A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "Expectation"
Originally featured on 08-05-2008
As part of our series "The Ancient Trappings of Humanity’s Endless Summer (Age-Old Traps)"

Jexebel continued to look in the mirror after the requisite application of lip-gloss was complete. “I change my mind. I don’t have an intestinal parasite. That tingly feeling is love.”

Carlina was unable to roll her eyes, as she was in the process of applying eyeliner. Instead, she rocked her tongue from right to left and said, “What’s the diff?”

Jexebel strapped on her leather heels. “I’ll tell you what the difference is. Paul tips with pre-Civil-War fifty-cent pieces, and only ones from years that end in six. And he’s respectful, doesn’t holler and whistle like those frat boys. A belly worm is a drunk who keeps trying to grope you and doesn’t pay his tab and won’t leave until the bouncer throws his forked ass out the door. The difference is, they don’t got antibiotics for love.”

Jexebel had once sued a club manager for misspelling her name as “Jezebel” on a poster, and had walked away with an eight thousand dollar settlement. Her name was spelled with an X, and if they could not remember that, then what was the point of exploiting her image on a poster to generate business? She knew from prior experience that juries were more sympathetic when she testified wearing a white halter and no bra.

“He’ll be here tonight. I know it,” Jexebel said under her breath.

Carlina laughed. It was not a pretty laugh.

Many things about Carlina were pretty, and not just pretty in the male simpleton conception of what was pretty. She walked as though her feet had zero points of contact with the floor, and it was only out of an ethic of modesty that she was not airborne.

She danced in a manner that made it clear that dancing was her natural state; walking, eating, sitting and all the other normal activities of the day were her practiced art form, her job. Dancing was merely clocking out. Headstands were her equivalent of yawning. When she arrived at the aluminum pole, gravity switched directions and pulled her to the ceiling, heels thrust over shoulders in a twisting, rolling path, hands and hips gripping the pole only to slow it down. It did not seem to make any difference to her whether it was the pole that twirled around her body or her body that moved about a stationary pole.

Carlina did not so much remove articles of clothing as allow them to melt off her skin. And when her two songs ended, her hands inhaled dollar bills from the floor and held the currency in her lungs like exotic incense.

Her laughter was not pretty. It was the sound a magic refrigerator might make if it sensed a bowl of moldy leftovers inside and tried to buck and push it out.

“I heard coin collectors give good head,” said Carlina.

“I’ll let you know.”

“And how do you know he’ll be here? You stuff your chest with a crystal ball?”

“Back off, okay? I just know.” Jexebel posed at a you-want-me-come-and-get-me angle to the mirror, her elbow buttressed against the arch of her back, and adjusted her stockings. She waved her right pupil at herself, making the one strand of hair that hung down quiver without flexing her forehead. That had required practice. Jexebel was not luminous or graceful, but she was sexier than Carlina, and Carlina knew it. “Paul’s shy. He’d never admit he comes in here, and if anyone found out, he’d quit his job, move to Mexico and become a priest or something. You know the type.”

“That’s the worst kind,” Carlina said while using a wad of dollar bills as a fan to dry her silver nail polish. “I’d rather go home with a fat redneck who’s bored with his wife and smells like a toilet. Least they don’t bullshit. I hate the shy fuckers. Those shifty-eyed, skinny, straight-backed sons of bitches who come in here looking like their mother dressed ‘em. You see them sitting at the bar drinking coke, trying to act all polite, squirming in their seat to hide their wood.”

“Always facing down with their head but looking up with their eyes,” Jex added. “They’re so quiet, the bartender has to make them repeat every time they talk.”

“What do they think they accidentally wound up in our bedroom? For all their college degrees, they can’t even remember where they’re at. When they get all twitchy nervous and embarrassed for me, I just want to punch them in the nose, slam their punk face into my cooch and say, hello, what do you think you paid for, a fucking puppet show? Oh, what’s that, you’re ashamed to be here? That’s nice — fucking go somewhere else.”

“Bitch, calm down,” Jexebel said with a smile. “People’s just people.”

“I hope I do see your punk-ass little boyfriend tonight. That historic coin shit? That’s some sly shit. Dude trying to impress you and be all high society and cute, you know that’s cause he’s got a pecker that wishes it was as big as my pinky toe when he gets it up. That makes me ashamed for you.”

Piz Paz, the manager, was calling for both of them from several doors away. His voice drifted far, close and back to far. They always exchanged a look and ignored Piz Paz until his voice got too close to pretend that they didn’t hear him; it was just Piz Paz.

“Hey, Carly?”

“Hey, Jex?”

Jex thought of how she might phrase what she was about to say. While she thought, she caught a whiff of her perfume, and wondered if she had used just a little bit too much. “I don’t know if you know this, but there are other parts of a man besides a cock. I mean, like, some people own the same computer for years, and they never know half the shit it can do, they just use it to write letters and do their taxes, until someone shows them that it can also play DVD’s and do fancy shit with pictures, and all the other stuff. Maybe no one’s shown you, but men have arms, legs, a face, and a brain, too, you just got to learn how to use it. And Paul? I don’t know what he’s packing, but there’s more-”

“Bitch, shut your mouth. He’s no different. He’s maybe, what, a banker or a computer wiz, member of the we-got-big-I-Q’s club, sits at some office sweating, wants to mack on the secretary but don’t got the nerve, because too many nuns lashed his dick with a ruler before he was old enough to use it. Or maybe he teaches high school history, has a bunch of stuffy, fancy old Greek statues in his house, irons his tie every day-”

“What’s wrong with that?” Jex adjusted some settings on her cell phone and put it away. “I mean, don’t you get tired of dancing for the same assholes? A little style and, and, virtue, I guess, never hurt anyone. The geeky ones aren’t like the normal clientele—they look at you differently. It’s like they’re watching a play or a jazz concert or something. They just look so…it’s like they’re thankful. I mean, they…” Jex took a step back from the mirror and looked down at herself. “They make you feel beautiful.”

Carly picked up a pack of cigarettes from the table and threw it at Jex, hitting her collarbone. One cigarette slid out and stuck in Jex’s bra as the box bounced to the floor. “No, that’s style and virtue. And no, I’m not sick of the same assholes. There’s a bumper sticker outside that says, ‘Don’t hate the customers, hate the biz.’ That bumper sticker is on someone else’s car, and will never be on mine, because I don’t hate.”

“I thought you said you hate the shy guys.”

“Damned right I do. You know why?” Carly snatched the cigarette from Jex’s bra, crouched down to produce a pink lighter from her purse, and lit it. “Because they think they’re better than us.”

Jex wriggled her hand in front of her mouth and pointed to the door with a cough.

“Sorry, babe.” Carly cracked the door open and stood half inside, half outside, with the half of her that was smoking on the outside.

“Maybe they are better,” Jex said under her breath.

Carly took two warring steps toward Jex—her stride, when fully deployed, was longer than that of most men—grasped the back of her neck and blew smoke in her face.

Jex tried to shake away, saying in a broken mutter, “What the hell is your problem?”

Carly tossed the smoldering butt on the floor and fastened both hands on either side of Jex’s throat. “Look at me. No. Look at me. If you ever say that again…”

Jex spun around, clipping Carly’s hand with the tendons in her neck (a remnant of an escape move she had picked up in a self defense class at the community college) and ducked away as Carly jerked her hand back, the way she would if her finger brushed a hot stove. "Bitch, chill."

"I am chill." Carly was brushing her hair, just to be doing something with her hands.

"He'll come in tonight. I bet you ten bucks Paul will talk to me tonight. Maybe he'll try and weasel a phone number. I know how they work, those guys. They take a baby step, then another one, and another, and in between each baby step, they look down real carefully. Like climbing a mountain. The first step was coming in to a seedy joint."

"Seedy? I’m sorry, I don’t work at seedy clubs. What establishment are you referring to? Because you’ve lost me, girl. and I already told you how those guys work; they think their shit don’t stink. Technically, a baby’s shit don’t stink, but that changes the day the baby gets a whiff of solid food. So unless your fifty-cent-piece don Juan subsists on a steady diet of his momma’s titties, I'll bet you a hundred dollars that his shit does stink. Watch when he orders drinks. Last I checked, we don’t keep a bottle of Formula between the Bourbon and the Tequila, which means that to fulfill his two drink minimum, the bartender would have to accommodate him by baring her breasts and shoving one in his face. God gave us two of these…two drink minimum…strange coincidence, ain’t it?"

"You're completely not listening to me. That’s okay, I'll talk to myself," said Jex. "The poor sap is lonely, gets taught certain stuff is immoral, but on his way home he always walks by the 'topless' sign in the window, and finally one night he breaks down and peers inside, slinks one shoulder in the door. The bouncer asks him for I.D., he freaks out and runs the other way. A few days later, his curiosity is killing him, so he bites the bullet, comes in, stands in the corner for a half an hour, barely even lifts his eye from the floor. Gradually, very gradually, he starts getting hooked. Then he decides on one stripper he favors. For some reason, that’s me."

"Congratu-titilation, you're his favorite. That and a dollar fifty will get you bus fare." Carly watched her hips gyrate in the mirror, wishing the mirror could tip.

Somewhere upstairs, Piz Paz, who for a while had forgotten about Carly and Jex, was calling for them again.

Jex looked at Carly and at her reflection at the same time.

Carly could easily be a model if she wanted to; men often unabashedly told her that. Her bones insisted on a curviness that her flesh could not deny, no matter how lean she became through her jogging regimen and newly adopted vegetarian raw food diet. Carly was a tall, plump fruit densely packed with sweet, bitter, fizzy nutrients that would burn a hole through a man’s tongue and then make him see deities, just before it fermented.

Jex was skinnier than Carly, and also had slightly larger breasts, which never seemed fair, but the universe never seemed fair, and Carly never seemed to notice.

Carly’s hair—which was the color of the inner stem of a Portobello mushroom before oxygen hits it—seen from a distance, always looked as though it was braided, despite that she never wore it in braids; it had a magnetism all its own that arranged itself in gradual tangles, always maintaining bilateral symmetry.

Jex’s hair was a shade of brown that could be legitimately mistaken for red if — and only if — enough sunlight hit it before she drank her daily pot of coffee.

Carly’s face, complexioned like a rum and peanut-butter smoothie, bore the shape of an inverted wooden shipwreck preserved in the sand of an untouristed beach where waves ejaculated sonnets and symphonic overtures against rocky crags. Her features blended with whatever was behind her, like the smudging of charcoal in an Impressionist drawing. Much like glass loses its sharp contour after floating at sea over a span of years, Carly was softened, in a way that did not let one forget the vast ocean that was to thank for its softening.

Jex’s face was unremarkable, except for the fact that she always looked exactly seven years younger than her age.

Jex would never be as intoxicating a presence as Carly, would never be the inspiration for poems or acid-trip paintings, but Jex understood sexy. Jex knew sexy like doctors knew medicine.

The two of them always garnered the same approximate amount of tips.

"He has to have a favorite,” Jex mused. “Geeks think in solar systems, like in astronomy, orbits, that stuff. Nucleus, whatever. He’s got to decide who the sun is, or else he can’t find his way to the men’s room to piss. That’s the first big boy step he makes. Once he’s got me on his mind, he'll go back to making baby steps. He'll figure out what nights I’m working—he won’t ask anyone, he'll just sort of, I guess, calculate it in his head. Then he'll start tipping me with those stupid things that don’t even fit in vending machines. But he means it as a sincere… Then one night, for just a second, we’ll look at each other’s eyes. That'll freak him out again, and he'll probably stop coming for a couple weeks, go home and jack off to the moment our eyes met, probably calculate the velocity of the photons or something, draw a picture of the club with graph lines and figure out what spot in the building we fell in love. Then the next time he'll plan out something to say to me. He'll spend one week feeling all warm and lovey and scared and giddy about the eye contact, and the second week figuring out what he’s gonna say. It'll be something nerdy, sort of sweet, but stupid-"

Carly made a gagging noise and almost actually vomited. "What are you in fucking junior high? If you're so in love, why don’t you go visit him at whatever seedy joint he works at? People do bad things, Jex, anyone told you that? It’s true, look it up. People steal, kill, lie, and people do that stuff with their clothes on. Corporations screw us out of healthcare, they dump toxic waste, they build bombs. People eat meat, drive gas guzzlers, they do seedy shit. The one thing they do that’s innocent and doesn’t hurt nobody is whack off, and if I can in any way help them get turned on via skakin what my mothah gave me, I feel pretty damned good about myself when I sleep at night."

"What are you talking about?" said Jex.

Both women’s arms were folded. Neither could be sure whose were folded first.

"Hey, weren’t you in that movie?" they overheard a drunk male customer yell from behind the door. Whomever he was speaking to gave no audible response. He went on. "The one with the strippies eating the- I mean, zombers…no, strippers, like you. Shake that ass, girl, I got to take the Four bus to court tomorrow, I'll be shaking the izzazz. Zombie strippers- when they're all in the dumpster and licking each other and they fight the hound dogs, that’s hot, you keep on working it got pay the bills, they turned off my phone, I can’t reach my ding dong no more I keep eating raspberry donuts, the zombie strippers apocalypse got to keep it strong so I’s can keep it long, it’s a sociological prophecy, day of the dill-hump-mosquito-ninja-shit I-dun-no, the undead get horny too, that’s all why we’s nightmares with blood and the government pavin the sidewalk till we’s stuck to our knees, screamin we ain’t callin for no booty, fuzzuzzzuzzuk dat."

Jex and Carly looked across at each other and sunk slowly to the floor laughing.

Jex looked at the clock. "We should get out there before Piz Paz shits a brick." She helped Carly up.

Carly opened the door for Jex and whispered to her as she walked out, "You are beautiful."

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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