“It’s cold in here,” he says, sinking into the wingback chair. His hoodie bunches up near his neck as he leans back. He smooths his salt-and-pepper mustache a few times then puts his hand down, only for it to rise up again automatically. He sees me watching and stops fidgeting.
I grab his arm for leverage and pull, rolling my chair closer to his, knocking our armrests. “Here.” I kick one leg up and rest it on his lap. I smile. “Have some body heat.”
He traces two rough fingertips around my ankle, hesitating near the clear plastic shoe strap. “You must be cold too,” he says, his accent more apparent now that he’s using complete sentences. When I first came over, he responded with one-word answers—“no” (he wasn’t waiting for anyone), “sí” (I may sit down), “no” (he’d never been here before), and “sí” (he’d like a lap dance).
I explain that the club’s manager always keeps the air conditioning on high. It’s like this every day and I’m not sure why. Maybe he’s trying to offset his layers of fat and (head-to-toe) clothing. Happy hour is supposed to be a relaxing reprieve, a gentle transition from a long period of work to some well-earned time off. It’s like middle age; a time to kick back and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor. Not that either are panning out for me that way. At forty years old, I’m the oldest dancer here. I’m vulnerable and exposed, fueled as much by adrenaline as ambition. Yet most days, I’d settle for a little warmth.
“I have goose bumps,” I point out. “See?” He looks at my leg, but doesn’t touch. It’s a good leg—long, toned, and shapely like the rest of me. Maybe not young and springy, but sinewy and strong. Marathon strong, dancer strong, been-around-the-block strong.
His hand hovers over my calf, then disappears into the big front pocket of his sweatshirt. I can see his wheels turning as he searches for something to say. “What do you do for fun?” he asks.
“Well, I work a lot, so…not much, actually.”
“Are you single?” he asks.
“Yes.” I don’t elaborate. I usually say more—that I was single for fifteen years, then dated casually. Sometimes I say yes, I had a boyfriend but we broke up. I don’t say any of that. Two hours before my shift ends and I’m out of conversation. The sound system blares Blue Oyster Cult in the main room but the volume stays just right in this corner. I wait for the song to end so I can dance the next one for him.
He sits up and twists to face me. We’re practically side by side and he wants to look directly into my eyes. I let him. “Are you lonely?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, surprised by his boldness. “I am.”
He nods and settles back into his seat.
We gaze, unfocused, toward the main floor. No one else lap dances; the young girls don’t have much hustle. Jenny is on stage, the dancer closest to me in age. We don’t generally talk—she’s always too stoned to hold my interest—but she has good taste in music and knows her classic rock. I focus on the song until the thin, dull crowd disappears behind the lyrics, like a spray from the fog machine.
Seasons don’t fear the reaper, nor do the wind and the sun and the rain
We can be like they are
Baby take my hand, don’t fear the reaper
We’ll be able to fly, don’t fear the reaper
Baby I’m your man
I angle my body toward him. I throw my other leg over his lap, crossing my legs at the ankles. “And you, single?”
He nods. Married once, for five years, he says. They had three kids, all boys. He’s not much older than me—fifty, fifty-three tops. Not quite old enough to be my father, but close enough in years so that we understand each other. His age is average for a customer here. He wears a gold crucifix around his neck. It’s big and flat with little flourishes. I have a similar one tucked in the back of a jewelry box. Mine is silver, but otherwise like his. It’s old-school style; more cross than Christ. It seems strange that a Mexican Catholic of his generation would be divorced. I wonder if he’s a widower but decide not to ask.
The song is winding down, but I don’t stand yet. I turn to him and give his arm a squeeze. “Are you lonely?”
He holds my gaze and nods. “Yes,” he says and turns away, still nodding. I’m nodding too, though he doesn’t see. We sit silently for a moment. I feel his hand on my leg. The song has ended and another begins: “Who Will Comfort Me?” by Melody Gardot.
I look at my customer and smile. “Ready?”
He smiles back. “Yes.”
I kick my feet to the floor and drop my sweater on the chair. Goose bumps up and down my arms. This is the part I still love. Even weary, cold and drained, I almost never tire of the dancing. The fleece of his hoodie is soft on my belly. His neck is warm on my face.