After only two months, Helen was making three or four times the money that she’d earned at the aquarium, easily. And it made sense in a way, exotic dancing wasn’t something she’d ever thought about before but she still had the body for it, and most importantly part of her glowed under the spotlight.
And the thick brown envelope she was handed at the end of the week was hers alone, no joint account, no big shopping trips, no school books, no expensive bills, just Helen to look after. She chased the ice around the end of her Mojito with a black straw and watched herself in the mirror. The sun was drying her out she thought, she was turning as gold as the ring that now hung around her neck. She ran it back and forth on its chain, feeling the little links beating a rhythm against the band, and she wondered whether there’d be word from Stephen or Jessica when she got back.
She’d taken to abandoning the apartment in the morning, before the sun got too intense, and settling into one of the restaurants or bars with air conditioning. In retrospect the apartment was a mistake. She’d viewed it on an overcast day and her desperation had blinded her to the fact that the place would be a greenhouse in the heat. Dubbed TV and browned paperbacks with curled corners were the only distractions, and she felt like she was being slowly cooked whenever she spent too much time there. But the letters arrived there, the same cool blue envelope towards the end of each week. A letter from Stephen, and folded inside it a note from Jessica. Stephen wrote in the same awkward manner that he spoke. The conversation made all the more difficult by the ocean now between them. His small script stretched across the white page like an archipelago and she saw sentiment in the spaces between the words. Her daughter’s notes warmed her heart until it threatened combustion. Jessica’s learning hand spelling out so boldly – I miss you. I love you. Sentiments that simmered, but could so rarely surface for Helen.
That evening the club sizzled. After she’d drunk champagne and taken off her shirt, Helen could hear her heart rapidly lub-dub in time with the music. A spot illuminated the little intimate space – four steps across and three steps back – from which she commanded attention. At the edge of the stage, the lights insulated her from the blackness beyond. If she stared long enough into it, the whites of eyes might emerge like stars in the night sky.
She slowly gyrated through the dense heat and the music boomed through her. Each twist and turn she made causing the temperature of the room to creep upwards. Her skin glistened as miniscule beads of sweat captured the light and her body moved on, operating automatically, instinctively. She felt the heat in the place all across her skin, a heat that sat wet on the walls and roof of the club, a heat that shot out from the hovering eyes that surrounded her and occupied the space between them and her brightened body. As she spun she thought of the cool weight of the blue envelopes, a fingernail moving slowly across the fold of the letter, a tongue pressed softly to the glue.
Spinning faster through the blackness, Helen’s foot stepped off the edge of the stage. Her soft body slapped the ground abruptly and for a moment she was immersed in the blinding white snow of her childhood. She began to stir as the crowd gathered around her. ‘Don’t move’ one voice said, ‘stay still’ said another. She opened her eyes as she was helped up to her feet, someone putting a blanket across her bare shoulders. The music had stopped and nobody spoke, the floor of the club was sticky on her bare feet. Her face throbbed and her mind went back to the day her mother had slapped her. The sting, and the silence, and the ever-spinning thought: I need to go home, I need to go home, I need to go home.
By Dave Philips.