Sticking the nipple petals on her breasts was difficult-ish. Her fingers shook a little as she peeled the backing off. She even ripped the silicon in places. Doing so, the woman looked for her name on a piece of paper pinned to the mirror. She was number 2, after a recently divorced mother of two, and then again number 9, and 13. Her throat was, for some reason, sore, like she had just screamed for hours at a rock concert. “You got this,” her mind persisted, but her body seemed to be filled with lead.

 

The woman finished adjusting her space-themed outfit and looked in the mirror. She assessed her pasties job. The outlines of the petals were clearly seen through the thin foil. “They look awful”, she sighed. “They always do,” giggled the chatty blonde in blue, whose act was that massive twerking routine with samurai swords, hence the stage name —  Katana. Location: the dressing room in a cheesy club, called, in fact, “Cheetahs”, in Hollywood. The Amateur Pole Show.

 

Parked in front, in the car, she took a selfie. Even though she did her best job to produce a genuine smile, and it kind of worked, but if scrutinized more closely, the illusion vanished; under a thick layer of foundation and luscious false lashes, her dolled up face looked like a mask of terror — just a scared girl. She pulled down her beanie, unbuckled herself and walked inside.

 

When she arrived, Cheetah’s was empty, echoey; the dark bar and a number of red velvet booths, lit by neon. The stage represented a narrow strip with the glossy floor; a pole on each end and a platform in the back. It was surrounded by the rail and red leather stools for the “tipping customers”.

 

“You got that, you got that, you got that milk money / I got that, I got that, I got that MILF money”

 

The bass from the bar seeped into the dressing room. The mother of two danced to M.I.L.F.$ by Fergie. On that day one year ago her abusive husband had cheated on her, she said; today she meant to reclaim herself. She finished in a drop split; the audience seemed to love her performance.

 

The bar was now full of patrons. Her acquaintances, or family friends could be among them; she gleefully imagined her Mother’s shrill voice, “Your stomach fat’s hanging!” Pops would’ve probably kept quiet, maybe, said “Be nice, work hard”, before disappearing in the bedroom. “She is in your head. She is still controlling you,” she reminded herself. Well, fuck that. “Not anymore,” she whispered, and that gave her courage to step onto the stage.

 

She felt the cool surface of the pole with her fingertips, and moments later, the unforgiving cold steel burned into the tender skin of her inner thigh, scratching it and leaving a bruise, as she hanged upside down. She forgot everything, only heard the other girls cheer her on, and felt the adrenaline rush.

 

Her eyes were fixated on a woman in the far booth the whole time, though. Eventually, her face — shoulder length hair, grey eyes — transformed into a different one. The new woman had her lips pursed, as always, eyes critical and unaccepting behind the glasses, coldly staring back. She was haunted by that face.

 

Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted her. A gorgeous smiling creature, radiant matte skin, she carried her leg over the rail; the chrome stiletto heel landed next to an older man’s wrist; as he was clutching his drink; her bending over to him, her eyes glistened with a hellish joy. Her long platinum hair swept over the side of her face. Good for him. The sluggish girl in the knit beanie that hid her whole face, that mumbled and looked down the whole time, was gone. She realized it was her own reflection in the dirty mirrors across the wall!

 

At the end of the song, she picked a crumpled dollar bill from the floor and stuffed it into her booty shorts. She whipped her hair, clacked her heels, and looked at the far corner, where she’s been imagining her Mother, curled up, having a meltdown, and gave her a little booty shake. The booth was, of course, empty.

 

Early Monday morning her beaten up Toyota SUV pulled up to the Chase branch in West Los Angeles. She wore a simple dark blue midi dress and put her hair in a bun. The person in front of her stepped out. She got cosy in front of the ATM. In her hands she had $200 in $1 dollar bills. She put her purse down. It was going to take some time. She started feeding her earnings into the ATM machine.

 

She drove past her apartment building, the church, enveloped in a subtle weed smell, the Indian fast food place where she sometimes ate lunch; she looked over all of it with a weird sense of disassociation. At work she answered the phone calls, “Sure, I will Fedex the documents by EOD” “What’s the ETA on this?” She placed the lunch order and had to go to McDonalds down the street to grab coffee for everyone. Only this time, methodically knocking things off of her to-do list, she couldn’t wipe the smile off her face:

 

“You have no idea I twerked in a split in the patent thigh high boots on the Cheetah’s stage last night!”