Sunday, August 11, 2013


It broke Jim’s heart watching Heather drive away to her first night at the new job. She had said it wouldn’t be so bad, and maybe it would not. But that doesn’t mean it will be good, he though. It’s a rotten way to make a living. And it’s my fault for putting her in this position.

As the hours passed, he kept thinking about her and picturing what she was doing. He paced around the apartment, angry. It was okay if it was some other girl but not his girl. His wife.

He went out onto the balcony and lit a cigarette, but couldn’t calm down. Finally, he put on his jacket and walked to the Shop-N-Go. He didn’t think about what he was doing, or try to talk himself out of it. He was past that. He had made up his mind.

He bought a six-pack and took it home, and as he drank the first cold one the tension he had been carrying for weeks disappeared. He felt loose and relaxed, and when he had numbed himself sufficiently he began to see things differently.

Everything’s going to be okay, he thought. I’ll get a job. The man at the Burger Royale had said come back in a week. It was just a matter of time. It wouldn’t be a great living, but it’ll be a living. Just enough to keep a roof over our heads, and enough for Heather to quit and go back to her other job. Then, after they’d had a few months’ stability and sobriety they would get their boy back. It was just a matter of time.

He opened another beer. Enjoy it, he told himself, because after tonight, no more. The only reason I’m drinking tonight is because it’s her first night on the job. What guy wouldn’t drink. He grew melancholy …

* * *

It was, however, not Heather’s first night on the job. She had never told Jim, but during those long hard months while she was waiting for him to be paroled, and needing money to support herself and Jason and her habit, she had done it before and at the same place, the Pink Kitty Kat.

And now here she was again at the Pink Kitty Kat. Some of the same girls still worked there. Her friend Jana was glad to see her back, and she was glad to see Jana as well but not so glad to be back. She had never regretted working there; she had done what she had to do and it had been a valuable learning experience. But she had been a different person then.

It had been less than a year, but a lot had changed since then. Then, she still had her son; now she did not have him and was trying to get him back. Then, Jim was still in prison; now he was with her, but instead of things getting better when he got out, they had gotten worse. Then, she was still using; now she was trying to stay clean and sober.

Which all came down to this: she did not if she could do this job clean and sober. She had thought she could, but now that she was here, looking out into the big room of booming music and multi-colored lights flashing in the darkness, lighting up the men’s staring faces—some grinning, others just staring, older men sitting alone and quiet, younger ones in large raucous groups having their bachelor parties—she felt daunted by the whole scene. Once, she had been able to see them all as harmless boys and had been able to abandon herself to the music and have a little fun with it. But not tonight.

Her moment came to go on stage. She tried getting into the loud music. She knew and remembered all the moves, and did them well enough, but was stiff and nervous and self-conscious. It was not like the last time at all, when dollar bills had rained on her. Tonight there were only a few tips (sympathy votes) and even some groans in the audience.

“I can’t do this,” she said to Jana offstage. “I was terrible.”

“You need something?”


They went into the bathroom and Jana laid out a couple of lines. Heather snorted one, using one of the dollar bills from her G-string. She felt the harsh chemical grittiness blast through her sinuses. It felt like the return of long-lost friend. Then, as it drained sourly down the back of her throat, she began to feel the rush.

Jana did the other line, then asked, “Is that better?”

“Yeah,” she said, “much better.” It had been a long time since she felt a rush like that. It was like the first time she ever did it. I should quit more often, she thought.

Her heart quickened with the driving beat and vibrating bass of the music booming from the next room. She could get into it now.

They stepped out of the bathroom and into the brighter light of the dressing room, but it was too bright and too noisy—the girls chattering and music booming—and she suddenly felt a wave of panic. She looked into the mirror to touch up her hair and makeup and noticed she was shaking. She felt unsteady in her heels. I’ll fall if I go out there, she thought. I’m too wired. She turned to Jana. “I gotta’ take the edge off.”

There was a strict rule against the dancers drinking, but that did not matter. They went back into the bathroom, Jana pushing another girl out of the way who cried, “Hey!”

“Emergency,” said Jana, shutting the door. Then she pulled a pint out of vodka out of her purse.