve never had, a perfectly good home and a non-existent boyfriend who beat me, my eyes wandered to a woman at the bar with a crawling jaguar tattooed on her back. I could feel it’s claws digging into my skin as I spoke, wrapped tight around my neck like a boa constrictor.
It isn’t about your audience, the glitter covered dancer in the bathrooms voice tangled around me, don’t thinkabout who you’re performing for.
Lying about a life you didn’t live feels a lot like spiders crawling out of your mouth while you’re speaking. I giggled and allowed myself to become mossy eyed when I needed to. Every man in a suit by the bar seemed soggy. I bet their underwear was just as soggy as they looked. There was over fifty men in the bar but none of them seemed tired. I wish I worked in a casino. Slamming my head against a slot machine and crying on bathroom counters sounded a lot more fulfilling than creating a fantasy for a man who hadn’t showered in two days.
I ended up leaving early that night, dressing in all four layers that I arrived in and sneaking out the back door as usual. I had made over what I wanted to make that night and I sighed as I stepped out into bitter air. I couldn’t count all my vapid thoughts from today, but I couldn’t become angry either, because you do become your surroundings.
As I walk for the train I take large leaps of steps, but it feels like my legs are shrinking. Like someone was holding my greasy hair back as I stepped and as I was reaching forward I just couldn’t keep up. Anyone who touched me tonight wasn’t real, sweating seemed pointless if I wasn’t paid for it but I kept trying to walk faster.
It was a dismal night and there were too many people on the streets. I could hardly hear myself think as I turned to walk down the stairs under the sidewalk onto the tracks. Nights felt safer with more cars on the streets but I was too tired tonight to think twice about anything but getting home. Maybe that’s why when I turned the corner to swipe my subway pass I didn’t hear the footsteps approaching behind me.
A cool blade touched my throat and without even a second to gasp, my hands were behind my back in a vice like grip. My stomach heaves like I’m a cat about to puke up a mouse I swallowed whole. The body behind mine holding the blade shifts its pelvis against me. Like a fish caught in a net, I start to flap and squirm trying to break free. Blood drips from my neck as I’m nipped by the knife, I stifle a cry and my movements, as the knife drops. But I can’t scream now with fingers in my mouth.
My body is pushed forward the same moment I realized I was holding my breath. I felt like I was being held under bath water that was too hot, my breath caught in my chest no matter how many times I inhaled or exhaled. No one in a city looks at you twice, everyone is too absorbed in getting where they’re going, and with how much sweat is dripping down their backs. A woman pressed up against a man, mouthful of his fingers, wide eyed and gasping for air just seemed like another couple that wanted to take things to a new level.
If anyone had cared to look twice, they would see the blade laying back on the floor just a few feet behind us and the small cut oozing blood that dripped from my throat down my chest. With their iron grip on my ribs instead of my hands now, I’m practically carried up the stairs back up to street level. Drooling onto his hands, overly aware of the blood drenching my neck, gasping repeatedly as I tried to stay collected, ready to make my escape the second I have more space to run quickly away.
Lifting my foot behind me as fast as I could, I slam my boot as far in between his thighs as hard as I could and with a grunt I’m released. Cars kept driving by, blood leaking out of me, all I could smell was must and my paradise scented deodorant. With my mouth too limp and my adrenaline pumping too hard - I almost forgot how to scream. Everything on my body seemed to weigh me down, like I couldn’t go fast enough. Cars kept driving by like I was just some high school track star, jogging around the neighborhood.
I could feel my hoop earrings smacking my skin, my heart pounding so loud I felt like I was going to throw up, a pain ripping through my exhausted legs as I pushed myself in the direction back towards work. Finally I was able to muster the strength to scream, swinging under a lamp post, using it to help me feebly swing myself into the street. I cut in front of traffic, diving in front of speeding cars that slammed on their breaks and bash their horns angrily as I weeped and whipped around them.
I could feel him behind me. I could hear his heavy footsteps falling over my pounding heart, clinging to my bag on my side. Living in a city was a curse, nobody out past twelve cared what was going on around them. Nobody stopped. Nobody helped.
I could taste blood in my mouth as my body was yanked back by a grip on my coat. I flew backwards and I hit the street back first, my head smashing into the asphalt. I rolled onto all fours as quickly as I could, eyes wide and facing my attacker. My hair stuck to my face from sweat, tears and spit from screaming and crying so loud. I could hardly make out his face as his foot lifted above my head and smashed me down onto the ground.
Glimpses of light come with the passing consciousness, spotty glimpses of yellow, red traffic lights that seemed too bright. My body was limp and each time I slid too hard into the sides of the car, I would come to again. I could feel his presence, I could smell his dirty musty body odor, blood, and pine. My head felt like someone had cracked it open like an egg, blood spilling down my face like yolk in a pan. I imagined there were pearls gliding around my mouth, tasting them and spitting them out. I hit darkness again seconds later.
Here I am, sitting on your couch again, swearing I am leaving. Except this time, everything is silent during your chaotic temper tantrum. Vases and glasses smash against the wall and shatter to the floor silently. Your mouth is opened in a perpetual scream but there’s no noise leaving. I’m not trembling this time either, and yellow hues are circling us. I stare at my bloodied hands and knees. So uncomfortable but it’s easy to ignore missing flesh when everything around you is being destroyed. You lift the table in front of me to smash it down by my feet. I don’t know when you’re going to stop. I never know when it’s going to end. By the end of the night you’ll be crying at my feet that it’s unfair no one has ever understood your reality.
My eyes start opening as you begin to melt to the ground in front of me, your entire body erupting with ants crawling out of your eyes, mouth and ears, devouring your entire frame. Rising from my haze, I snap upwards, my body screaming and my head pounding. Frantically, I wiped non-existent ants off my face that I could still feel crawling on me from my sleep. Everything around me smelt like burnt rubber and rotting cheese.
Wiping my tears, I couldn’t figure out if I had woken up crying again or if the irritating sunlight was just burning. Rubbing my eyes I couldn’t figure out why my bedroom was so bright today but my eyes stung like I was bruised. I jolted my hands away from my face, noticing the scrapes and dried blood on my palms.
My throat burned and all I could think of was tiny ants being lodged in it. I was unable to remember when I had gotten home last night - I didn’t think I drank that much but I couldn’t remember anything past deciding to get ready to go home and entering the dressing room. My stomach heaved from the intolerable pain my body was in, lowering my head away from the sun glaring into my room I stared at my bloated stomach.
It took me minutes to realize I was not in my bedroom- and seconds after that to realize I was not alone when a toilet flushed from behind a door to my right. Panicking, I jumped to my feet, ignoring the roaring pain all over my body; this room was not mine. It was bland, earth toned and only had a bed, a dresser and windows that took up more than half of the wall in front of me. I bit back a scream when all I saw was fields of grass and green and woods surrounding us. I was no longer in the city.
I’m being watched now, a man in the corner of my eye staring at me but I’m still hopeful and determined to get to the door on the other side of the room. I don’t make eye contact with him as I gasp and scrambled for it, swinging it open and darting out to my right. He grunts and I feel the wounds on my knees rip open and start bleeding again. The house was small and the wooden floors made me slip, speeding down the narrow hallway to see I had led myself to a dead end. This all felt like a dead end. I had forgotten how to breathe and I refused to face him.
His eyes were narrowed on me and I didn’t take time to ask any questions even though it seemed rational. I let out a blood curling scream and darted for the door on my right as he shushed me and cussed, barely trotting behind me.
“Papa!” A deep voice hollered, “She’s up!” His voice wasn’t familiar but it sent chills down my spine. He had a strange drawl to his voice that was an accent I had never heard before. Slamming the door closed behind me, I was pushed back with a force I couldn’t compete with, leaving me crumbling to the floor as I smashed into the wall behind me. A foot swung in my direction, knocking my face to the side as I hollered and spit out a glop of blood.
“Don’t fucking test me. Don’t fucking scream.”
My hair was grabbed and my head was tilted upwards to face the man who’s bedroom I had just ran from. I was still fully dressed in what I was wearing last night down to my shoes. My nails gripped into his calf to fight back but I was pulled to my feet, squeaking as his fingers tangled deeper into my scalp. He was lanky but much larger than me, feet in heavy tan work boots, and shoulders twice the size of my body. As I sized him up a deeper, raspier voice ran from down the hall.
“Steady that girl, Weston!”
A law with my job was to know good, bad and wanting. I knew with the man towering over my body he was none of these things. His eyes were empty, the voice following us down the hallway- familiar, was full of irritation. My gaze drifted slowly over my shoulder. I wasn’t sure who the real predator was here. There was always one man more dangerous than the other; I wasn’t sure who’s movements I should watch. The information prying man from work the night before curved into the room, his mouth curving into a sinister smile as he watched my expression as it clicked that I knew who he was.
Reality is made by your impression. It’s created with rooms and actions and words. I stayed still, I stayed silent - maybe this one will fade away. It didn’t. The man with empty eyes began to look hungry for me, his fingers still tangled in my mop head of hair.
We had entered a small room, the bed tiny - childsize. On the floor, a train set toy scattered across the floor. There is no light but the sunlight drifting in, I picture how dark the room must be at night. I try to keep my brain busy to think of anything but what is happening in front of me.
“You are everything I’ve ever dreamed of.” The empty, hungry, younger man is practically purring. He untangles his hand from my hair but keeps it on my body. Like a possession, perhaps to keep me from running again. Once I can attach my head to my body again, I will. I wish it would detach literally, and roll away from me on the ground. I am the smallest in the room, and definitely the most afraid.
They’re both staring down at me, biting back my own tears.
“Thank you papa,” The younger one speaks quietly to the man from the club.
“Break her in good. I don’t want no more running around my house.” The older man grunted. His presence was burning a hole in the room - and as if he knew - he left swiftly. I don’t know where or if I’m bleeding anymore, my heart beating fast like a rabbit, still focusing on standing so still that I will break the reality.
His breath was shallow and deep, as if he was taking the time to breathe me in. I could feel his eyes burning holes through my body, I could feel my breath caught so deep in my throat that I was nearly clinging to consciousness. His calloused hand was on my arm, pressing down tight, dirt dug deep under his fingernails.
Dancing at the club was a sinkhole, I should have known that. I had walked myself, in eight inch heels directly into the mouth of the lion. The man in front of me seemed to be covered in a thin layer of filth, the still room around me seemed to be pulsing and as I watched his mouth move as he spoke, all I could hear was the vibrations of the pulsing room. Like thunder, I felt my heartbeat stay steady with the pulsations, the walls pushing in on me as the man in front of me smiled brightly at me.
I could not find my footing as he tried to drag me out of the room, I could not find my voice or my head. I had to be on some type of surveillance camera running away from the predator who had stolen me and taken me here, someone had to have seen me sprinting and screaming down the street from him. Someone has to be looking for me.
“-easy and cheap. Here’s a good home, y’know. You don’t gotta do all that stuff anymore, you’ll take care of us now.” His voice faded in like a plane touching down, quiet and steady and then so clear it made me jump. I was back in the room I had woken up in and I hadn’t realized we had walked in here.
“I have a family that will look for me.” I lied through my teeth. “They’re probably worried I’m not home right now, just let me go and I won’t get you guys in any trouble or anything. I think youpicked up the wrong girl, this seems to just be a mistake-” My words kept coming out faster and louder even though I was trying to just play it easy. I said something wrong; I watched as his face turned an even brighter red than the layer of sunburn on his cheeks and his eyebrows furrowed in.
“No. Papa would never pick the wrong girl for me.” His words came out through gritted teeth, as his arms swung towards me and shoved me down onto the bed. “I’m not letting you go when I just got you.”
The mattress bounced my body up when I fell onto it. I used the momentum to push my body up against his right as he tried sprawling on top of me. I collided with his oversized frame, my forehead bashing into his nose so intensely my sight flickered for a second.
Red. The blood dripping from his nose was falling down my forehead into my eyes as I flung myself under his body and out the door again. I did not make the same mistake again, I stayed quiet and I went the other direction.
I piled down a wooden staircase, each step creaking as I heard his thumping steps a foot behind me. The moment I touched the bottom of the steps, a fist came out of my blindspot, knocking me onto the ground, and I heard the impact before I processed it.
Crippled on the wood floor I pulled myself into my body as my eyes drifted towards the pair of boots in front of me. Everything happened slowly, coldly. The boot in front of me stepped down on my ribcage, pressing me into the ground. I could not move, and I did not make a noise.
“You break this girl in, Weston or I will.” The older man’s voice rang out, as his boot stepped off and delivered a blow into my stomach. My sight began to get spotty and I was seething with rage and pain.
My eyes focused on the door behind the man’s legs, wide open as a small child peeked through, a train in his hands. I felt myself dancing in front of the sinkhole, slowly, before I sank into it. Everything happens under the sun, and if it doesn’t, it happens slowly and coldly.