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Back You are here: Home Stories Words for the People Poetry February 2011: Bleeding Hearts Fever
Monday, 31 January 2011 18:33

Fever

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Discipline, geometry, timing, and rhythm.

Caroline undoes her tight French braid, finger over finger. Mouth set, she tucks her chin and yells from beneath her veil of hair, “Run it from the top!”

The first notes of Elvis’s version of “Fever” bleed from the walls, top volume. Right hip locks with the blue light every second flash of the fixed strobe pattern. Three lights: blue, red, purple. White spotlight for new girls, they work under a fixed, merciless circle, hesitation their selling point.

Stock still except for the hip, rolling the flesh and bone outward. Forward step, discard the blue, left leg hyper-extends into purple. Legs together, head forward, arms at sides, hips thrusting slowly through the rest of the bass intro.

Possessed. Think possessed. Let the music in you. Count of four before the horns crash, toss back the hair and breasts forward into the red -

Purple!

“Can we start over? I fucked up.”

“Damnitt Caroline,” the voice of God or the Wizard of Oz replaces Elvis. “I gotta piss. Take five and remember you got forty minutes.”

“Thanks Jim,” Reaching for the bottle of water, she almost snags it. Overheads kick on and stun, she bumps it with blind fingertips, hearing it roll slowly off the edge.

If this were a more romantic life, less about geometry and lighting and money, a hand would stop the bottle's descent from the honey-colored stage before it hit the sticky floor.

One bounce and it thumps a table leg. Fuck it. Caroline's not touching anything on that floor. Slippers and robe on a chair beside the gleaming and overrated pole, she dresses and hops out of the light.

Humming, Violet AKA Sandy is spread over a bar stool in full make-up. She’s one of two new girls, with the rhythm of an elephant on cough syrup, but her tits are the size of water melons - no one will notice her legs, her destiny is up tempo. “When you do it it looks like Fosse,” she passes Caroline a lit cigarette ringed in purple gloss and lights another for herself. “When I do it it’s like the bonobo mating dance.”

“Were you counting? How did I miss the red for the horns? That’s the place to hit the red, and I think I’ll just have him cut the other colors after that. Makes sense, right?” No reason to compare and contrast their methods, she reasons. Pick a thing and do it perfectly - if you can’t, slice off your fingertips and pick something else. One long pull on the cigarette, there’s no mingling of colors on the butt, Caroline never paints for blocking.

Poor Sandy has the shit shift, doing her monkey shake for the after-work-or-in-between-planes crowd.

Early afternoon light sneaks through an open service door and Sandy's eyes look vampiric, almost comical. The red stool where she perches is too red; there’s too much gold on the walls. The plum carpet is worn and stained. Caroline has crow’s feet. Jim slips past, back to the sound booth, just a middle-aged guy with male-pattern baldness and a son overseas. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

But when the lights dim, the waitresses shimmy and the girls undress, this place will look just right: mysterious, glittering, just out of reach. Things kittens bat at, things men jerk off to.

“Caroline, you a go?” Oz, the Great and Terrible.

“On my way!” Thirty-five minutes before the doors cave inward and Violet skips onto the stage, lolly pop and all. Caroline leans in. “Sandy, you’re gonna do fine - fuck the other girl, you’ll open for me Saturday, I’d bet your red bonobo ass on it. Starla is a B cup and a prima-donna, you can’t be both. You know what her real name is?”

Head tilted, eyes hopeful, Sandy answers, “No.”

“None of us do! She says 'Starla’ all the time will be just fine. And she asked Tim for my Valentine show spot, wanted to do a scarf dance to Beethoven. What the fuck does she know about Beethoven?” She grinds her cigarette in a tin tray. “You know, we should do an Oz number. I'd be the Tin Man, you'd be Dorothy.”

“Caroline.” Tim says.

Sandy’s mouth turns at the corners, down then up. “Thanks. I got student loans, you know. You’re like a beautiful fucking snake or a butterfly or something.”

Before she recieves a kiss or hug or gets any form of stripper glitter or smell on her, Caroline darts between the round tables and hoists herself over the lip of the stage.

Her mom said all that shit about doing things perfectly or doing something else - not the fingerprint bit, though, Caroline added that herself.

Sitting more upright than her bench, her mother French braided her hair, the surety of each movement imprinted into Caroline's scalp. The piano keys always gleamed, that’s what threw her off – mashing her dirty fingers all over such pristine bone and ebony.

The last day she played, sixteen and pale and perfect, the music flowed through her. Best day of her life. Red hearts and flowers blossomed; music dripped between the keys. The white became pink and slippery. Caroline fumbled notes and stumbled through one last melody.

She drifted away lightheaded, beaten, conquered, satisfied.

“Go for it!” Caroline calls, and shut her eyes. Bass rolling like waves, her hip catches the blue light, lets it go, catches it again. She finds the purple and the snare, waiting for the red.




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amanda gowin

Amanda Gowin lives in the foothills of Appalachia with her husband and son. She has always written and always will.

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