Michelle Baker stepped off the stage and tried to ignore the remnants of the night’s audience, the leering faces, each sharing a fantasy they thought their own, and it went through her again, one of those black-hole feelings that sucks you in and tells you you’re not getting out, no matter what you do. The doctors called it depression. Michelle called it life, because it had always been that way for her. But there were moments, like that time in Florida, early in the season before the heat set in. A stiff breeze had come off the sea and rolled back the clouds, leaving the moon and stars contrasting against the black sky. Then the dark haired man with rope sandals in his hand slid his arm around her, just as natural as that, and they walked along the beach talking of life as if it were theirs. There had been no darkness then.


Her shift was over. She was going home. She could have her mother pack some clothes and together they could drive down to South Texas, spend a few days at Padre Island.

Lisa, another dancer, a soft little brunette who’d only been there about a month, intentionally brushed against Michelle as she walked past.

“Hey, sweetie,” she whispered.

Michelle smiled but said nothing. It came with the territory in these places, the girls loving each other. You learn to hate men so you turn lesbian. The problem with that is after a few weeks, or months, or however long it takes you, you start to hate women too. And where does that leave you? In hell, she guessed.

She didn’t even rehearse anymore, worrying over the steps and the music. None of that really mattered. She was a stripper, beginning her act with suggestive clothing and ending with nothing but an idea. It was, though, the boring monotony—the same faces, the same looks and catcalls—that allowed one to detach from it all and exist in such a world. But there were exceptions, those nights when someone would stand out from the crowd, their eyes searching deeper than her nakedness, and that scared her, for she knew the thoughts of such people went beyond fantasy, and they would make them real, given half a chance. She had not seen anyone like that tonight, but the fearful feelings that surrounded those encounters wrapped around her thoughts, and lingered heavy as she said good-bye to the other dancers and stepped outside into the rain.