She had driven by many times in the back of her family’s station wagon before she became an employee there. A child of Florida cannot avoid such a place. It is as natural a part of growing up as Disney World, the strip club. Particularly the Pink Pussycat Lounge Strip Club. Tampa’s finest. Situated right beneath a slew of power lines that Kumquat Mangosteen would nightly do her dance since long before her eighteenth birthday (she was sixteen, to be exact, when she walked onto the premises with the worst fake ID Lenny had ever seen, yet he couldn’t refuse her “job” application: the best head he had ever gotten). The cops weren’t so pervasive back in those days, preferring to be conspiratory in the knowledge of watching underage girls dance as opposed to actually cracking down every so often when they felt obliged to fulfill some sort of quota/power trip. Luckily, Kumquat had turned “of age” before all that happened. Before all that ego and rage made the police a constant source of terror to most of the sixteen- and seventeen-year-old girls that Lenny employed there. He had, of course, taken the necessary measure in being tipped off to an officer’s or plainclothesman’s arrival by a mole who worked at the department that he paid handsomely.
To Kumquat’s benefit, it made her something of a star to have started out long enough ago (two years is a long time in the alternate universe of stripperdom being that every year that passes is extremely hard-won, especially if you can keep any of your sanity and somehow, at the same time, not develop a drug habit). This meant she was the most sought after for her “act,” therefore given the most solos. The “opportunity” allowed her to tap into her creative side when it came to coping with the fact that she had been raised in a Bible-beating family that kicked her out of the house at fourteen, when she was caught masturbating to Robert Pattinson from the Twilight DVD she had been given for her birthday against her mother’s better judgment. The scandal rocked the family and it was collectively decided that she ought to be cast out just as Eve was.
To that point, tonight’s show found Kumquat emerging into the red spotlight she had requested wearing a black devil horn headband with a red netted veil, red devil horn pasties that pointed upward with a gold tassel attached to the bottom, a black lace thong, black garter and red fishnets with rhinestone cross embellishments throughout. Her six-inch black stilettos had red and orange flames designed to make it look as though they were whooshing above the heel. In short, it was a costume with quite a bit of production value considering how little she was actually wearing. And then, the words, “I was born bad, but then I met you. You made me nice for a while, but my dark side’s true,” crooned by Lana Del Rey saturated the entire space, heightening the sense of eerie eroticism that Kumquat was going for.
As she did a few turns around the pole, she went up to the front row, squatted with her legs open and said to the handful of men sitting there, “Hi boys, I’m Satan’s bride. But you can call me Kumquat.”
One of the men tossed a crumpled, sweaty dollar at her. Another spat in her crotch. It was an average night. And Kumquat was aware that some of the men who came in wanted to be tested so as to say to themselves, I can resist that slut. I’m not like all these depraved perverts. But if they weren’t, then why did they get so angry when Kumquat got too close? She liked testing them that way, as a nightly means to iterate to herself that the blather her parents believed in was just that. People weren’t good. Nor could they saved from their sins. The inherent baseness of human nature was manifested in front of her on a constant basis, and she now felt foolish for having ever recited lines like, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And, most laughable of all, from the Book of Timothy, “I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”
She sometimes still read that to herself when she got back to her ramshackle apartment a few blocks away, which she walked to as though to bait the demons from the strip club to end her as they did to Carl Bruner in Ghost, rising up as one collective blackness to rape and obliterate her physical presence. No one ever did though, and she usually made it back around 3:45 a.m., crashing onto her bed to reach for the bottle of Stoli and the bible on her nightstand. She had marked the page long ago, highlighted the passage in pink. It soothed her to read it before she fell into a drunken coma and awoke sometime around one, giving her just enough time to go to the mall to find other items of kink, followed by the liquor store to replenish the Stoli. If she ate, it was rare, and usually something that Lenny brought in to force her to maintain her “strength,” just as he forced her to vomit it up afterward. He was a real father figure that Lenny, and Kumquat didn’t know what she would do without him. He was the only one who seemed to care about her, his “linchpin of the show.”
The other girls, accordingly, didn’t much care for her. Called her “Daddy’s favorite” or “The Virtuous Slut.” Again, it always came down to black or white, virtue or vice–the bible was inside of everyone whether they knew it or not. It was a mass brainwashing so sinister that it was invisible. Kumquat took a shot of tequila as she continued to apply her makeup in front of the mirror. Margo Dickslayer, one of the newest additions to the “family,” walked by and sneered, “Who’s your inspiration tonight? Divine?”
Kumquat turned to Margot. “Actually, yes.”
Margot was thrown and abruptly concluded their exchange with, “I know what everyone thinks about you, and I’m not going to be your friend just because I’m the new girl in town without a clue as to what’s going on.”
“Noted,” Kumquat said without flinching, continuing to apply the drastic color to her eyeshadow.
The bewildered hire frustratedly sighed and finally said, “Seems like they’re right about you being a huge cunt with a small one.” She stalked off. Kumquat turned up her radio with the tape of Ultraviolence she had put in. The bible was to Christians as Lana Del Rey was to stripper culture in the present. Giving it a touch of resigned tragedy as opposed to the woe is me variety. There was an undertone of empowerment to her lyrics, Kumquat reasoned. For yes, a girl could dance for money even if it wasn’t her first choice, but she could render everyone enraptured in the process, making her body a tool of infinite power. That’s how Kumquat saw herself up there every night. An angel exterminating all signs of falsely presented good. She wore wings tonight, of course, to accent her over the top in its whorishness makeup. With a gold harp covering her vag area and a G-string affixed to it to make it seem like novelty underwear, Kumquat complemented it with a gold latex bra and oversized gold-tone cross necklace. Her flesh colored shimmer fishnets were completed by gold platforms. The yellow-tone spotlight she had requested searched for her desperately (she wanted to make the crowd wonder if she would come out or not, so literal they could be in not understanding the value of cinematic buildup). At last, it reached the top of her halo as the opening notes to “Gods and Monsters” glutted the stage.
As she went about her usual business of making the pole her lover, she could see out of the corner of her eye one gentleman in particular who seemed to be worshipping her body. Seeing it as a chance to get some cash out of him, she shimmied over to get on her knees and bend toward him so that her now exposed breasts were just within reach. He regarded her with a glazed over sort of expression. He didn’t seem to process that there was a naked woman before him. No, it appeared he was having some sort of revelation, a vision of love, as it were. Kumquat resisted the urge to roll her eyes. It was always a cliche when one of the clients fell in love with a stripper. Again speaking to the biblical nature within most men, the type who “fell in love” didn’t do so because he thought it meant getting some sort of “freak goddess” in the bed, so much as he believed that he could be this girl’s salvation. The reason she quit dancing. What a fucking narcissistic species men are.
Nonetheless, Kumquat didn’t refuse when he slipped her not a one dollar bill into her panties, but a business card with a note on the back that said, “Have a drink with me when you’re done?”
At Abel’s, the bar Kumquat frequented when she wasn’t drinking by herself in her apartment, she proceeded to allow what she called “the flirtatious inquiry.” David, as he said his name was, seemed as strait-laced as they came, and said that he had only entered the Pink Pussycat on a whim, pulling over when he heard those opening notes to “Gods and Monsters” from the side of the road. It sounded like a yarn to her, but she didn’t question it, realizing she was actually attracted to him, his brown locks falling in cascades over his forehead, leading you straight to his green eyes. She wondered if they were contacts. Nobody had green eyes anymore.
“Why Kumquat?” he asked, sipping from his gin and tonic.
“It’s a suggestively named fruit. Not much to it.”
“Yes, but why fruit?”
“Well, um, I have sort of this Christian background I’m still trying to shake. Fruit sort of resulted in the end of the world the first time around, no? But it was also the beginning of everything. I just like that symbol.”
“Why not Apple then?”
“Too boring. It’s the name of Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter for fuck’s sake.”
Roughly an hour later they were back at her apartment. He sloppily removed her garter and tights, insisting he wanted to do it himself, that it had always been a fantasy of his to pull off a woman’s garter. All men had such lame fantasies, Kumquat had learned long ago. She obliged him, and just at the moment when penetration was to happen, he passed out on top of her, snoring gregariously in an instant. Rather than being annoyed by this, Kumquat was endeared, gently pushing him aside and arranging his body so that his head would fall on the pillow. When she finished tucking him in, she poured another glass of vodka and read her usual bible passage.
Upon waking in the morning–or afternoon, as it were–Kumquat was surprised to find that David was still there, cooking breakfast, in fact. He had gone out to the store to stock her fridge with what he called “normal people items”: eggs, milk, yogurt, salad, that sort of thing. She was simultaneously horrified and titillated–two sentiments that usually go hand in hand.
“You really didn’t have to–”
“Shh, shh, shh. I wanted to. As a way of apologizing for my rudeness in falling asleep last night…and hoping that maybe you’d give me another chance today.”
Rather than question why David was so interested in her or, somewhat more portentously, why a man in a business suit didn’t seem to need to be at work in the middle of the day, Kumquat fell face-first onto his dick. It was likely a subconscious way to avoid eating the food he had prepared, sex the best distraction for keeping her anorexia afloat.
When they had finished, or, more accurately, David had finished, he looked up at her with those loving eyes. Because yes, he had placed himself on her breast, as all Oedipal men do, therefore giving him the vantage point of being able to look up at her as though she was some sort of god. It would almost be flattering if it wasn’t so irksome. How could she ever remain balanced on such a pedestal? Yet she continued seeing David over the next few months, letting him get closer and closer to her. He refused to come back to the strip club, however, telling her it was too painful for him to watch her being ogled at by all those unworthy eyes. She knew what this was leading up to: he wanted her to quit the pole, to lead an honest and chaste life that kept her body his temple and no one else’s. She had never permitted a relationship to get this far, but still knew his end game with her: put your clothes back on or end up alone. That she was genuinely in love with David made this choice impossible. For stripping was her only release, and, to boot, her only skill. She couldn’t afford to go to college, nor had she even finished high school. This had been her sworn path until her tits shriveled and no one wanted to see her in the nude anymore. Oh how unjust it is that there is no stripper’s pension plan considering how quickly this happens–how one day you’re eighteen and supple, the next twenty-eight and considered day old bread. The profession is a lot like modeling that way, minus the potential for pay increases based on fame level. Kumquat had thought about pursuing the modeling track, but then her parents would inevitably come knocking on her door, trying to squeeze out whatever money she had made. At least with anonymity they would stay out of her life.
She had confessed all of this to David one evening over a glass of wine (he had persuaded her to switch from vodka, and it was already making a noticeably unwanted difference in her body fat). He used the information to his manipulative advantage, cryptically telling her that he would have plenty of money soon enough for both of them to live on. This was the nudge she needed to give her two weeks notice (for even strippers must offer that courtesy) to Lenny, who was absolutely blindsided by the news.
“You’ll be back,” he said bitterly. “They all come back.”
“Not exactly paternal encouragement I hoped for.”
“I ain’t your daddy bitch. Every fuckin’ girl here seems to want to put me in that role. Now that you’re useless to me, I can tell you for sure: I’m. Not. Your. Dad. Stop looking to me for validation. Or whoever this guy is you’re getting off the pole for. Best advice I can give ya. Oh, and by the way, you’re getting fat.”
For her final performance, she danced to “Million Dollar Man,” having images of Jesus in his most poverty-stricken state projected behind her (this, naturally, included several different renderings of his crucifixion).
With the completion of the song, she flounced off the stage, hanging her stripper heels up for good. Hoping to dredge them up one day in the privacy of her bedroom for David, a man who was actually worth being a private dancer for.
When she got back to her apartment afterward, expecting to see him waiting there with a candlelit dinner, she approached her doorway to see that it had been left ajar. She removed the pepper spray from her clutch purse and slowly approached. What she saw upon getting close enough was that her entire apartment had been ransacked. Not wanting to believe who the culprit was, she ran toward her secret hiding place for her biggest wads of cash: the gargantuan King James Bible in her closet that she had cut a rectangle into to store it. The bible lay prostrate on the ground, open to reveal that the money had been stolen by the one person she had told its location to. She started to laugh maniacally, going to her freezer to pull out the emergency vodka. At least he had left her that. Muttering, “God’s dead, I said, baby, that’s all right with me,” to herself, she drank and drank until she could see or feel no more. From some distant place, she could hear her favorite phrase from the Song of Solomon: “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.”