Volume 1, Number 1 -- August, 1996

Stages of Contentment

Fiction by David Rochamette  The night was restless, as so many had been since his return. "Less than a year," he thought "trapped between homes." Jeff pointed the Ghost towards a local night spot. His car, the Ghost. Its full name was 'The Ghost of Detroit's Past', coined by his roommate during one their epic roadtrips, yet another reminder of a life left behind. The bar was packed as usual and parking the huge sedan was as bad as ever. "I'm going to get rid of this beast very soon," an unkept promise he'd made dozens of times in the past four years. A promise that he knew he could never keep until the wheels fell off the ungainly monster, the Ghost was a part of him now. It was one of the few pieces of his life he hadn't managed to throw away in this past year since he'd come back home. It still amused him to think of this place as home. True, he had grown up here, but in the four years since he had left, the town had changed beyond recognition. All of his good friends had gotten out like him. Unlike him, they had stayed gone from this dingy little place. All that remained was a room in the house he had so desperately tried to escape from all those years before and the few 'townies' that he was reduced to calling his friends.

 He entered the bar warily, his friends called it 'the Meat Market'. This was one of his hangouts, no cover charge, no drink minimum. Dark spots throughout the bar to hide in, plenty of happy people to buoy his own spirit. Jeff waited with his normal patience while his ID was checked. He was sometimes hassled about the hair and beard, and was used to waiting for the confirmation to take place. The feeling seized him then, forcing him to the bar. It put the scotch in his hand, dumping it down his throat. Finally the urge quieted, still present, waiting for an opening. His favorite corner was empty, so Jeff maneuvered through the crowd and slipped gratefully into the vinyl armchair. He sat there for about an hour, aimlessly plunking quarters in the poker machine. Jeff watched the crowd swirl about in the typical American mating ritual. He sat listening to yet another band with good mechanics and absolutely no songwriting ability, flailing away at the current dance hits that no one would remember next month. It was working though, already he was getting his courage up for a dance. Soon he would be in the crowd, moving and talking, the feeling safely caged for yet another evening.

 Not tonight, this night had other things in store. In what seemed like an instant he was piloting the Ghost out onto the street, dragging hard on the cigarette in his lips. Jeff was searching again, a maddening hunt for a quarry he had never found. When he first passed it, he wanted to accelerate by, as if speed would chase the demon from his head. This particular demon had a taste for speed and it wanted him in there. How could he refuse that which had ruled him for so many years? He had never questioned this strange feeling that drove him. Jeff merely let it direct him and hoped for the best.

 He looked in horror at the door he was about to enter, garishly painted an unnatural shade of pink. A huge neon sign promising 'girls' three times over hung just above it, a strip joint. Every facet of his up-bringing told him to stay out, but the feeling urged him on. With an effort far more strenuous than anyone looking on might have suspected, Jeff pulled open the door and went inside. The first thing he noticed about the place was the lighting. It was much brighter than expected, even more so than the bar he had just left. The second was the absence of dark corners, just a row of barstools, nowhere to hide. Finally, was the lack of diversion, two pool tables, both with long waiting lists. These provided the only amusement, except of course, the dancers. No poker machines, no video games, no televisions pumping out rock videos for the MTV afflicted.

 Jeff was sitting on the stool, sipping a warm beer and watching a game of pool when he noticed her there. Dancing before him, she moved in the ways he'd imagined they would when he had listened with a mixture of disgust and fascination to the stories his barracks mates would tell. She gestured to the hip of her G-string waiting to be rewarded for her one-on-one performance. Almost robotically he placed the bill on the still gyrating hip. Finally, with his dollar secure, she leaned over and gave him a full view before sauntering away a conquering queen.

 He sat on that stool for a seeming eternity. This place which he had so disdained earlier had somehow taken hold. What's more, the bar had banished the feeling that had driven him here. "Watch what you hope for," he thought, "you just might get it."

 How long was it? How many hours did he sit on that stool? For the first time in so long a time, he didn't care about the hour. Jeff didn't worry about working, dancing or even making conversation. He just sat there watching them dance, watching her dance. She was there for him, moving for his pleasure and none other. Yes, he had to pay to see her dance, but then, didn't you always have to pay? The only difference here was that he paid with money, no posturing, no glib remarks. For just a dollar on the hip she was his for a full song.

 The bar itself was a study in pleasure without waste. When a customer left a pitcher of beer behind it was passed around and everyone's glass was refilled. "These men," Jeff thought, "didn't come here to pose." There was no appearance of the ritual that night, just plenty of beer and unquestioned camaraderie. He knew where he belonged now, for the first time since his return here, he was home.

 The days moved quickly after that, and Jeff became something of a regular at the bar. He had friends there now and he had her. Every time he arrived she would be the first to dance for him. They rarely spoke after that first night, what was there to say at any rate? Jeff knew and he was sure that she knew, why speak of it and ruin what they had? When the silence of the dance was so much better than any words.

 The human need of word is a strong one. Jeff soon found himself wanting to talk to her. He wanted more than the dance, more than a song. It wasn't so much what it suggested as what it promised. To him she was an exotic and mysterious dream, now he wanted to wake and find she was real.

 As this new feeling took hold of him, Jeff's trips to the bar became less frequent. He became sullen when she would dance for other men and hated them for the dollars on her hips. They symbolized the fact that she was only ever his for a song. Three minutes, possibly four, then always sauntering to the next in line. Still his hopes remained, she did still dance for him as soon as he sat down. Their eyes still locked as she moved before him each time. "The others are her job," he would think, "but I know how she feels about me."

 The night didn't seem different at first as he sat down and looked around the bar. There was Stan and Bill hiding from their wives. Holly and Candy worked to an old R&B tune as they usually did. True, she didn't seem to be there but perhaps it was her break. He attempted to convince himself of this repeatedly as time dragged on, struggling to keep down the demons who had sensed a chance for freedom. All manner of evil and despairing thoughts occurred to him as a young looking blond came over to him.

 "What'll it be?" she asked as pleasantly as possible.

 "The brunette that's usually here, where is she tonight."

 "She's gone man," the blond answered.

 "Gone?" He asked, voice going low.

 "Yeah she finally got married," she said more bored now than pleasant.

 "What do you mean finally?" He asked, a definite sickness in the voice now.

 "Well she was engaged forever," she said, "so do you want a beer or not?"

 He thought of running then, just get in the Ghost and not stop. He could run from it all, never slow down, just go on forever. Instead, all he could do was nod a feeble yes. Then a different girl danced for him and he loved her. Another beautiful soul refilled his glass from a left over pitcher and he loved her. Then the women danced, the men watched, and he was home, he loved them all.

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