West Columbus

by Alex Law

a

Cadie rides the bus to work. It’s one of the routes that terminates at the casino, so it’s full of sweaty, nervous people. She is not looking forward to her shift, but she needs the money. Her mother didn’t raise her to look forward to much in West Columbus. Cadie takes the bus because her coughing car is in the shop again, and she doesn’t let men without a downtown job or a family drive her around because she only trusts men with something to lose. Evens the playing field, so to speak. But now, in the middle of the afternoon, they are in their offices, so none answer her texts. It’s easier to get them to lie to their wives at night than it is to get them to lie to their boss. One of them will drive her home.

She wears sweats, keeps her hood up, and looks out the window. Her long, painted nails betray her shapeless form. A loser on his way to the casino to lose stands over her. She knows all about losers.

“Hey, honey. Why don’t you try smiling?”

She ignores him. She isn’t afraid. His casual, daylight misogyny couldn’t be more boring. She lets the silence eat him alive. Bite by bite. Eventually his testosterone fades under the uncomfortable sideways glances from other passengers. He and his stink go away. Every bus Cadie has ever been on has men like this.

What a business model, right? She walks around back and knocks on a door. Bobby pops his square head out. Beady eyes on a beady man.

“You’re not late for once.” Being late had gotten her kicked off weekends. She was sent to midweek to die or be reborn.

“Took the bus.” She has to shimmy by his big, lazy belly, which he doesn’t move. Cadie knows he’s a pervert, but that’s life.

“Maybe you should take it more often then.” She doesn’t know if she’s ever heard something more useless.

Soulless country music fills the main area and leaks into the locker room. She takes off her sweats and puts on one of the outfits management makes her wear. She picks a frilly pink thing because it makes her look like a teenager, and she’s found nothing generates tips like pretending to be an eager stepdaughter. That’s the brand these days. The older women pretend to be eager stepmothers or stepsisters. Men loved pretending they were going to fuck their family.

“Anyone good out there?” Cadie asks Tara. Tara shimmies into a corset and overflows from every crease. She is beautiful and thick. Cadie likes working with Tara. They cater to different interests.

“What do you think? It’s Tuesday.”

She peeks out and sees Marina on stage, bent on all fours, legs apart. A few older men in flannel sit together and stare at her spread. Marina isn’t even dancing. The men don’t seem to care. They came to stare directly into their pretend stepdaughter’s asshole and by god, they aim to do it.

Bobby doubles as the stage manager. He nods at Cadie. She gives him the finger.

“Thank you, Missy! Let’s give a warm, Road Stop welcome to Delilah!” Cadie is called Delilah at the Road Stop. She didn’t pick it. She walks onto the small U-stage. Her song plays. She takes off her clothes at the same point in the song she always does. The flannel men don’t seem interested in her, so she’s stuck dancing for no one.

Then a tall white man in an elegant suit walks in and sits at the edge of the stage. He looks like a man she’d let drive her around, a leaky man. Condescension leaks from every perfect pore. Cadie straddles the pole on stage and keeps eye contact with him. If he wants a show, her job is to give one to him. She’s not ashamed of what she does. Even if she isn’t pretty enough for the clubs downtown, she knows how to be desirable. The blue silk of his tie reflects the low light. The way his eyes pulsate over her body, she can tell he wants her.

The song ends. Cadie gets off the stage. She’s totally nude. Some men are intimidated by the starkness of total nudity. He watches her as she pads toward him, eyeing her like a car he intends to test drive. Cadie lets him think what he wants. She moves gracefully. She knows how to quicken a man’s pulse. His limp smile betrays that he thinks she’s stuck in the gravity of his masculinity. This isn’t Cadie’s first suit. She is not charmed by him, just his wallet.

She drags a hand along his shoulders and bends her lips to his ear.

“You need a dance.”

“I do,” he confirms. No courtship of fake names and small talk.

Cadie takes him by the hand to the small booths in the back. There are no closed doors in the club, but the shape of the room gives them privacy.

He sits and spreads his legs, inviting her to climb on top of him. Does he think she works for free? Cadie climbs onto his lap and presses her small chest into his face. His cologne smells like wasted money. She breathes into his ear.

“Management says no freebies. Ten for one. Two hundred and you have me as long as you want me.”

He reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out a money clip that holds a year’s rent. All hundreds. He peels two bills off and puts them on the couch next to him. Cadie slips them into the strap of her high heel in an elegant slow, spin. He’s rented her, and she dances for him. One day, she won’t allow herself to be rented. Tonight, she’s content to get to the end of the shift with her car repairs paid for.

Cadie lets her clients touch her, but twice she has to stop him from forcing her hand onto his lap. Her legs and her chest are for rent. Her hands and her lips are not. Even at the Road Stop. For her at least. Tara sells more and makes good money doing it. Tara’s daughter gets a tutor with that extra money.

“Come back to my hotel with me.” He’s all swagger and veneers.

“And why would I do that?”

“Because I will give you the best night of your life.” She can tell he really believes it too. This must be how he affords silk blue ties. He makes people believe. He’s just as much a loser as the man on the bus or Bobby who she knows is watching her from his stool around the corner.

“Oh, will you?” She plays along.

“You know I will.” He thrusts into her to emphasize his sincerity. She’s never felt anything less convincing.

“I can’t tonight,” Cadie says as she leans back into him, but he sits up. She stands and turns to face him.

“All done?” she asks sweetly.

“You could try smiling when a guy shows you this much attention.”

Cadie smiles. Not for him. She never smiles for them.

XXXX

Alex Law lives in Charlottesville, VA with his wife and newfoundland pup. He attends law school, participates in writing groups, and cheers for the Tennessee Titans and Philadelphia 76ers. His stories appear or are forthcoming in multiple literary journals including the Plentitudes, the Mark Literary Review, the SissyFuss, Second Chance Lit, and the B’K. @AlexLawNJ

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