“Hope” was based on a time in my life in my mid-twenties, when I’d visited a strip club “more than once,” let’s just say. I’d first been brought there by a friend, then occasionally returned to it…in the course of these visits, I talked to and got to know a little about the girls…providing they’d been honest with me. I became curious about their lives…their stories…and most of them had pretty much the same one to tell. Whether or not they were just milking me for extra dollars, I don’t know, but they’re stories were all similar. I always thought it odd that none of these girls (with one exception who actually left) “could leave.” After all, I thought, how difficult was it to find other work—anywhere else—if you really had a desire to leave….
I suspect there was more to their stories than they let on to.
This story has never been published.
Spirit of Hope
© F. P. Dorchak, 1989
Winter’s early release blanketed the landscape with a hushed glistening, and though it was cold, the night was far from alone. There was a specter-like vitality…a presence…drifting among the hills, flashes of argent following the ardor as it permeated the night; maybe even a hint of accompanying laughter. The animated vitality bordered on childlike mischievousness. It rode the wind…darting in and out of the world’s nooks and crannies…examining everything. It played….
In the distance, the town of Wymer, Colorado rested beneath the spiraling forms of steamy smoke-stack halitosis as the falling snow danced. There was mirthful freedom by that-which-rode-the-wind at the open confines of the dark.
Situated at the town’s edge were decaying lots laying party to rental shops, construction yards and aging used car dealerships. A steady ting, ting! rang through the wind, a loose metal lamp shade hitting against its metal support. Abandoned luminescence chaotically spilled from the lamp.
The argent anchored itself around a neon sign boasting topless dancing, boasting “topless” with a darkened “p,” looking more like “To less dancing.” The flashing lady beneath it, ample in breasts and sporting tinseled pasties, left no doubt as to the intentions of the harsh red header. Arms clasped behind her neck, she twisted from side to side against the neon backdrop. A low, lonely hum emitted from the sign.
The neighborhood Committee for Moral Values had a cow when the sign was initially erected (not a word they’d used…), claiming that the nipples of the neon lady were “too” pornographic. When the owner quickly retorted that the town would rather look at his “pornographic nipples” than the lady making the protest (she weighing in at some three-hundred plus pounds, though never verified), the council promptly demanded order and an apology before removing the bar owner. So, to appease all concerned, the breasted display was redecorated with ribboned pasties.
A musical beat, heavy in bass, filtered through the accompanying club’s closed doors, safe from the outside’s elements as girls on raised stages danced inside, performing for whatever earnings could be milked from the predominantly male crowd. The assortment of women varied from the twiggish to the overweight, and, whooping and hollering, most of the uncaring male patrons didn’t bother contributing…fat dumb and happy with their half-downed drinks.
As with most pursuits, money was the key factor. Most nights the average dancer earned little, having to borrow from acquaintances and “friends,” but on those good nights—what other unskilled job could match what a dancer could pull in? A resourceful, attractive performer could command $200 or more on one night. This, however, was not such a night.
Uno, a huge strapping bouncer at the front door, surveyed the bar, air stale from hours of smoke and failed pickups. A bald roughneck from the early days, Uno knew the importance of maintaining order. His name, actually a nickname, developed from past exploits. As far back as anyone could remember, Uno included, he was always the only one left standing after brawls. No exceptions.
This night was pretty much the same as the other nights, nothing special going on, except for one minor incident. The exception was a surly little bloke who didn’t want to remove his leather jacket. So Uno removed him. The sign clearly stated: “No colors; Have ID ready; Please remove leather jackets while inside. Remove, or be removed.” The latter sentence was scribbled in by a waitress who worked the bar.
Dancing on one of the stages was a lady whose name should have had some bearing on her life. Her name was Hope, and unlike nearly all of the other women here, this was her given name. Hope loved her name, but she wished just a little of her christening would shed upon her life.
Dancing on stage, she did what she normally did while there: she blanked out. More to the point, she blanked out what she was doing while up there. Hope would let her mind wander. Oh yes, she would smile, and say, “thank you,” but it was all done while she was somewhere else…far from the noise and smoke of a lust-filled strip joint. Asking around, she found out some of the other girls were doing the same thing.
Oh, how she had come to hate this place!
But the money…the income…was good….
While dancing, Hope would think of her dreams, the only things that kept her going. She wanted so much to get out of dancing, to do something—anything—else. But what? She had no real background, no college degree, and lately this was something she’d been thinking about more and more, the no-college-degree part.
Hope thought of how she’d like to go to school, but her present financial situation made the prospect look mighty bleak. She had no problem with working while in school, it couldn’t be any worse than what she was doing now, but she just couldn’t afford to take the time off from work to go find a job, having no money to even apply to a school. Hope had no desire to end up like her folks.
Her family life had ended up less than perfect, with her mom dying in a car wreck years ago. Her dad’s disappearance was under somewhat mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. Hope had long suspected her dad was into drug dealing. People like that often “just disappeared.” Her life with them had never been, well, nice: constantly moving around, parents always fighting, never a steady job between the three of them. It all came to a head one day, and Hope just up and ran. She’d been sixteen.
That was six years ago. Since then, internally, Hope had gone through a lot of changes. Always feeling different from the girls she danced with, but never demeaning to them, she had this feeling she was better than the situation she was currently engrossed in. She had no explanation. Like everyone else she knew, she was a dance-girl, but she felt that she was destined towards a better objective. Sooner or later, unlike most, she would leave this place—forever.
Then there were times when she made good money. And even though those nights were, well, uncommon, she couldn’t quite bring herself to break the mold. Habit was a powerful thing. It was all she could do, working, sleeping and working, always so tired during the day, always so tired during the night. Hope kept telling herself that she would go out tomorrow, or next week, looking for that something better. The strain of her vocation and her ever-increasing bills were constantly eating away at her time, always needing to increase her hours just to make ends meet. Oh well, life goes on…
As Hope continued dancing, a customer began making pelvic thrusting motions while seated in his chair in front of her, his Corona and lime in front of him. Turning her back to him, she threw him a look of disdain. The man in question laughed to his bar-side buddies. As sparse a crowd as it was, it was a good collection of regulars. Hope retreated back into her dreams.
Hearing the heavy front door slam, spoils of white stuff blown inside, Uno turned, getting up from his creaky wooden stool to greet the newcomer.
The stranger was at least six-foot tall, somehow appearing more towering still. Wearing a dark overcoat and a weather-beaten, black fedora, the newcomer slowly raised his head, speckles of loose snow falling, revealing a solemn face hugged by a well-kept beard. As Uno looked at the stranger more carefully, he noticed how his face actually seemed to be on the edge of a grin. The stranger’s eyes were strong and dark—piercing. However able the man appeared, Uno noticed that he didn’t look entirely unapproachable.
“How ya’ doin—” Uno said, planning to ask for the stranger’s ID. Before he could mouth the words, the stranger, in a nonchalant manner, raised a gloved hand…not to be bothered by so trivial a request. The doorman suddenly decided he really didn’t feel it necessary to press the issue and wave him on through.
“Enjoy yourself, man,” Uno said, the stranger bowing in reply and gliding into the club.
Standing for a moment uncertain…Uno felt…dazed. Rapping his shaven pate with callused knuckles to clear his head, he saw the foreboding silver flecks that often precede fainting spells.
The dark figure approached the main stage upon which Hope danced. Her seductive gyrations were quite accomplished. Eyes meeting in no short order, she beamed an inviting smile. Emerging from under the figure’s overcoat, came a gloved-hand-encased fifty-dollar bill. Initially the dancer didn’t notice the denomination, welcoming anything, but as the hand closed in, her eyes belched. Bending over, Hope planted a kiss on the smiling face. The Elvis impersonator, complete with Corona, shot the bearded man a quick look, making gutter comments about the dancer. Backing up, the smiling philanthropist winked, leaving the stage.
Approaching other stages, the stranger relinquished lesser dollar amounts, and Hope following his every move. Motioning to his buddy and collecting his beer, The Pelvic Miracle got up and left.
Tour completed, the dark interloper picked a booth to the rear of the club and ordered a drink. Retaining his garments as he relaxed, and hand merrily tapping at table’s edge, the stranger casually observed the surroundings: women shaking untouchable wares in the faces of eager lust…getting close enough so that each goose pimple could be counted in graphic detail; men sitting around looking meaner than the bikes they rode in on; executives in tight business suits downing expensive drinks. The returning waitress was endowed with a generous tip.
Hope really didn’t like taking money from gonad-grabbing strangers, but her need for it was so great that her repulsions were easily silenced. Twice she was propositioned by men sticking bills into the strings of her panties, twice she told them to get lost.
The end of her set came none to quickly as she collected her things, exiting, the contempt she felt toward her job nothing but growing. Then, remembering the man with the fifty, she diverted and began searching the smoky interior. Spying him in the rear, she weaved her way towards him.
Approaching the fedora-clad stranger, Hope separated the fifty in her hands from the other bills.
“May I have a seat?”
“Sure,” came his warm reply, looking up at her.
Pulling out a chair out, Hope situated herself, crossing tanned and shaved legs to reveal succulent thighs.
“This is a mighty big tip coming from someone around here.”
“I’m not exactly from around here,” he said, still quite amused by the surrounding people.
“Oh? Where you from?” she asked, casually feeling for a cigarette. Rearranging her purse to get at the smoke, she suddenly decided against it, tucking everything back into the dark leather pouch. She refocused her attention back on him.
“Oh, I make my way around,” he said, turning his attention to her.
There was something about this stranger that intrigued her. His gaze commanded her with a warmth and softness she hadn’t encountered elsewhere. There was no desire to look away.
“A-a traveler, huh?” she stuttered, slightly unnerved and embarrassed at the fact that she was slightly unnerved.
Cocking his head momentarily to one side, he puckered his mouth slightly, forming his response.
“I guess. I’ve made travel my business. It’s something I really enjoy. And you, what about you, Hope? Do you enjoy this?” he asked, gesticulating around them. There was a moment of silence as he bore into her soul.
“Well, hey—how did you know my name? I never told it to you—” Her eyes narrowed.
“I’m not up to anything, I promise. I just ‘heard’ it around here, that’s all.” Hope could feel that wasn’t exactly right.
“Well,” she began, her eyes beginning to soften back up, “I look at it this way: income is income. This may not be the best, or the worst job around, but it pays the bills—”
“—when there’s money,” he finished.
“Yeah, when there’s money.” She stared into his drink. “It’s pretty stagnant out there tonight.” She looked like a fragile, lost little girl.
“I can see.” Taking a sip from his drink, he kept his eyes on her.
“Would you like a table-dance?” Hope asked, puppy-eyeing. For some reason she didn’t care if she even got paid for it, just wanting to do something for this neat guy who seemed so kind.
“Sure,” he said, setting aside his glass.
Getting up, Hope held onto his mysterious gaze, removing her top for the dance. Never once did the stranger’s attention waver, her eyes his focus. Hope was perplexed that he didn’t look at her breasts, her ass; just her eyes. Finishing up, the stranger extended a helping hand to her, assisting her back to her seat. Removing his hand, there were two hundred-dollar bills left behind. Nearly fainting, Hope swallowed hard, grasping the table’s edge.
“Ho-ly shit! You kidding? For me?” sputtering, she attempted to balance herself. “God, what do you do for a living?”
“Just consider me your friend.”
There was a little more emphasis on the word “your” then Hope wanted to admit. It felt so good to have someone nice say something nice to her that didn’t focus on her looks.
“Great!” she said turning back to him. A smile, gaping and gregarious, ate its way across her face. Looking into his eyes, Hope realized that all she knew about this guy was that he had big bucks, an enticing smile, and a warm manner. He liked giving money, she liked taking it, so why not play the game out? She hoped he was as real as he seemed.
“Look, I don’t even know your name.”
“Max, call me Max; charmed!” He took her hand, kissing it ever so lightly.
“Look, Max, I’ve got to be getting back up now. Will you…be here for a while?”
“If you like.”
“I like. Thanks!” she said, rushing off and tucking the bills into her pink socks.
New performers mounting platforms, Max beckoned another waitress. Getting up on stage, Hope noticed that the waitress walked away with something Max had given her. The waitress, known as Kim, went to each stage depositing Jeffersons. Finally coming to Hope’s platform, Kim left a fifty. Before leaving, Kim called Hope to come closer. Bending over, bare breasts wiggling, Hope lent an ear.
“What is it with you and that guy over there? He just paid me this,” she said, showing her the twenty, “To give these to you all. I’ve been watching him ever since he came in, Mr. Mon-ey Mon-ey!”
“I don’t know what’s his trip, but I do plan on finding out,” Hope said. Shaking her head, Kim went back about her rounds.
This time, before Hope could get back to Max, another girl sat down next to him. Stooping down to receive a bill from a grateful customer, Hope felt her ire blackening. How dare another girl muck in on one of hers! Noticing how close she was to him, and all hands, Hope’s anger flared, knocking over a customer’s drink. After much apology and a new drink, Hope continued her glaring. It was about this time that a distraction stole everyone’s attention.
A particularly unruly customer started getting out of hand, shouting obscenities and doing what hands do best. Uno hadn’t yet noticed, his attention diverted by a phone call. The dancer at the center of the conflict slapped the obnoxious individual several times, finally storming off.
Also momentarily distracted, the girl sitting next to Max turned to get a better view. When it abated, she turned back, only to be greeted by empty space.
The abusive individual staggered into the Men’s room about the time Uno was alerted. The abused dancer started rattling on to Uno about what happened.
Colliding with the door, the drunk pushed it open, coming face to face with Max, cutting a terrifying figure even for a sober man. Blearily, the drunk looked up.
“W-what’sup dude?” he blurted, alcohol quick on his breath.
The door latched shut.
“Uno,” the manhandled dancer whined, “This guy’s a total jerk, grabbin’ me everywhere. It was embarrassing!”
“Why didn’t you leave earlier,” Uno muttered under his breath, phone to his ear.
“What? Look, I want him outta here!” Hanging up the phone, Uno spun around, going for the gold. “Okay, where is he?” The dancer couldn’t spot her target.
“I don’t see him yet, he must’ve moved. Check the Men’s room,” she said, eyes squinting as she scanned back and forth. Uno stalked through the smoke-filled hall, a dark figure passing him as he finally went to the john.
Pushing open the door, Uno found the man he was looking for. He was strung up inverted over one of the urinals. It was the type of urinal that stuck out from the wall, like the lower jaw of a reptile, and in that jaw was the sputtering head of the drunk, immersed in a flow of running water, hands tied behind his back. The urinal wasn’t exactly clean, but at least there was running water.
Alone when Hope found him, Max smiled, a scurrying going on in the background as bouncer and manager both cut down the drunk, hauling him outside. The drunk was quite sober now.
“So, Max, do you have a habit of dropping twenties and fifties all over the place?”
“Oh, now and then.” Pause. “What’re you doing after work? Need a ride? How about something to eat?”
“Um, well, I’m not sure,” she replied, gazing back into his deep orbs. She was still under his spell as much as she didn’t want to admit it. “How can I say no? Just a minute.” Running over to make a quick phone call, Hope returned shortly, brushing off someone’s groping hand along the way. She straightened out her panties.
“I just called to tell my ride I’d be getting one from here, and that I’d be getting something to eat.”
“You know that friend of yours who sat next to me? She has very inquisitive hands.”
“I know, she tends to be that way around guys. I don’t want to say anything bad about her, but she’s Okay.”
“If you like pickpockets,” Max said, grinning. Hope was caught by surprise at his remark. Pickpocket? The nerve of her! She’d have a talk with that bitch!
As the night rolled on, so did their conversation and Hope’s income, collecting a Grant for each performance. Scarcely believing any of it, Hope certainly wasn’t about to tell anyone, clearing over three-hundred dollars. It wasn’t long before she decided she’d like to leave, telling her manager she didn’t feel well. The manager had, of course, heard it all before, but having the girls to spare, let her go.
Making her way back to the dressing room, Hope was pulled aside by “the bitch.”
“Hope, where does that guy get all his money?”
“Which guy?” she said, playing coy.
“You know, the one you’ve been sitting with all night.”
“Oh him? I don’t know, he doesn’t tell me much. He seems rather evasive about it all. But he did mention one thing to me you’d be interested in,” she said, sneering.
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“He knows you tried rifling his pockets.” She began to leave.
“What? And he just let me—?” Mouth going slack, she continued. “Fuckin’-A, lady, I didn’t try, I did! There was absolutely nothing in them! No change, no keys, no lint—nothing!” Hope spun around.
Hope and Max left the club just after midnight. The roads were bone dry, the air chilly. Wisps of snow still strayed about the airwaves.
“Isn’t this great, Hope?”
“This weather! I love it!”
“I think it rather depressing myself.” Max shook his head at her.
A black Porsche 911 turbo, complete with whale tail and spotless, glossy coat, awaited them. Getting into the rocket, the pair scorched a black patch of rubber, leaving the parking lot. Though somewhat light, snow had been falling continuously all night, but there was no dry patch of exposed parking lot beneath where the car had been parked.
The roads were totally devoid of life, even police. Turning to Hope, Max asked her if she was into some excitement.
“I’m here, aren’t I?” was her grinning reply. Nothing quite like breakneck speeds on late-night city streets. For someone who claimed to not be from around here, Max sure knew his way around.
About two a.m., the Duo pulled into a Denny’s. Actually, it was more like they came to a screeching halt at a Denny’s. This man was so full of life, it stimulated Hope’s dreams of exiting dancing even more. He’d done it all, been everywhere, it seemed.
Where did he come from? Once, when asked by her where he was born, he casually brushed it off with as “somewhere in New England,” and she just left it at that. She didn’t mind all the mystery that much, it wasn’t as if he were a weirdo, and the mystery did, in fact, make him just that much more attractive to her. But there was one thing still bugging her, sticking in the back of her mind: where did all the money keep coming from? He seemed to have a never-ending supply of it, in spite of what her pickpocketing friend declared.
Then there were those times when she’d be gazing into his eyes, and swear that he was reading her, synapse for synapse. He was extremely personable, maybe too personable…
Four in the morning came around quite fast, and in spite of all the excitement and wanting him badly, she was feeling the hour. “Where do you live?” she asked they cruising back onto city streets.
“Oh, nowhere in particular.”
“Well, where are you staying?”
“Nowhere in particular.” Glancing over at her with a smile, he raised his eyebrows a few times, gunning the Porsche into the red, forcing their heads back into the whiplash-rests.
Suddenly jolted by the realization of where they were, Hope pulled herself upright, glaring at him. They were driving down her street.
“How did you know where I live? How do you know this? Have you been watching me? H-how—I want some answers—and now!” Grabbing hold of his arm, her scrutiny hit him full face.
“You want answers?” he asked, continuing to play innocent. “Well, I guess it must’ve come out in one of our conversations—”
“—oh right. Then explain to me how it is that you have all this money, when a friend of mine picked your pockets and found nothing! Not even keys for this damned car!”
Easing alongside the curb, her apartments just a few yards away, Max put the car into neutral. The engine emitted a low but powerful purr as he set the brake. The sky began to lighten, casting a red glow across the horizon.
“Look, I can’t. I told you, I travel and enjoy life—”
“—right, and who doesn’t—”
“You don’t.” Too exasperated to deal with that statement, Hope chose to ignore it, continuing on.
“So you’re my friend, that’s no answer! Things have been just a little too weird around here tonight, and I’d like to at least get one solid answer out of all this.” She resorted to giving him that little-girl look that women resort to once everything else has failed.
“Look, I’m sorry if I’ve frightened you, Hope. I just came out for a little fun. I saw you, liked your company, and wanted to share it with you, you looked like you needed it. Needed a friend.”
No longer smiling, his eyes took on a strange new faraway quality. In fact, it seemed as if he were actually shimmering a little. It had to be a trick of the lights and her state of mind, she passively speculated.
“Come out? Come out from where? You’re always so damned evasive when it comes to anything about you!”
“From the night,” he said, turning away. He stared out the windshield.
“Oh, now you’re really getting weird on me.” Her eyes wide with uncertainty, she pressed.
“What do you mean ‘From the night?’ Are you some sort of vampire?” She was beginning to look quite bewildered and vulnerable.
“Oh no, nothing as mundane as that, my dear,” he said, a portion of his former self resurfacing. Looking at him, Hope didn’t know what to think, but began feeling as though she were losing him, forever.
Reaching over, Max gently smoothed her hair, his hand coming to rest against her chin.
“I’m so sorry to have been so secretive,” he said, his tone warm and encompassing, “but you wouldn’t understand or believe me. I am…a wanderer. I don’t stay in one place for too long. I’ve come from…faraway…giving you a little hope, genuine hope…making you smile and take charge of your own life. I know how unhappy you’ve been, how you’ve been looking for that one big break. But it only comes if you make it happen, Hope. You can and will do it, I know it.”
Pausing, Max decided to tell her it all; he always ended up spilling his guts.
“I’m a spirit. A nomad of the night, if you will. I help those few who require a little something extra—a push. I can’t help everyone, but I try. Take a few days off, Hope, and do some looking. Apply to that school you’ve been wanting to—you won’t be disappointed…
“I have to go…this isn’t easy, even for me.”
Looking up at him, she noticed his eyes were filled with compassion and sadness, they seemed to be as endless as eternity itself. But for the first time since they met, Hope seemed to get a glimpse of his soul. Myriads of thoughts and scenes rushed through her mind, causing her to feel momentarily faint. It was too much, she couldn’t believe what was going on, what she was seeing. It blurred.
Finally pulling herself together, Max was outside the car, standing by her door. Noticing her return, he opened it. Climbing out, the morning chill jarred her.
“I’ll always remember you,” she said, feeling a geysering of emotions. Wetness invaded her alert, mascaraed eyes.
“And I too, will always remember you!” Flashing his smile, he pulled her in, gently kissing her. “I must go now.”
Touching her gently on the cheek, Max got back into the car, giving her one last farewell wave from inside. Pulling the car out from the curb, Hope swore he looked transparent.
Watching as the Porsche drove off into the distance, Hope turned towards the apartments. Out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw the car beginning to fade, and swung back around to look at it. She was too late. There was still the sound of the Porsche’s engines, but she saw no car—it had disappeared—speckles of bright argent flecking the air. There was still a good block and a half left to the street corner before anything would be hid from view.
Hope watched a little longer, until the sound, too, had gone. Max had simply faded away, back into the darkness from which he had come.
A tear forming in her eye, Hope suddenly realized she was holding something. Looking down, there was a black, weather-beaten fedora in her hands. Bringing it up to her chest, she clutched at it, a tear loose down her cheek. Spasms of cries ripped out from her swollen chest.
In spite of her sadness, Hope felt a renewed hope, a new resolve. It was something she had not had before this night—a renewed vigor, one which would stay with her for the rest of her life.
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