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Another showgirl, this one in black and white. She wears her accoutrements, her instruments of powers, on a chain slung around her hip. The needle. The spoon. The lighter. The pen.
He asked me if I had anything to pick up from anywhere, and I said no, nothing. Nothing anymore. Nothing to lose.
We lived in the dark - filthy cluttered apartment with punk-band posters covering the windows because the legal tenants were paranoid. One poster had a kitten on it, and the text read “Who will stop this terrible pain?”
I flung myself farther, deeper. Swan dive into the deep. We emerged at night for street carnivals and runs along the neon of the Strip, its hum setting my teeth on edge. Their laughs were high and brittle, and their eyes were too bright. They were below me, a place I couldn’t reach. He would unroll the kit he kept in a pocket of his torn cargo pants - the needle, the cigarette, the dented spoon, the lighter.
Little bindles he’d fold out of the ads in the back of porn magazines. Colorful origami that, when unfolded, revealed little mounds of glittering fairy dust. Inhale and be transported. Be like them.
“It takes your emotions away,” he said. “When you’re on it, you don’t feel anything.”###
“What was surrendered at that gate?”
She hugged herself, desert-night chilly.”I don’t know.”
“You must pay to continue.”
“I don’t want-”
“What?” For a moment, the aspect receded from him, and he was just a guy. “Don’t be scared. Just set it down and walk through.” His smile was wistful now. “We’re not talking about another girl here. A sister or a cousin. I know. What did you give up?”
“Then, or before?”
She looked down, traced the edges of the card. “I think I had it til then, maybe.”
“Put something down.”
She fished around in her bag and set down an origami crane. The edges still glittered with a sheen of white dust over the colorful phone-chat ad. She swept a finger along one edge; it was halfway to her mouth before she realized what she was doing and jerked her hand down, wiped her fingers on her jeans.
“Now take your card.”###The Line
A single diagonal slash across the card, a long thick mound of glittering white.
This is why the city never sleeps. Lines and trails of crystal meth all through the city, the casinos, fast-food bathrooms, dirty off-strip apartments, back tables in coffeehouses. A practiced hand chop chop chopping up lines, a certain grace to it. A love story of razor on glass, of credit card on magazine. Chop chop slice slice, three or four lines from a bindle, depending how thick or long you cut them, and it’s a way to fidget, even. Make a long thin line short and fat, and back again, until you stop fucking around and just do it - flip hair to the side, duck your head, fingers pressed to one nostril, hollowed-out Bic in the other, and a quick motion, inhaling all the way - there you go, quick and hard, get it all the way up, back into the sinuses, and the aftertaste gags you as it runs down your throat, awful acrid chemical tang - chug your Gatorade, get it out, and wait for the rush to sweep you away. Clear crystalline palaces of thought, and no emotion. Magical fairy dust that makes you never have to hurt or grieve, that makes you forget what a bad person you are…
…Until you come down, and you have to do it again, do more and more, because crashing brings it all back. Every bad thing, amplified. Got to get rid of it. Lay out another line. Never stop, never sleep, never eat, just keep running. Never stop.
It was the closest thing to death that I could find, and I fell in love with it.###
“What did you give up there?”
“Are you sure?” His eyes were gentle, half-obscured by the shock of dark hair falling over them, but his voice was taking on resonance again. “You had nothing left to lose?”
She looked down again, trying to keep from stroking the line in the center of the card. “My will to live?”
“Had you truly surrendered that then, this would be a four-card reading. No. Try again.”
She touched the bottom edge of the card; when she spoke, she was barely audible. “I gave up my armor.”
She dug into her pocket and withdrew a worn, hollow Bic pen, pushing it toward the card.
He nodded. “Draw again.”###
One solid vertical stroke of gold in the center of the card, the horizontal is an arc, not a straight line. If you look closely, you see the thin line of an arm anchoring the arc to the line, and it resolves into a dancer in deep backbend, nude and glowing under the lights.
I used to look in the mirrors the whole time. That’s why they’re there, that line of mirrors over the customers’ heads - so we can watch ourselves or each other and never have to look at the men.
But you don’t get tips that way. And if you don’t get tips, you don’t get drugs, and that’s why at least half of us are here. Mostly tweakers. Some coke fiends. Most of the girls smoke pot before coming up, but I was never one for downers.
Def Leppard, “Pour Some Sugar on Me”.
Stride out on the drumbeat, but dance on the bassline. Use your hair. Dance is still art, even if you’re wearing a glorified rubber band or a light-up bra. Make your mind go far away, and make eye contact. It’s not the tits and ass, not really. It’s the eyes. And the hips.
You make eye contact, you rake in the tips. Make them think you want them. Make them think you want to be there.
Bon Jovi, “Bad Medicine”.
Some of the girls dance to throbbing house music or slinky soul stuff, but I stick with hits of the ‘80s. Nostalgia.
I work the pole, hands and legs slipping and chafing on it, metallic reek on my palms, arms, legs. Never lap-danced, though.
Well. Never used to.
Things change. You think you could never do this, this awful humiliating thing. And you find that you can, if the alternative is having to actually feel something. Your world restructures itself to allow that yes, you can do this thing.
And this thing, and the next thing, until you’re in the back room and he’s offering you just a little more…###
“And you walked through a gate,” he said softly.
She hugged herself tightly, tattered denim jacket not really keeping out the desert-night chill. “What is this? How do you know all of these things?”
“Wouldn’t be a very good fortune teller if I didn’t, neh
?” He tipped his head to the side and gave the charming grin again, the one for tourists. “You want some half-assed ‘you will meet a tall dark handsome stranger’ crap, you go elsewhere. You only see me if you want the truth. You only see me if you’re already on your way through the night side, the underworld. I know you walked through a gate, because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. Up to the two of us together to figure out what those gates were.” He shuffled his cards. “Among other things.” He spread them out, but kept a hand over them, looking up at her. “Two cards left. Two gates. But first you tell me what you surrendered at this one. The Sacrifice.”
Her laugh was rough, harsh. “The last of my self-respect. The last of who I thought I was.” Without being prompted, she fished a pair of pasties out of the bag and flung them at the concrete. “What now?”
He lifted his hand. “Another card.”
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