Friday, August 16, 2013


Heather was making decent money, but it was not easy. She was not paid a salary, therefore relied entirely on tips—an amount diminished by the stage fee she had to pay the management, as well as the percentage she had to share with the wait staff. This made it necessary to hustle patrons for as many table dances and lap dances as possible, which was especially difficult on a busy night when there was a lot of competition with other dancers.

It took a lot out of her, going from table to table, acting like she loved every man in the room and was his personal sex goddess, and the only way she could do it was with more crank and vodka shots.

On a particularly busy Saturday night, she approached a table where three men sat drinking beer. All three had buzz cuts. Two looked to be in their late twenties, and were tall and muscular and broad shouldered and had buzz cuts. The third man was also muscular, but shorter and more compact and older by a decade. He had a sneering smile and gave off a bad vibe, which ordinarily would have caused her to avoid his table. But she was feeling relaxed and reckless tonight—and tweaking a little—and anyway needed the money.

The short, sneering man bought a table dance from her—ten dollars—then each man tipped her an additional ten. There were more two more table dances and more tips. She warmed to the men.

The short man said he wanted a lap dance. “Sure,” she said, and led him into the nearest unoccupied booth and drew the curtain. He paid her the twenty dollars.

The rules were looser in the booths than on the main floor, but that did not mean there were no rules. Some light touching of the dancer was allowed, maybe even some extra touching of the patron, as long as it stopped short of actual sexual activity. Not that the rules were always strictly observed. Some of the girls crossed the line, and the bouncers never looked behind the curtains (unless they heard trouble). Thus some customers came to expect that all the girls were willing when in fact many, like Heather, were not.

The session went well at first. He lightly stroked one of her breasts. She could have done without it, but it was within the club rules. As long as he tips well, she thought. Then he unzipped himself.

“Sorry big boy,” she said, smiling, “you better put that away.”

“Aw come on.”

“No, you’ll have to find another girl for that.”

“I want you.” He grabbed her by the wrist to pull her hand down. She tried to break free but couldn’t.

“I’ll call a bouncer,” she said. He let go. She got off his lap.

“Who do you think you are, Miss America,” he sneered, zipping up his pants.

“The dance is over.”

He reached into his back pocket and took out his Police ID. She stared at it, heart pounding.

“I could take you to jail,” he said.

“I haven’t done anything.”

“Your word against mine.”

Right away she knew he was full of shit. He’s not vice squad, she thought. She had never heard of the cops running a sting in this club. The owner was too wealthy and connected. This was the last place the cops would mess with. The only vice busts in this town were street walkers and johns, mostly johns.

“Come on,” he said, pulling a few twenties out of his billfold.

She looked at him. So sure of himself. This routine probably worked on other girls, the young dumb ones, but not on her.

“So what’s it going to be? Jail or …”

“Jail,” she said. “I’d love to see you try to explain to your bosses what you were doing here. You’re just a beat cop looking for a hand job. Here’s your money back.”

The sneer vanished. He looked like he wanted to hit her. Heather walked out.

He went back to his table, the back of his neck burning. One of his cop buddies said, “That was quick.”

“Stupid bitch.”

His cop buddies laughed. “What did you do to her, Sam?”

“Nothing,” said Sam. He watched her walking away to the dressing room.

(To be continued)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


After seeing the objects rearranged in the craft room, and with the dream still fresh on his mind, Charlie grabbed his flashlight and went outside. He looked at the back right tire of his car and, sure enough, it was low—so low, in fact, it was nearly flat—just as Margaret had said in the dream.

He went back into the house, dumbstruck, unable to believe the evidence of his eyes. Never before had he believed in tales of paranormal activity. That had always been Margaret's preoccupation. She was always reading books or watching TV shows about psychics and ghosts and such—things he found rather silly.

Yes, he believed in the possibility of life-after-death, in a theoretical sort of way. But that was as far as it went. It could not be proven, therefore he did not invest a great deal of hope in it, despite all the "near-death experiences" Margaret described from her book reading and TV watching.

Once she said to him, “Charlie, if I die first I’m going to send you a message to let you know there’s life after death.” And he laughed ...

Well, he was not laughing now. Now, he was sitting on the back porch with a cup of coffee growing cold in his hand, thinking, My god it’s true. There IS life after death.

Unless of course I’m losing my mind, he thought. Maybe subconsciously I knew the tire was low and that’s why Margaret said that in the dream. And maybe I'm just having these dreams because I miss her. And maybe I walked in my sleep and moved those things in her craft room because I'm creating some kind of crazy fantasy in my head, trying to convince myself she’s come back. Maybe grief has pushed me over the edge. People do go crazy from grief, or so I’ve heard. Or maybe this is the first stage of senile dementia, God help me. And yet he did not think so …

It troubled him all day. He went back and forth between the two possibilities: either he was crazy, or he was not. And if he was not, then he had proof positive of life after death. Which of course was crazy …

He went to bed that night wondering would he have another dream about Margaret? And if so, would that be a good thing or bad? Would it prove either way whether he was crazy or not? Or would it just keep him in this tailspin, not knowing for sure?

He took a sleeping pill—he was so agitated—and fell asleep, and some time in the night began dreaming he was walking through a dark wooded area down a dry creek bed. It was such a lonesome place and so quiet. No birds, no wind in the trees, just dead silence, and very little sunlight filtering through the limbs and the shadows so deep. He did not like this place.

Then he heard her call, “Charlie, up here!”

Following her voice, he went up a thicket-covered hill and there in the sunlight saw her, so youthful and radiant. She said, “Oh Charlie, it’s wonderful news! I’m so happy for Paul. He’ll be a wonderful father.”

Charlie woke with a start. He knew who Paul was. Paul was his nephew, married three years now but no children yet ...

Later that day, Charlie received a call from Paul. “Don’t tell me,” said Charlie, “Jenny’s pregnant.”

“How did you know?”

“I just had a feeling.”

There were more such dreams in the days to come. Charlie stopped doubting the evidence of his own eyes, stopped wondering if he was crazy, and came to accept the fact—the astounding, unexplainable fact—that he was in nightly communication with Margaret.

Every night she would come to him in a dream and tell him something he could not possibly have known on his own ...

One night she said, “You’ve been looking for my recipe for apple crumb cake. I can tell you exactly where to find it. I wrote it down and used it to mark my place in a book I never finished. Go to my craft room and you’ll find it on the third shelf.”

Next morning, he did what she said and found the recipe tucked inside a book about ghosts.

Her predictions and instructions were so accurate that Charlie came to trust her implicitly. Whatever she advised him to do, he did without question.

One time she said, “Charlie, you’ve got to sell the gold.”

“What? I can’t sell now. It’s going up.”

“Yes, but day after tomorrow it will drop and keep dropping.”

“Well, that’s no reason to sell. It’ll go back up again.”

“Yes, Charlie, that's true but you need to sell it now. And keep it in cash. Don’t put it in the bank.”

"Sell all of it?"

"All of it."

Charlie did what she said. The next day he sold all the gold—fifty thousand dollars’ worth—and put the cash in the small safe under his bed. And the very next day, gold began to drop and kept dropping. Just as she had said.

She would also advise him on health matters. One time she said, “You’re not getting enough exercise, or fresh air. You need to start golfing again. You used to enjoy it so. It would do you so much good, Charlie. Take your golf clubs and put them in the trunk, and leave them there. Don’t ever bring them in the house again. Leave them in the trunk.”

And he did what she said, without question. It was wonderful having her back giving him advice, reminding him about things, taking care of him, and sometimes telling him what was going to happen in the future. And oh what a joy it was just seeing her and hearing her voice again.

For the first time in a long time, Charlie was happy. He would wake in the morning happy, having just had a dream of Margaret, go through the day happy, and become happier as it got closer to bedtime when he would be able to see Margaret again in the meadows of their youth.

(To be continued)

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.