To work as a dancer,  I need to drink. Modest and insecure about my  body by nature, there is no other way to lose my inhibitions in front of strangers this way. All it really takes is one, but I always drink more as the shift wears on. Especially when the men are buying.

I drink fuzzy navels and cape cods and even a drink called an after five, that tastes like the girl scout cookies I used to sell door to door when I was ten years old. If the girl scouts could see me now.

But the money is good–twice as much as I made waiting tables and sometimes even more. I bought my first car, with cash. An old, red Mustang, for nine hundred dollars. But it works. And it’s mine.

Let me start from the beginning. I am twenty-two years old. I have been married for six years. I work at a topless club near the airport called the Landing Strip. My husband quit working a few months ago, frustrated by the lack of jobs and his meager qualifications. He is content now to stay home, getting high and tending our two children while I take control of our household finances.

I am the breadwinner now. Part of me feels strong. Free. Redeemed somehow. But the other part is angry. Seething. Disappointed in his apathy. In his weakness. Truth is, neither of us had a plan other than just to be together. I quit school and moved in with him after only two weeks of dating. But that is another story.

He is so proud of what I am doing. He thinks I am so sexy. He’s still up, watching Hill Street Blues, waiting for me when I get home late at night. I am drunk and I do a numb little lap dance for him at the kitchen table . He becomes just another customer. I begin to feel very much alone in the world.

Most of the girls do drugs, but I don’t. The drinking helps me over the rough passages, ushering me through doors I never would have entered otherwise. I occasionally go on “dates” with particularly nice regular customers. They feel like boyfriends. I see it as an extension of the business, all part of the work.

By the time I meet Thomas I have been dancing and drinking and skirting the edges of prostitution for about six months. It’s nearing summertime and business is slowing down. The money isn’t flowing as easily and I have to explain at home how I have been at work for eight hours and only have fifty or sixty bucks to show for it.

Thomas is the late night shift door man. He is tall and husky with a thick, brown beard. His eyes are warm and kind. I notice that he sits on his stool at the end of the bar watching me rather intently as I dance onstage, but his expression isn’t the same as the other men. It’s not lust I recognize. It’s something else.

I smile politely at the next dancer stepping up as I descend to make the rounds, collecting my donations from the small gathering of men at the foot of the stage, then make my way back to the bar for a glass of water.

There are some girls I like to watch perform, but Kathy is not one of them. She sets the jukebox to the same tired Milli Vanilli song and shuffles listlessly around the stage in a plain black thong. As for me, I try to keep my lacy lingerie on as long as I can, only revealing my breasts near the end of my song. I’ve heard there are clubs where the girls don’t wear any bottoms. The thought turns my stomach.

“Thanks, Peaches…”

The bartender winks and slips the dollar in her jar. The smart girls always tip, even for water.

I blow her a kiss and prop one shiny gold stiletto against the rusty chrome rung of the barstool as I lean over my thigh to stuff the remaining bills beneath the elastic of my red lace garter.

“You don’t belong here,” he says quietly.

Like it’s a simple fact.

To be continued…