Kait Heacock's debut collection, Siblings and Other Disapointments, will be available October 11 from Ooligan Press. It launches at Powell's Books on October 19. You can preorder it here.
My lover takes me to the strip club. My lover insists on things like this. He likes to watch porn while we have sex. A threesome—two girls and a guy—while I suck him off. A threesome with two guys if we have anal sex. When he gets bored thrusting in any regular way, he turns on a favorite video of his with a bunch of semi-attractive twenty-somethings participating in group sex. Most of the women have bored eyes like they have better things to do, save for a few who overemphasize their moans because they like the attention or because they’re desperate for it. They occasionally glance at the camera in ways too telling so that I have to shut my eyes.
My lover says, “Don’t shut your eyes, baby. I want you to look at them when you come.”
My lover wants a lot of things, which seemed so fulfilling early on. I never turned to him because he was more attractive than my husband; I turned to him because he had want in his eyes for me that I’d never given in to before. My lover looks at me like he looks at porn. My lover looks at me like I’m porn.
My girl dances like she wishes she was alone. My girl dances like she thinks she is alone. My girl looks like Jenny Lewis, the redheaded lead singer of Rilo Kiley and former child actor. My girl has a real name—a real stripper name and a real real name—but in my head I call her Jenny. I call her this when my lover asks me to pick my favorite girl because one of these days he wants to buy me a lap dance, but not today, not until I prove how much I want it. He doesn’t want me to beg or anything degrading like that. He wants to sit back and watch me flirt with her and to initiate it. This isn’t for him, he corrects me, it’s for me.
My girl reminds me of being a freshman in college. My parents offered to pay for any college as long as it had religious (Christian) ties. I abandoned perpetually overcast Portland for sunny, drippy Malibu and attended Pepperdine. Rilo Kiley rose to fame with the cool kids in L.A. and I desperately wanted to be one of those. My college roommate Lara, a theater studies major, used to drive us to L.A. for their shows. I was in love with Lara all of that year in ways friendly and romantic and sexual until she started dating a law student who planned on practicing entertainment law and she became regular. She looked like Jenny Lewis; sometimes at night when Lara stayed over at her boyfriend’s apartment, I listened to “Portions for Foxes” while masturbating and thought of her.
I guess my girl looks like Jenny Lewis and like Lara, but you can’t fantasize about a dancer who reminds you of someone you know. That’s too much reality. There’s another dancer who wears cowboy boots and has to flirt with the audience more because she is less attractive than the other dancers: she looks like a girl named Amber I rode the bus with in junior high. Amber had a long equine face and too-big eyes. Amber was the friendly girl who boys joked with in class, but didn’t ask to dances, not until high school when she overcompensated by wearing mini skirts from Abercrombie & Fitch and giving out blow jobs to any junior or senior who asked. When that dancer takes the stage, I excuse myself to use the restroom and touch up my lipstick.
My lover began as my dentist. Three teeth-cleanings, two cavities, and one numbed visit that he managed to flirt through while he gave me my filling, and then we both began telling lies to our significant others to find each other in the dive bars along 82nd, or in his car when there wasn’t enough time, or at cheap chain hotels near the coast when there was time enough to go away for the whole day.
He suggested we try the strip club. Maybe it was after I complained about a rash on my thighs that I worried I got from the last hotel we spent an afternoon in. Or maybe it was during sex in his car when we were bouncing up and down in the front seat like horny teenagers and he said, “Tell me your fantasies.” He always wants to talk about fantasies. He said his fantasy was to watch me watch the girls at the strip club.
“I’ve never been to one before,” I confessed. “What if I don’t like it?”
“Then we’ll leave.”
“How do we pick the right one?” They all seemed the same to me—windowless buildings with signs that incorporated “devil” into their names.
The club he chose was lit red inside like something sexy and seedy at the same time. The red light gave the whole room a boudoir effect, like we had stepped into the dancers’ private space. I never saw the room in daylight; how lonely it would have looked in any other shade.
We went on a Wednesday night because the weekend crowds seemed too dangerous, too public. I made him hold my hand when we stepped inside. He told me, “Wear something that makes you feel sexy.” I wore a tight black dress that I hadn’t worn for my husband since last Valentine’s Day.
He ordered us drinks and we sat at a table in the middle.
“Wait to sit at the rack when a girl who really interests you comes out. I don’t like staying there the whole time. Seems desperate,” he said and put his arm around my shoulders.
I looked around the room. In the darkness, I was free to observe everyone. The crowd was small. A few tables, mostly filled with men, but one made up entirely of women who occasionally stood up and dropped bills on the stage. Three people sat at the stage: one lone middle-aged man with an empty beer bottle and a couple. The woman looked more engaged with the stripper, who flirted with the woman by running her breasts across her face. I couldn’t look at the stripper, not right away. When we looked at women together in porn, there was a veil. Now, if I looked at the stripper, she could look right back at me and see me watching. My feelings about that fluctuated between guilt, nervousness, and excitement.
After multiple songs and dancer changes, my lover leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Which one do you like the best?” He asked like we were picking out dessert.
My lover worries about germs and insists on using hand sanitizer after every time he sets money on the stage. I keep it in my purse because it looks bulky and strange when he holds it in his pants pocket. He drops the money and then asks me to squirt the clear liquid into his hands like I’m the mother and he’s the son, and then he rubs his hands together and pats them at the end like a ritual. If I drop the money on the stage when there is only one seat open and my girl is dancing or one of the other two girls I like to watch (and my lover insists I sit up there alone), even then he expects me to use the hand sanitizer. If I forget while at the rack, he reminds me when I sit down at our table.
“Cleanliness is close to,” he’ll say and muffle the last word as he buries his face into the crook between my neck and shoulder or else grabs a clump of my hair and brings it to his nose to smell. He likes it when sweat starts to form along my hairline from the heat inside the club and it mixes with the hairspray I use to hold the waves that make my hair look bouncy and like a pin-up girl.
I inhale the sweet and pungent air inside the strip club. When a dancer shows off a particularly difficult pole trick, the Hawaiian print shirt and fedora clad DJ flips a switch that sets off the smoke machine. The smoke bursts forth from a light that changes color—I like it best when it flips to blue. Sometimes when Jenny dances, she stands with her back leaning on the tall mirrored walls, points her toes, and twists her thighs in an erratic motion before lunging onto the pole with no fear of falling. Sometimes when she does this, the DJ uses the red light.
My husband is not a bad husband; in fact, he’s just the husband I want now that I have a second husband. I met my first husband when I was a junior at Pepperdine. He studied accounting and didn’t come out as gay until one year into our marriage. My parents reminded me it was a blessing we didn’t have any kids, but they were embarrassed that I was already divorced at twenty-three. They said, “Be more sensible next time. Take your time. You rushed into too much. You were young; you’ll be smarter next time.”
Before we married, my first husband and I had religion and virginity to safely hide behind. I was afraid lest my desires caused me to sin and he was afraid that what he really wanted was a sin. He couldn’t stay erect on our wedding night. We both made excuses about nerves and champagne and how we both needed a good night’s sleep. The few times we managed to have sex that year were quiet, embarrassing, and apologetic. He usually lay across me and pressed his cheek against mine. I couldn’t see his eyes that way. So I’d close my eyes and slip away, like I could curl up inside my body. When he admitted he was gay, I felt a strange sense of relief.
I was more sensible with my second husband. He is sensible. He is six years older than me; my lover is nine years older than me. My husband manages the deli at a co-op. He comes home smelling sweetly of thick slices of ham and just baked bread. He likes to eat leftovers from the deli with his fingers in the kitchen, make love to me in our bed, and take a shower before going to sleep. He’s very good at routines. In bed, my husband likes me to be on top. He never speaks except to alert me when he’s going to have an orgasm. He grips my thighs, but not enough to hurt, just enough to steady me. If he’s on top, he rests his head against mine and the sweat from his hairline touches mine. He always says, “I love you” after and grabs a hand towel from the bathroom to wipe his sweat off of me. He’s very polite in that way.
It’s never fair to blame the spouse when you enter into an affair. It’s more realistic to lower your expectations, accept that sometimes you want something more and it comes from somewhere else. My lover provides me with something more. He whispers into my ear to open my legs when we sit and watch the girls dance. He says, “Don’t worry, nobody will see under the table. It’s too dark in here.” Our sex is more ravenous nights after we’ve watched them dance. He tells me he wants to devour me and I believe him. I’d let him. He says it turns him on so much to watch my eyes as I watch the girls. I know I don’t look at my lover that way, but if he’s jealous, he doesn’t complain. The watching me watch them is a consolation.
Sometimes after one of my girls dance, I excuse myself to the ladies’ room and masturbate in the bathroom stall.
My lover says, “We’ve been coming here for a month now. Do you want your lap dance yet?” His question holds inevitability, like of course that will happen. We sit at the back because the dancer with the sadly cherubic cheeks who looks like she grew up watching anime dances and she’s too flirtatious, like she’s trying to coax something out of us.
I shrug to avoid explaining to him that I want it but I am too afraid. He knows how to easily close the gap between the watching and the having. When I watch my girl dance, my skin prickles. Sometimes she shows me her smile and I see the gap between her front teeth and I could just reach out and touch her, but you can’t do that. I understand how there have to be these rules because sometimes you want it so bad when it’s right in front of you that somebody has to tell you no.
I say, “How can I pick just one?” If I tease, it will distract him.
He puts both hands on the table, folded and businesslike. “Let’s talk about your favorites.” The table must be sticky under his hands. He’s serious.
“You already know them.”
There’s Jenny/Lara/my girl who I think maybe speaks a second language—probably French—and is a terrible cook. There is also Jasmine, the dancer who wears the studded bras, pulls her jet black hair into a tight chignon on the top of her head, and grinds on the stage to hip hop. I feel her reverberate through me. The last time we came in, she left the stage and slinked to a table by the bar where she sat with a scowling man and scowled back at him. I couldn’t hear their conversation over the music, but I watched their mouths stretch to let out angry-looking words. The other girl, Shelly, the one with the roller skates and all the tattoos, plays at sexy by making the crowd laugh. Sometimes she dances with a puppet and has it simulate sexual acts on her. The night she wore a strap-on over her underwear and thrust it into the audience at male viewers’ faces, my lover leaned over and whispered, “That seems inappropriate.”
When Jenny comes back on stage, I straighten in my seat. My lover takes his hands off the table and places one on my back, urging me to walk to the stage.
“Do you want to come with me?”
“No, have this one by yourself. I’ll watch you from back here.”
I slink to the left side of the stage. Tonight I wear a pale pink dress that hangs away from me. There’s a bow on the front; it makes me feel like a doll. I feel eyes from the crowd watching me. There is a twenty-something guy sitting on one side of me. He folds his dollar bills into little tents before setting them on the stage. I reach inside my purse and discover I have run out of one dollar bills so I pull the ten out and hope it means Jenny will flash me her gap-toothed grin. I’ve never bought somebody’s affection before.
She wears a nude body suit and slips out of it while dancing to a song by the Cure. I know her routine, know that she will spend most of her time on stage dancing with her image, palms placed on the mirror like she’s pushing against herself, or else closing her eyes as she grinds her heels into the stage and moves slowly to the music. She doesn’t spend as much time on the pole as the others, doesn’t interact as much with the audience as the more desperate girls, and yet she has a way of hypnotizing the crowd so that audience members fill the rack and toss their money on the stage. I watch the bills float like delicate feathers at her feet.
When Jenny makes it to my part of the stage, I feel shy. She hasn’t noticed the money yet; she barely notices me. She stands above me so that I can see her entire nakedness. I hate to let my eyes linger so I glance away. I’m not as good at ogling as the rest. Mostly I notice her pale skin up close. I’ll call it alabaster. She moves past me to the corner, the part of the stage connected to the ceiling with big chains. When people sit at the corner, they hope the dancers will swing out on the chains and open their thighs to a stranger’s face. Jenny grabs the chain with her hand but doesn’t move around it to dance up close to the man on the other side. Instead she rattles it before turning and moving back to the pole. When the song ends and Jenny comes by on her knees to sweep her earnings into a pile, she glances at the ten and mouths, “Thank you.” I feel an ache inside me and smile.
Between dancers I walk to the bathroom. I don’t stop to talk to my lover. In the bathroom I take some cold water from the sink and pat the back of my neck with it. When I leave the bathroom, I see my lover hovering near the bar talking to Jenny. He whispers something in her ear and motions at me. Jenny nods to what he says to her and walks towards me.
“So you’ve never had a lap dance before?” She asks when she nears me.
“No, I haven’t.” Jenny is much shorter than me when we stand face to face. She is petite, young.
“Well come on, the private room is empty. Your date bought you a dance.” She signals at my lover with a tilt of her head. For a moment I think she will grab my hand and guide me to the private room, but she does not.
I don’t have time to protest because she has already started walking. I follow her to the only private dance room here. Many of the other clubs, the places that rely less on performance and more on pandering, where there are more sequins than tattoos, those places have dozens of private dance rooms lining the edges of the bar. Many men, my lover informed me, will spend a month’s rent a night in those private rooms to feel the proximity of another person. Here the room is small, behind a semi-sheer black curtain, and tucked behind the same booth-lined wall where my lover and I often sit when we want to kiss in half-darkness. I’ve passed this space, less a room than a niche, countless times and seen flashes of skin through the opening between the wall and the curtain. I have watched the girls writhe on their singular audience; I’ve found myself staring and then, embarrassed, fled to the bar.
“Sit down here,” Jenny advises me, holding the curtain open for me to enter.
I obey, sliding past her into the small nook and sitting on a plain black bench carved into the wall. She stands at the open curtain and watches the stage. When the music starts for another girl’s set, she drops the curtain behind her and faces me. There is no space for two people in here. Her legs graze my knees.
“Don’t be nervous. It’s just like out there.”
I smile, but it’s not really like out there at all. Because now I’m not anonymous in my watching her. Now she watches me back.
She smiles and bites her lower lip before moving closer to me. This time she wears a blush pink bra and panties with black lace lining the edges. I don’t recognize the music that plays as she starts swaying in front of me. It’s not supposed to be this way. In my fantasies I hear Jenny Lewis sing, “And the talking leads to touching, and the touching leads to sex.”
My girl moves closer to me. She spreads her arms out and places each palm on the opposite walls like she’s bracing herself. That’s when our skin touches. She straddles me and closes her thighs around my closed legs. I feel the warmth from her on me.
Convinced I need to make small talk, I ask her how long she’s been dancing.
“Oh, since I graduated high school. Three years.”
I wonder if Jenny can see my face twist after doing the math. She doesn’t seem to notice and turns around to sit on my lap facing away from me. I keep my hands pinned to my sides. My palms sweat within closed fists. She reaches one hand back and unhooks the three clasps of her bra, grabbing it before it slides onto the ground. She folds it and drops it onto the bench next to me as if it were a less extraordinary object. With my eyes I trace the lines left from the bra on her back. She turns and looks at me over her shoulder, flashing a flirting half smile.
“You’re a really great dancer, just amazing to watch out there,” I offer a compliment because I’m embarrassed for staring at her so hungrily.
“Thank you,” she says and rocks a little on my lap before pushing up and dancing with her back to me. She bends over in front of me and pulls down her underwear.
When Jenny turns back, I see her full nakedness. This is the longest I’ve looked at her body before turning away. I’m afraid if I stop looking Jenny will think I don’t appreciate what she offers to me. I don’t know where to look, so I follow her hands, which act as guides. She moves them across her small breasts and down her stomach dotted with tiny brown moles. She straddles me again but rests on her knees so that her breasts are in my face. There is a bar on the wall to my left that Jenny reaches for. Gripping it, she rolls her body and dips her head all the way back like she’s about to let out a big laugh. When I release a long held breath, the warmth from my mouth reaches her puckering nipple.
My girl brings her head back up and says, “That feels nice.”
I smile like a pleased child.
She steps onto the ground and places her hands on the tops of my thighs. Jenny pulls them open. My fingernails dig half moons into my palms. I am in this moment with her. As she grinds her body against me, she leans in and whispers, “I’ve seen you two in here before. I like when I get couples like you. You’re my favorites.”
I don’t know how to respond and find myself only able to nod. The song has run through its chorus twice. Time winds down.
Jenny stops the movement of her hips and plops down on my lap. I can feel the moistness from her uncovered vagina against my bare thigh. “If you two want to have a private party, I think we could have a lot of fun.”
I look at her face—it’s freckled-dusted. Her arm hair is light like she has spent all summer in the sun. Jenny’s body is sacred.
“I charge three hundred for you and me with him watching. It’s five hundred if he wants to join.”
And then there is no mystery left.
Sometimes when my husband and I have sex, I close my eyes and think of other things: not fantasies of other people nor anything mundane like my grocery list. Sometimes my mind drifts through memories, disjointed fragments like my mother baking bread for the potluck after the evening service or sunbathing in Malibu for the first time and feeling self-conscious in my new two-piece. Sometimes I think of my old roommate Lara and the large glasses she wore when she wanted to be taken seriously or how she used to talk in her sleep. I never told her that I heard her at night because it felt like I could know all her secrets this way and if she knew, she’d stop telling them to me. Or sometimes my mind doesn’t focus on any one thing. It floats between images of hair and skin and water and dirt.
When we leave the strip club, my lover squeezes me and kisses my neck as we walk. His car is parked down the street, but he says he can’t make it there. He wants me now so he pushes me against a chain-link fence that surrounds an empty parking lot. I kiss him for a while, slowly like I’m drowsy from the alcohol and the late night. His hands move up my thighs and the space between my loose-hanging dress and skin. I close my eyes and lean my head back against the fence.
“Are you there, babe?” My lover asks me and I realize he’s stopped kissing me. He puts both hands on my arms and squeezes them gently like he’s comforting me.
“Yes, but I’m exhausted. Can you take me home? He’ll be home soon. I forgot to tell you, I need to get home early tonight,” I lie.
“What about your dance? Aren’t you going to tell me about it? I want all the details.”
“Yes, of course,” I promise. “I’ll tell you in the car.”
“Good. You’ll leave me with something to think about until I can have you again.”
In the car, I make up stories about what my girl said and did to me. I make it sound extravagant like how my lover wants it to be. I won’t tell him the truth.
When my husband arrives home from closing the store, he crawls into bed and pretends he doesn’t see that I’ve been crying. He asks me if I need anything and I tell him to fuck me. I don’t say it nice like, “Make love to me.” I say it with all its rough and painful meanings. He tries hard to make me hurt, but he’s so gentle that he can’t reach me. I feel like if my body were the water’s surface I’m hiding somewhere far below. It’s like they’re there floating at the top and I’m down here, swimming and holding my breath for as long as I can.