By Vito Delsante

(Based on Actual Events)

“I have to know. Why Pittsburgh?”

“What do you mean?” she asked. “Like, why did I choose Pittsburgh?”

“Yeah. Why here?” I stopped, raising my head off of the pillow slightly to look out of the open window. There, on the horizon, thousands and thousands of lights that symbolized better futures and presents than the one I was in right now. “You could have gone to New York. LA. But…you’re here, in ‘Nowheresville.’”

“Oh, baby,” she said as her lips curled up into the smile of a killer, “I didn’t choose this city. The city didn’t choose me.” She grabbed the half-smoked cigarette from her bedside ashtray. She lit it again, the renewal of a promise made. She exhaled easy, like the smoke was a part of her and the air was the poison. “Honey, this is as far as my money took me, and I decided to stop.” She laughed. She didn’t giggle, or snicker. She laughed like the joke was so obvious to everyone but me.

I wanted to hate her for that but it was far too late for any semblance of sentiment now.

*****

No man ever wants to step inside of a strip club. To do so is an admittance of failure. Once the threshold is crossed, the lines between the haves and the have nots, and prey versus predator, are clearly drawn. For a man, stepping into a gentleman’s club is the the concession of power.

To the woman. To women.

Charity knew this. Charity loved this. Charity used this to her benefit.

When she danced, she danced like her body was on fire and rather than trying to put the fire out, she was trying to spread it to every corner of the Earth. When she stepped onto the stage at Blush Gentleman’s Club, every eye, whether owned by patron, dancer, DJ, bartender or owner, stopped and looked at her. She danced with such ease. Her every movement was some kind of offering to the gods. When she was done, and she her dance ended, her body was covered in sweat and steam rose from her skin. She had goosebumps and her eyes dilated. She was what every man wished he had a home. Feral, primal and raw.

I watched her for weeks, spending too much money for too little time. Our conversations were shared with whoever else sat at the foot of the stage. And lap dances? Forget it. She had a waiting list, if such a thing existed. After the first few weeks of me coming in and spending my check, I tried a different tact; make her come to me. I moved from my usual spot at the stage, and began sitting by the wall, in eyeshot of her performances. At first, we’d lock eyes and at the end of her dance, she’d wave to me as she was getting off stage. After she was out of view, I’d get up and leave. I did this for a little while, and then finally, she got off stage and beelined it to me.

“Stick around,” she said. So I did.

She came back, dressed in her “on the prowl” outfit, some number that was classy, by Frederick’s of Hollywood standards. We chit chatted, until finally she said, “Do you want a private dance?”

I told her no. “I want to know you.” She let go of my hand, stopped trying to pull me out of my seat, and stared at me for what felt like years. “No,” she said. “You don’t.”

Weeks went by, and I remained in my wall seat. Now, when she looked at me from the stage, her face wasn’t lit up with the devilish smile she usually had up there; for the three or four seconds that it took for her to look my way, she looked sad, as if she lost something. I relented until finally, she came over and said, “I get off in thirty minutes. Don’t leave but meet me outside.”

We walked to a nearby Primanti Brothers, grabbed a table and ate sandwiches. We talked but our conversation had no consequence; in those short moments, we were saying things to keep up appearances. We really didn’t care what was being said. We hopped on a bus, got out in Squirrel Hill and walked to an apartment building. Four floors up. There was a moment when we stood in front of each other, in her room, and did nothing. She broke the silence with, “I take mine off every day, so do it for me.” She said it so matter of factly yet with a tease. We fell into her bed and that’s when the illusion ended. I wanted to love her, somehow, someway. She wanted to show me the fire woman I saw on the stage, even if that person didn’t truly exist. We weren’t compatible…not even slightly. Here I was, in bed with my fantasy woman, penetrating her defenses, only to find that there were walls upon walls I could never get over. It was an act. It was disgusting. Every twist, every moan and every curve pointed at me and laughed.

And yet I couldn’t help myself. I loved every second. I couldn’t figure out if I hated her or if I hated myself, and I didn’t care.

*****

Morning came, thank God. I could be rid of her. She seemed so pleased with herself, that she tricked me, fooled me into believing the lie. We were in bed, cuddled up like lovers, when her roommate came in, casually, and asked if we wanted to “do some blow.” She jumped up, half in excitement to get a line of coke; half in excitement to get away from me. As the two of them did their lines, Charity looked at me, naked and aroused by the cocaine. “Want some?” I sat up in the bed and time stopped. Everything was frozen. I never did coke, and some part of me screamed to get the Hell out of the room, leave your clothes behind and just go. But I looked at Charity, her nipples erect, her smile radiant, and I realized what she meant when she said that she didn’t pick this city, her lack of money did. She was looking to go anywhere, and this was the dead end. I stood up, walked toward the two roommates, unashamed of my own nakedness. I understood now. As I took the rolled up twenty dollar bill, I realized that I, too, didn’t choose this destination. This was as far as my money took me; to the bedroom of a beautiful, damaged, stripper.

-Vito Delsante

Art by Julian Lopez