Dark days. Things could have been worse, but at the time, you'd have had a hell of a time explaining how.
Boredom had already settled in after only three months in a job that I had hoped would launch my career. My new boss was an ex-Nazi SS officer, still playing the roll to perfection. He didn't like any of his reports much, but I was special. My day always ended the same way, with Herr Doktor's red-faced tantrum in broken English, laced with undecipherable German expletives. I took it all with a smug grin. He hated me for it. After a few stiff ones, I would have killed him for a stick of gum.
A few stiff ones. There was that, too. Most nights, more than just a few. But was it my fault my dear wife decided she needed some time by herself? Out of the fucking blue. Oh, she said all the right things. "It's not you, it's me." "I just need to be alone for a little while." "No, there's nobody else, I swear." She had already rented a small apartment across town. She left after packing a few necessities. Her diaphragm was one of them.
Wallowing in depression and humiliation required the proper ambiance, a place as dank and black as my best mood. I didn't have to look far. The Variety fit the bill nicely. Tacked onto a short strip mall next to a tiny barbershop and a transvestite show-bar, its flickering, yellowed plastic sign caught my eye on the way home from work one particularly bad day. I parked in the back and strolled to the door, which opened diagonally onto the busy street corner, immersed in the decaying downtown blight. Across the street, a huge, rusting locomotive rested in the wide median, a forgotten monument to a time no one remembered.
It was perfect - small, dark, and empty, except for a few regulars and a half-dozen strippers. I found a quiet table to the side of the small stage and ordered some ice. It was a bottle club, but that wasn't a problem then. Johnnie Walker was my companion long before Sam Adams, and he kept a permanent residence in the back of my Toyota.
The dancers weren't bad, for that time of day. A few were my type, a few weren't, but as usual, scotch was the first priority. I drank what I had, left to buy more, returned to watch the night shift, and closed the club. Hey, it worked for me. So I went every night.
In a week I was a regular's regular. Angela took me under her wing as though I was an employee. She was a sort of house-mother to the other girls, and even played DJ once in a while. Tall, slim, a little older than the rest of the dancers, she would listen to my drunken tales of woe like no other woman I'd been with. She wouldn't touch my JWB, so I'd bring her a pint of vodka every night, just for putting up with me. Why she sat and drank with me for hours, night after night, I'll never know. Of course, it couldn't last forever.
One night, she took my hand, her large brown eyes a bit more sober than usual.
"I have a friend I'd like you to meet."
"I don't need any friends."
"I'm quitting. Saturday is my last night."
What was I supposed to say? Why? Don't quit? I'll miss you? I didn't say anything. So go ahead, quit.
She knew me better than anyone that night. She knew what I wouldn't say. She knew why. I didn't talk much her last two nights, but she sat with me anyway. And she introduced me to Sunshine.
At first glance, Sunshine wasn't a nine, or an eight. Maybe a seven. Maybe. She wasn't even my type, the brunette hard-bodied girl of my dreams. Blonde, fair-skinned, and short-waisted, she had me making mental notes on how to ditch her as soon as we met. No big deal. I didn't need any more trouble anyway. I'd fuck with her head, she'd get pissed and leave me alone, and Johnnie Walker and I could get reacquainted.
She didn't say much either, which was fine with me. She led me to the opposite side of the l-shaped club the first night, and settled in close beside me in one of the padded booths.
On the rare occasion when she did speak, her voice was soft and even, and dripped with the most authentic southern drawl I'd ever heard. And the things she said - well, maybe Angela knew what was best for me after all.
Sunshine thrived on physical contact. Whether it was a bare thigh pressed tightly against mine, or a tug on my arm around her shoulders, she couldn't seem to get close enough. She'd take my hand, guide it inside her top, cupping her full, natural breast with it, then move my fingers, one at a time, over her small, hard nipple.
Later in the evening, as the club emptied as it did on most weeknights, she thought nothing of loosening my belt, slipping her hand into my pants, and playing with my cock like it was some intriguing, newfound toy. She seemed obsessed with the shape and feel of it, regardless of its state, which often depended on how far below the black and gold label the level of my favorite beverage fell.
On stage, she was an angel. Long blonde hair flowed everywhere as she danced - whipping her shoulders, kissing her firm breasts, then falling halfway down her back when she arched her neck. Her movements were fluid and effortless, allowing soft curves of muscle to rise now and then from beneath white satin skin. Much of her dancing was done with eyes closed, a slight, satisfied smile forming at the corners of her mouth as she stretched and posed. Each time she leaned forward against the pole, went up on her toes, and thrust her round little ass in the air, I'd spill a little JWB, grab the edge of the table, and try to remember to breathe.
That smile. I think it was the smile. Ever present, unchanging, an unnerving combination of bliss and seduction, its hold on me rivaled that of the scotch I used to remind me not to give a shit. She was the Mona Lisa, with just a hint of tragedy. Just what I needed. Right.
So, we drank together. A lot. Almost every night until dawn. I can't imagine how I kept my job. But I managed. Why she spent so much time with me was again a mystery. I didn't spend a dime on her, except for a few tips on stage, and the bottle I brought her each night. Funny, I didn't even think about it at the time. More ice, please, and some OJ for the lady.
The sex. The sex was, well... there wasn't any. Why? It wasn't like I didn't ask, at least a few times. The answer I remember was that she had a husband, a big house at the beach, and too much to lose if he busted her. The truth? What the fuck did I care? I was too drunk most nights even if she had said yes. I still had our grope sessions in the booth, and I even got to cum some nights, if she was especially frisky before half my bottle was gone. On a really good night, she'd lick her fingers clean, her blue eyes locked on mine. Hell, it kept things simple. Fucking fine with me.
Months followed weeks. A summer was lost in an alcoholic blur. Sometimes during the day, I'd puzzle over our bizarre relationship, and whether it was really a relationship at all. Sometimes at night, while she danced, I wondered how long it could possibly last. One answer scared me. More ice, please?
"I'm quitting. Tonight's my last night."
"So, you waited till the last minute to, what, surprise me?"
"I didn't want to ruin our last night. I'll miss you."
I only got the short version. I didn't need the details anyway. Her husband dumped her. He decided she wasn't respectable after all. She would move back home. Her mother was sick, and needed her. I couldn't tell if she was upset or not. She refused show it, if she was. By the end of the night, I was sure I noticed a bit more sadness in her smile. She fished a scrap of paper from her purse and offered it to me. It was the first time I'd seen uncertainty in her eyes. It made my guts churn.
"It's my new address. Come see me? Please?"
She left early that night. I used the paper for a coaster. Hours later, I slid out of the now empty booth, jammed the nearly empty bottle of scotch back into the rumpled paper bag, and headed for the door - right after stuffing the damp coaster into my shirt pocket.
By the time I reached the state line, the weather had turned from bad to terrifying. A light drizzle of rain was now a wall of water and hail. Lightning arced across the sky in all directions, interrupting the pounding wind and rain with sudden deafening claps of thunder. Just ahead to my right, a huge tree exploded with a blinding white flash. Small branches and bits of scorched wood joined the water and hail against my windshield. I pulled off the road, took my first nip of the day, waited for the storm to pass, and drove on.
I had lasted four weeks without Sunshine's company. This time no one took her place. A few tried, and failed. I still went every night. I didn't miss her that much. But hell, what else did I have to do on a rainy Saturday morning?
I found the house a little after noon, with the reluctant help of a few suspicious natives. It wasn't the picture of squalor, but it was a damn close first cousin. A young boy sat hunched forward on the front steps, dwarfed by a background of dark windows and peeling paint. He didn't look up, even after I pushed the wooden gate aside and stopped three steps in front of him. When I asked for her, he called her name just once, still preoccupied with his work. She appeared behind the screen-door, beaming. Then, after four bounding steps across the planked porch, her arms were around me, her belly pressed against mine as she buried her face in my chest. Over her shoulder, I saw a frail, blonde, three-foot replica of her watching us, her eyes now locked on mine from below. As Sunshine led me inside, the little girl burst into tears. The boy on the steps worked the broken blade of his pocketknife into the face of a naked doll, prying the eyeball loose and waving it in front of her with a vicious grin.
Mama was a large woman, easily looking me in the eye at my six-foot- plus height. Loose skin hung from her once-heavy arms as if it might tear under its own weight to reveal patches of tired bone beneath it. The whites of her eyes were the color of lemon yogurt, deeply sunken into blue-black craters. The slightest movement appeared to require the marshaling of every ounce of her remaining energy. She was a woman of few words, stoically thumbing a ride on the River Styx.