"Hold it, girl. Not one mo'e word. Ain' nobody blamin' 'er crawdad bites on me; dis pussy 's clean." Michelle's eyes narrow; Helene's denial has failed, somehow, to convince. "Cross my heart... I swear to God!... Well, shee-it, you ain' inspectin'. Dat patch belong to Oscar; he say, 'Nooooo trespassin'."

Michelle, at last, concedes.

"Okay, okay."

Helene grows less defensive.

"Itchin' you real bad, huh?"

"They're gone."

"Gone? Then why you dis'in' me?... Never mind. Take care, or dey be back."

"You've had 'em?"

"Twice. Da eggs is what you gotta kill. Gotta pick out ev'ry one of 'em."

"I shaved."

"For real? Well, girl, you're problem's solved."

Confrontation over, they lapse into laissez-faire.

"Who's up?"

"Dike City."

"If Liz gets wind of what you call 'er she'll..."

"Do squat."

"No?"

"Dike City's got herself a teeny-weeny problem."

"Oh?"

"Don't ax."

Helene tokes up. A cloying plume of hash pollutes the narrow dressing room. The pair of women lounge, at ease, hiding out. House rules state that dancers cannot fraternize during work hours. Things are slow, however. And Chris (the owner) is out, or late, or not coming in at all. His rein is often loose—though small things tick him off. Renown for firing fast (without forgiving or relenting), Chris is feared by most, and liked by almost nobody.

"Lena? When was the last time you can remember a man kissing you that he didn't ram his tongue half down your throat?" Helene shrugs... takes a long drag on her silver pipe... offers it to Michelle, who recoils from the stench. "I mean sex is fine and feels good and all that, but Christ, I'm sick to death of being fucked."

"By who? Thought you give ol' wha's-his-face the slip."

"By men in general. Paw, paw, paw, then shove it in; the way they carry on just makes me vomit."

Helene examines her lips in the dressing table's mirror, checking for sores.

"Listen, honey, I been eatin' tongue since I's eleven. Still taste purdy good, if you ax me."

"Terrific." Michelle slumps into a chair to brood in isolation. Helene attends to plucking her razor-thin brows. Smoke escapes her pipe like an undulating genie. "That stuff 's really nauseating. Would you blow it the other way, please?" Helene cannot be bothered; she is touching up her lashes. "If Chris finds out, you're history, Lena."

"Lose dis precious job? Good riddance."

"Easy for you to say; you're kept. Some of us have got to pay bills solo."

"Wouldn't be braggin' 'bout dat, girl."

Tempers once more flare... then shrink to a spark.

Liz bursts in. She is livid.

"Will you look at this!"

"At what?"

"My leg! See? Some mother-fucker took his fag and burned me!"

"Who?"

"On purpose?"

Helene produces a tube of Vaseline. She applies a copious glob, as Liz averts her face.

"I wouldn't doubt it... SHIT, THAT HURTS! ...except he was so damn smashed he hardly noticed. Why can't Molly stop serving these goons until their brain dead?"

"It's not her fault; it's Chris's."

"Hey, hol' still."

Liz, aborting further treatment, sits at her station. Scowling at the glossy rose now branded on her thigh, she rants and raves to no one in particular.

"Why, of all the hell holes in the world, did I choose this one? Corners stink of piss; it's either freezing cold or stifling; clientele is stupid—no, moRONic; wages suck; and every time you need to take a crap the TP 's swiped! Mother Murphy, save me from this chamber pot of horrors."

Bambi enters, drawn by the commotion.

"Who's Mother Murphy?"

"Beat it, Jailbait."

"Well, sor-ry!"

She turns, on her neophyte heels, and stomps back out. Michelle admonishes Liz.

"That wasn't very nice."

"Who cares?"

Helene, made up like a diva, saunters toward the door.

"Later."

She exits.

"Good God, doesn't she beat all? That Black bitch really loves it, LOVES to have those hound dogs sniff her tail."

Chris is back; his voice intrudes like a bullhorn.

"Let's shake it."

"Shit, I'm on! Your leg okay?"

She nods. Michelle departs. Left alone, Liz reassesses the damages... drawing concentric circles, with her thumbnail, round the blister... pausing... frowning... lancing the burn dead-center.

 

 

Mikey...

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