Someone I Used to Know ©
Award - 3rd place Canadian Authors Association, Niagara Branch, 2019
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Published - Sept 27, 2022 - WordCity Literary Journal
Bounding with pizzazz across the stage in a tight bikini (or was it a superb body paint job?), she shook her bountiful breasts, wiggled her tight ass. Leaned provocatively over the lusting males in the first row.
On assignment for a small-town weekly, (you’re a woman. Visit one of those sex shows. Interview one of their stars. Tell me how she got started. Why she’s doing it. Any business angle, too, but y’know, make it titillating), I watched, captivated. ‘Raquel’ strutted her stuff to a wild and crazy Calypso beat as multi-coloured strobe lights flashed around the club’s dim interior. The smell of fried foods: greasy hamburgers, sizzling potatoes in an oil-soaked wire basket intermingled with the stench of stale beer, created an aura of debauchery.
Tossing her tangled platinum blonde mane like an untamed beast, Raquel brazenly showed off her lithe body, with what looked like surgically enhanced breasts, in a jungle- patterned support bra and thong, moulded to her skin like a wet t-shirt.
It was hard to keep my eyes off her. Besides her stunning dance number, something about the turn of her neck, her face, her hands roaming up and down her curvaceous athletic body, was vaguely familiar. From my vantage point sitting in the back, she reminded me of someone. Fat chance any of my safe, staid friends would lead a double life like this!
As a journalist, my first instinct was to watch the crowd. See whether they were engaged. Most were men but a sprinkling of women, all ages, studied the performer’s every sensational move. Before throwing away her thong and flinging her bra into the hungry audience, she seduced with her pole dancing prowess. Her height on the gleaming pole led my eyes up, up to the dusty coils of a blackened pipe ceiling dotted with fake twinkling stars. Sliding provocatively back onstage, she locked eyes with a wealthy looking patron in the front row. He was already reaching for his wallet.
I didn’t notice the bar owner, Sweetheart Roxy, when she slipped into the booth beside me.
“Well,” she said, “what d’ya think? She’s our star.” I nodded slowly. Despite the raucous music and fried fatty smells from the back kitchen, I continued concentrating on Raquel. She mesmerized me.
“Let’s go to my office to discuss your article. I’d love the publicity. In fact, I need it!” Roxy chuckled. I instantly liked her: no pap. She was a slightly overweight former exotic dancer who still had to hold men at bay. ‘Roxy’s Room’ was her business idea to make money when she could no longer collect her bucks on the dance floor.
“So what’s it like to be in the strip business in a lunch bucket town?”
She snorted. Lit a cigarette. “You mean an exotic dancer business, sweetheart,” she corrected.
I smiled, nodded.
“For starters, sweetheart, this club is a bona fide business. I pay property taxes, employ security, hire fifteen dancers, some from around here. Our suppliers are local. Every product we use we try to buy in this area. A local photographer gets lots of business putting together the girls’ portfolios. A local seamstress gets our business to sew exotic costumes…” she paused, that chuckle again, “’course, some costumes don’t take much material.” She laughed, deep and hearty. “What else you need to know, sweetheart?”
“Where do the girls learn their craft?”
“From me. Mostly. These are clean green girls, some housewives, some students, who need money, are good looking, good bodies, healthy, willing to work hard during strange hours. Noon to midnight mostly. I warn ‘em about drugs. Can’t use ‘em while they’re with me. If they do, they’re gone. No dating customers. At least not while I’m around. Do a lot of training cuz the working life of a dancer is very short. Oldest here is twenty-six. Youngest, eighteen. Feature dancer’s usually from a big city. Others do a short routine on stage but make their money as table dancers. They all own bling-bling costumes, wear five-inch fuck me heels, and know how to strut their stuff. Flamboyant. Confident. Edgy. We give the customer what he wants.”
She inhaled her cigarette, exhaled. Smoke drifted throughout the room. Her messy office reflected a jumbled state of mind: hodge-podge of piled papers in odd places. A computer, cell phone, printer, each competed for attention among the stacks on her desk, on the floor. Stale smoke emanated from an overloaded ash tray. A half bottle of Absolut sat on the lone bookcase that held no books but lots of girlie photos. An out-of-date calendar with exotic dancer paintings hung above the bookcase. The sole window to an exterior alley was dressed in old-fashioned ivory lace curtains. Like grandma used to hang.
“So there’s still room for this sort of business to thrive,” I said.
“Damn right, sweetheart. Exotic dancing has been around for centuries. Provides a service whether or not Suburban Wife thinks so. Get lots of business men in here on lunch hours. Could name a few well-knowners but we’re discreet. Always.” She dragged on her cigarette again, blew out the smoke. “Even Head of the Cop Shop comes in. Course, he says he’s here on business---our headliner then was accused of stealing money from a regular---but he coincidentally walked in just before her show so’s he could watch.” She snorted, blowing smoke rings to the ceiling. Winks.
“Would you say your dancers are exploited?”
She coughed, looked me straight in the eye. “They provide a service and are well paid for it. You call that exploitation?”
“I’d like to interview one of your dancers for this article if possible.”
Sweetheart Roxy lifted her brows. “Well, now, that depends. If the girl comes from around here, then no, you can’t. One of the out-of-towners might take up your offer.”
"Raquel….is she local?”
“Nope. From the east coast. And she won’t be interviewed. Many have asked. None have succeeded.”
“Okay I ask her?”
Sweetheart Roxy looked me up and down. Shrugged. “You can ask but I’ll tell you this. Raquel is one mysterious lady. She’s experienced. Bin a feature dancer here for a few weeks. Draws in the rich guys. But as soon as she’s finished dancing, she disappears upstairs to her room. Tried to ask about her background once but she’s silent. Do know she’s had body surgery. Nose and boobs. Somethin’s happened in her past. Don’t go messin’ around in places I don’t belong. She brings in the customers and I’m happy. She gets paid well, gets left alone, she’s happy.”
I decided a one-time visit to Roxy’s Room wasn’t enough to grasp the complexity of this business, its patrons and clientele. I mean, maybe there’s a place for this kind of entertainment after all. Better an oversexed guy come here than grab a female runner in the woods. Or break into her apartment and rape her. So I needed to return to digest this hormone-charged atmosphere…explore its heartbeat. Wanted time to think about the direction and format of the story. That was fine with Sweetheart Roxy.
Out in the sultry summer night heading for my car, I mulled over this centuries-old business. Sitting alone behind the steering wheel, my thoughts focused on Raquel, the headline dancer. She reminded me of someone I used to know, someone once very important to me: my first love at a summer camp when I was a teen. My heart and mind immediately slipped back to Silver Lake.
Never noticed Rachel---or any girl for that matter---until long after we were settled into our cabins and assigned duties as counsellors to young campers. We were hires from different city high schools after successfully completing wilderness training, grateful to land a summer position with the Y. Not working a boring job in the hot city as a sales clerk or fast food order taker.
Busy during those first days settling our young campers, some homesick, some brats, some scared, others genuinely nice kids, I barely noticed my fellow counsellors. Except Rachel. She immediately grabbed my attention. Was aware of her presence during meetings, camp activities, meals. Whenever I glanced her way, her eyes met mine. Eyes that captivated me because of their large pupils and unusual colour: violet. Like Elizabeth Taylor, the famous movie star.
Long and lithe in body, Rachel wore her short black hair in a pixie style that framed her oval face and showed off those exquisite violet eyes. Like a Roman Empress. Or Audrey Hepburn. Rachel---or Rache---as we called her, epitomized beauty and health to woeful ugly duckling me.
Studying her from afar, I couldn’t explain my emotional pull. Maybe because of the intriguing way she waved slender hands and arms when she spoke, the dainty way she ate, the way she laughed: spontaneously. Or the way she played basketball with athletic ease during R&R. Maybe it was the joy of life she shared with her peers. Her every move thrilled---and frightened---because she stirred a deep, forbidden yearning within me. And those violet eyes held me captive.
Finally, I admitted to me that I had a mammoth crush on her. And it was the first time I felt gloriously alive.
One afternoon, with no planned camp activity, she yelled across the open field where we gathered each morning for Wake Up call: “JEN...round up your cabin. I’ll get mine! Let’s hike!” She couldn’t possibly hear my pounding heart.
Walking next to Rache, herding our charges along the trail: watch out for poison ivy, keep your eyes out for garter snakes…! I was in heaven. Tongue-tied in heaven.
“What’s your high school?” she asked in her melodic voice. “What’re your plans after graduation? Boyfriend? Family….?”
Gradually over the summer, we got to know and trust each other. Only I was careful not to reveal too much. Was so in awe of this raven-haired beauty with the violet eyes I didn’t want to say anything that might alienate her.
I’m in love. As simple and as complicated as that. Always on heightened emotions with her. A deep swollen throb in my gut.
Because I thought it wrong to feel such passion for a girl, I controlled my adoration.
Until one of the last nights….
Near the end of our camp session, following a raucous Skit Night at the Main Lodge, Rache and I remained the only staff members for clean-up. Much later, stepping onto the wrap- around wooden verandah facing Silver Lake, we watched a full moon pop out of the black sky from behind clouds. Like a spotlight, splashing its reflection on the still black water. Magic touched us.
“Let’s go to the dock.”
I nodded, tingling.
On the well-worn grey wooden planks we sat side by side, four youthful legs dangling in dark lake water. I could smell the sweet golden grass from the field. Inhaled the musty dampness of tall cattails. Heard the deep rumble from nearby bullfrogs on lily pads, a lonely loon call on the lake’s belly. My soul drank in the fluorescent moon reflection rippling on the water.
Rache dipped her hand in the lake, flung water drops on my thigh. I shivered deliciously.
More water drops on my skin.
Shivered again. Exquisite excitement churned down there.
Then her fingers did the unthinkable. Slowly, deliberately, they walked up my thigh to my crotch. Held my breath. Fire raced through my veins.
“Like that?” she crooned softly, dropping her head on my shoulder.
“Guess you do,” she whispered into my ear.
Fearfully, hopefully, I turned to face her. Mighty roar of emotions. Her brows arched. Violet eyes searched my blue ones. Closed mine.
We kissed. Gently. Softly. Innocently. Preciously. Then broke. I ached with desire.
Moving closer, she moaned.
“Can’t,” I barely said.
“Can,” she corrected.
Returned to Roxy’s Room a few times, at different hours, over the next weeks. Each time I learned something new from Sweetheart who began welcoming me like an old friend. And she was right about interviewing Raquel who refused to see me.
“Managing a place like this has its pitfalls,” Roxy confessed. “Have to change locks a lot for security reasons. Sometimes the girls have accidents on stage, fall in awkward positions. Need a doc. Dancing on the road takes its toll. Easy to get tired, sloppy with your personal safety. Sometimes girls are robbed of their savings if they haven’t had time to bank. Sometimes costumes are stolen. Sometimes they get sick. They know they must always look great. Hard when you’re not on top of the world. My girls have problems like everyone else. Some have sick kids somewhere. Not an easy business. So when a Raquel doesn’t want to talk about her personal self, I’m actually relieved. And not surprised.”
Raquel was about to dance for the first time this evening. Deliberately timed my visit to coincide with her performance. Roxy suggested, “Sit up front. Watch her act up close.” She studied me for a second. “Know what? You must be about her age! Big difference in lifestyles, eh, lady writer? Compare lifestyles! Now that would make a good story!”
Sat at a table in the second row. A noisy crowd surrounded the stage. Mostly men. A few women, too. MC switched on the mic. Frenzied music thumped, bright lights bounced, all eyes riveted on Raquel winding her way to the front from the back in her skimpy, jungle-patterned bikini. Wanted to study more closely this intriguing woman who unwittingly unlocked a buried memory.
Writhing along her path to the stage, stopping along the way, touching a patron here and there on his cheek, sending him into glorious spasms of lust, she passed me. Paused. Turned. Studied my face. Violet eyes seared into my soul.
As if in a dream, action in the bar wound down to slow motion while rock music banged in the background. Cocking her head, her tangled blonde hair cascading down her back, one piece falling over her forehead, her eyes bored a hole into mine. I couldn’t breathe. Feeling that familiar zing.
Approaching, she offered her hand. Her long, red-manicured pointer finger touched my forehead, traced my profile. She looked straight at me. Raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow over a violet eye. Winked.
“Rache?” I whispered absurdly. Leaning forward, frowning. Entranced. Hopeful. Intrigued.
Was that a millisecond flicker of recognition in Raquel’s violet eyes?
She blew me a careless kiss, turned away.
Helplessly---longingly---I watched her tight ass graze the face of an orgasmic guy in front of me as she shimmied her way to the stage.